How to choose the right web host

posted by Alyona Susol @ 8:22 AM
March 31, 2016

how to choose hostingWelcome, new and aspiring webmasters!

If you are reading this, we take it you are just starting your way into the workings of web hosting and are looking to host your web site online.

Web site hosting as a whole may seem difficult and hard to understand, but worry not! We here at SiteValley like to make things easy for people, that is why we have decided to prepare a series of articles covering the basics of web hosting for absolute beginners. We also have hosting plans specifically designed for such beginners – but more on that later.

Choosing the right company

So, you have finally decided to create an online presence for yourself. It does not matter whether you need a simple contact page, looking to share your thoughts on a blog or to represent your business online – the basic setup is the same. You will need a domain name and a web hosting plan.

Some people argue that domain names and hosting services should be kept separate, but for the convenience’s sake, it is still a good idea to purchase a package deal, seeing that most hosting companies offer domain names bundled with their hosting services free of charge.

This raises your first choice: which company to use for the purchase of your domain name and which company to use for hosting?

There are numerous web sites, which cover hosting companies and their services extensively and also have hundreds upon hundreds of user reviews. We will save you the time required to sift through all this information and will go ahead with saying that our hosting rocks. With our long-standing history of excellent service and 100% customer satisfaction, you may rest assured that your web site or a project will be in the right hands. Do not believe us and would like to see for yourself? We can understand your skepticism; that is why we are offering a 30-day money back guarantee for a completely risk-free trial.

Choosing the right company is important, as this choice affects your overall experience with hosting. But there are so many companies out there! How does one go about choosing just one?

buy hosting
Pictured: results of searching for hosting providers via Google; many offers indeed.

Step 1: Checking the user reviews

To start off, you can try browsing review sites online, although it may prove difficult to find reliable and objective reviews due to sheer number of hosting review and rating sites. The WebHostingTalk forums usually provide objective opinions from legitimate users, so this may be a good place to start researching.

There are also specialized services, such as ShopperApproved, Trustpilot etc. which exist and operate specifically to gather user reviews for online services and sellers. These reviews are usually displayed by the hosting companies on their websites directly.

sitevalley.com reviews
Pictured above: ShopperApproved reviews.

Lastly, you can use simply Google searches to find more reviews, by simply searching for ‘reviews’, which should display relevant results. Make sure to take lone negative or positive reviews with a grain of salt, as these may be indicating strictly subjective views or experiences or be outright posted by the companies’ employees. Consider the average scores and check several different reviews to get a better picture.

Step 2: Make sure the company has a trial and/or money-back policy

The factor directly affecting the ‘face’ of your online business is the reliability of hosting. We can all agree that the company’s website being down when visited by potential customers looks bad. Therefore, this is the most important quality of a hosting service.

Unfortunately, there are no good methods of testing reliability without purchasing a hosting plan, so it is important that the company you are purchasing the service from either has a free trial period or a money-back guarantee.

Step 3: Find out which support channels are provided

The next important thing in a hosting service is the quality of customer support. It does not matter if a company provides the best and the most reliable hosting service out there if there is nowhere to get assistance from when in need. Therefore, it is a good idea to browse the company’s site to get an idea of the customer support options provided.

Arguably, the most efficient method of support communication is live chat support, as it allows real-time communication and has the best response times. In comparison to phone support, there are no hold times, zero phone fees and it allows clear transmission of technical details, such as email addresses, links, domain names, and IP addresses. A good hosting company must provide this support option.

While the live chat support is the best support channel available, it is important that alternate channels, such as phone support and ticket support are provided as well. The more ways to contact support and get the issue fixed sooner, the better.

Step 4: Assess the quality of customer support

Before purchasing a service, you may want to join a chat session with the company’s chat operators and ask some basic questions about hosting and the available plans, as this initial communication is usually a representation of what to expect in the future from the support service. This will also allow you to clarify any questions that you may have regarding the company’s services.

Step 5: Ensure that the hosting company provides appropriate tools of managing the hosting service

To manage a hosting service, you will need to have the necessary tools (i.e. a control panel). The types of control panels vary from hosting provider to hosting provider. The industry standard at the moment is cPanel. This is arguably the easiest to use and the most user-friendly control panel; in addition, because it is so widespread, you will face no difficulties with compatibility when moving between hosts. You can check this panel in action using the demo at http://cpanel.com/demo/

cpanel
Above: cPanel home screen.

Types of hosting solutions

Now that this is off the table, your next choice would be the type of hosting that would suit your project best. Most companies usually offer several types of hosting at once and although it is almost always possible to change the hosting type and plan later, it is still best to choose the right type from the start, to avoid the hassle later.

The three most popular types of hosting are shared hosting, VPS hosting and dedicated server hosting. What are the differences between them?

Shared hosting

shared hosting

The most economical option is usually the shared hosting. With this type of hosting, you have one single hosting server sharing an array of customers, with numbers usually in the hundreds. The fact that only one physical machine is used allows hosting providers to offer such hosting packages for cheap. Moreover, the physical server itself and its environment are usually managed by the hosting company, which makes this type of hosting more attractive for beginners, as it requires little to no input from the user in terms of maintenance.

Choosing a right shared hosting plan

Shared hosting plans are usually differentiated by the amount of disk space, bandwidth and the number of sites you can host with a given plan.

The amount of disk space that you need is determined by the volume of media content (images, site elements, animations etc.) and other files that you are planning to host or store under your account.

Most hosting providers nowadays offer unlimited disk space in their shared hosting plans which is reassuring, however don’t go crazy with hoarding the disk space. Generally, hosting plans are not designed for data storage purposes and providers clearly state this in their usage policies. In case you absolutely need to store some considerable amount of data, it is better consult with support first.

Bandwidth limits are an artifact of olden times now, so make sure that your chosen hosting provider has unmetered bandwidth for the shared hosting plans. Having such a limit (especially a low one) can be dangerous, as even a single traffic spike (e.g. when a link to your site gets promoted publicly) may lead to overage and consequent suspension.
As for the number of sites that you can host, this should be pretty obvious: the more domains you are planning to host, the higher this limit should be.

Shortcomings of shared hosting

However, there are certain downsides to this hosting type. With such a ‘communal’ arrangement, all the users heavily depend on each other in terms of preventing abuse: if one users abuses the server, either by loading it heavily with traffic or by sending out spam, the rest of the users may be affected by the negative outcome of such activity.

Moreover, shared hosting solutions are generally not flexible due to the fact that the server environment is managed solely by the hosting company with little room for modification; they also do not offer much in terms of scalability. The amount of resources is limited on a shared hosting server, thus this type of hosting will not suit heavier sites with higher number of visitors.

VPS hosting solutions

vps hosting

The step above the shared hosting is a VPS, a virtual private server. This technology is somewhat similar to shared hosting in that you still get a portion of one physical machine shared by several users. However, unlike shared hosting, you get your own fully fledged server using these resources, with all the related services running solely for you. This means that you can manage the services and the server environment as you please, with almost full control.

You are no longer affected by other users and will not experience consequences of someone other’s actions. However, using a VPS requires a certain set of technical skills and knowledge from the owner. Although such servers are usually set up and configured by the hosting provider and are ready to use after this, they still require regular maintenance and constant monitoring.

Choosing your VPS hosting solution

With most hosting providers, the basic differences between various VPS plans are the type of virtualization used (usually Xen or OpenVZ), the disk size and the amount of RAM the virtual server has.

We will not be doing an in-depth explanation of virtualization technology differences in this article, as we have covered this in detail previously, see article “Xen vs OpenVZ“.

The disk space requirement should be pretty straight-forward: the more media content and data you need to host on the VPS, the more disk space you should purchase with your VPS.

So, carefully consider the amount data you are planning to upload to the server, add to this an equal amount of disk space for backup purposes and take into account the space required for system and its services (usually around 5 GB). Ideally, you should have at least 33% of disk space left to spare.

The last difference is the amount of RAM; your requirements are dictated by the software and services you are planning to host on the server and the volume of visitor activity on your sites. For more information on assessing your RAM requirements, please see article “How much RAM do I need on VPS“.

Dedicated server hosting

dedicated hosting

Dedicated servers are very similar to VPS and have the same upsides in comparison to shared hosting. With a dedicated server, you have a separate physical machine all to yourself, without sharing it with anyone. You have full flexibility, complete control over the server and full access to its resources. However, dedicated hosting solutions are considerably more expensive than both shared hosting and VPS. A dedicated server also requires the most input from the user and can only be recommended to advanced users, with extensive technical knowledge.

Choosing the right type of hosting for your project

Now that we have covered the most popular types of hosting, which hosting plan is best for which purpose?

Shared hosting is ideal for beginners and users on a budget. This hosting solution is best for hosting personal websites, portfolios, small e-stores and blogs. Not ideal for hosting popular websites, which get large amounts of traffic, as the resources offered may not be sufficient.

VPS hosting solutions, while cannot be recommended to beginners, can host all types of sites above, with the added possibility of hosting heavier sites, which require amounts of resources not available with shared hosting. With added flexibility in terms of the installed software, VPS can be used for hosting websites or applications, which require non-standard modules, services or settings.

Reserved for professionals, dedicated servers are usually required for mission-critical sites or platforms, where performance and reliability are of utmost importance. There is no better option for a website heavy on the server’s resources. Also, due to increased disk performance and larger amounts of disk space, they can also be used for data storage and database hosting purposes.

SiteValley offers all three of the hosting types described above. If you are a beginner in hosting and are just looking to start hosting your first website, we recommend you to look at the Newbie shared hosting plan, which covers all the basic requirements for minimal price and is a good starting point in your journey.

In case you still have any questions remaining, please feel free to contact us via live chat support at https://sitevalley.com/ and our friendly staff will gladly answer them.