A good hosting platform is very important to any website. Hosting is the foundation of your website, your brand and your business. Getting your hosting platform wrong can result in a slow unresponsive website and server downtime which will adversely affect your SEO and loose you potential customers. If you are serious about your website, you need to make sure that it is in good hands. Getting your hosting plan right, first time, can save you a great deal of time, money and hassle. The following article is based on my own personal experience as a website designer and manager of many websites with a number of hosting providers. I have identified what I think are the most important factors to consider when choosing a hosting plan and I have included my recommendations as to the best providers. This article is not a comprehensive list of all hosting providers, but the ones mentioned I have experience of using. You do not always “Get What You Pay For.” I have received great service and support from free hosting services and truly awful support from hosting plans that I have spent hundreds of pounds on. Although, in terms of server side hardware “You Get What You Pay For” this is usually the case.
The opinions of the relative merits of each provider are purely based on my own experiences as a website designer and manager based in the UK. There is a huge number of web hosting companies available today. All with their own tempting promotions and marketing gimmicks, from free domain names to unlimited bandwidth. In general these are just that, ‘gimmicks’ and should be ignored! This article will not deal with the relative merits of shared hosting versus VPS and dedicated hosting. If you want to know more about this topic see my article here. Affiliate links to the best hosting providers, (in my opinion), are provided at the bottom of this post should you wish to find out more about their plans. Hopefully these will save you from the frustration and expense of getting it wrong.
There are a number of factors you should consider before purchasing a hosting plan. The most important factors are –
- Quality Support
- The technical capacities of your hosting server
- The host providers reputation and reviews
- Price, length and type of contracts
1. Quality Support
In my humble opinion this is the most important factor in considering where to host my websites. Good support is like having AA or RAC cover for your website. Yes, you pay for it (as part of your hosting plan) and most of the time you don’t need it. But when things go wrong you will be thankful that you have it. For many who overlook this factor this is when your internet nightmares begin.
When my site, for some unknown reason, goes down, I want to know that I can call up and get a real, live person on the phone to help me. I want to know that they can find out what’s wrong and fix it, or at least tell me what I need to do to get my site back online.
It is imperative to look into a hosting provider’s reputation for customer support. See what kinds of different ways you can contact them when you need support – email, toll-free or low-toll phone, online chat, and so on. Are they staffed 24/7? Do they outsource support?
All hosts are not equal in this regard. I have had varying degrees of satisfaction with hosting providers support, from excellent to woeful.
The best has been Godaddy. They are not the cheapest provider around, even though their headline rates may appear to be quite attractive, what you get as part of your package is limited and you pay extra for additional emails and server space etc. I pay around £15 per month on their Ultimate plan with added extras. The one reason I still use Godaddy as my primary hosting account for many of the websites I manage is their tech support. They have dedicated UK low toll telephone numbers as well as online chat and a support ticket system. I have frequently used Godaddy technical support over the 5 years I have hosted websites with them and can honestly say that in my experience they are the best. Although their ‘on hold’ music is truly awful!
The worst hosting support I have experienced has been Bluehost. Firstly they are based in the US so have no low tariff number to call from the UK. The only channel for support is via their online chat interface. In my experience their online chat support respond relatively quickly, acknowledged that my problem was at their end with their servers and then did nothing. I was left paying for a relatively expensive hosting plan without being able to use it. Needless to say I no longer have a hosting plan with Bluehost.
I have lost count of the number of hosting providers that I have used over the previous 5 years but some stand out as providing good quality hosting support. Hostinger (UK) provide free and paid for hosting plans on shared servers and cloud based Virtual Private Servers. I have used Hostinger on a number of occasions for hosting development websites and for some small low traffic websites. On the whole I have been very impressed with both the platform and support, both on the paid and free accounts. Hostinger support is via web chat or tickets. I have always found them quick to respond, helpful and able to sort out any issues I have had. iPage is a US based hosting provider that I have used for a while now. As they are solely based in the US there is no low-toll UK phone support option but their support team are quick and helpful and go that extra mile to help you when problems arise.
2. Technical Capacities
All website hosting platforms provide a variety of technical information that can help you choose between them. The old maxim of “you get what you pay for” does not always hold true but you should take a good, honest look at your site and figure out what you want it to do.
If your website is fairly simple, html based with a little functionality such as a contact form and social media feed then a basic plan on a shared hosting platform should suffice. If you’re hoping to host a blog, an e-commerce site, rich content, and videos, then you shouldn’t go with the cheapest hosting package you can find. A cheap hosting plan probably won’t have the RAM, processing power, and disk space to serve all these needs, and you’ll spend more time dealing with downtime or load issues than you would like. You should probably consider using a VPS or dedicated server and pay the extra that this entails.
The best hosting provider for providing high quality server side tech in my experience has been HostGator. Again they are not the cheapest, but provide 4GB of Ram on their Baby Cloud plan at a cost of around £8 per month and the technical support is pretty good in comparison to most. I generally choose hostgator to host larger websites with large amounts of functionality. Their cloud hosting platform is super fast and I have not experienced any downtime at all with the sites I have hosted with them.
The worst hosting technical capacities I have experienced has been from Heritage Web. The stated capacities never materialised and I was left with an unresponsive website with incredibly slow load time. Fortunately they are no longer trading so you will not have to go through the torture of extricating yourself from a plan that promises much and does not deliver.
Godaddy and Hosting (UK) provide pretty good technical specifications on their basic plans. For a little extra per month you can upscale your Godaddy hosting to increase your RAM and IO levels. Well worth the extra if your website becomes popular.
3. Email Features
Most hosting provider provide at least one email account with their basic plans. But what if you require more? Some providers charge an exorbitant amount, for this simplest of all features. Email is one of those areas that you might not have considered when working out the cost of your hosting plan. You should. Also you should consider what email support your hosting provider supplies. If you have a spam problem, then it may be because your hosting company doesn’t provide an adequate solution to stop it. Look into or ask about your provider’s spam solutions and general email practices.
The best hosting provider for email in my experience has been Godaddy, with reservations. Godaddy do have a habit of charging for things that other providers provide free as part of their packages, additional email is no exception. The charges for Godaddy email accounts on their workspace email server are eye-watering. However, if you access to their cpanel hosting you can bypass this expense though by using cpanel emails. These are reliable, easier to set up on email clients than their workspace email plans and come free as part of your hosting plan. Their technical support will even assist you in setting these up.
The worst email plan provider in my experience is Bluehost, once again. I do not have anything against Bluest in particular but I found their email interface clunky and the speed of processing slow. When sending an email from one Bluehost email account to another Bluehost email account I frequently experienced a delay of 10 minutes between sending a receiving. For the price of the plan I considered this unacceptable.
Hostgator, Hostinger(UK), iPage and PlanetHippo all provide reasonably easy to use email interfaces and have provided effective and responsive email solutions to websites I have host with them.
4. The host providers reputation and reviews
Reputation can be difficult to quantify. The larger hosting providers are more likely to have both good and bad reviews floating around on the internet. What is important is the relative preponderance of these reviews. Also look at who has authored them. The less scrupulous providers may have set up fake email accounts to rubbish their competitors. You will have to get a little creative to get the real story on the relative reputations of hosting providers. Do a Google Blog search for a particular hosting company, or look them up on Twitter – and see what their current, or former, customers are saying about them. Social media can be very useful in getting customer feedback. But beware you are going to get strong opinions, both positive and negative. Ask the company questions directly. You will get some idea of how quickly and seriously they take their customer service.
5. Price, Length & Type of Contract
I have placed this factor as last for a reason. Price is not a good criteria for selected a hosting provider. Price is important, however, it shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Jumping on the cheapest offer you see isn’t necessarily the best idea, especially if you rely on your site to make money or promote your businesses reputation. Things like quality support and hardware cost money, and a hosting company that offers free or sub £5 monthly charges are likely not to offer these features. Take a closer look at the features that each host provides and consider how much it will cost you if your website or online business takes off. How much will upscaling cost you extra?
You may have come across hosting deals that advertise their products as £6 per month*. Where the small print refers to a minimum 3 year contract. In general I avoid these like the plague. I prefer to pay monthly, annually if necessary and compare providers accordingly. Handing over your money in one lump sum at the beginning of a 3 year contract provides no imperative for the hosting provider to keep you happy. That is why I like to keep my contracts short. Yes you will pay more in the first year but after you have hosted with them for a year and are happy with the service and support you can extend it to longer periods and gain the price benefits then, when you are sure you are getting a good deal.
Overall choosing a hosting provider is a bit like navigating a minefield. I have lost weeks of work and large amounts of money when making the wrong choices and also have been delighted when helpful tech support have saved my bacon. Today I use a mixed portfolio of hosting providers. Godaddy for basic websites, Hostinger (UK) for development sites, PlanetHippo for individual wordpress sites and Hostgator for the more demanding sites with high RAM requirements.
My last piece of advice would be to avoid this this issue altogether if you can. If your website designer offers hosting as part of their service, use that. It then becomes their problem and the headaches and problems that can arise in choosing the correct plan, keeping your website up and running will become their problems!