Many novices tend to think web hosting companies are created equal. This is just not true. When someone new to the hosting game does a search they can be overwhelmed by the options and technical jargon they are thrown. There are many different kinds of hosting; shared, VPN, Dedicated Server. Not to mention the pricing can range from pay for what you use (Amazon AWS) to $2 a month to well over a few hundred a month.
Should I Purchase My Own Hosting Or Go Through My Web Designer?
Before I even get into the breakdown of the different hosts I would like to talk about some possible issues regarding your web designer or developer hosting your site for you. I have seen this go well, and I have seen it go terribly wrong.
The Horror Story
I had a new lead reach out to me. His website was outdated and he wanted a redesign. Once I had the site designed on my local server (desktop server, awesome by the way) I tried to log in to the hosting account he gave me. But this hosting account wasn’t the one the current site was on. His former web designer built the site on his own hosting. Then proceeded to go AWOL a year or 2 later. With no access to the client’s server, I had to set up the new host, and a few other things. This ended up costing my client more money and slowed the project down a bit.
…It Could Have Been Worse
What would have happened if this designer went AWOL and didn’t pay his hosting bill? My client would have lost his site with no warning, with no perceivable way to restore it. This has happened. And it is a real shame.
Having your designer host your site on their server can be fine if they are not going anywhere and are responsive when an issue comes up. But if they are not, you could be in for a very aggravating experience if something goes wrong: the site gets hacked, the server has issues, etc. I always advise clients to have direct access to every account, log in, and asset they have.
Choosing the right solution for your project:
Shared vs VPN vs Dedicated Server
Let’s start with shared hosting. This is the cheapest hosting you will find. Shared usually falls into the $2/mo to $10/mo price range. Shared hosting, as it implies, is where the server is shared with many other websites. This can be a good option when you have a very small, low-traffic site on one of the major platforms like WordPress or Drupal. While shared can be decent depending on the host, there can also be problems with it. The server is not allocated in a specific way, so sometimes it happens where one site in the chain gobbles up the bandwidth and this can make your site run very slow and time out. If this happens, there is nothing you can really do about it except go to a higher quality hosting setup, like dedicated hosting. The other issue is scalability issues. Let’s say your e-commerce site gets a huge write-up in a national magazine. This will most certainly drive a spike in traffic. If this spike is too large the host may throttle you and your site will be down until the queries slow down. One situation like this can cost you thousands of dollars and prevent you from reaping the full rewards of some solid promotion. A good hosting company will send you an email informing you and offering options to increase your bandwidth to get back up and rolling. Others will not.
VPS is a step up from shared. It is still technically a shared server but gives you more space that is dedicated to you. VPS also opens you up to root access which is great for more technically demanding projects.
A dedicated server gives you your own, you guessed it, dedicated server. While it may lack the turnkey elements of shared and VPS, having your own server allows you to completely control the environment. This is a great solution for sites or projects that get millions of monthly visitors or have very complicated and specific technical requirements.
The 4 Most Important Factors for Choosing A Host.
Most hosts claim a 99.9% or so uptime rate. But I have seen otherwise. Downtimes can range from a few seconds to a few hours depending on the host. So if some other site on the server overloads the system and causes an issue, you lose clicks until it is fixed.
Your website load speed is important for several reasons. The faster your website loads, the better your organic search rank will be. Search engines use this as a barometer for ranking. Why? Well, that brings us to the second major reason speed is so important. If your site takes longer than 3 seconds to load, about half of the people waiting for it to load will click the back button. This translates to poor user experience. Poor user experience leads to low search ranking. Better hosting leads to better rank and better traffic.
Backups for your website are something you may not care much about until you need it. Then not having a good recent backup will be a source of frustration and anger. The better hosting companies offer daily backups, either as a free feature or as a premium add-on. The even better ones make it very easy to restore, or will even do it for you. It is best to never learn from experience the pain of not having a backup.
Most definitely a topper as far as importance. I have dealt with many different hosts in my career and how good their support plays a large role in how much I like or dislike them. Some hosts have gatekeepers that have no knowledge, wasting time on an important issue as you need to explain the problem to them just for them to pass you to someone else, escalating the ticket. Others offer different options detailing the nature of your issue so they can direct you to the most qualified rep. My experience has included: waiting several days for an email reply regarding an issue, waiting up to an hour to speak with someone on the phone and my favorite, getting some immediately that is qualified to fix an issue.
Warning: Avoid Godaddy At All Costs:
I included this section as a warning. It is really just in your best interest to avoid Godaddy for any web needs. I’ve never paid for Godaddy anything in my career. Maybe it was a natural aversion, maybe it was my intuition. Due to their marketing prowess so many small business clients that already have a site have hosting through Godaddy. I dread it whenever I see it. There are 2 main reasons why I really can’t stand Godaddy.
They are slow.
Godaddy hosting is slow. Painfully slow. When I have to build a site on Godaddy I have to optimize and cache it like crazy and it is still not as fast as it should be. Their servers run like they are not top of the line, and I am sure they are not optimized properly. I’ve never seen a blazing fast site on Godaddy, even if it is optimized to the teeth.
Their Business Practices.
So let’s say your hosting lapses. You forget to pay, the credit card it’s linked to expired, whatever the cause Godaddy is not going to make getting your site restored easy or cheap. Other hosts will give you a window to renew and get everything back up and running. They’ll keep your site stored so once you pay your site is live again. Godaddy will pull your site as soon as the hosting lapses. From that moment you have 30 days to contact them and pay them $150 to restore your site. If it is after that 30 days, your out of luck. I have also encountered other nefarious practices that Godaddy employs to pull as much money out of you as they can. Be warned!
So who is the best hosting company?
The hosting company I recommend highest to every client is Siteground. They are great to scale with. And even at their cheapest plan, there are fewer sites on each server than their competitors. All sites on Siteground load fast. Partly due to their inclusion of Cloudflare CDN to make sites load even faster, but also due to the way they configure their servers. Even before you are a customer you can experience their fantastic customer service. The first time I contacted them, I was looking for a very specific solution for a project, and the rep I talked to was knowledgeable and clearly explained my options and what they offer. And the one time they were not the right fit, they were honest in stating they were not.
A Small Orange:
I like A Small Orange because their GB and Bandwidth numbers are really good for the price. Sites load fast on their servers as they are really good SSD drives that are optimized for WordPress which is always a plus. Add this to their free daily backups and 24/7 support it makes them a force to be reckoned with.
Bluehost, in my opinion, is the best of the well-known hosting companies. I have worked a good amount with them and their hosting is solid and the sites load pretty fast for the price. They also include 24/7 support and backups. Bluehost also makes it very easy to scale and go up from shared to VPS without hassle.
A Case Study on a Hosts Effect on Website Load Speed.
In the course of writing this article, I was lucky enough to have a client request a change of host for the sole reason of increasing his website load speed. He wanted 2 WordPress sites I built for him migrated from Ipage hosting to Siteground. This gave me a great chance to really show the impact a good host can have.
While the sites do differ, there are several things in common that make them good testing partners. They are both on WordPress. They both utilize woocommerce for the online store, and they both have an email capture welcome popup (these tend to slow sites down a little).
LET’S MEET THE SITES!
Site A: Site A is a huge site. It has a good number of pages and posts, but the real heft is in the products it contains. There were about 1,600 products last time I looked. This site is so big, and the Ipage hosting wasn’t cutting it. When I tried to make a copy of the site once, its sheer size made it too big to use certain WordPress cloning plugins. Site A, especially recently, has gotten very slow to load. With extensive caching and optimization it ranged from 6 seconds up to 11 seconds during my vigorous speed testing via Pingdom.
Site B: Site B is a newer site. Not nearly as large as Site A, it is quickly getting bigger by the day as the business owner is adding products like a champ. It is of a different design than site A tho. It features a large full-screen slideshow and is very image-heavy. This site was built with equal attention to caching and optimization as site A. Before the migration to Siteground, this site was loading between 2.5-3 seconds. It was driving me nuts as no matter how hard I tried I could not get it down to under 2.5 seconds.
The Speed Results: Post-migration to Siteground.
Site A: About 4 times faster! Site A went from an average of 8 seconds to load to a sleek and user-friendly average of 2.2 seconds. My jaw dropped when I saw this change. It is so much better than I had expected. What’s even crazier is that there are still steps I have planned to increase the load speed even more. From 8 seconds to a little over 2. I am excited to chart how this increased load speed will translate into higher sales.
Site B: This site was already pretty fast, averaging about 2.8 seconds, just a hair under the magic 3 seconds where that browser back button starts calling. It is sure to be a lot less tempting now that it averages 1.95 seconds.
As you can see, the hosting company you choose will make a huge difference in how fast your website loads. This affects your user experience, which affects your SEO which then affects the profit your website generates for you.