Web Hosting…How Do I Choose? Here are a few Web hosting tips.
Help! Most of us could care less about all the tech jargon. Just give me a Web site that works…right? Well, you have to understand that Web site design and Web hosting are two totally different services. But in order to have a Web site you must first choose a hosting plan. It seems like it should be a simple process. There should be a standard…an easy choice…a perfect fit. Right? Nope. Not really.
Unfortunately, there are no true “standards” in Web hosting and there are hundreds of hosting providers and plans out there to choose from. Most of them seem to offer the same products and services, but once you read the fine print you quickly see they are all different. And pricing literally ranges from a couple bucks a month to thousands of dollars a month. So, with all these options how are you expected to choose the best plan for your site?
It helps to understand your options. Web hosting can be as complex as you want to make it, but I think the majority of hosting plans fall into three general categories. Without getting overly technical, I’ll define those categories as dedicated hosting, mid-level hosting and economy hosting.
If we were all using monopoly money a dedicated hosting plan with a good IT professional to keep it running would probably be the way to go. With dedicated hosting, your site is the only site on the server. The server can be configured to run any type of site imaginable, it is extremely secure and you are less likely to have the issues common with shared hosting. But it will cost you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year to maintain. If you need to protect highly sensitive information like credit card info or if you have thousands of visitors per hour you should probably consider a dedicated hosting option. Otherwise, you can probably get by with an economy or mid-level plan and save a lot of money in the process.
Mid-level Shared Hosting:
This category is probably the most complicated to define and the most diverse when it comes to hosting options. But to keep it simple, I’m calling any hosting plan that isn’t on a dedicated server, but isn’t dirt cheap mid-level hosting. These plans start around $30 a month and go up. On mid-level shared hosting plans you share server space with other sites to keep costs down. In most cases, mid-level hosting is a great fit for small businesses. Many mid-level hosting plans are very specialized and come with great technical support. But some of these plans are literally an economy hosting plan managed by a broker charging a huge monthly fee for little or no work. If you are paying more than $30 a month, just make sure you know what you are paying for and decide if you need it. It may be a fair deal but you may be overpaying.
Economy hosting is what the majority of small businesses use and in most cases all they will ever need. Plans range from around $4 to $20 per month. Economy hosting is on a shared server and these hosting providers make it easy for people with little or no technical knowledge to set up a hosting account and Web site easily and quickly. This works great 90% of the time for simple sites, but also can have major disadvantages if you need to install custom applications like content management systems. Sometimes the automated functionality limits customization. It is like putting training wheels on your bike. It keeps the inexperienced from crashing but it can also limit where you ride your bike and the number of tricks you can do.
Some economy hosting providers are worse than others. Surprisingly, in my experience the larger providers often have the most limitations. Yahoo and GoDaddy hosting are two huge, respected companies but their hosting accounts are much more tedious and time consuming to manage. Simple tasks that take seconds on many hosting platforms can take hours on Yahoo or GoDaddy. They also have restrictions that in some cases limit the basic functionality of your Web site. To the casual user these quirky annoyances may go unnoticed. But behind the scenes your site may be riding with training wheels in your driveway when you could be off-road mountain biking with the big boys.
When you choose an economy hosting provider read reviews, talk to your Web design company and ask your friends for advice. Without going into a whole new layer of tech speak, look for a provider that uses cPanel, or a comparable administration console, as their control panel (like Siteground.com, mediatemple.com, and dozens of others). Control Panels are usually much easier to customize. Setting up and working with CMS applications is also a breeze, so you’ll save money on the programming side. Beyond that, just decide what your site needs to do and select a plan that will handle those requirements.
At the end of the day you still may have some issues regardless of which type plan or provider you choose. This is the nature of Web and the fact there are no true standards. For most small business site needs, an economy hosting plan will work just fine. But remember, you get what you pay for. So don’t get too discouraged when something goes wrong.
If you need some help choosing the best hosting service for your site, email me and we can talk through your needs and I can make a recommendation. We do broker Web hosting, but I’ll give you unbiased advice and you will have complete control over whether you want me to host or just help you find a host yourself. Leave a comment if you have a favorite hosting company. I’d love to hear about your experiences.