Choosing the Right Web Host

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Choosing the Right Web Host

I have created hundreds of websites over the last ten plus years and worked with dozens of web hosts along the way. Each web host has their own set of pros and cons; however, many of the hosting companies I have used were simply horrible. They were either incompetent, were clueless about how websites work or just didn’t care about customer service at all. In a few cases, we just couldn’t keep our sites online because the servers were always crashing.

We use a few select web hosts now for our sites and our clients. Depending on the site and their individual needs, we may use one web host over another. Not all hosts provide the same services, and I haven’t found a web host that has everything there is to offer so, we don’t limit ourselves to one host.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing a web hosting company.

1. Is Web Hosting the business’ primary service?

There are a lot of hosting companies where web hosting, is not their primary line of business. They may be a design company, or consulting company that sells hosting as a reseller or they could be something completely different. Some companies sell domain names and offer hosting as an add-on package, such as Godaddy.

2. Are they a Reseller or real hosting company?

If you look close, you will see that the majority of hosting providers are just reselling other providers resources. In most cases, the re-seller host doesn’t have the resources or customer base to support their own equipment. Resellers purchase a set amount of resources from another provider and lease out the space and resources to their clients. If something happens to your site, chances are your provider will not be able to help you directly, and will most likely have to contact their provider for help. To avoid this, find a provider that isn’t a reseller host.

So how do you know if the host is a reseller or not? It can be difficult, but asking them is the easiest way. You can also check the BBB or the state the business is registered in to make sure it is a legitimate business. In my experience, most resellers don’t have a registered business.

3. Does the company offer support, and what types of support do they offer?

Most hosting companies offer live support, phone support, email and public forums. All of these are good; however, I would be careful with live support and phone support. A lot of companies outsource their live support and phone support. In some cases, you will not even be talking to a live person on live chat with some of the larger hosts. Phone support is nice, although, in most cases, it isn’t necessary if the tech support knows what they are doing; it can, however, put your mind at ease.

Does the host tech support stop at the server? Have you ever had someone tell you the problem is with the software and you should contact them for help? That can be useful and in a lot of cases it is a better approach, however, in a lot of cases the fix can be easily found if the tech support knows what to look for to begin with. If you’re hosting a WordPress site, for example, it would be nice if your host had some knowledge of the software. If you look hard enough you will find several hosts that not only know something about the software their customers use, but also have technicians that can help them when they are in a jam.

4. What type of Control Panel does the host offer?

If you can get your site on the web why does it matter what type of hosting control panel you use? There are a few control panels that are used by hosts. cPanel is very common and in my own opinion the better choice in the control panel. Plesk is also a nice control panel and if using a Windows server would be my choice. I would personally stay away from web hosts that don’t use one of these control panels unless you are using a VPS, Cloud or Dedicated Server. For shared hosting, I would stick with cPanel and Plesk. They offer more options and control from the end user side while several of the cheaper options are very limited and will just cause headaches.

5. Storage Space and Bandwidth.

This has been an ongoing argument for years. Here are the simple facts. Every web host has Storage and Bandwidth limits of their own, so don’t be fooled when they tell you their limits are “Unlimited.”

Very few hosts have the ability to offer a true “Unlimited” program, however, those are all protected by their terms of service and fancy words like “Fair Use.” I am not saying that you should not use a web host that offers unlimited hosting plans; I am saying that you should read the terms of service before you purchase your hosting. You might want to call the sales department and talk to them. Perhaps read the companies forums or look for reviews on them first. Most of those companies limit resource usage and suspend sites that violate the limits and resource usage.

Keep in mind, most websites don’t use even a small fraction of the allocated resources, so you are probably going to be safe with the “Unlimited” provider or web host that claims “Unlimited” hosts are lying to them. The truth is that neither are lying or wrong, and it is just each providers personal position and thought on which program they want to offer and what their target audience is.

6. Review Websites, are they good or bad?

They are fake or misleading to be honest. Most web hosting review sites are there to make the review site owner money. If you look at a few of the review sites, you will see a fairly common pattern in the top 10 hosts listed. These top 10 slots are paid for by the hosting company. Some are paid for several years in advance to ensure they stay on the top 10. I don’t trust sites like these, and I highly recommend staying away from them. There are other sites out there like Webhostingtalk.com, which is a community of web hosts and potential customers. I don’t trust that site either, simply because I have seen firsthand what happens when someone posts something about their current host, they get slammed by all the other hosts looking for another customer. Sadly this happens with good or bad posts. Few providers over there care about the users that go there for help.

I would recommend the Better Business Bureau for complaints and reviews, also make sure the company is in good standing with the state their business is registered in.

7. Does the host have the ability to scale when you need it?

Having the ability to scale to a higher level of service is important. If you start out with a basic website or personal blog, you’re probably going to be fine on a shared hosting server. Shared hosting can only support so much resource usage from one site. When your site starts to generate a lot of traffic and use more resources, you may need to move the site to a VPS, Cloud or Dedicated Server. Web host providers that offer all of these options usually make it really easy to migrate and then scale your resources without the need to move again. These options eliminate downtime and increases performance when you need it. Keep in mind that you can use a separate cloud such as a CDN (content delivery network) to serve your static content which will also greatly increase your performance. These do not need to be with the same provider and are in fact, usually separate. For example, Our site is hosted on a VPS Server, however our images, style sheets, JavaScript files and other static content is served from multiple servers on Amazon’s CDN. We were on a regular shared hosting plan and simply needed more resources, so we were able to scale up to the next plan, and when needed, we can keep scaling to avoid jumping to a dedicated server and spending unnecessary money on hosting resources.

So who’s good?

We currently use DFG Hosting along with Amazon for the CDN. We have used DFG Hosting for the last several years and recently started utilizing Amazon’s CDN. In the past we have tried several other CDN providers, however, Amazon makes it easy, inexpensive and very fast.

MaxCDN is another CDN provider that is good and works well with software like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and several others.

Rackspace is a solid host, however, they lack the personal touch.

Fire Host is another provider we have utilized which has been very good. We normally use this host for clients that have more specific requirements.

So who’s not so good?

I would recommend staying away from Godaddy as a web host. I highly recommend them for hosting domain names.

1and1 is without any doubt the web host to stay away from. Along with their lack of support, complicated control panel and disregard for customer service, they lock you into a contract you can’t get out of easily.

Now you have my hosting guidelines. Please note that we do not get any discount or benefit from linking or recommending the hosts listed above. We don’t have an affiliate account with them and simply recommend them because they have proven to be high quality providers.

Please share you comments on what you look for in a good web host.

I am a web developer and linux server administrator. I like helping people learn new things. I am a WordPress and CSS junkie.

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