Setting up a new website can be exciting, but most of us skip the practicalities and jump straight in to the design, or finding useful plugins. But if you don’t nail down the basics, like choosing the right web host, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.
The speed, security, availability and usability of your website all depend on this decision… So, no pressure!
Web host prices range from completely free (with strings attached) to thousands of dollars per month. And, with so many options comes a lot of new jargon. So how does any novice decide what’s best for them?
This guide will give you the lowdown on the most important things to know before choosing a web host provider, so you can get the right plan for your business.
What is a web host?
A web host is a business that stores the files (data) that make up your website and makes them available to people who try to find you on the internet. Essentially, they rent space on their servers to you so your website has somewhere to exist.
Shared, VPS, dedicated or cloud?
Web hosts use servers to store the data that makes up your website. When a user wants to access it (they click on a search engine link, for example), their computer connects to your web host’s server. The server then delivers this data to the user’s screen. And voila… your website appears!
There are three main types of server:
Shared servers are the absolute cheapest and are what most free web hosts provide. Whether they perform well depends on the demands placed on the server by every other site that uses it at the time. These plans are fine for websites with minimal pages and features, as well as low-ish traffic (small to medium businesses). But everyone else will need a step-up.
VSP (virtual private server) is a virtualised server replica that mimics the features of having access to a dedicated server, but is not quite as good. Performance is better than with a shared server and many medium-sized businesses will find it adequate.
Dedicated servers are individual, physical boxes rented to specific sites. So, there’s no chance of your bandwidth being smooshed by any of your server-buddies (since you don’t have any). Most businesses will find dedicated servers work well for them, but if the demand on your site fluctuates wildly or you have a sudden rush, it will still reach its limits.
Cloud servers offer truly limitless hosting because they’re run on huge, public clouds like those of Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. You’ll never have problems scaling up or with unexpected surges in popularity, but they can be expensive if you don’t understand how their payment plans work.
Does the host support your type of website?
Before you can consider anything else a web host offers, you need to know if they support the technical features of your website.
This means checking whether the host supports:
- Your database – if your site is dynamic rather than static, you probably need a database and some hosts don’t provide for them.
How much disk space and bandwidth do you need?
Which type of server is best for you and what size of plan you need depends mostly on:
- Your website’s traffic
- How much data it uses
Web hosts tend to charge based on storage and bandwidth usage. Bandwidth is based on how many bytes your site can serve in a given amount of time. So, the more people on your site at once, the more bandwidth it will use.
Another important consideration is how much data you will need to store. This affects the amount of disc space you need included in your plan (in GB), and the amount of bandwidth – since the more data each user is trying to access at once, the more bytes will be used up per person.
Bonus tip: be aware that ‘unlimited’ rarely actually means unlimited. Your host has probably written in the ability to throttle your service (deliberately limit your usage) or shut you down if you use ‘too much’ of your apparently ‘limitless’ allowance.
Should you leave room for growth?
If you’re likely to see rapid growth in popularity, skip the shared servers in favour of cloud-based or dedicated.
Why might your traffic suddenly increase?
- Your posts/products go viral
- You suddenly leap to the top of the search rankings
- You’re running a particularly successful marketing campaign
You should never purchase a plan that offers exactly what your business uses right now. Always allow for some growth. A 30% leeway on top of your current bandwidth and disc-space needs is good practice, but up to 100% might be necessary for some businesses.
How important is customer service?
This is essentially a question of how much hand-holding you will need. If you’re not very technologically minded and have limited experience with all things internet-related, you’re going to need to choose a host who offers a managed service.
These hosts will have strong customer service links. Often with multiple points of contact (social media, chatbots, email, 24 hour phone, etc.). So, when something does go wrong, you won’t have to lose half your hair waiting anxiously on hold for hours, or leaving your site down overnight until you can speak to someone in the morning.
On the other hand, if you’re confident that you have a strong knowledge of servers, the internet and your own website, you can skip this and find better deals from non-managed services.
Do you need strong security?
How much security you need from your web host depends on what kind of data your website is likely to process. For example, an eCommerce site needs a high level of security because of restrictions around handling people’s financial information.
On the other hand, a blog with no user registration function or subscription signup is unlikely to need to worry too much about extensive security protections.
Have a think about what your business does and what data you need to do it and pick a plan with an appropriate level of security. At the very least, you want to know:
- If your host is running firewalls and malware detection
- Whether you’ll have an SSL certificate (your SEO will suffer if you don’t)
- How frequently they back up your site (you ideally want backups every 24 hours)
- Whether you can get IP Deny capability (allows you to block certain IPs from accessing your site, e.g. spammers and hackers)
Choosing a web host provider is not the most exciting job on anyone’s list when setting up a website, but it is essential to get it right. If you want a speedy site that offers good user experience, limited downtime and good security, you need to know what you’re looking for. Follow this guide and you’ll be up and running in no time.
About the Author: Jodie is a Conversion Copywriter, Content Strategist and Optimisation Specialist working with bold B2B SaaS and marketing brands. Before founding This Copy Sticks, she’s spent a decade selling the toughest value proposition around and raised £2 million for charities before her 25th birthday. After 10 years convincing the public to embrace their inner altruist, Jodie now puts her words to work helping tech-mad trailblazers grow their businesses.