With popular content management systems like WordPress, starting a blog or a website has become much more simpler and accessible to many then it was before.
As important as it is to go with a popular and reliable CMS (WordPress for example), choosing a good web host is definitely a serious technical consideration and just looking at a price tag is simply insufficient.
Having used various web hosts (five to be exact since the start of this blog), here are some technical views I would like to share based on my experiences so far :
Choice of web server : While Apache is widely used by most hosts and is popular, there are other far more attractive alternatives to choosing a web server namely LiteSpeed and Nginx. This choice alone can significantly impact your blog/site performance by speeding it up and providing a better user experience. Here is a technical comparison of these web servers.
[By the way, this blog runs on LiteSpeed powered by MDDHosting.]
Scope of hosting : This includes whether certain apps or CMS are supported by the web host or not. Most web hosts will offer WordPress and other widely used CMS / e-commerce systems like Megento but if in doubt, always first ask the support as a pre-sales enquiry to get it clarified.
Type of hosting : This falls largely under two categories : shared hosting v/s others. I’ve made a quick, rough classification of how hosting plans are generally classified :
Shared hosting means on a single server, there are lots of other user accounts / websites running and so CPU, database and bandwidth resources are limited. So, if your website overuses these resources, it may get suspended in order to maintain consistent user experience for other websites residing on that server.
This brings up an important point : the concept of unlimited disk space and unlimited bandwidth as advertised by most large hosts. Isn’t it ironic to advertise shared hosting as unlimited? 🙂
What is often always overlooked by users when signing up for such unlimited plans is the usage terms – that it is unlimited up to an extent and going beyond that will definitely result in site being suspended . Shared hosting after all would mean no one website or blog should hog all the available server resources.
The only time such unlimited shared hosting by popular web hosts is feasible is when your site is static or just has a few pages and isn’t really updated much. For a blog or a website that is growing, attracts regular visitors and has fresh, regularly updated content, choosing such plans isn’t really recommended.
So by far, it is a better choice to go with web hosts that have clear limits per plan like say 20 GB disk space, 500 GB bandwidth and so on. This not only helps in setting expectations but also provides a good set of metrics when upgrading if these limits are consistently being reached.
Other types of hosting would mainly include VPS (Virtual Private Server) and dedicated server. This again will be either managed or unmanaged. Managed will include full technical support while unmanaged is simply providing network access and letting you take care of the rest. Unmanaged hosting is not recommended unless you have experience with Linux command line or with systems administration as the responsibility of keeping your own VPS or dedicated server secure, updated and functioning at optimum level is only with you.
Shared hosting and VPS hosting will suffice for regular blogs but other sites like e-commerce, shopping store, online apps and heavy traffic websites would need more resources. Dedicated server plans would be good for such requirements.
Uptime and support levels : With advertised 99.9% uptime availability and 24x7x365 support everywhere, it can be difficult to zero in to a particular web host without actually knowing how their actual uptime and support really is. For this, do check if there is a public uptime report page to see if the uptime is really as advertised. Also, browse the social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and other company notification pages of potential web hosts to get a pulse of how the support really is, how the current customers really feel, if the support is quick to respond and so on .
Also, instead of just relying on search engines , use forums like webhostingtalk as an excellent starting point to narrow down your choices of web hosts and get insights on overall web hosting quality based on user reviews and general announcements.
Price : Cheap web hosts however good they seem be would not suffice if you plan to grow your website/blog while maintaining reliability. Going for heavily advertised and popular web hosts offering cheap unlimited plans can be more trouble then it’s worth as there may be over-selling (cramming as many accounts as possible on a server to maximize profits) and delayed support response time.
Again, your best bet is lesser advertised but highly reliable hosts who offer excellent support and don’t oversell their servers. Web hosting forums can provide a lot of information about such web hosts.
User interface and backups : CPanel and Plesk by far are the easiest to work with and are provided with most hosting plans. For VPS plans, they may cost an additional monthly fee. Also, backing up and restoring your blog directly from such user panels is simple. Most hosts do offer backups and restoration for free but it is best to maintain your own backups as well (do ask them about backup policy in case any further information is needed).
Email hosting : The main task of a web host is to reliably host and serve your websites, hosting your business critical emails isn’t. So I won’t recommend using the same web host to also double as an email host. This also results in a single point of failure (say during an outage of the web host you are on, both your email and your website will be unavailable). Spam can also be an issue when using the web host for emails.
A better choice is to look for reliable third party email hosting like Namecheap and Google Apps. I use Open-Xchange email hosting by Namecheap and it has been consistently reliable so far, no significant spam and also easy to use.
Finally, here are the web hosts that I recommend :
MDDHosting (Highly recommended. Prompt support and reliable infrastructure, offers LiteSpeed based hosting).
Site5 (Offers a free 30 day trial before choosing.).
LiquidWeb (Good reputation and reliability all around).
For email hosting :
Namecheap (Currently using it).
Google Apps (Used before, simple interface).
Some useful resources :
Reverse IP Domain check (find out how many domains are present for a given IP address. Lots and lots of domains on a single server of a webhost isn’t very good 🙂 ).
Web Hosting Talk ( Find detailed user reviews about different web hosts and all things related to web hosting).
I hope this was an informative article on general technical nuances when choosing a web host. Do let me know your feedback and your web hosting experiences in the comments section.