Choosing a Web Host
If you’re looking for a quick answer to the question: who is the best web host, then I’m afraid you’re gonna be disappointed. However, if you want some good guidelines to help you navigate choosing a web host, then read on.
Be Clear On Your Requirements
Whether you’re in the process of choosing a web host for an existing site or selecting one for a new project, it’s important that you’re clear on what your requirements are. Knowing what you need and want is a good way to ensure you find what you’re looking for. To help determine your hosting needs, some questions you can ask yourself include:
- What platform are you using? Is your site powered by WordPress, another platform, or are you building it yourself?
- What types of content are you publishing? Will your site be featuring lots of videos and high resolution photos, or will it be mostly text based with the occasional animated gif?
- How many visitors are you receiving and what’s the projected growth for the foreseeable future?
- Where are the majority of your visitors or target audience based? Do you require servers in a certain location or would geographically distributed hosting be more appropriate?
- What additional services do you require? For example email services, managed hosting and offsite backups.
- How important is uptime to you? Does your site generate income and how would 98% uptime impact you, compared to 99.99%?
- What support channels are required? Is 24/7 phone and live chat required or will out of hours email support suffice.
Determine Why You Want to Move
If you are in the process of choosing a web host, it’s worth spending a bit of time thinking about why you want to change providers. What is it about your current host that has you shopping around and looking for an alternative? Figuring that out will help to establish what to look for or avoid in your next host.
Know Which Questions to Ask
When doing your research into possible hosting options, the previous tips should help you formulate some questions to ask when seeking advice. It’s a good idea to be specific to ensure the recommendations you ask for are relevant to your needs.
If you were in the market for a new laptop, you wouldn’t simply ask what is the best laptop? Well, you might, but then you put yourself at risk of ending up in the middle of an Apple/Windows flame war and nobody want’s that. The same applies to hosting. Instead of asking which is the best web host? try asking which is the best web host for a WordPress site that gets 1000 visitors a day from around the world and contains lots of video content?
The more specific you can be, the more relevant the recommendations are likely to be.
Seek Out Meaningful Reviews
Many web host reviews or recommendations come from satisfied users. While this is can be a good thing, they often have nothing to compare the service they are using to. A slew of customers choose a host and then stick with them until the ship starts sinking. Shopping around and trying out different hosts is time consuming and can be a real pain in the you know what (ass), making it understandable that people stick with their host and are happy to recommend them to others. This however doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best service for you and that even they couldn’t be better served elsewhere.
When looking for hosting reviews, look for reports that compare services using relevant tests with data to back up their results and findings. A good example is this recent comparison of the performance of seven top hosting companies. While comparing just one criterion, such as performance shouldn’t be the only measure used to select a host, a relevant, factual and data driven comparison can be invaluable in helping to make a decision.
Beware the “Celebrity” Endorsement
While Brad Pitt might genuinely enjoy a can of iced coffee, and your favorite blogger might actually use Bluehost for their site, it doesn’t mean that you should too. In the best case scenario, they truly believe in the service they are endorsing, and in the worst, they are just doing it for a quick buck. Their needs might be, and probably are different from yours so take their advice with a grain of salt.
If an endorsement does resonate with you, then you could reach out to the author and ask them for more details on their experiences with their web host. Your experience of using their site can also provide good insights into the service:
- What are their page load times like?
- Is using their site frustrating, with delays in images and video being displayed?
- Have you noticed much downtime?
- Have they ever been hacked?
If someone is happy to talk about how great their host is in exchange for an affiliate payment, then they should be willing to answer questions about why they endorse that host.
Follow Up on Testimonials
Most web hosts like to list testimonials from customers and publish lists of sites they are proud to host. In the same way as you can with endorsements and recommendations from users, you can try contacting these listed clients and ask them of their experiences with the host.
In lots of cases those endorsements are either outdated or a result of customer love felt early on and may not be consistent after the client has been hosting there for a year or more.
Feel free to also run your own performance testing on those websites and see how they measure up.
Run Your Own Tests
While using other people’s data is definitely valuable, gathering your own data can be even more useful, especially if no one else is publicly benchmarking the web hosts you are interested in. Services like Load Impact and WAPT allow you to load test websites and see how they perform.
While this process will be time consuming and costly, and only provide an insight into certain criteria, for those serious about finding the right web host, it can be totally worth your time.
If there is a particular set of sites that provide a similar service to yours, with similar user metrics, they could be a prime candidate for performance testing. You can use online services like Who’s Hosting This (accuracy is usually pretty good, but not always) to find out which host a website is using, or simply contact the site owner to find out.
General Things to Look For
With all the above taken into account, such as being specific about your requirements and needs, there are still some general things to look for when evaluating potential candidates to be your next web host. The following list of areas to evaluate and compare should help ensure you get a well-rounded overview of your potential new web host:
- Type of hosting offered: shared, VPS, dedicated, fully managed, is there room to expand to the next level once your resources are capped on the current level?
- Support: what are the available support channels – email, forums, live chat, telephone, 24/7 or office hours?
- Features: what features are on offer, does the host use cPanel for one click installations of selected software, how much storage and bandwidth is available, how many domains can be hosted on one account?
- Server locations: is the location of the data centers important to you? If it is, normally a quick google search or email to the provider can tell you the physical location of things.
- Areas of specialization: do they focus on specific platforms like WordPress and do you require this level of service? Or do you simply want to learn how to use linux which is tough on a managed host?
- Price: last but not least, how much do they charge and how does it compare to the other hosts on your shortlist?
- General feedback online: while feedback from users with similar requirements to yours can is definitely ideal, lots of general negative feedback from users can be just as illuminating. Even indifference usually tells a good story. You can look for comments on blogs and forum posts criticizing the general features such as support and downtime but mileage may vary. Social signals like a #yourhostsucks hashtag that lasts over a day can be really telling.
Choosing a web host can obviously be as complex or as simple as you want to make it, but the general rule of thumb is to do your homework and make decisions before it’s an emergency. If you start seeing trends toward mediocrity with your current host, make a Plan B that you can put into action if the need arises.