Web hosting is often an afterthought when it comes to creating a business website. The excitement lies in the layout, design, and publishing… And then waiting in anticipation for traffic!
But if your web host isn’t the optimal one for your needs, all that work might end up going to waste. Here’s the ultimate guide to choosing the right hosting plan for your business. Understand this, and you’ll always have a good foundation for success!
What Is Web Hosting?
The best way to look at web hosting is as renting an online space for your website, just like renting a building for your office. Except, the web host provides you with a furnished office that’s available 24/7 around the world.
Your hosting stores all your website’s files and delivers them to the visitor’s browser. It also protects your website from external threats, just like a security gate on a rental property.
Evaluating Your Website’s Needs
Choosing the right hosting plan begins with knowing what you need from a web host. The only way to know what you need is to do a deep dive into your business and pinpoint your specific needs.
A small, personal blog and an image-heavy e-commerce site will have vastly different needs. Here’s what to consider to figure out what your needs are and make a checklist to help you choose the right host.
Size Matters: Gauging Your Website’s Scale
Is your website a simple blog with a few pages or a massive e-commerce site with 100+ product pages? Understanding the scale of your website makes a big difference when it comes to selecting the right web host because not every host is suitable for every site.
Think about the size of your website. Is it a little cozy corner of the internet, or is it a vast collection of interconnected pages? A small blog or service business website with a few dozen visitors every day could probably get by with shared hosting.
But a detailed, page-heavy website with thousands of visitors on a daily basis will need something more reliable and stable to handle the traffic. The key is to assess your site not only based on its size NOW, but also its predicted growth.
Forecasting Traffic: Preparing for Visitors Today and Tomorrow
What’s your site’s traffic like right now and do you expect it to grow? Choose a hosting plan that can handle your current traffic with ease, but also has room for more growth.
Your hosting needs to be able to accommodate the amount of traffic you have right now. But if your site grows—and growth should always be a goal—your host should be able to accommodate that growth too.
You may have to upgrade to another plan, so make sure your host allows for easy upgrading. Also, make sure you’re aware of the increase in costs if you need to move up a tier. Shared hosting is all right for sites with minimal traffic, but anything expecting higher amounts of traffic needs VPS hosting at a minimum.
Matching Hosting Capabilities with Your Site’s Demands
Once you’ve got a list of your own website’s needs, you can compare those to what web hosts are offering. Your list might include things like a particular CMS (WordPress, for example), e-commerce capabilities, or integration with specific third-party apps.
From there, you can pick and choose web hosts that provide what you need. You’ll know immediately that a web host is unsuitable if it doesn’t tick your boxes. This should help you to narrow things down quite a bit, making it easier to come up with a worthwhile list and not wasting time on hosts that aren’t suitable.
Explore the Different Types of Hosting
The type of hosting you choose makes a big difference to the performance of your website. Here’s what you need to know about choosing the right type from the start.
Shared hosting might be the most affordable upfront, but it has its limitations. Your website will be sharing space on the server with multiple other websites, which means you’ll all be sharing resources (storage space and bandwidth).
If one website on the server gets a spike in traffic, it takes resources away from your site, and all others on the server. Downtime is more likely on shared hosting plans for this reason.
It’s a great option for small, low-traffic websites like blogs, but it just won’t cut it for bigger ones with a high influx of traffic and a more complex layout.
VPS stands for Virtual Private Server. Technically, your website shares server space with others, but in this case, the server is split into separate sections, each with its own resources.
That means that while the server can still get a touch overloaded, it won’t draw from your website’s resources if another site gets an influx of traffic. It’s quite a bit more stable than shared hosting, but not as reliable as dedicated hosting.
Dedicated hosting should be the minimum requirement for business websites. It’s vastly more stable and reliable than shared hosting and a definite step up from VPS hosting.
You’ll have more control over the resources available and how you use them on this type of hosting. Your site will have its own server, which means plenty of storage space and bandwidth, none of which is shared with other websites.
Cloud hosting is first prize if you have the budget for it. It uses a network of virtual servers to host your website, and it’s extremely flexible—you can add more resources as you grow, so you never have to shell out for more than you actually need.
It’s pricey, though, but it’s worth it in the long run. If you expect significant growth, cloud hosting is the best way to go. You’ll never struggle with reliability or stability.
What to Look For in a Web Hosting Provider
Do you have your list of potential web hosts? Here’s what to look closely at to decide whether they’ll be a good host or a poor one.
Uptime Track Record and Guarantees
Every host has an uptime guarantee. This refers to the amount of time your website is available to visitors online. In contrast, downtime is the amount of time your website is offline and unable to be visited by people browsing.
The industry standard for uptime is 99.99%. This is the minimum you should go for if you’re expecting a lot of traffic—if you’re a small, local business or blog and not expecting a bunch of visitors, you can get away with choosing a host offering 99.9% uptime.
Don’t just stop at the host’s uptime guarantee. Do your research on their track record and make sure they live up to what they offer.
Speed and Performance
Fast page loading times are essential. If your pages load slowly (>3 seconds), your visitors are likely to get impatient and leave before they even see what’s on the page. Google also prioritizes fast-loading pages, so it’s good for your SEO!
Choose a web host that offers fast loading speeds, backed up by things like solid-state drives, plenty of RAM, and efficient data management.
The physical location of the web host’s server can have an effect on your website’s speed. When the server is physically near to the internet browser, your site will load faster. But if it’s far away, it’ll take longer to load. Even data needs time to travel!
If your target market is confined to a specific location—eg. Europe—you should choose a web host with a server or servers in Europe. Using one with a server in America will only add time to how quickly your website loads.
Content Delivery Network (CDN)
Regardless of where your host’s server and your audience are, it’s a good idea to choose a host that uses a CDN. This is a network of servers that stores a cached version of your site in multiple places, so no matter where a visitor is from, it loads pretty fast.
This is a must-have for businesses with a global audience. A quality CDN will reduce the load on the main server and speed up loading times, leading to a better user experience.
Make sure the host you choose offers plenty of security features. You can never overstate safety, especially if you have access to sensitive customer details, like credit card information.
Double-check for things like malware scanning, firewalls, SSL certificates, and other security features. Don’t skimp on this—just one breach can break all the trust you’ve built up over time.
Bandwidth and Storage
Storage space is how much content your website can hold, including things like pages, images, and video files. Bandwidth is how much data can be transferred to or from your site in a given period of time—usually measured in bits per second (bps), megabits per second (Mbps), or gigabits per second (Gbps).
Make sure the web host offers enough of each to accommodate your website with some room for growth. If you aren’t sure how much space/bandwidth you need, go for something a little more than you estimate you’d need.
Does the web host have the capacity to grow with you? As your site grows, you’ll need more resources (bandwidth, processing power, storage space.) Make sure you can upgrade easily as your business grows, and double-check the costs of upgrading so you aren’t caught unawares.
Backup and Disaster Recovery
Make sure the web host you choose backs your website up regularly. Should something happen and your website crash, a good web host will be able to restore it quickly, minimizing downtime.
Don’t skimp on customer support. Your web host should be available to help you 24/7, via phone, email, or live chat. Responsible customer support is essential—you can’t afford to wait hours to resolve problems that might keep your website down and unavailable.
Don’t just take the host’s word on this—check customer reviews and get real-people feedback on how responsive the web host is when help is needed.
Choosing the right hosting plan for your business isn’t difficult as long as you know what you’re looking for. List your business needs, be honest about it, and do a deep-dive into the hosts that look promising.
If you follow this guide, you’ll be able to tick off all the important boxes. And if you’re already working with a host that isn’t serving you, don’t despair—you can change any time to a web host that works with you and not against you.
About the Author
Paul Wheeler runs a web design agency that helps small businesses optimize their websites for business success. He aims to educate business owners on all things website-related, at his own website, Reviews for Website Hosting.