9 tips for buying a web hosting service
Choosing the best web hosting service for your website can be difficult if you are new to the market and don’t know much about it. With hosting providers happy to use technical hosting jargon to make their services sound better than they actually are, you can easily get distracted from important features that are lacking.
As such, you might have a hard time finding the best web hosting service for your site: so what should you really be looking for? In this article, we have listed nine hosting features that you should look for and keep in mind before committing to a web hosting platform.
1. Website builder
More and more hosting providers are offering built-in tools to help you build a beautiful website that rivals or ranks alongside the best website builders. If you are creating a site for the first time or want to get your content to visitors as quickly as possible, this can be a huge advantage.
Having said that, the quality of these website builders can vary widely. Some web hosts’ website builders come with hundreds of themes and drag-and-drop features, while others basically limit you to customizing a pre-built template.
Also, keep in mind that dedicated website builders like Wix and Weebly include hosting, but they are not traditional web hosts. You won’t be able to transfer a Wix site to another host in the future, for example. Read our comparison of web hosting vs WordPress and website builders to learn more about the differences.
2. SSD drives
Hosts that provide solid state drives (SSDs) as opposed to traditional hard drives (HDDs) tend to be more expensive. But in our opinion, the extra cost is well worth it.
SSDs have fewer moving parts, so they’re less likely to break down and leave your site offline for hours. The data transfer rate can also be significantly faster than that of hard drives, which means faster page loading for your visitors. Faster page load can in turn help boost your site in search engine rankings and increase conversions from your customers if you operate an online store.
Your web hosting bandwidth is the amount of visitor traffic and data allowed to flow to and from your site. If you only have a few thousand visitors to your website per month, you probably don’t have to worry much about bandwidth – most web hosts provide more than you need with their cheapest options. .
But, if you have a lot of videos or a lot of data to load, like high resolution videos or images, the bandwidth can become very important. Make sure your hosting company allows you to increase your bandwidth allowance if needed. Hosts that don’t offer a lot of bandwidth, even with their top-tier plans, probably don’t have a great network.
Unless you have a large website with lots of photos and videos, storage is unlikely to be an issue. Most hosting plans come with hundreds of gigabytes of storage or put no limits on your storage.
But keep in mind that unlimited storage doesn’t mean you can use your web host as a storage service for data that has nothing to do with your website. Most hosting plans have limits on what you can store and how you can store it. If you need a place to store your business files, consider a cloud storage service like Google Drive or Dropbox.
Scalability is one of the most important things to consider when choosing a web hosting service.
For starters, your web host should be able to help you pivot quickly if your website is experiencing a spike in traffic. After all, what’s the benefit of a successful marketing campaign or viral video if your website goes down with all new attention? Ideally, your web hosting service will have the ability to move from shared hosting to Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting without taking your website offline.
In the long run, you also need to be able to tailor your web hosting service to your business. Most businesses aim to increase their web traffic over time, so the plan you choose today might not be right for the amount of traffic your website will receive two years from now.
Make sure your web hosting service makes it easy to upgrade your on-demand plan, including to VPS hosting, without any downtime.
Most web hosting services include a control panel that lets you manage your files and your account settings. While many use cPanel software for this purpose, some web hosts have their own proprietary control panels. Make sure it’s easy to use and includes tools to customize your website’s security and file structure.
You’ll also want to make sure that you have FTP (File Transfer Protocol) access to your website. This is an easy method for moving files to and from your web hosting service. Ideally, the maximum file size for transfers will be much larger than any of your media files. Also, look for a web file manager that you can use to download content on the go from your mobile devices.
While you can hope that you never need to call your host for assistance, it is essential that there is a knowledgeable technician on the other end of the phone when you do so. If your website goes offline, for example, you don’t want to be left on hold or be put on hold while you lose traffic and sales. Most of the best hosting services provide 24/7 live chat and phone support for this reason.
It is also important to check if your web host guarantees the uptime of your website. Be careful to read the fine print here. Some web hosts claim 99% uptime, which means your website may still be down for more than three days a year. 99.99% uptime, however, means you’ll experience less than an hour of wasted traffic.
Plus, some web hosting services will pay you for every hour of your website downtime, while others won’t lift a finger to turn things around.
Another thing to consider when choosing a web host is the location of that host’s data centers. Ideally, your web host’s servers should be as close as possible geographically (in the same country or city) to your website audience. The less distance the data has to travel, the faster your pages will load.
Many web hosting services will also include a CDN (Content Delivery Network) like Cloudflare as part of your hosting package. This is useful if you have a global audience, as a CDN creates cached copies of your website and stores them on servers around the world. This speeds up the experience for your visitors, no matter where they are in relation to your host.
Backups are an often overlooked feature that only a handful of hosts provide. With automatic backups, your web host will create a copy of your website and content database at regular intervals and store it on another server.
If something happens to your website like a failed server, a hack, or a fire in the data center, you can easily restore your site from backup. If you don’t have backups included in your hosting plan, you need to make your own copies of your website.
Download the HTML code behind your pages as well as your site’s database through the host’s control panel. Then store these files on an external hard drive or in cloud storage. Make sure to create updated backups at least once a month to prepare for unexpected data loss.
Further reading on web hosting
Read our guide on how to choose a web hosting service for more information; and five common mistakes to avoid when choosing a web hosting provider.