Perhaps more than any other question, I get asked who people should use for hosting their website. I worked on sites hosted on a wide range of hosts–some great and some absolutely horrible. Most were somewhere in between.
Just you case you’re not sure what a web hosting company is, a web host is the company that stores the files and databases associated with your website on a web-accessible computer (called a server).
Having a good host makes keeping your site up and running a breeze. A bad host can cause pages to load slowly and hurt your search engine optimization (SEO).
What We Look For in a Web Hosting Company
1. Up-to-Date Software
We once tried to setup a WordPress website on Web.com. The problem was that their server software (Apache, PHP, MySQL) was so out of date (several years out of date) that it wouldn’t run WordPress. Seriously. We were dumbfounded.
Not only can outdated software cause glitches for your website, it can be a HUGE security risk. One of the biggest reasons software gets routinely updated is to patch security holes. A server that is years out of date is like an open door invitation to hack your website.
Outdated software also speaks to a level of neglect on the part of the hosting company. If they can’t be bothered to update their software routinely, what else are they neglecting?
2. Up Time
If the server hosting your site goes down, no one can visit your site to do business with you.
A good host will have safeguards in place so that if a site goes down, a backup server will automatically get activated. Not all offer this, however.
Most hosts have a pretty good uptime, but we encourage you to search the web to see which hosts have the best uptime. You don’t want to miss a sale just because some a power supply went bad. Also be sure to use a service that monitors your site’s uptime. We use Uptime Robot for ours.
3. Tech Support
What happens when you try to upload files using Filezilla, but it won’t connect? Or you can’t figure out how to change the file permissions on the server?
A good web host has great tech support. You want a company that responds ideally within the hour to help requests and also has a robust, searchable knowledgebase or forum. This can be a life saver!
I realize this one’s a bit technical, but a .htaccess file is a configuration file for the Apache server. WordPress uses this for a number of things, including page redirects so you can have pretty permalinks.
One reason we aren’t fans of Yahoo is because they don’t allow you to put a .htaccess file on the site.
Bandwidth is the amount of data you can upload and download in a given time. While most sites don’t use a lot of bandwidth, sites that deal with a lot of media (like podcasts) can run up that bandwidth rather quickly, especially if they get popular.
If you hit your limit, your web host could either shut down the site or demand more money from you. There have been popular podcasts that podfaced for this very reason. Talk about too much of a good thing.
Similar to bandwidth, file and database storage may be something to consider if you deal with a lot of large files like images, audio or video. Over time, the amount of storage you need may increase, which could run up your monthly costs.
7. Email support
I used to think this was a given, but there are some otherwise top-notch web hosts (like WP Engine) that don’t offer email support. Beats me why, but it’s true. So before you signup, make sure your new host offers it, if that’s important to you.
There are other companies that specialize in offering email support, including Google Business Services, but it’s not usually free like personal Gmail is.
8. Site Backup
Years ago, I made a major goof. I was removing some unneeded databases on our hosted account when suddenly I deleted the one database that ran our website. And to pile on the stupid, I didn’t have a backup. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
In a panic, I contacted ICDSoft, who was our host at the time. Thankfully, they run nightly backups. They had our site back up within the hour. Kudos to ICDSoft for saving my bacon on that one.
Also, use a plugin or app to do your own regular backup. We love the Backup Buddy WordPress plugin. It’s a premium plugin (i.e not free), but you can schedule automatic backups of both the files AND the database and send them to your Dropbox, Amazon S3 or email. It also makes migrating a website from one server to another a breeze.
Our Favs and Not-So-Favs
So who do we love? Some of our favorites include ICDSoft.com, WP Engine (despite their lack of email support) and A Small Orange. Some of the least favorite include Web.com, Yahoo and GoDaddy. This is just our opinion. Your mileage may vary.
You may have noticed that the one thing we didn’t mention in our list was price. Most of our clients are fine with shared hosting (multiple sites hosted on the same server). Prices range from $4/mo – $30/mo and you pretty much get what you pay for. So price really isn’t that big of a deal.
There are some other things we like to see in web hosts. Among these are Shell access (aka SSH Access), Git support, easy installs, etc. But the list above are the crucial things.
There are two things we would caution you against. Don’t host your site with the same company you registered your domain name with. If you discover their hosting sucks, you could be stuck there for a while.
Also, don’t try to host your own site. If you lose power for hours at a time (because a clinically depressed squirrel dove into the power transformer by your home or office), your site will be down, losing money. Good hosts have power backups as well as backup servers.
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