7 Things To Look For When Selecting A Web Hosting Company
Choosing a great web hosting company for your WordPress site can be tricky. Search the web for the best hosting providers and you'll be inundated with affiliate and paid articles and 'reviews' where hosts are usually presented based on who pays the best referral fees to the author. It's a competitive landscape, and finding unbiased information can be almost impossible.
So instead of listing out a bunch of hosting companies and saying why you should be using them, we’ve put together this list of features we believe are must-haves in any great hosting plan so you can find companies yourself that offer the features your small business needs. Here are five things to look for when selecting a web hosting company.
These items aren't listed in any order of importance. If you're looking for web hosting, it's up to you to determine the most essential items based on your unique needs.
While it's not a technical specification, knowing where your website needs to be hosted is an essential overall item to keep in mind.
If you're in the United States, using a hosting company based in the UK might not be a great idea. Not only will the physical servers be far away (which slows down your site), but time zone differences can make the host's support unavailable when you need it.
Sometimes, you may want to host your site in a different country. For example, if you work in the US but most of your business marketing efforts target clients in Europe, you might want to find a hosting company in Europe so the website is delivered faster to those users.
CDNs can help make your site run fast from all over the world, and the general rule is that you should still host your site as geographically close to your client base as possible.
Every single host you come across says they have fast servers, and it's an subjective statement. Who defines what 'fast' really is? Depending on the configuration, the fastest servers in the world might deliver the slowest websites.
You'll want to look at the actual resource pools that you get with your hosting plan. A host that offers 10 MB/s of I/O will outperform a host that limits you to 2 MB/s. Similarly, a hosting plan with 1 GB of RAM will not perform as well as one with 5 GBs.
While your website design and architecture will affect the speed of the site, in general, the following metrics should be paid close attention to:
More is better. I/O stands for input/output operations and relates to disk usage. An I/O limit sets how much data your account can read or write on the server's disk per second. Every website visit requires some amount of data to be read and/or written to the disk, so a website can hang during load if the I/O isn't large enough while waiting for more resources.
More is better. RAM is the fastest memory location where data lives. When someone visits your website, if the data they need isn't already in the RAM, it gets loaded to the RAM from the disk (which is affected by the I/O limit we talked about above). The more RAM you have, the more data can be stored there before returning to the slower disk to retrieve.
RAM on a webserver serves the same purpose as RAM on a PC. If your website is going to do a lot of parallel tasks or host a lot of visitors all looking for different things, then RAM will have a large effect on your website speed.
Replace a spinning drive in your PC with an SSD; the speed difference is unbelievable. The same thing goes for web hosts. Believe it or not, there are still hosts out there using spinning disks for their storage rather than faster and more reliable SSDs.
SSDs outperform spinning disks in every single metric. We avoid any web host that's not running SSDs on their servers.
LiteSpeed Web Server Software
One of the best things to look for from a web host are hosting plans that run on LiteSpeed, proprietary software that replaces the more commonly-used Apache, for delivering web content. LiteSpeed is a great feature for a web host to have.
LiteSpeed has a built-in server-side cache that makes your websites much faster than traditional Apache-based hosting. And, you don't have to worry about learning anything new because all of the Apache commands and configuration files you're used to are still supported on LiteSpeed.
It kind of goes without saying, but in all honesty, I've seen many people completely ignore that a web host can be just as susceptible to malicious attacks as the website itself. Choose a host that speaks to security in their offerings, such as providing DDoS mitigation built-in, ModSecurity, and 2-factor authentication for your accounts.
In addition, pay special attention to hosts that offer specific security suites such as Immunify360 for proactive defense against hacking. Even if your website is fully secure, you want to ensure the entire server your host puts you on is secure.
No matter how good you manage your site, eventually, you will need to reach out to your hosting company for support. Will they be available? This is difficult to predict because you can't test the host's support until you've already purchased the product.
One thing to determine would be what level of support you expect to require. Some people are highly technical and never run into issues they can't fix, but not everyone is the same. In our case, we don't necessarily need a web host with a live phone or chat support; as long as they respond to email quickly, we're ok with that. But that might not be the case for you.
At the least, look for hosts that offer support in your native language & geography, and who have a reputation for being responsive. We've used web hosts with "live chat" or "live phone" support where you spend 30 minutes on hold, while other hosts only have support via email but reply within 10 minutes.
5. Disk Space
This seems like an obvious one, but it's still worth mentioning. Your website will most likely grow over time. While most sites rarely get very large, you'll eat up space quickly if your site hosts images or video.
Because you're using WordPress, know that your images will be multiplied for every size defined by your theme as soon as you upload them. Planning for space is important.
We generally try to ensure we have at least 10 GB available for each website we host. Our largest site is about 2.5 GB, but this gives us plenty of room for expansion or unintended events such as backups failing to offload to cloud storage and being stuck on the server - which can fill your space quickly.
Bandwidth is the amount of data your website delivers over the internet. And bandwidth limits can hurt you at the worst point in time. Nothing is worse than going viral and your web host suspending your traffic because you exhausted your bandwidth limit. Imagine taking out an ad on TV for your business, and the resulting flood of traffic to your website results in a "site not available" message from your host.
Most decent hosts these days give you plenty of bandwidth, and many will give you unmetered bandwidth - which isn't exactly unlimited, but there's no hard line rule at which your account would be restricted for overuse. All of the hosts we've used provide either unmetered bandwidth or an amount that was 10x our expected usage, so we have plenty of headroom.
What use is a website if it's not up and running when your customers need it? You'll want a host with at least a 99.9% uptime guarantee. The uptime guarantee usually won't cover issues you cause to your site, such as uploading a lousy piece of code, but it will generally cover server-related outages that are not your fault.
How to Find All This Information?
It can seem daunting, but most hosting companies either openly post their stats or the sales team can answer the questions. Make sure you speak with a sales team via chat or email to have a written record of exactly what the sales team has promised you.
In addition, you can find several web hosting groups on Facebook and Reddit where you can ask about peoples' experiences with various hosting companies. This way, you can get first-hand information from real customers.
Deciding on a web host is more than just going with whatever the big guys recommend. Everyone's needs are unique and different. If you're unsure, you can find a web design agency and ask them; they usually have a list of preferred hosting companies they trust for their sites, and odds are, they've tried many of them. The research will be well worth it for the health of your small business website.