Choosing a webhost for your new site sometimes feels like a hopeless task. You search and search, browse pages and pages of hosting reviews, think you’ve found a good one, but oops, there’s a review saying they are the worst host ever, so you move on. It’s tiring.
Our first suggestion is to take all hosting reviews with a grain of salt. Many of these reviews are paid reviews, not true testimonials from actual customers. So that glowing review you saw of Host X might not actually be the case.
There is no such thing as a perfect host. They are all going to have some problems here and there. The true test of a host is how they handle these problems. How is their support? Do they get back to you quickly? Are they helpful in solving the problem? A host that is quick to respond, and helpful in resolving the problems is a host you want to hang on to.
Ask Yourself: What Do You Need?
The first step in choosing a host is assessing your needs. You need to consider what you’ll be doing with the website before you decide where to host it. A large WordPress site is going to have different needs than a small one, and there’s no need to spend more than you have to if you’re just starting out. When you know what your basic requirements are, you can then begin to explore the hosting possibilities that fit those requirements.
Bandwidth: The amount of data that can be transferred between your website and the rest of the internet. The larger the bandwidth, the more traffic your site can handle. A host offering 50GB of bandwidth lets you transfer 50 gigabytes of data per month. Things that count against your bandwidth include people visiting your webpages and viewing your images, database queries, files downloaded from your site, and emails sent to and from your web server. If you go over your allotted monthly bandwidth, your host will either disable your site (bad host), or charge you overage fees for the extra transfer (better host). The best hosts will warn you well before you reach your bandwidth limit so you can assess your needs and upgrade your hosting plan if necessary.
CPU: Or central processing unit, referring to a computer or server’s processing capabilities. In terms of hosting, CPU usage is often the reason most people are forced to upgrade their hosting, not bandwidth or disk space as you may have previously thought. WordPress can be a CPU hog, especially in shared hosting environments where you are sharing the same CPU as other sites.
Disk Space: The amount of ‘stuff’ actually stored on your web server. This includes all your websites files, pages, and images. If you plan on having a very image-heavy blog, for example, you are going to need more disk space than someone who won’t have nearly as many images.
Server: The physical box that holds your site’s information. Yes, it’s an actual box somewhere (think a giant external hard drive) that stores your site’s files and facilitates the delivery of your website to the world. Technically, any computer connected to the internet can be a server. By purchasing web hosting, you are essentially renting “space” on this server to store your website’s files.
Domain Name/URL: The name of the website that is entered into the browser to access a website (for example, www.purrdesign.com). A lot like your car’s license plate, you must register your domain name and pay an annual fee to keep it registered in your name and continue to use it.
Database/MySQL Database: Think of a database as a powerful Excel file stored on your webserver, made up of a series of tables and cells that contain related information. If your site is built on a database-driven system (both wordpress and ckgold are mysql-based), a database stores all the content associated with your site, from your blog posts to your product information.
FTP: File Transfer Protocol is a way to exchange files over the internet. When you sign up for hosting, you’ll be given FTP access to your webserver. Through FTP, you’ll be able to upload and download images and files to and from your website. You will need an FTP client to do so. Our favorite is Fetch (MacOSX/$25), but you can find plenty of free clients as well (try CyberDuck for MacOSX, or SmartFTP for Windows).
SSL: Secure Sockets Layer. An SSL Certificate is what lets you shop online without having to worry about someone stealing your credit card information. SSL is a protocol designed to enable applications to transmit information back and forth securely. It’s what makes a website show the little lock icon to indicate that your personal data is safe. You only really need this if you’ll be collecting sensitive information like credit cards.
Shared vs VPS vs Dedicated
Shared Hosting: Think of a hosting company as a city. Each building in the city is a server that stores website files. Shared hosting is like a community bunk house, where you share the living space with lots of other people. For low traffic sites this is a great option as it is affordable and the landlord (host) takes care of much of the maintenance for you.
VPS Hosting: VPS, or virtual private server, is the next step up from shared hosting. It’s like renting your own little apartment within a larger apartment building. That space is yours to do with as you please.
Dedicated Hosting: When you outgrow your apartment, it’s time for your own house. Dedicated hosting is just that, your own personal server box that is all yours. For very high traffic sites this is necessary to ensure your server has ample CPU to handle the traffic.
Managed Hosting: Continuing with our city analogy, managed hosting is like having your own property manager. While the inside of your house or apartment is up to you to keep clean (your site’s theme, content, etc) the manager will make sure that your driveway is clear and your electric isn’t disrupted. Unless you’re a super techy genius, or happen to be married to one, you’ll probably want to look for a managed host. Shared hosting is always managed, but VPS and Dedicated hosts are available either way. You’ll pay more for the management, but it’s worth it in the end having someone who knows what they’re doing to keep your site running smoothly.
Some things to look for:
Support: If your site goes down, you want to be sure you can get in touch with someone, stat! Many hosts may not offer 24/7 support, but as long as they’re accessible via email that’s typically a good solution. A good host will respond promptly to all support requests, no matter how small. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with the support before purchasing your hosting and see how prompt they are to respond.
Money Back Guarantee: Yes, it’s a sales pitch, but hosts that offer a money back guarantee (for 30-days or otherwise) will ensure your money can be recovered should the host not work out. It happens. The host might look good up front, but once we start poking around and setting things up for your brand new site, there may be a feature they don’t support and are unable to fix. Having a backup escape plan is always a good idea.
UNIX/Linux: Just like Apple or Windows, the operating system of the hosting server matters. Since WordPress is written in PHP, it requires a Unix or Linux based host in order to run. And don’t worry, even if you are using a Windows computer, your website will still work on non-windows hosting. 🙂
Control Panel: Your control panel is where you manage every aspect of your site, from email to FTP accounts to bandwidth usage. Whether that is a standard control panel like cpanel, or a simplified client area, you should be able to have control over the major elements of your site. Even better, if they offer a demo of their control panel check it out for yourself. Make sure you’ll be able to do what you need to easily and without much hassle.
Email Support: Most hosts include email support in their packages. This means you can easily set up a firstname.lastname@example.org email address (how’s that for fancy and professional looking?) at no added cost. Some hosts do not offer email services, in which case you’ll need to purchase that elsewhere. Domain registrars usually sell email service as an add-on to domain registration, or you could always route it through a 3rd party application like Google Apps.
Add-on/Additional Domains: Many hosts will let you host multiple domain names on the same account. This is always a good feature if you ever see yourself having multiple websites (a personal blog, maybe? or a second business website?) Being able to host multiple sites on one hosting account will save you money, as you won’t have to pay anything more than the domain registration to host another website.
Hosting is Always Limited.
There is no such thing as unlimited space. Be wary of hosts offering this. Also be very wary of hosting reviews sites. Every host will have a few unhappy customers, and chances are those are the people who will be the most vocal. Many reviews sites are also padded with paid/biased reviews, so that glowing review might actually be from an employee of the hosting company, for example. Unless you want to make your head spin, I’d avoid hosting reviews sites altogether.
Registering Your Domain Name
The big question here is should you register your domain with your host or someone else? Without hesitation I will tell you never to register your domain name and host your website at the same place. The reason for this is you want a quick escape route. If (god forbid) your host fails big time, your site is down, and you need to get out quick to avoid losing valuable business, you can. Changing hosts is as easy as moving data from one server to the other, and then ‘pointing’ your domain name to the new host. This ‘pointing’ of the domain, also known as changing your nameservers, is done through the domain registrar. If your registrar is a different company than the host that dropped the ball, it’s no problem. Your site will be back up within a matter of hours. However, if you had your domain registered with the same shoddy hosting company that crashed your site, you’d need to transfer the domain elsewhere as well, a process that can take 3-5 days or longer. I don’t think I need to tell you why having your site down for a few hours is better than close to a week.
Use a domain registrar (such as GoDaddy, NameCheap, or Hover.com). Register it there and keep it there for all eternity. Some registrars also sell other services, and they will try to sell you the kitchen sink in the process, so hold on to your wallet and don’t let them convince you to purchase any of their add-ons… things like private and ‘enhanced’ registration are unnecessary.
Flywheel – Fully managed WordPress hosting. We recently discovered Flywheel and are totally smitten. Their servers are entirely optimized to make your wordpress site run as fast as humanly possible, with a great client interface that makes managing your sites a breeze. It’s a bit more costly than traditional shared/VPS hosting, but it’s well worth it in our opinion. Only downside is the standard support is not 24/7, though they do have emergency support available if needed.
WPEngine – Fully managed WordPress hosting. Because WPEngine only hosts WordPress sites, their servers are fully optimized for incredibly fast loading. Top notch wordpress 24/7 support that goes beyond what most hosts offer, with plans perfect for WordPress sites of all sizes. WPEngine is more expensive than other hosting options because of the specialized support and service they offer, but you definitely get what you pay for. Comparable to Flywheel in terms of service, though can be slightly more expensive for larger sites.
Liquid Web – As your blog grows, so will your hosting needs. You may reach a point where shared hosting is no longer suitable. LiquidWeb has great support and affordable managed VPS plans for higher-traffic blogs and websites. Their shared hosting plans are great too for blogs just starting out, leaving you plenty of room to grow.
NameCheap – A solid domain registrar, just as affordable as GoDaddy without all the annoying upsells.
*This article contains affiliate links, however we would never recommend a service we haven’t personally used and recommend.