Every website needs web hosting in one way or another. For most small websites, this will come in the form of shared hosting. Shared hosting means that your website is stored on a server that is shared with a number of other websites. This is a great way to keep costs down but can come with it’s own set of limitations. Other popular options include VPS (virtual private servers) and dedicated servers.
Over the years we have worked with our fair share of web hosting companies of all shapes and sizes all over the world. In this article we will outline the key selling points of a shared hosting package and let you know what you should be looking out for.
Not all disk space is created equal and bigger is not always better, it is becoming more common for hosting companies to offer SSD (solid-state drive) disk space. There will often be tighter restrictions on this kind of storage but the disks are significantly faster and can help improve load times dramatically.
Bandwidth is the amount of data transfer that can be passed through your website. For example, if your web page is around 1MB and you had 1GB (~1000 MB) of bandwidth, your web page could be visited around 1000 times within that bandwidth allowance. Bandwidth will also often include uploads to your website via FTP and emails.
Again, be weary of companies offering unlimited bandwidth and find out what this really means. Often bandwidth is less of a concern and hosting package offerings in this area are usually more than enough. Remember it is generally very easy to upgrade your hosting package with more resources without any hassle, so only pay for what you’ll need and you can scale from there.
Email accounts come in many forms, in the case of shared hosting these will usually be simple mailboxes with a basic webmail interface. Email accounts will often be advertised as unlimited however it is common for them to be included in your disk space and bandwidth allowances. Email storage can rack up fast, particularly if you send/receive a lot of large attachments, so make sure you factor this in when choosing the best package for you.
Most hosting packages will be limited on how much memory they can use so as not to impact other people on the same server. Find out the recommended requirements for the software you intend to run and also factor in how many people will be using your site at the same time. There are many things that factor in to this calculation and is something that can only really be found out in the real world. It is common for hosting packages to offer between 256MB and 1GB of memory, some may not advertise the actual figure at all.
If you hit your memory limit your website will probably not crash or need upgrading immediately, the most common symptom is that it will slow down. In the hosting panel you should find some kind of tool that can plot this on a graph for you, if not your web host can advise and scale accordingly. For very small websites, this is usually not much of a concern.
The most common platform for shared hosting to run on is called cPanel. Different platforms will have different levels of control and sets of features. Only you can decide what is best for you, although speaking as a web designer I am always happy when a client comes to us with cPanel. Proprietary systems used by some hosts can be limiting and make it harder to move in the future.
An SSL/TLS certificate is a feature becoming increasingly more common as a standard feature on shared hosting packages. The most obvious sign of an SSL certificate is the green padlock in the URL bar of your website. Behind the scenes, this means that all traffic between your website and the end user is encrypted. This won’t change the way your website looks or works, but it is best practice to have, essential if you are transferring user data through your website and Google now sees it as a light ranking signal.
Server location is an important factor to consider to ensure that your visitors get the best loading times possible. Hosting a site built for UK visitors in the United States will mean that each piece of data your are loading has to travel all the way across the atlantic. US based hosting can be slightly cheaper although UK hosting will be a good investment assuming most of your visitors will be visiting from here.
If you are expecting visitors from all over the world, there are a number of services that can help with this. Our favourite is Cloudflare, a CDN (content-delivery network) that sits between your domain name and your server. It saves a copy of your websites files to servers all over the world and delivers your content via the best server for that particular user. Cloudflare also comes with a number of other benefits including reducing bandwidth use and helping to stop malicious traffic such as DDoS attacks. Some web hosts support Cloudflare built-in and can be activated with the click of a button.
99.9% or 99.99% is a common ‘uptime guarantee’. But what does that actually mean for you? Servers do have problems and downtime is an unfortunate inevitability now and then. Planned maintenance and hardware failure are the most common causes. An uptime guarantee usually offers you a certain percentage of that monthly cost as a refund depending on the severity of the downtime. In the case of shared hosting which is normally rather cheap this can be pretty worthless! The best thing you can do is ignore these and try and find out what their actual historical uptime is and what other people say about them. If they will not tell you what their uptime is, is there a reason for that?
Your hosting should include backups, weekly or even daily is good. Be sure to find out how the backups work. An important question you could ask is where they are stored? Storing backups in the same place as your website would be no good in the event of a datacentre outage such as a fire or natural disaster. No matter how good your hosts backups are though, make sure you always have your own. Hosting companies can come and go very quickly, anything can happen!
What is their support like? It is always a good idea to contact a hosting company before purchasing anything. Even if you don’t have any questions, make something up and size up their support response times. Phone and live chat is great in case of an emergency.
It is common to pay monthly or annually for your web hosting. We would always recommend starting off by paying monthly to try out a web host first. Look out for a money back guarantee too, just in case they’re not the perfect fit.
Everybody’s needs are different and only you or your website designers can decide which option is best. However look out for these key features and you’ll be well on your way.