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Website hosting is one of those things everyone knows about but most people don’t really understand. But just a bit more knowledge can help you make much smarter choices the next time you launch a website… Or even help you find a new web host if yours isn’t actually serving you well right now.
Consider this your ultimate cheat sheet on website hosting. We’ll cover everything you should know to match your website to the right web host with as little stress as possible. Building your websites on solid foundations from day one can have shockingly positive effects on your business, so make sure you’re in the know!
Types of Website Hosting
This is where it begins. Choose the right type and everything will be easier. But get it wrong and you’ll find it tough to build something amazing on it.
Shared hosting is good for complete newbies and sites that don’t use a bunch of resources. Your website will live on a server with a number of others—it’s the apartment block of website hosting. It’s cost-effective, for sure, but can quickly run into issues if your site gets a little spike in visitors or you try to share data-heavy content, like videos.
- Host covers maintenance
- Limited resources
- Performance ups and downs
- Security concerns
Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting
VPS is a step up from shared hosting, where your site still sits on a larger server but has special resources dedicated to it alone. It’s a nice in-between for those who have outgrown shared hosting but aren’t quite ready for dedicated hosting.
- Better performance
- Customization options
- Site-dedicated resources
- A touch more pricey
- Some techy knowledge required
This is like your site having its own house, shared with nobody. It has all the space, stuff, and freedom it needs to do its thing, and as a result, it’s a whole lot more stable and secure. IT does cost a bit more, but it’s worth it for what you get.
- Max performance
- Full control of features
- High security
- More expensive
- May need to manage your own server
Cloud hosting ditches the physical server and stores your site’s info across a network of virtual spaces. It’s by far the most stable, reliable, and easy to scale, but it does come with a hefty price tag compared to the others. The good news is you only actually pay for what you use.
- Scalable resources
- Excellent uptime
- Pay-as-you-go prices
- Pricing can be unpredictable
- May need more tech expertise
Factors to Consider when Choosing a Hosting Provider
Once you’ve chosen your preferred type, your next step is to choose an actual hosting provider. Here’s what to think about.
Uptime and Reliability
Don’t settle for less—if the host you’re checking out offers less than 99.9% uptime, it’s a no-go. Trust us… Even 99% uptime means your site can be AWOL for up to 14 minutes a day!
Speed and Performance
Find a host that’s got speedy hardware. SSDs are a cut above HDDs, and hosts that use CDNs are usually faster. Check out user reviews on this particular point as well—sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth by just looking at hosting providers’ websites.
Scalability and Flexibility
Your site is likely to grow at some point, whether that’s in content or in traffic. When it does, your website host will need to be able to keep up with you… Otherwise it’s like a toxic relationship that’s holding you back from what you could be and do. Find a host that has valuable upgrades and step-up plans.
Security is king in the web hosting world! Find out what exactly each host offers and compare carefully, because you can’t exactly undo a security breach.
Tech issues happen, so it’s a good plan to have experts ready and waiting to help when you need. Everyone communicates differently, so having a website hosting company that you can contact in a variety of different ways can be super helpful.
Pricing and Value for Money
Value for money beats lowest price. Whatever you’re paying, make sure you’re getting everything your site needs. You might need to shop around a little to find a package that suits your pocket but still gives your site all the features it needs.
Key Features to Look for in a Hosting Plan
Disk Space Allocation
The more the merrier, unless you aren’t planning on uploading any pictures, videos, or databases to your site. Rather have too much than too little.
This dictates how much data your site can shoot over to the visitor in one go. The more traffic you have, the more important this gets, so a higher bandwidth is always going to be the better choice.
It’s always cool (and more professional) to have an email address with your website or biz name in it, rather than a plain old Gmail account. Not all hosts give you this feature though, so double-check if you like the sound of it.
Control Panel Options
It doesn’t matter if you’re tech-savvy or not, the control panel of your website should be easy for you to use. Don’t choose something complicated with the idea of learning how to deal with it later… Because it’s a lot of time wasted.
Website Builder Tools
No coding experience or looking for the quickest, easiest way to get your site up and running? Research hosts with website builder tools. It can save you a bunch of time and money if your site is relatively straightforward. If it’s a complicated site, though, then a developer is probably your best bet.
E-commerce and content-heavy sites should check out potential hosts’ database support before signing up. This is something that can often slip through the cracks, but don’t let it slide—your site could depend on it.
SSL Certificate Availability
An SSL certificate has become a standard security feature, so if your chosen host doesn’t offer one… Well, it’s a red flag.
Backup and Restore Options
Trust us, you don’t want the hassle of rebuilding a site from scratch because your host didn’t back your stuff up. Make double sure they do frequent backups and automatic restores.
Tips for Performance Optimization
Website hosting is a two-way street. Here’s what you can do to make your host’s job easier and really ramp up your site’s performance.
Keep Website Files and Database Optimized
In other words, clean up a lot. Get rid of unnecessary stuff and organize databases. Streamlined is always optimized.
Utilize Caching and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)
Many hosts go the CDN route, so double-check before you go all in. If they don’t, find your own CDN and use it, because it can take a huge strain off your website.
Minimize Third-Party Plugins and Scripts
We know, it’s easy to go plugin-crazy with a new site. And when the new site becomes an old site, it’s got a ton of junk just sitting there not being used. Resist the urge to go wild with plugins and only use those that you REALLY need.
Regularly Update Software and Plugins
Your host should get this done for you, but make sure you know if they’ve got it covered or if they expect you to do it. Even if they’re responsible, it’s a good plan to double-check that they’re getting it done.
Monitor Resource Usage and Manage Traffic Spikes
Monitoring tools are abundant all over the internet. Grab one and start monitoring your site’s important details so you can see what’s happening where and manage it better.
What if you come up against a brick wall? Here are a few ways to troubleshoot common issues.
Optimize your images by compressing them. Get rid of digital clutter. Embed videos that are hosted on a CDN, rather than uploading them. And use browser caching.
Check the status of the server and give it a few minutes to come right. If it doesn’t, get in touch with your host and kickstart the process of getting it back up.
Review your email settings and make sure everything’s set up correctly. Get on that customer service if you can’t find the issue.
Update software and plugins. Add extra layers of security. Consider switching to a more secure type of hosting.
Scalability and Upgrades
Websites are dynamic, always changing and growing. Your web host should be able to tango with your site and help it grow.
Planning for Future Growth
We all want to grow, right? So start optimistically and anticipate a growth spurt in your site. Choose a provider that doesn’t stifle you, but opens up and allows your site to go wild while still supporting it properly.
Upgrading Hosting Plans
Growth is inevitable, so when you get your first website host, expect that it definitely won’t be your last. You WILL need to upgrade at some point, so if you can, choose a host that you won’t need to get rid of, but that can rise to the challenge!
Web hosting is more complicated than it seems from the outside. But this cheat sheet on website hosting is designed to give you a quick overview of what’s important… So you don’t end up going down rabbit holes and wasting time and money.
Just a bit of knowledge and research can change everything. Don’t go into this web hosting thing blind—read this thoroughly and skip the common mistakes.
About the Author
Paul Wheeler runs a web design agency that helps small businesses optimize their websites for business success. He aims to educate business owners on all things website-related, at his own website, Reviews for Website Hosting.