Web Hosting is Not a Commodity!
By Brad Stitgen
Web hosting can be an easily overlooked but vital component of a successful website development project. Ultimately, it’s the web host that determines whether or not your website can be seen on the web! The problem is it can be difficult to determine which host to choose. The best web hosts are not household names. Due to the technical nature of the service they can be hard to evaluate. I can tell you from over ten years of personal experience with different web hosts over the years that not all hosts are the same. Web hosting is definitely not a commodity.
Determine the needs of your website
Back in the days of plain old static HTML websites finding a suitable web host was much simpler. While today’s modern Content Management System (CMS) based websites are simpler to update than the static websites they replaced, their hosting requirements are much more demanding. Add to this CMS frameworks, plug-ins, and custom themes utilizing advanced programming techniques and finding the right web host, not just any host, becomes important.
Before shopping for a host make a list of what your site will be running on. For example, if your site will be running on WordPress and using the Gravity Forms for all your onsite forms and BackupBuddy for ensuring your site is properly backed up, write those down. If your site will require special programming make sure to make a note of it also. Now, if you are having a professional web designer build your site you can relax a bit here. It should be up to the designer to recommend appropriate hosting for your specific project needs.
How to find a web host that fulfills your sites requirements
If you have not enlisted the help of a professional web designer or developer you’ll need to take the list you just created and start Googling. For example, if you are building a WordPress website Google the prospective web host name along with “WordPress” and a resource-intensive plugin such as Backup Buddy. If others are complaining (or ranting) that the web host not providing adequate resources you should not choose that web host.
You can also check the websites of any premium (paid for) plug-ins that you will need for your website. For example, iThemes the company behind the before mentioned BackupBuddy plug-in has an informative free PDF booklet titled “How to Pick Web Hosting without a Computer Science Degree“.*
*Note: While the booklet was written in 2012 the information is still relevant and a good read. That said, I noticed that the recommended minimum software version requirements have changed since the booklet’s release so be sure to check what your software (WordPress for example) requires.
Gravity Forms, a premium WordPress form builder that I highly recommend (and use on my websites) has a page dedicated to system requirements. It can be reached by following this link.
Finally, another good way to find a host that will work with your website is to ask around to learn others experiences with a particular host. A good place to find Web Designers / Developers is at local Meetups or events such as WordCamp or DrupalCamp, etc.
Support is Key
When shopping for a web host, the price should not be the only decision criteria. Having good support, especially with today’s demanding CMS websites is key! Support can be by phone, email support, a knowledge base and vendor forums. Having a web host that is well known and regarded among web designers and developers and is blogged about is also a big plus. It increases the odds of finding a solution to a compatibility problem, the set up of a particular feature, or information about a possible issue with the hosting service itself.
Support for Let’s Encrypt SSL
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the technology that is used to encrypt the connection between your user’s internet connection and the web host your website is hosted on. When the connection is encrypted (i.e. secure) your browser will display a little lock icon letting your visitors know the connection is secure.
In the past having an SSL certificate was primarily for websites that dealt with sensitive information. For example… banks, e-commerce, financial investment websites, etc were the typical candidates for SSL. Then Google stepped in with the goal that all websites should use SSL. With the power that Google wields on the net a steadily increasing number of website owners have upgraded their websites to use SSL.
While some SSL certificates can get pretty costly. Fortunately, there is a free solution (which just so happens to be supported by Google). For sites needing a simple SSL solution to satisfy Google’s “recommendation”, Let’s Encrypt is a good solution. The bad news is not all hosts support Let’s Encrypt and instead charge a separate SSL certificate fee for each website hosted on their servers. Placing 2 or 3 websites on a cheap web host that charges separately for SSL certificate could easily double the cost of the web hosting. Suddenly that bargain hosting is not such a bargain after all!
Good website hosting is important! A web host that does not meet a websites needs can result in a website that is down or website features (such as backups) that don’t work properly, if at all.
Support is also key. With today’s CMS based systems that demand more of their hosts than ever before choosing the right host is critical. Finally, as with any technical service, good support is key. Look for hosts that provide good technical support through phone and email support, support forums, and have an active web designer/developer customer base.
Purchasing web hosting solely on the basis of price or familiarity with their advertising is not recommended. Web hosting is truly not a commodity!