Selecting a Web Host

Whew boy. This was not the article I intended to write this week, but after a customer experience I can only describe as victimizing, I suppose the time is right to talk about what to look for in a web host.

For those who might not be familiar, a host is a company that hosts your website and components on the internet. For most companies that aren’t big enough to warrant an in-house IT department, having a 3rd party host is economical and efficient. It’s also an industry that’s fairly commoditized, so there are plenty of options. You are essentially renting server space to place up your site on the internet.

The first consideration is simplicity of changes and updates. Sites like Wix, Weebly and Squarespace make it very easy to get up and running if you have an idea of what you’d like to do with your site, and you’re reasonably comfortable putting everything together. Even as designers who often work in WordPress, sometimes we recommend these sites to clients and help them with some of the heavy lifting to get things ready to go. They hold the added benefit being one stop shops, you can register your domain name with them, and pay your recurring monthly/annual fee. They also happen to be fast and reliable which is a must. The downside is they tend to be priced on the premium side, since you get the slick interface, uptime and also, their Super Bowl ads don’t come cheap.

The next consideration is if you require something a little more custom. If that’s the case, we usually suggest WordPress hosted on any number of companies. There are far more considerations to take into account:

  • Where are the servers located? Do they need to be in your country?
  • How reliable is the service? Typically, you pay for better guaranteed uptime which can reach 99.999%
  • Are the servers fast? This is hard to gauge until you use their services, but there’s only so much that can be optimized before the host becomes the bottle neck in serving up a website quickly
  • How much bandwidth will you consume? If you have an image heavy site with lots of traffic or large downloads, that will consume far more data than something that is primarily text with a few visitors. If you think you have unlimited bandwidth, make sure there isn’t some “fair use” clause where unlimited doesn’t really mean unlimited
  • How much disk space do you need? Again, this depends on the amount of content you want to host
  • Are you on a shared server (less expensive) vs. a dedicated server (more expensive)? With a shared server other bad actors on your site can impact both performance and how others handle traffic direct to your site. Most reputable hosts don’t allow people who host malicious content on their servers but you don’t have control over that.
  • Customer Support. This seems to be the first thing to go when you get heavily discounted web hosting. There is nothing worse than having an issue which can’t be resolved and customer support is nowhere to be found. Much like oxygen, you don’t think much about it until it’s gone.

A few parting words of wisdom to website owners:

As a rule of thumb, you do get what you pay for. That’s not to say you can’t get lucky and find excellent performing hosting with great customer service for a rock bottom price, or that you can’t over pay for poor service. If you’re investing in a professionally done website, cutting corners on your webhost might cause headaches or limit the performance. In the event something goes wrong, you want to be able to pick up the phone and reach a human who is trained at their job and cares about customer retention.

A few parting words of wisdom to web designers/developers:

Even if it’s the host who screws up, that makes you look bad. As far as a client who has hired you to get their website up and running is concerned, poor hosting is your problem, and it reflects poorly on you. From now own, we will be requiring new clients to be on a set of vetted and approved web hosts. If there’s push back, I will explain it to them as such: Let’s say we’re a car dealership, and you’ve just purchased a new BMW. We will not let you bring in old bald tires to save a few dollars, because those poor tires will have a negative impact on your driving experience and things could go catastrophically wrong.

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