The Beginners Guide to Choosing the Best Web Host

2010-11-22 by Roko Nastic

8 Crucial Factors to Consider When Choosing a Web Host

How do you choose the right web host? There are so many alternative options available that picking the right one can seem an impossible task. The web is full of adverts from competing hosting companies all claiming to be the right choice for you and all alleging they will provide the best service at the greatest value.

So for anyone looking for web hosting services, but lost in a world of host-based confusion, here are 8 essential factors to look out for when choosing a web host.


1. Availability and Load Speed

In general, most web hosting providers will boast a system up-time of 99% or higher. But even 0.1% difference can have a significant impact on your website’s availability. For example, a 99% guaranteed up-time could still mean your site being unavailable for 7-8 hours a month. There is not a huge difference in the up-time advertised by many leading companies so it is wise to consider multiple factors when choosing the best web host for you.

Load speed is a very important factor to take into account. Internet users can be an impatient crowd and a website will lose valuable visitors if it has an intolerable drag when loading pages. While some load speed issues can be caused by poor website design, the web host provider’s performance plays a large part in the affair. A substandard hosting provider could be using budget servers, or be running too many sites from too few servers, and either of these will result in slow load speeds for any websites unlucky enough to use these sub-par hosts.


2. Reputation

Reputation is an incredibly undervalued and overlooked factor when it comes to choosing the best web host. The previous section highlighted issues raised by insufficient server provision and placing too much importance on up-time figures. The best way to choose the best web host is not to look for what a hosting provider is promising, but for what they are trying to hide.

Look for a company that provides in-depth information that mentions:

- Component specifications (server configuration, software resources available to clients etc)
- Where the hosting provider is based and where their servers are located
- Contact telephone number and address
- Bandwidth and file transfer limitation
- Overage charges

3. Domain Hosting

Some companies will offer new customers a free domain. This does sound like a good offer, but be careful to read the small print and ensure that this domain name does not tie you to the web host indefinitely. You need to be able to transfer the domain to another hosting service should you choose.

Unlimited domain hosting is a very useful feature. This allows you to host more than one domain per hosting account. There may come a time when you decide to expand and create another website. Unlimited domain hosting provides the flexibility to do so without having to set up a second hosting account, or pay for an upgrade.


4. Technical Support

Technical support should be available 24/7. This is now an accepted standard, so don’t be over-excited should a provider boast about this. You should be more concerned about the quality of technical service provided. Do some research online, especially in hosting forums, to see if there are any horror stories concerning a particular hosting company’s technical support. Technical support needs to provide a speedy response from employees that are competent and thorough.


5. Supplemental Resources

So what else should you look for from a web host? Here are some additional extras to look for:

- Some hosting companies offer free website builder software – that could be useful if you are new to website creation.
- Always check that the host provides a decent administrative control panel. Some even offer free one-click Wordpress installation as standard. Both these tools can be invaluable to new webmasters.
- SSL - Required if you intend to include shopping carts on your site, or accept credit cards. This will normally only be included for free in premium service packages.
- MySQL (or some other database technology, such as PostgreSQL) – Needed if you plan to use databases. Should come as standard with reputable web hosts.
- Access to PHP settings and .htaccess – If you need to include custom scripts and do some site coding alterations you will need access to these.
- FTP – Without File Transfer Protocol access you will be unable to upload new files to your site. This should always come as standard, however it is advisable to check if provider offer secure version of FTP like SFTP or FTP over SSH .

6. File Transfer Limitations

When a visitor comes to your site and opens a page they are transferring your website’s data to their browser. This is also referred to as bandwidth or traffic. The more visitors a website has, the more bandwidth will be used. You need to make sure that the hosting package you choose includes enough bandwidth to cope with an increase in visitor traffic as your website increases in popularity.

Beware of some websites claiming ‘unlimited bandwidth’. This is not always the case and there is usually some cap set in the small print and a high charge if your site exceeds this quota (again, this comes down to hosting provider reputation – the good ones have nothing to hide). Besides you are unlikely to ever need unlimited, so don’t be swayed into paying extra for this service.

In general, a standard website that has between 300-500 pageviews daily and average page size will use no more than 5GB of bandwidth a month. Newer, smaller sites will use considerably less than this.


7. Disk Space

This is how much space your website takes up on the web host’s servers. As with File Transfer, you do not need a huge amount of space. Some web hosts will sell their services based on a massive file allowance, such as 500GB. Others will charge higher premiums for more disk space.
Most average websites use less than 5GB of disk space, so don’t let bold offers of excessive or unlimited disk space allowances be a deciding factor when choosing a web host.


8. Price

While this may seem like the most important factor, you should not be too influenced by price. Many of the top hosting providers will have very similar charges. The providers offering very inexpensive packages may also provide very inefficient services so remember to check the factors mentioned above when choosing a hosting company.

The most important area concerning payment is checking to see what pricing options the web host provider offers. Can you pay weekly, monthly, or annually? Is there a discount for paying for a whole year? Are the incremental charges rolling i.e. are they automatically taken from your account or do you have to authorize payments each month?  What you choose depends on the level of control you require. Most reputable providers will include all these options. Remember to check for any cancellation fees and periods of notice for account cancellations.

There are many web hosting providers vying for your business. Remember that you have many options available and never be tempted to leap before you look. When choosing a web host always do your research and check against the factors mentioned above to find the hosting option that best suits your requirements.

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Roko Nastic

Roko Nastic


Roko Nastic is writer and editor at WebmasterFormat. He enjoys helping other webmasters and website owners succeed in creating better, faster and more profitable websites.

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