Creating a good website has a million steps involved. Most of them involve the design or content, and that is frequently where our mind gets stuck when we begin. What you might not spend nearly enough time considering is the very first step: web hosting.
Sure, it isn’t nearly as interesting as other choices you will make. In fact, it might be the most boring part of launching a site. But it is one that will impact everything from the price you pay, to the features available, to what help you have at your disposal if something goes wrong.
The last thing you want is to be subject to a hack, and have no recourse beyond your own personal backups. Or to find out that you have been paying double what you would be with another host.
Here is a checklist to follow, so you can make sure you are considering everything you need to prior to making your selection.
1. Comparing Competitor Prices
The first step is narrowing down options based around price. This is going to be a starting point, but not the end. Depending on the other items on this checklist, you may have to go back and check other competitors a second, third, or fourth time. But having a beginning set will at least let you strike out the “no-way” hosting companies that you can immediately see won’t fit your budget.
If you are planning on making money from your website, whether as an official business page or through monetization (affiliate, PPC, ad, etc), immediately strike our any free plans. Free hosting is not made for businesses, it is made for small personal pages. Be ready to invest some cash, or don’t bother. If you are starting up, try web hosting for small business and be ready to invest at least some cash, or don’t bother.
Tip: Use this glossary to help you move forward.
2. Price Versus Value
Next, you need to look at what you are getting for the higher paid plans. Consider your needs first, and then think of what you would like to have that isn’t 100% necessary. Find the first set of plans across each hosting site that meet both your needs and your wants, giving you two tiers of options.
How much of a gap is there in prices between the two? Is it worth putting in that extra money to have your wants met as well as your needs? For most people, the answer is going to be ‘yes’. Mainly because of number 10 on this list, which we will get to. Either way, always consider the value beyond the price.
3. Discounts Per Agreement
If things are a bit out of your price range, you may want to consider a hosting site that provides a discount for a longer hosting agreement. For example, most hosting companies provide a 25%+ discount to people who pay for more than a single year.
You can buy up to five years of hosting, and get a significant slash in your final price as long as you are willing to pay up front. Some will cut down the cost by as much as half! Of course, this won’t be refundable if you choose to switch to another host. So think carefully before you settle on one.
Never pay month to month, as it is way more expensive than it is worth. Better to splash out for a full year, even if you end up switching later on.
4. Niche Hosting
Web hosting doesn’t categorize itself based on niche of content. But it does on the needs of its users. Some hosting companies are made for small businesses, some for blogs, some for video hosting, some for large enterprises.
Choose according to where you want to be in, say, five years. Not where you are now. This also ties into number 10; you should always be forward thinking.
Obviously, the features offered through a hosting company are important. But not everyone will need the same perks, so have a clear idea of what you really need before searching a host.
Many will be in the same price range, but have a vast difference in what they offer where it counts. Take Siteground, which offers unlimited bandwidth and 10 GB disk space for $3.95 per month on a standard shared hosting plan. Bluehost, on the other hand, is $3.49 for the same bandwidth, yet offers unlimited disk space. There are literally cents of difference, but that diskspace makes Bluehost the better of the two.
6. Web Space
Always select a plan that is unlimited. This is possibly controversial, because many people will point out that a webmaster might not need unlimited space. I say, it doesn’t matter. Why would you pay for 10 GB when you can have as much as you need?
Gone are the days of hosting sites charging out the nose for this feature. Now, it is just par the course. Not only for shared hosting, but even business plans.
7. Advertising Policies
Going back to what I said before about free plans and how you should never have one, advertising is why. All free hosting sites will spam your website with advertising, which you have no control over, and won’t benefit from.
Check the ad policies of even paid plans, and also be sure you know their offered support on advertising for your own monetization. Some have ad specific features that can potentially boost revenue.
8. FTP Access, and Site Builders
Never use a site builder. It might seem like a good idea at the time, and a cheap way to create a site, but it won’t look good. If you don’t know how to make a website, hire someone who can.
Also do yourself (and your web designer) a favor, and choose a host with FTP access for quick file porting. It just makes life easier on everyone.
9. Customer Service/Tech Support
You want a host that has a good history of customer and technical support, just in case things go wrong. You don’t want to find out your chosen company is awful about supporting their customers in the midst of a crisis.
I have seen too many webmasters skimp on hosting, and everything goes fine until the site goes dark. Then they learn their mistake as they wait four hours to talk to someone who kind of knows what they are talking about.
10. Future Growth, and Upgrades
This was mentioned in two other items on this checklist, which should show you how important it is. Your site is (hopefully) going to grow. You should be prepared for that. But you also want to be prepared for sudden traffic spikes.
All it takes is one piece of viral content, or even a mention in an Ask Reddit thread, and you are going to have a massive influx in visitors. You don’t want to have the site crash under the pressure of all that traffic, and miss out on the opportunity for more conversions.
Bonus: User Review
No hosting service will have a 100% positive user feedback. It’s just the matter of the business: Every site goes down or gets hacked and users are likely to put all the blame on the hosting. What you want to pay attention in user reviews is:
- How did the hosting company handle the situation?
- How thorough they tend to look into the issues?
- How fast do they reply?
SiteGeek.com is a great place to find user reviews.
The site is also heavily visualized, so you can easily compare hosting providers you are considering.
Any items that you think deserve to be on this checklist? Let us know in the comments.