Updated 17 January 2019.
If you are setting up a new website, as well as a domain name (your web address) you will need to find a web host.
Think of hosting like renting an unfurnished flat. You rent out your own piece of Web real estate, paying monthly or annually, and furnish it with your content (your brilliant design, words, pictures etc.)
Choosing a good host can be an art, and there are many considerations. Here are some of the most important ones.
1. How many visitors do you expect to get on your site?
What kind of website are you running? Obviously a huge ecommerce site with a large range of products will attract a lot more traffic than a small brochure site.
The more visitors you have, the more bandwidth, storage and data transfer you will need.
A good host will take the time to discuss your needs, answer your pre-sales questions and advise you on picking the most appropriate type of hosting account.
Check that you can upgrade your plan without hassle when your site gets more popular.
2. Do you need to run any particular software?
This will depend on your site’s purpose. For example, are you running:
- a blog?
- an online shop?
- a forum?
Research the popular versions of each to choose the right one for you.
Many hosting companies now employ a 1-click install for common software. This does all the hard work of installation for you, although you still have to configure the software once it’s installed.
Look out for the requirements of the software and make sure that your host meets them.
For example, if you want to use WordPress for your website, as of January 2019 the following are recommended:
Another thing to consider is that Web servers run two main operating systems – Linux and Windows.
Generally, most web hosts run Linux and most software runs best on Linux. But some requires Windows e.g. Umbraco CMS.
3. How can you contact your host if you need help?
If you get stuck with something, you need to know that your host will help you out of a jam quickly.
Find out how you can contact them. Phone, email, live chat, forums? How quick is the average turnaround time for support?
When are their support hours? 24/7, or something else?
Do they outsource tech support? If it’s outsourced to staff who are thousands of miles away, is English their first language?
How good is their staff training? You want to be reassured by smart, capable tech support people, not poorly trained folk reading off a script.
A good host will also warn you beforehand if there is planned maintenance due on your web server. A really amazing host will let you know if they detect any unusual behaviour on your site e.g. signs of a hacking attempt.
Contact your potential host’s support team and decide for yourself if they are friendly, efficient and reliable.
4. What is their uptime?
Uptime is a measure of the reliability of web servers. No web host can guarantee that your website will always be up 100% of the time. Human error, spam attacks, maintenance and natural disasters are some of the reasons that servers can be down.
Uptime is very important for ecommerce – if your site is down for any length of time, you will lose out on sales.
Some hosts will offer an uptime guarantee, whereby they will refund the hosting cost for the amount of time that a website is down. Check the small print carefully here, to see what this actually means!
5. What about backups and security?
How safe is your data? What would it cost you if you lost it?
Find out if your potential host takes backups of your site as a matter of course.
How often? Could they be restored easily? Is there a charge for their backup and/or restoration service? A good host will not charge you extra.
Never be 100% reliant on your host taking backups, though. Make sure that you can take your own, too.
That means being able to take automated backups as well as manual. For a WordPress site, that might mean with a plugin such as BackupBuddy. If you can’t do this reliably, you need to look around for another host. If you’re not sure, ASK!
Here is a good article on backing up your website.
6. What do you get for the price?
Price may be key for many people, but as with so many other things, you get what you pay for.
If you pick a cheap host, don’t complain later if it is unreliable and the customer support is bad!
Make sure you are clear on what’s included for the money. If there’s a special deal for the first year, are you are happy with the cost thereafter?
Don’t be sucked into a hosting deal with the promise of a free domain name. Domain names and hosting are best kept separate. Good domain registrars usually make bad hosts, and vice versa.
Also find out:
- How will you be billed?
- How often?
- Will you get a reminder when your next payment is due?
- Is there a money back guarantee? Some hosts offer 30 or 60 days.
- Can you leave the host easily if you’re not happy?
- What’s in the service level agreement?
7. What do other customers think?
This is one of the best ways to determine a good host – peer recommendation.
The biggest companies might have the most customers, but are not necessarily the best in other areas.
I like Hosting Facts as it offers unbiased reviews of web hosts. All reviews are recent (within the last year). There are no affiliate links.
Another helpful resource is Web Hosting Reviews from Who Is Hosting This? They list the top 10 hosts overall. You can filter hosts by platform and type.
Asking web developers for recommendations is also a very good idea! 🙂 We’ve learned – sometimes by bitter experience – which are the good and bad hosts to work with.
I hope this helps you think carefully about the important things to look for in a web host, and you manage to find the right one for you. Let me know in the comments who you have found to be a good host – or otherwise.