Planning to put a website online in the near future? Trying to figure out how to choose a web host?
There is a virtual tonne of web hosts around every corner but how do you know if you are deciding on the right one? Is there even a “right one”?
Before making a suggestion for shared web hosting, let’s look at everything you should take into consideration before making your final decision.
What is a Web Host?
It’s important to know what a web host is prior to investigating different web hosts. A web host is a company that rents out space on their servers for you to use. You will need to rent space on a server so that you have a place to put the files that make up your website.
A server is usually housed inside of a larger data center which is made up of many different servers. A server is basically just a regular computer that contains hardware that is optimized for serving files on the internet.
Some smaller web hosts rent servers from larger web hosts or data centres. This means that they are actually resellers or middle-men. There isn’t a problem with this type of setup but it is more likely that when you have a problem with your web host, they aren’t going to be able to respond as quickly.
The reseller approach is common when you you are dealing with a smaller (lesser known) hosting company. It is best avoided when you want to have more control over your own hosting.
Types of Web Hosts
There are essentially three different types of web hosts:
- Shared Hosting
- Virtual Private Servers (VPS)
- Dedicated Servers
When you are just starting out, a shared host is going to work out just fine for you. A shared host is usually a lot more cost effective and there are a lot more processes in place to guide you along.
A shared host is when a group of users are on a common server. This means that each user’s files reside in their own part of the server but they share common resources. The downside to this is that if you happen to be on a shared host with someone who is using a lot of the server’s processing power or memory, your site can also slow down.
The analogy that I use quite often for this is comparing it to roommates. When you are sharing an apartment with one or more people, you often have to share a kitchen, bathroom, etc. This can lead to problems when all of you want to use the bathroom at the same time.
Most shared hosts have fail-safes in place to prevent one user from hogging all of the resources. If you or one of your server-mates start using too many resources, the web hosting company often “encourages” you to upgrade to a VPS.
Another thing to be cautious of when you choose a web host is the promise of unlimited hosting. You’ll see claims of unlimited bandwidth or unlimited disk space. All of which are true unlimited’s but it won’t be bandwidth or disk space that will cause you to upgrade to a VPS, it will be memory (RAM) or processor (CPU) power and allocation.
You can use all of the disk space and bandwidth you want but if your server doesn’t have the RAM or CPU to serve the files to your visitors then they will still receive server errors in their browsers.
With all the limitations of shared hosting, it is still the best option for most people starting new websites or blogs. The limitations of shared hosting is often not felt until your website starts getting LOTS of traffic. Unless you know (not just hope) you are going to be getting massive amounts of traffic, shared hosting is what you need. When you are fortunate enough to have piles of traffic, it is a simple process to move to a VPS.
Virtual Private Server
You will probably want to move to a VPS after you have outgrown shared hosting. A VPS is still on a shared computer but the server is virtualized. This means that you can restart your server if you need to. Each virtual server is independent of the other virtual servers so that you always have the resources you need.
When we go back to our roommate analogy, a VPS is similar to an apartment build. You get all the rooms to yourself, you don’t have to share the bathroom with anyone. This means that if you have a certain amount of RAM and CPU promised to you, it’s yours. You don’t have to worry about one of your neighbors hogging the resources. For most medium sized businesses, a VPS is all that is needed.
At some time in the future when your traffic has reached the level of overwhelming proportions, it will be time to move to a dedicated server. A dedicated server is one that you have complete control over. All the RAM, CPU and disk space is yours to abuse. Dedicated servers are usually expensive and unnecessary for the average person with a simple website or blog.
This is your house. Your own plot of land and nobody can access it except for you. Now you have to start worrying about the mortgage because it isn’t going to be cheap. This means that you have full control over the server, there is no other websites hosted on the same machine as you and nobody to hog any of your resources. Dedicated servers are usually expensive and unnecessary for the average business with a simple website or blog.
How to Choose a Web Host?
So back to our original question of how to choose a web host. First, we need to look at what we are going to be using it for. Since you are here, I will hazard the guess that you want a website for your small business, in our case, a WordPress website. So let’s look at what to consider:
- Disk Space
- PHP and MySQL
- One-Click Installs
- Own Data Centers
- Multiple Hosted Domains
Bandwidth and Disk Space
Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transferred to and from your host. Disk space is the amount of data you can store on your web host. The industry standard these days is unlimited or nearing unlimited. It’s like having 24-hour gym access when in reality you really only need one or two hours a day but it’s nice to have just in case you want to hit the gym at 3:00am. When you choose a web host, this should just be a given.
Also, as I mentioned above, your RAM and CPU will run out long before your disk space and bandwidth do.
PHP and MySQL
There are two different technologies that WordPress relies on to do it’s job. Both of which you should be aware of when you choose a web host. The first one is PHP and the second one is MySQL for databases. It isn’t that important to know exactly what these two technologies are but it is important to make sure your host is capable.
As of writing, the latest version of WordPress is 3.5 and it requires PHP version 5.2.4 or greater and MySQL version 5.0 or greater. If you’re not sure, ask your host. To be honest, most hosts will be up-to-date but if they aren’t, then you really should run the other way.
There are many different hosts out there, so there are many names for this type of service. Essentially a one-click install is a feature in the web host’s control panel that makes it easy for you to install WordPress or other similar scripts.
Some hosting companies have their own custom control panels and others use a commercially available one. You’ll hear arguments for and against each. Nevertheless, once you get used to either, you’ll be fine.
Some hosts don’t have a control panel which means that you will only be able to access the host via a command line. Unless you are a UNIX wizard, you should avoid these types of hosts. Some hosts don’t have one-click installs which means you have to manually setup your WordPress database and configure WordPress. Everything will still run fine in the end but it is just more complicated.
To simplify the whole process, make sure you choose a web host with some form of one-click install.
Support and Own Data Centers
It is very important to make sure that you have access to a support team. It is also important that your host owns or leases their own data centers. This will benefit you when it comes to support.
Since resellers don’t have their own data centers, they need to contact the support at their parent hosting company to find out what’s going on with their servers. This adds a middle man to the whole process and can slow down response times.
Most web hosts will have support that will help you with one-click installs and general questions. I wouldn’t touch one that didn’t with a ten-foot pole.
Multiple Hosted Domains
In the beginning you will probably only need a single domain for your website. However, you may decide to start a second site in the future. In this case you will need to add an additional domain name.
Make sure that your host doesn’t limit the number of domains that you can host with them. Some hosts do and it really is just an artificial limitation so that they can up-sell you to a higher cost plan in the future.
Many larger hosts will give you the ability to also register your domain with them. It is fine to do so but if you are concerned about putting all of your eggs in one basket, you may wish to register your domain at a separate domain registrar. When registering domains, be sure to get private registrations. This means that the general public won’t see all of your personal contact information if they do a domain lookup. Instead the webhost acts a proxy and all contact will be passed through them. This gives you an extra layer of privacy.
Which Web Host Do I Use?
Dreamhost is one of the best shared hosting options available. They meet or exceed the requirements above. They are not perfect but you won’t find a shared web host that doesn’t have the odd hiccup once in a while. I’ve been with them since 2006 and overall my experience has been good. With that all said, I do encourage you to shop around and find the best solution for you and your needs.
If you’d like us to get you setup on Dreamhost or help you migrate your existing site over, get in touch with us through our contact page.
However, if you do decide to go it alone. I’m sure there are some promo codes out there.
Do you have any questions or comments about hosting or domain registrars? Leave a note in the comments.