When launching a website, one of the most important decisions that you have to make is selecting a good web hosting company. While the importance of selecting the right CMS and hiring a good designer is outlined in every other technology blog or magazine nowadays, hardly anyone talks about the importance of a good web host. However, a good host is not just important but also indispensable. After all, you wouldn’t want your visitors to find your site offline 9 times out of the 10 visits that they pay to your website, would you?
Here at 1WD, we have taken upon ourselves to help you find the ideal web host. In this article I shall be discussing the things that you need to consider, plus the things that you do not need to consider (or, in other words, things that need to be avoided), and then finally wind up the discussion with a small round-up of some major web hosting providers. And, most importantly, unlike the zillions of web hosting related articles that you’ll find on the internet, this one does not have any affiliate links.
Best Web Hosting for Designers? We recommend BlueHost!
Yes, that’s right. While the allure of earning big bucks by getting others to click on links is tempting, I have ensured that this article is totally unbiased – trust me, this article does not contain affiliate links because 1WD knows the importance of a proper web host.
Things You should Consider when Choosing a Web Host
Everyone knows what shared hosting is, VPS, and reseller hosting packages. Just in case you don’t, simply do a Google search!
What matters is picking the ideal hosting package for you. If you have a personal blog or a small website, shared hosting will suffice. But you should consider a dedicated server or a VPS if you have a large website that generates a good deal of traffic. Also, make sure you have ample space and bandwidth in your plan. The worst thing that can happen is to see your website growing, and then noticing that there isn’t enough room for it to grow anyway. Plus, a good web host will allow you to easily upgrade from one plan to another as, and when, the need arises.
Bandwidth v/s Disk Space
Assuming that your main website runs Drupal, and you also host your blog using WordPress on a sub-domain, and your kid is experimenting with Joomla! on another sub-domain, your website space will still be within 300 MB. Add another 1.5 GB for media like photos, and you can have a decent sized small website within 2GB of space. Of course, if you are running a huge website, 2 GB will not suffice. However, even in this case, bandwidth is of greater importance.
Long story short, the less bandwidth you have, the less traffic your site is capable of handling, period.
Know Your Web Host
Hosting a website can be like purchasing a home – you don’t want to purchase it from an unknown vendor. Make sure your web host has a good reputation, and some noteworthy clients (we take a look at this later on in this article). A good way to assess your host’s skills is to drop a test support ticket – say, inquiring about a package that you wish to opt for, etc. BEFORE you actually buy their services. You can assess the host’s overall support abilities by looking at the response that you get.
Here is what I did:
Dropped this support ticket to two different hosting firms (not a fake ticket, by the way, I actually needed Ruby on Rails):
I was wondering if you offer Ruby on Rails on your shared hosting packages? I need to run an RoR based CMS, and I can’t afford the bigger packages. I’ll just opt for the 1 GB shared hosting package.
The response from Host A:
Yes, we have Ruby on Rails.
Yes, we offer Ruby on Rails, and shared hosting or dedicated, all our servers offer 99.9% uptime guarantee and 24×7 support.
Let me know if you have further queries.”
Wow! I got two emails! Let’s bug them further. Another (legitimate) query:
Many thanks for your reply.
Can you please comment on the discounts, if I purchase hosting in bulk, say for a year?
Also, I am not very good with RoR, so if I ever run into trouble with my CMS, will you help me?
And, the replies:
You can look up our discounts’ section <URL>.
Sorry, we do not provide support for third-party software.
Of course, we have discount coupons and promotional packs. If you purchase a year’s hosting in advance, you can get 20% off directly, and then use the coupon code <CODE> to get an additional 40% off for the first year! More info can be had at our blog <URL>.
Sadly, we do not really provide support for third-party apps, but if you tell me the CMS that you will be using, I can give you more info about their forums and docs, and see what I can do for you.
I refrain from commenting further. Both of them have similar services, but the tone of support staff evidently shows that I should be opting for Host B.
Things You should NOT Consider when Choosing a Web Host
Read Reviews Online Using Google Search
Do this: go to the Hosting Recommendations page at Drupal.org
Now, check the links to each web host. What did you see?
Yes, all of those links are affiliates, wherein each sale pays a small fee to the recommending site. Drupal.org is just one example – all across the internet, hosting reviews are all about affiliate links. This is why certain firms score well in hosting reviews (owing to heavy affiliate commission), but fare badly in overall user service.
While this does not mean that ALL reviews on the internet are fake, but you should think twice before blindly trusting one.
You know how it goes – for a given fee, you can now have unlimited web space, unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited everything in web hosting. Sounds like a deal, right?
In reality, there isn’t any such thing as ‘unlimited’ in web hosting. Seriously, is there a hard disk with unlimited space?
These unlimited promises are based on the assumption that the websites hosted on any given server will not use more than a stipulated percentage of the resources, and thus, the server space is oversold with each website being given the promise of ‘unlimited’. Actually, the web hosting firm restricts you to using a given amount of system resources, and if your website crosses that, it can be taken offline, or temporarily disabled. All of this is mentioned in the Terms and Conditions. While this does not mean that all web hosts that offer unlimited hosting are evil, in general, ‘Unlimited’ is a marketing ploy that you shouldn’t really fall prey to.
Web Hosts You Should Consider
Now, we take a look at some of the best web hosts out there.
I’ve divided this list into two parts: Hosts for bigger projects, and hosts for smaller/medium-sized projects. The former consists of web hosting providers that specialize in VPS and dedicated hosting, while the latter is primarily shared hosting. Of course, such demarcation is often blurred — shared hosting providers do offer VPS to their clients. Yet, many times, a good VPS hosting provider fails to be a good shared hosting provider, and vice versa.
My criterion for this list has been simple — I have avoided online review sites, for reasons mentioned above. Similarly, any web host that specializes in affiliate links first and hosting second has not been considered — as a result, this leaves out BIG hosts such as GoDaddy and Bluehost. I do admit that certain users have had a good experience with both GoDaddy and Bluehost, but in general, their servers are super-oversold and the good reviews on the internet are mere affiliate gimmicks.
I have also kept room for ‘exceptions’ — Unlimited hosting is generally something not to buy into, but I’ve included HostGator on this list. Why? Because they seem to be managing Unlimited promises really well, unlike most of their competitors.
Another thing that needs to be stated is that certain awesome hosts for shared hosting packages (such as HawkHost) failed to make the cut because of minor reasons (support ticket responses taking longer than others, blog not being updated regularly, and so on).
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that I’ve avoided talking about pricing in this list, reasons being: (a) all bigger hosts seem to have a more-or-less identical pricing structure; (b) all smaller hosts seem to be running some sort of promotion almost all throughout the year. Still, for the sake of clarity, a VPS with 1 TB of bandwidth will cost you approximately $50 per month. Speaking of shared hosting, well, you can get roughly 20 GB of bandwidth for $4.50 per month, without any promotional discount.
Bigger Projects (such as Managed/Unmanaged VPS)
Bigger projects require big budget hosting. A shared hosting package will not suffice if your website gets millions of views and thus, dedicated or cloud is the way to go. Following are five of the most preferred and trusted hosting providers when it comes to big-level hosting, such as VPS. I’ve also tried to include one example of a heavy traffic website hosted by each of these, and, since you are reading 1WD, there is a good chance that you are a designer/developer, so I’ve ensured that such examples are strictly design-related websites.
Media Temple is arguably the de-facto standard when it comes to VPS and other big-budget hosting packages. They are known for their rock-solid reliability, and serve many big names out there. For instance, SpeckyBoy uses Media Temple.
Rackspace offers Hybrid Hosting solutions (such as dedicated cloud servers) along with managed and cloud hosting for sites that are traffic-intensive. Blogs such as Spoon Graphics and Six Revisions use Rackspace.
Web Hosting Buzz
Alright, I admit: earlier I told you to stay away from Unlimited Hosts as these are mostly oversold. However, HostGator is perhaps the only Unlimited Host that manages overselling well. They hardly have an over-stacked server, and provide good support to users. HostGator is used by the likes of WPTavern.
1stwebdesigner Recommends Bluehost
Do you want to know why 1stwebdesigner recommends Bluehost? We’ve written a short review about Bluehost and the conclusion is just they’re great!
Firehost offers secure cloud hosting with servers located both in US and Europe. It offers great set of features such as enterprise-level protection from DDoS attacks and managed backups (14 days). FoxyCart, the e-commerce solution, trusts Firehost for its hosting needs.
Smaller Projects (such as Shared Hosting)
What if you are just planning to launch a hobby site, or a small personal portfolio that does not require a VPS? Well in that case, shared hosting will suit your needs. In fact, if you are using services such as Blogger to host a blog, but need advanced features without burning a hole in your pocket, you can always find solutions with shared hosting providers (most of them offer 10 GB bandwidth for as little as $3.50 per month). Ideally, a good shared hosting package will suffice for small projects with little traffic, as well as medium-sized sites with as many as 200k unique hits. However, with Shared Hosting, often times web hosting firms tend to have over-stacked servers, thereby resulting in slow websites. Following are some hosts that stay aloof from such practice for their Shared Hosting servers (click on the screenshots for links to websites):
Unique Aspects: Excellent support, competitive pricing.
Unique Aspects: Great infrastructure, good plans.
Unique Aspects: Offers both Linux and Windows hosting, good support.
Unique Aspects: Excellent support, mind blowing pricing.
Unique Aspects: Good pricing, especially if you are migrating from another host.
Taking the Next Step: Picking a Content Delivery Network
So, let’s say you’ve picked the ideal host, setup an awesome website, and are gaining visitors as we speak. Congrats! The next crucial debate that we come across often is: Do I opt for a CDN? If so, which one?
To begin with, if your website is generating loads of traffic, a Content Delivery Network can help you distribute the load across multiple networks, instead of hosting the files on a single server. Also, the above mentioned bigger web hosts come with special CDN features in many of their plans. However, if you wish to pick a CDN yourself, the following are some of the choices you should consider:
CloudFlare comes with both Free and Paid plans. The Free Plan gives you basic CDN services and security features such as hotlink protection and browser integrity check. If you want more, you can opt for the Pro Plan at $20 per month for your first website ($5 per month for every extra site).
MaxCDN does not have a free plan, but their pricing is pretty simple: $39.95 per month for 1 TB. You get features such as real-time reports and free Shared SSL.
Amazon CloudFront is one of the most reliable (and most expensive) CDN services out there. For a US-based plan, you’ll have to pay $120 per month for one TB, and so on. However, Amazon CloudFront is one of the most reputed CDNs, and is definitely worth the money. Also, it works well with WP plugins such as W3 Total Cache.
With that, we come to the end of this web hosting advice piece. Which web host do you use for your website? Are you satisfied with the service that you’re offered? Is there scope for improvement? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments!
Sufyan bin Uzayr writes for various magazine and blogs, and is the author of "Sufism: A Brief History". He blogs about technology, Linux and open source, mobile, web design and development, typography, and Content Management Systems at Code Carbon. You can learn more about him, follow him on Twitter or friend him on Facebook and Google+.