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How to Pick a Web Hosting Company

fiber optic panel pick a web hosting company

If you plan to do business online, eventually, you’ll need a robust website with your own domain address. We recommend that you grab your domain name as soon as you decide on it, but you don’t have to sign up for web hosting at the same time.

We believe it’s strategically better to decide on a web hosting service after you’ve thought through all your options. Nevertheless, we know that web hosting companies advertise $0 or $1 domain registrations if you sign up with them. Some of you might want to take that $0/$1 offer.

So, in this article, we’ll go over the basics of web hosting—what web hosting is and what characteristics to look for in a good web hosting provider. We’ll give our pick of the best hosting company for a small business in the next article.

Let’s first look at what web hosting is all about.

What Is Web Hosting?

Websites are basically pages of information stored on specialized computers called web servers. Unlike your personal computer, the web server is always on and always connected to the internet. Visitors see the contents of your website by downloading your web pages to their computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Web hosting providers operate web servers. A good web hosting company must get some aspects of this service right, or you’ll lose visitors to your website.

The Four Most Important Attributes of a Web Hosting Provider

We’ve narrowed the characteristics of a great web hosting service down to four. Each characteristic has its own section below, for easy discussion.

Server Speed

Readers and customers will leave a website if it takes too long to load. In fact, up to 40% of visitors will leave a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. So, server speed is probably the most important aspect of running a website.

When selecting a web hosting service and a hosting plan, pay attention to the server speed. Of course, the faster the speed, the pricier the monthly charge.

When you’re starting out and are just acquiring readers or customers, you probably don’t need to be on the fastest server. It’s fine to start at a slower speed and move to a faster one later. So, make sure your web hosting company offers faster plans at reasonable prices for you to grow into.

Server Uptime

Server uptime is at least as important as server speed. After all, even if you’re on the fastest server, if the server often goes down for long periods of time, speed won’t matter.

Most web hosting providers publish their server uptime. However, we’ve noticed that the listed server uptime might not reflect the actual uptime. Hosting companies run multiple servers, and, sometimes, only one or two servers go down.

We’ve experienced this exact issue. Our server was down, but when we checked big reporting sites, they reported our web hosting company’s servers were up. It turned out that the hosting company was updating server-side software, and only a few servers and the websites hosted on them were affected.

So, be aware that the web hosting service’s advertised server uptime might be an average or overall uptime.

Customer Service/Technical Support

Most of the time, your website will run pretty smoothly. But when it’s down, it’s an emergency. Having live customer support to help you with issues becomes vital.

Most web hosting services offer a knowledge library or self-help chat, but it’s best to also have 24/7 live support. Be aware, though, that sometimes the support personnel are on the other side of the world. This is neither good nor bad, as long as they can fix your issues fast.

We do not recommend web hosting providers or plans that have no live tech support.

Flexibility to Upgrade to Faster Plans

You can change hosting companies when you switch to a faster plan, but it’s probably easier to stay with the same company and just upgrade. This is why it’s important to pick a web hosting company that offers reasonably priced plans for both slower and faster speeds.

Below are the technical names for different types of plans related to server speed.

Shared Server Plans

From the technical side, the lowest priced plans tend to be shared server plans. This means your website is running on the same server as many other websites. If the web hosting service puts too many websites on the same server or if one website suddenly gets a lot of visitors, then the server tends to slow down for everyone.

Dedicated Server or VPS Plans

Higher speed plans often give you dedicated server space. This means that you have a guaranteed speed for your website because no one else is allowed to share your computing space.

Some dedicated server plans are actually virtual private server (VPS) plans. This means that the web hosting service uses software to guarantee a dedicated server space when, actually, you’re still on a shared server.

Cloud Computing VPS Plans

The fastest plans tend to be cloud computing plans. They cost the most and run on cloud servers owned by companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc. Running a website on cloud servers requires a lot of technical knowledge.

Some web hosting companies offer cloud computing plans by renting computing time from Amazon, Google, etc., adding their own technical knowledge and tech support, and packaging the entire service to their customers. Often, cloud computing plans are packaged as VPS plans.

What Is Cloud Hosting and Why It’s Not for Everyone

If you’re very adventurous and aren’t afraid of technology, you could buy cloud computing time directly from Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and similar companies. Then you can run your website in the cloud yourself. This, however, is not for most people.

What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud servers are basically fast, powerful computers operated and maintained by companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc. They operate on the concept of distributed computing, so if one server is slow or goes down, other connected servers take up the slack. As a user, you never feel any slowdown or stoppage.

You access these servers through the internet and rent computing time by the second. You can run all sorts of software on them, including web server software.

Typical Pricing Plans for Cloud Computing

Because you pay by the second, your monthly charge depends on the amount of traffic on your website. The more visitors you get, the more computing time you use, and the higher your charges.

Most cloud computing companies have a free tier, where you get a number of free minutes each month. So, the cost of running your website each month can go from zero to tens of thousands of dollars or more. It will fluctuate depending on the number of visitors to your site on a particular month.

Both Google and Amazon have simplified the technical backend of running a website for small and medium businesses. For instance, Google offers a one-click install of one of the most popular website building software called WordPress. Amazon offers a $3.50/month product through Lightsail that you can use to build a website.

Tech Support Usually Costs Extra

Looking at price, server uptime, and server speed, running your website in the cloud might sound like a great idea. However, you don’t get live technical support with these plans.

If you run into problems, you’ll have to pay extra for help. Amazon charges a minimum of $100 and Google charges $29 + 3% of net spend. The price goes up as your monthly computing charges go up.

For Most Small Businesses, It’s Safer to Go Through a Traditional Web Hosting Company

Unless you’re familiar with terms like PHP, CMS, compute engine, container, instance, VM, and similar, you’re likely to get lost in the technical side of using a cloud server. You don’t want to accidentally hit the wrong button, cause your website to do down, and have no one to help you to bring the site back up.

This is why, if you’re not a techie, you’re better off going through a traditional web hosting company. They take care of a lot of the backend software issues and provide 24/7 live tech support in case you need help.

Consider Nontraditional Web Hosting Services from Platform Providers

This article mostly focuses on traditional web hosting providers. But, before you make your final hosting decision, you might want to consider using website platform providers instead.

What Platform Providers Do

With traditional web hosting providers, all you get is computing space. To actually build your website, you’ll have to find your own website building software, templates, and plugins. With platform providers, they package all this for you, often in a user friendly, drag and drop format.

Platform providers are ideal for nontechies who might be intimidated by the thought of building their own website. These platforms often come with fully built website templates. The plugins are easy and intuitive to install.

For online store platforms, they’ll even set you up with collecting sales tax for different states, credit card processing, and discounted shipping rates. All you have to do is to upload pictures and pricing for your merchandise.

Minuses of Using a Platform Provider

Naturally, there are minuses to such user-friendliness. The three big ones are:

  • Price. The monthly usage fees tend to be more expensive. You’re not just renting computing space. You’re using their proprietary software too.
  • Portability. Your website would be built using the platform provider’s proprietary software. So, if you decide to move off the platform, your content won’t be easily portable. You’d have to build an entirely new website at your new hosting company, and that can be time consuming.
  • Lack of Email Hosting. Platform providers usually do not provide email hosting. So, you’ll have to find a third party provider for your business emails. And pay extra for the service.

Well-Regarded Platform Providers

For your convenience, we’ve listed some well-known and well-regarded platform providers. The links are to their price lists to give you a quick idea on their services and costs.

  • Shopify (online or physical stores)
  • Square (online or physical stores)
  • Wix (blogs and online stores)
  • Weebly, owned by Square (blogs and online stores through Square)

Despite their convenience, we think it’s better to stay away from these platform providers. Even if you have to hire a developer to help you build your website hosted by a traditional web hosting company, the flexibility and choices offered by traditional web hosting should eventually save you a lot of operating costs.

Think Through the Details Before You Pick Your Web Hosting Company

When it comes to web hosting, you have a lot of choices. If you’ve already grabbed your domain name, then you can take your time to compare plans and pricing. We’ve even shown you how to build a free website with free business email, if you registered your domain through Google Domains. All this will buy you time as you do more research and build the other aspects of your business (e.g. finding raw material suppliers, buy equipment, lease store space, etc.)

Do some quick searches for user complaints to gauge any customer/tech support issues. Dig through the websites of the platform providers to see the services they provide and decide whether you need all of them. Look into alternatives such as starting your webstore through Facebook, Amazon, eBay, or similar.

You have time to mull things over. But if you do not wish to wait, go to our next article and see which web hosting company we recommend. Spoiler alert: it’s the hosting company this website uses.

Interested in starting and running a small business? Here’s the beginning of our step-by-step guide: What to do right after getting that great business idea.

Questions? Comments?