How to Best Choose a Web Host

Choosing the right web host can make a huge difference when building and maintaining your website. Depending on the needs of your website or service, you will want to consider your potential host’s storage, speed, reliability and other features before signing up.

Free Vs Paid Web Hosting

Free web hosting does exist, but is not right for everyone. Many free hosts place advertisements on your website or significantly limit the amount of hosting space you have access to. Free hosting plans understandably often do not have extensive customer service, so if a technical error based outage would have a great impact on your website you should consider paid hosting.

Paid hosting plans for individuals and businesses often start around $5 per month for basic hosting, and can cost up to $20 per month for the premium paid hosting for the average website. These plans will most often give you access to a shared server, where several other sites will be hosted next to yours. This should not affect you if you are running an average sized website. Of course, if you are running a very large website with 100K monthly visitors, or sizable files for download then you may need a dedicated server which can cost upwards of $150 per month.

Determining Your Needs

The first step in choosing the right host is to know what you need from a host. What kind of website will you build, and how many visitors do you expect to have? You will want to examine what level of technical expertise you have as well, considering different hosting companies offer varying levels of tech support.

Disk Space and Speed

Hosts define their storage and access limitations in terms of disk space and bandwidth. Disk space refers to how much space in terms of megabytes or gigabytes that you will have to store your files. Bandwidth is the rate of how much data you can send to a visitor in a defined measure of time. Bandwidth boils down to speed, in basic terms. Entry-level, or basic paid hosting plans offer reasonable levels of each for small, static sites, while premium hosting plans should be able to satisfy the requirements of any medium sized website. Premium hosting plans may offer ‘unlimited bandwidth,’ which is usually stipulated as unlimited within reason.

More specifically, to determine your hosting needs first determine how much traffic you are likely to receive. Traffic can be measured in two main ways, visitors and data. If you have an average sized website, in terms of popularity, just about any paid hosting service will be able to handle the requests. This can include sites that receive between 200 and 50000 visitors per month that only offer basic webpages with. Websites with a lot of data transfer, however, may need business level hosting. This is true if you site will offer files for download directly from your hosting server. To bypass this increased need for data you can try hosting large files elsewhere such as YouTube and embedding them onto your webpages.

Another factor to consider is speed. Most paid hosting plans will be acceptable for the average website, but again if you want to share files even as large as 5mb then your host’s offered speed is important. Consider upgrading to premium paid hosting or using a third-party hosting service if offering such files for download.

Special Software

Will your site need any specialized software or operating system? Some website owners prefer their site be hosted on a specific type of software-based server, most often either IIS or Apache server operating systems. This doesn’t matter to the average site owner, but if you have a preference don’t forget to check what your host offers.

Aside from the operating system of the server, there are several other types of software that can vary between hosts to consider. Paid hosts allow access to a control panel, where you can install your own software. Free hosting, with possible rare exceptions, does not offer this advantage. From the control panel you will be able to install any software that your host allows. This may include Ruby on Rails for special programming, Mail servers including ones for sending mass emails, Content Management Systems (CMS) software.

Many typical websites will be built using either a third party Content Management System or the host’s in-house website builder. Of the CMS’s the three most popular, by far, are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, each with millions of websites using them. If you plan to use a CMS it’s a good idea to check if your host not only allows such software, but is optimized for your CMS usage. Hosts often list this as a feature on their landing pages.

Secure sites that receive payment or handle sensitive content will want an SSL certificate. Some hosts may have better deals for SSL hosting than others so be sure to check ahead if you site will gather user information beyond standard cookies.

Added Hosting Features and Benefits

Other things to account for when choosing the best web host include host uptime, money-back guarantees, and customer service. You should probably pass on any hosting packages from hosts that can’t provide at least 99% uptime, unless you are getting a free host and don’t mind your site going down here and there while technical errors occur or server-side maintenance is performed. As with any product a money-back guarantee of at least a month is optimal, and has become a standard offer in the web hosting industry.

The Bottom Line

Choosing the best web host can seem overwhelming, but if you have an average sized website and choose a moderate plan with a reputable company, you can’t go too wrong. The two most important factors are disk space and speed, so do some research to determine how much traffic you can expect. If you’re running a business stay away from the free hosting packages, since they can heavy downtime and unwanted ads. Instead, opt for a reasonably priced hosting package that offers extras such as live chat technical support, and unlimited bandwidth.

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