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​How to choose a web hosting service?

Teaming up with the right web hosting service is more important than you think. It’s a partnership. Opt for the wrong one and you could find yourself struggling to get support, suffering downtime or worse. The loss the initial capital investment can be dwarfed by the damage that a bad web hosting can do. Choosing a hosting package needn’t be a chore though, just consider these points below during your research phase and you’ll find the choice of plan becomes much clearer.

1. Type of hosting offered

  • Will you need your own infrastructure?
  • Will you need greater access or control over your server(s) and website?
  • Are you not very technical?
  • Would it be easier to let the hosting company take the lead in maintenance?

Ask yourself all these questions and more. Whether it be shared hosting (opens in new tab), VPS hosting (opens in new tab), dedicated hosting (opens in new tab), or managed hosting (opens in new tab), look at the pros and cons of all. Ask yourself what you need it to do and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Also important is to ask yourself whether you’ll be building your own website? This is something that’ll require a lot more know-how besides basic HTML. A better option for newbies is to employ the best website builder (opens in new tab) software platforms, such as Wix, Weebly, Shopify, Squarespace or one of the others. Some web hosts bundle them as part of their standard package.

2. Support

  • What are the available support channels: email, forums, live chat, telephone, 24/7 or office hours?
  • Are they U.S. based or overseas?

If anything happens to your server or website, from technical errors to DNS attacks, you need to be able to remedy the situation quickly. This becomes more pressing depending on your website. For example, if you run an e-commerce site you’ll be losing money every minute you’re offline. So make sure the support is right for you.

Make sure that the support you are looking for takes place on multiple channels. Likely, you will not always be able to pick up the phone and call, so make sure your selected hosting provider has chat, email and other means of communications. 

Communication is key when you have a problem that needs to be solved quickly. A hosting provider with a U.S. based customer service and support (opens in new tab) understands the nuances of working with your business, customers and your time zone. There really is power in a personal touch when it comes to customer service and the success of solving your problem.  

3. Features

  • What features are on offer?
  • Does the host use cPanel for one click installations of selected software?
  • How much storage and bandwidth is available? How many domains can be hosted on one account?

Functionality is important for any website and so is future-proofing. As your website grows and with it the amount of space you need, does the hosting company have the capacity and the features to allow for growth?

The hosting provider you select should be able to simply move you seamlessly to the next plan or storage space capacity to meet the needs of your business or website. An important feature that is often overlooked is scalability - both upgrade and downgrade. This is an important feature because you should be able to downscale if you find yourself in the wrong hosting product that is too big for your website. So make sure you find yourself a hosting provider who gives you the freedom to easily move to the right plan.

4. Server locations

  • Is the location of the data centres important to you?
  • Do you collect personal data on your website?
  • Are you compliance led?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions you may want to look into the location of your servers. Some web hosting providers even allow you to choose your data center location. The benefit of selecting your data center is speed and performance. 

Resource heavy websites, large scripts and even WordPress themes all influence how fast a site can load. These factors play an important role in website performance and load times as well. And for the environmentally friendly, a few providers off green data centers. 

5. Areas of specialization

  • What specific platforms do they specialize in?

By far and away WordPress dominates the internet.  Several hosting providers have packages and plans dedicated to WordPress hosting (opens in new tab). If your website’s content management system is WordPress then you should look closely at managed WordPress hosting plans. That said, there are several other content management systems (CMS (opens in new tab)) besides WordPress and if you’d like to keep your options open look for hosts that offer more than one CMS. 

6. Security

  • Depending on the nature of your business you may have higher standards to meet in terms of security. Will this hosting company meet these expectations? Or would another be better equipped?
  • Are SSL certificates included as well?

Similarly, just because you may not have to meet regulated standards doesn’t mean security shouldn’t be a factor in your decision. The internet is a rough neighborhood and you should make sure your hosting company has appropriate measures in place to protect your server and website. At the end of the day, it may be you who is accountable should anything go wrong.

Also, while the Let’s Encrypt project (opens in new tab) dishes out SSL certificates for free, it’ll be a lot more convenient if your web host let’s you add one to your website without much effort. 

7. Price & general feedback online

  • How much do they charge and how does it compare to the other hosts on your shortlist?
  • Is price a factor or do you not mind paying that little bit more for a more complete service?
  • What are the renewal costs? Do they offer long-term subscriptions?

Since you don’t switch web hosts everyday, some shrewd hosting providers offer their plans for unbelievably low prices in a bid to lure you in. More often than not, they make up by charging you a considerably high renewable price. So make sure you not only look at the upfront cost but also the cost of subsequent renewals. 

Also, while feedback from users with similar requirements to yours is definitely ideal, lots of general negative feedback from users can be just as revealing.

Research the company itself and the services they provide. While you are more likely to find negative reviews about a company, what previous users have issue with may give indication as to whether you want to trust the hosting company with your website.

  • This is an adapted excerpt from an eBook called "The ultimate guide to web hosting", published by TechRadar Pro in association with Planet Hippo (opens in new tab)

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.