Choosing the best web hosting service for you and your business’ needs will have a major impact on your online success.
You want a web host that offers reliable services and great support at an affordable price. And with so many web hosting services to choose from, this can feel like an impossible task.
Choose wrong, and you’ll have to deal with one of these infuriating problems:
- Overpaying for services you don’t need
- Being held hostage by restrictive contracts
- Suffering from poor website loading speeds and performance
- Getting hacked by spam bots
- Spending hours on the phone with a foreign call center tech support
In this post, I’ll go over how to choose a web hosting service and what factors you should consider when making your choice. It can be summarized into the 3 S’s:
We’ll also discuss some sneaky tricks used by web hosts who don’t have your best interests in mind.
Wha-?? NO. Impossible. Sneaky hosting companies?? What kind of a world are we living in…
Before we get there, I have a brief but very important warning to share.
Don’t trust any of those “Best Web Hosting” articles
Seriously. Not a single one.
It’s easy to choose a web host based on nothing more than price or customer reviews, but these are unreliable indicators of the true quality of the service.
Instead, take a moment and do some research before choosing a company. Search for articles about their track record and do not choose a web hosting service solely on the basis of “Best Web Hosting” rankings.
Because every single website, blog, Youtube channel or podcast host that recommends specific hosting companies have compromised their credibility.
These websites are not offering their personal recommendations based on products and services they’ve personally used.
They are being paid by the big web hosting companies to send customers their way.
Nearly every major web hosting service offers an affiliate program. For every customer that bloggers, Youtubers and podcasters send their way (via affiliate links), they give them a nice piece of the pie via a commission.
That right there is a financial incentive to recommend a specific hosting provider. Regardless of the quality of their hosting services.
Ever wonder why everyone seems to recommend Bluehost? That’s because their commission pays $65 for any sale, and regularly jumps up to as much as $130!
Here are the commission rates for some of the biggest web hosting companies:
- Bluehost: $65 – $130
- Dreamhost: $15 – $200
- GoDaddy: 15%
- HostGator: $50 – $125
- Siteground: $50 – $100+
- A2Hosting: $125
- Hostinger: 60%
- Cloudways: $50 – $250
- Kinsta: 10% (monthly recurring)
Now you might be saying, “Patrick, what’s the big deal. Advertisements and sponsorships are literally a decades-old thing.”
If it were as simple as advertisements and sponsorships, I would agree with you.
But when you create content that appears to be unbiased without disclosing that you are being paid to provide the review or tutorial, you completely lose all credibility.
The problem got so big that the Federal Trade Commission in the United States created a law that requires affiliates marketers to clearly disclose that they make commissions from the links on their website.
And YouTube now requires channels to display a promotion disclosure at the beginning of every video.
I have to admit, some of them got pretty cute with their wording.
“Impartial“? “Independent research?” Hardly.
If these guys are so proud of their editorial standards, then why are they hiding these disclosures in the smallest, lightest font they can find?
So, how do you know if a website or individual is being paid commissions for their recommendations?
Check their link by hovering your cursor over it and reading the link source at the bottom of your browser.
If the link says anything other than the actual domain of the brand being linked to, it’s very likely an affiliate link.
Websites will often mask their affiliate links by doing a redirect through their own website domain.
So if CNET wanted to place an affiliate link to A2Hosting, instead of placing something like a2hosting.com/aff=17264282904927216, they can put cnet.com/go/a2hosting.
This works for pretty much any subfolder. Some examples include:
Clear as mud? 🤪
Unfortunately it’s not as simple on mobile devices. If you really want to know, you can press and hold on the link, copy the link and paste it in a new tab on your browser. Then you should be able to see what link it is.
But if you’re searching for hosting, I guarantee any link you find will be an affiliate link.
This does NOT mean that all of these hosting providers are terrible and you should avoid them. It simply means that any third-party review of their services that uses affiliate links is not a credible source to rely on when doing your research on web hosts.
Unfortunately, the trickery doesn’t end with shady reviews and articles.
Sneaky tricks web hosting services commonly use to get you to buy
When you choose a web host, it’s important to be aware of the sneaky tricks they might use.
Here are some of the most common tricks:
Surprise increases in web hosting pricing
Choosing a web hosting service with a low introductory price may seem like a good idea, but this is a ploy that companies use to entice you with a budget-friendly price and then keep you hooked into long-term contracts with hidden fees.
They’ll entice you to buy with a crazy good deal of $3/month, then declare in fine print that it only applies to the first year of your service. After your first year, it shoots up by more than 2x, 3x even 4x.
They also ensure that your web hosting plan will oh-so-helpfully automatically renew for another 3 year term once the first one is done.
Web hosting contracts that lock you in for years
Contracts are a way for web hosting services to lock you into an agreement.
It’s become common place to require a minimum 1 year contract, but often as much as 3 years, just to get some website hosting.
Web hosting contracts can also be tricky because they may not be clear on what type of server they offer and choose to “undeclare” their hardware usage. This means that you end up paying more than you anticipated for something you’re not getting.
Brutal website hosting cancellation policies
If you try to cancel your hosting plan when they raise the price on you after your first year, you’ll often be hit with large cancellation fees. Sometimes they’re nearly as high as the amount remaining on your hosting plan.
Even if you can manage to dodge the outrageous fees, hosting providers often make it incredibly difficult to migrate your website to another web host. Most people will simply give up and stick with their overpriced plan instead of navigating the labyrinth of red tape.
Many web hosting services make it sound like you’re getting an incredible deal that includes amazing features at a fraction of the cost of their competitors.
But what they’ve actually done is tear apart everything that should automatically be included in a web hosting package and segmented them into individual “choose only what you need” features.
It would be like a car manufacturer selling you pieces of a car to put together yourself rather than just selling the entire car.
And I’m not talking about optional, “nice to have” features like air conditioning, power windows, sporty wheels and a sunroof.
Things like SSL certificates should be automatically included for free with any hosting plan because you basically can’t have a website without one.
The speed of your website is one of the most important factors when it comes to attracting, and keeping, website visitors.
Slow loading times make potential customers leave your website to find your competitor instead.
If someone visits your page and it takes longer than 3 seconds to load, they are likely to choose another site instead or give up entirely.
There are many things that influence how fast your website loads. One of them is the type of hosting you choose.
Here’s how you can choose a fast web hosting company.
Some web hosting services will make you choose between different types of website hosting such as shared servers, managed hosting, VPS, or a dedicated server.
The advantage to these different types of hosting is that you can choose what’s best for your business. But there is a real risk of analysis paralysis when there are so many options.
Here are the different types of servers you can choose from:
Shared Hosting Plans
Shared server hosting is a popular choice for small websites. Many website owners will share one server.
With shared hosting, web hosting services often require you to choose a plan that matches a certain amount of storage and bandwidth. This is because they need to know how big your slice of the pie is going to be.
If you choose something with a lower amount of storage and bandwidth, it will cost less per month, but you’re also sacrificing the performance of your site.
Choosing higher tiers means faster website loading speeds and more room for growth, but it is more expensive.
Many choose the smaller plan with lower limits because they think that’s all they need. And it’s cheap, of course.
They don’t realize that their website will then be competing for valuable server resources with other websites that are sharing the same server.
VPS Hosting Plans (Virtual Private Server)
Virtual Private Servers, also known as a VPS, provide a level of performance that is somewhere between shared and dedicated hosting.
With a VPS, you choose an instance from the server that you want to use for your website. This means that there are still other websites hosted on the same server as yours, but your website will be allocated its own resources and won’t have to compete for them with other websites.
As more people choose VPS hosting over shared hosting, this will likely become the new industry standard.
Dedicated hosting provides the best possible web hosting experience for your website.
With dedicated hosting, you choose exactly what type of server you want to use for your site. You choose the bandwidth, storage, and hardware that best suits your needs.
This is perfect if your site requires a high amount of bandwidth or has a lot of traffic.
Choosing dedicated web hosting is likely to be most expensive because it’s tailored specifically to the needs of your website.
You own the server. So it won’t need to share any resources with other websites like shared web hosting does.
The down side to dedicated servers? It doesn’t necessarily scale well. If you plan on growing your website into a high traffic machine, and need to upgrade your server in the future, it can be a bit of a pain to migrate everything over to a new, more powerful server.
This is the “white glove service”.
With managed website hosting, the hosting company will take care of everything for you. They choose the server based on your needs and manage every aspect of it.
This is perfect if you don’t want to worry about managing your server and all of the headaches that come with it.
The downside? You don’t get to choose what type, size, or specifications your server will have.
It’s not as personalized as other forms of web hosting, but it does give you access to a lot of other great benefits that shared or dedicated hosting won’t provide.
Many choose managed hosting because they are not very tech savvy and want someone else to take care of their site.
I consider these to be very smart business people. 😉
A lot of managed web hosting services also offer WordPress hosting as a specific feature.
As far as I can tell, this is mostly a marketing gimmick. It’s not like WordPress hosting requires a specific type of server to perform at its best.
Cloud hosting has become more popular in recent years. Hosting your site on a server in the cloud comes with a number of benefits.
Simply put, this is because you don’t need anything installed on your website. All you need is an internet connection.
This means that you can choose any server size that is most suitable for your needs.
The major benefit of this is that it’s very scalable. You also have access to many resources without having to buy them yourself or pay for assistance with installation and configuration.
The closer the server is to your website visitor, the faster your website will load.
The speed of a web page can be improved by hosting it on a server that’s close to your website visitors.
If you choose a server that’s too far away from them, they will have to wait longer for their page to load.
So, if you’re primarily a local business serving local customers, you should choose a server that is located as close to your city as possible.
Server bandwidth is the amount of data that can go through a server before it gets congested and slows down.
It’s similar to how a highway works. The more lanes there are, the more vehicles can fit on it and the better traffic flows. Less lanes on the highway means more congestion.
Server bandwidth is the highway connecting your server to your website visitor.
The bandwidth on a shared or dedicated server will be higher than the one on a VPS.
Server storage is the space on the server that you’re renting. This is what’s used to store your website’s data.
The more storage you choose, the more data can be stored.
It’s just like storing files on any other hard drive. Such as your computer or phone.
Having your website hosted on a secure server is non-negotiable in this day and age.
One of the most important aspects of website security is that it’s only accessible by authorized persons. This is required if you choose to store credit card information or other sensitive data on your website.
It also means that unauthorized individuals cannot access your site and can’t cause any damage or steal data stored on the server.
With a properly secured server, you don’t need to worry about viruses, malware, or any other type of unwanted software infecting your site.
Maintaining security for your website becomes so much easier when you choose web hosting that includes these options:
It’s critical to choose a web host that keeps their servers updated regularly.
Updates are there to protect your site from viruses and other malicious software. Without them, your website will easily be exposed.
Hackers are getting smarter and are constantly evolving their attack strategies. One of the ways they can do this is by taking advantage of exploits in outdated software.
It’s a never-ending tug of war between hackers and defenders.
To prevent this from happening, choose a web hosting service that offers up-to-date security patches to ensure your site stays safe.
Server uptime is the amount of time that a server is up and running.
This isn’t to be confused with 100% uptime because data centers do go down periodically.
The best web hosting services offer 99.99% uptime guarantees. 99.99% is pretty standard at this point, so there’s no need to give it much thought when comparing web hosting services.
A server backup is a copy of your website that you can use in the event that something goes wrong with your original site.
Your web host will take periodic snapshots of your site and store them on their servers. These backups can be monthly, weekly, daily, or even hourly backups for large, dynamic websites. (I highly recommend getting weekly backups, minimum)
It would then send you the link to this backup so you can choose to restore it should it be necessary. Different web hosts handle this in different ways. Some are much easier to implement than others.
This is especially important for those who use an eCommerce website and store customer credit card information online.
Server compliance is the process of making sure your website and server work in accordance to international law.
This includes things like copyright infringement, data protection laws, and anything else that would be considered illegal or non-compliant.
This is why it’s important to choose a well-established web host. Or, if you’re using a smaller hosting provider (such as myself), ask them what web host they use to manage all of their websites.
I use Cloudways, FYI. (nope, this isn’t an affiliate link 🤓)
Website hosting support is different depending on whether the company offers email, tickets, live chat or phone support.
A web host that offers email support can be one of the easiest to contact if you have a question.
I say CAN BE because, if you choose to use this type of support, it’s important to take note of how quickly you receive a response. The response times for email support can vary wildly.
You may choose email support if you’re running a small blog or site and don’t need frequent support.
Ticket support is great for those who are less tech-savvy or just want something simple that they can access quickly without many steps.
This type of support often allows for customers to choose their own time slot when they would like assistance with their website hosting questions.
Ticket support does tend to be one of the slowest support options though.
Web hosting services that offer phone support can be a good option for those with more complex issues that are better described one-on-one to a real live human being.
It’s also good for emergencies when you need to get in touch with someone right away.
Some web hosting providers offer phone support because not everyone is tech-savvy enough to use email or tickets. But a bunch of them do this via foreign call centers where the level of support is abysmal.
Test them out with a quick phone call before you sign up for their services.
Live Chat 💬
Live chat is for all those dang millennials.
It’s an excellent option for those who are looking for something automated and self-service oriented. It’s also perfect for those who want their web hosting questions answered quickly.
If you choose this type of web host, it’s important to choose a company with a live chat option that is available 24/7/365. Otherwise, that “live” chat quickly becomes a “We’ll get back to you on Monday at 9AM Pacific Standard Time” chat.
Level of Tech Support
In addition to the type of communication support web hosts provide, you also need to consider the level of tech support.
When you encounter a problem with your website, and reach out to your web host for help, how far will they go to fix the problem?
A lot of web hosting services don’t include support for website issues such as:
- Coding errors
- Plugin conflicts
- Failed updates
- Broken web pages
- Unexpected website errors
- Poor loading speeds and performance
Add up the cost of your precious time spent on fixing problems like these, and you’re going to wish you chose someone to manage every aspect of your website and hosting.
Is your web host support available 24/7/365?
9am-9pm Monday to Friday?
11am to 1:30pm and 3:20pm to 7:50pm Monday’s and Thursday’s except for all holidays including International Toe Fungus Day?
Check your web host’s support availability before committing to their hosting services!
Optional Website Hosting Features
Web hosting services often provide a number of “nice to have” features such as:
Domain Registration and Management
Web hosting services often provide domain registration along with website hosting. You can easily search a shared database of domain names and purchase one.
You should choose your domain name for your website before you choose a web host.
This can be done via a third-party service like Namecheap.
Once you register it, you’ll need to setup all of the DNS settings to point your domain name to the server where your website is located. Your web host can help you with this, depending on how awesome their support is.
Some web hosts include free email hosting as part of their website hosting package.
Free is nice, but you should take a look at their email portal to see if it’s worth it. I’ve seen some fantastically garbage email hosting in my time as a web designer. And yah, it was free. 🙄
Free Website Migration
A web hosting provider that includes migration services will move your website to their servers for you. Some companies charge per gigabyte or by the hour, but many offer it for free these days. (as they should)
You should also consider what their website migration policy is for moving away from their hosting platform to another web host. Juuuust in case you decide to cancel in the future.
Beyond all of the server management and hosting maintenance, someone has to take care of your actual website.
If you don’t choose managed hosting, you could find yourself with a consistent stream of annoying little website problems that’ll chip away at your precious time.
You could fix these yourself but, let’s be honest, you have better things to do with your time, right?
A great website maintenance service should fully manage your web presence with things like:
- Fast hosting
- Speed-focused, lightweight web design
- Search engine optimization
- Clear calls to action
- Powerful lead captures
- Regular updates
- Daily/weekly backups
- Premium security
- Monthly reports
- VIP Customer Support
- and more…
Choose website hosting that’s right for you
Choosing the right web hosting service that works for you and your needs can be extremely daunting.
Many web host providers have purposely made it confusing to extract more profits from unsuspecting customers.
Hopefully this guide has made it a bit clearer for you. If you have any questions, or suggestions on how to improve this guide, contact me with the info below.