Review This Checklist Before Choosing Your New Web Hosting Provider
Whether you’re launching a new website or thinking about switching to a new plan for the one you already have, browsing web hosting packages can be overwhelming. There are so many different types of packages and features (like security add-ons and site builders) that it can be hard to truly understand what makes them all different and pinpoint which one makes the most sense for you.
To help you navigate the process of choosing a web hosting provider, we’ve compiled a list of the main questions you should ask and things you need to know.
10 Questions to Ask to Understand Your Needs
Before we get into the specifics of what different web hosting packages offer, you should take some time to define your particular needs.
1. How big is my website?
Websites can vary from a few simple pages to huge sites with hundreds of pages and a complicated infrastructure to keep it all organized. Larger, more complicated websites will have different hosting needs than smaller, simpler ones. Think carefully about how large and involved your website is now, and what reasonable expectations you have for growth in the coming years.
2. How secure does it need to be?
You don’t want to get hacked; so all websites will need some security. But any website that collects information from visitors needs to be extra secure, especially if you plan to make sales through the site. If customers will be trusting you with credit card information, you need to earn that trust by making sure your website provides adequate security.
3. Will I be selling products through the website?
An e-commerce website needs to include the functionality for people to select products and make purchases. If achieving sales will be a goal of your website, then look for a web hosting provider that provides the right level of functionality and security to accomplish that, and that’s compatible with the e-commerce software you intend to use.
4. How much traffic do I expect to get?
While guessing at potential traffic isn’t an exact science, you can probably make some informed assumptions. If you’re building an entirely new website, then you should expect to only get a little bit of traffic early on, unless you have a sizeable brand reputation already. If you have an already existing website, then you can look at your analytics so far to make an educated guess at what to expect moving forward.
5. How fast do I want it to load?
Visitors expect websites to load fast. If they have to wait to see what you have to offer, they probably won’t bother. For that reason, you’ll want web hosting that enables your website to work quickly. Larger websites that receive more traffic will need a different level of hosting power to provide that than new websites with a limited audience.
6. How experienced am I at running a website?
Are you figuring it out as you go along, or have you been building and running websites for years? If you’ll need a lot of help and handholding, then a web hosting company with strong customer support and beginner’s resources will be worth it. If you know the ropes already, then you may want to prioritize factors like software compatibility, customization options, and scalability over ease of use and support.
7. Will I be hiring a designer or putting it together myself?
If you’re throwing together a basic site on your own, then you’ll be glad to have access to templates or a website builder to make the process easier. If you’ll be hiring a professional designer to put the website together for you, then you’ll want to check with them about any compatibility issues to be aware of when choosing your web hosting platform.
8. Will I have a blog?
If your website will include a blog, or primarily consist of a blog, then you’ll want to consider which blogging platform you want to go with and make sure your hosting package is well suited to work with it.
9. How much customization do I want?
With many more affordable shared plans, there are some limitations on what you can do with your website. For most website owners, it won’t be anything that affects what you want to be able to create and accomplish, but for some who want to be able to do website development entirely on their own terms (and have the skills to do so), considering VPS plans or a dedicated server will make that possible.
10. Will I need more than one domain?
A lot of website owners have an array of business or website ideas they want to explore at some point. If that sounds like you, then getting a web hosting plan that covers more than one domain will pay off. In addition, if you want to make sure your register all the domains someone looking for your brand name might try (so you can direct them all back to your website), you’ll need a plan that allows multiple parked domains (all HostGator Baby and Business web host plans come with unlimited domains, by the way).
5 Things Any Web Hosting Plan You Consider Should Offer
No matter what your unique needs are, there are five things every website owner should insist on in a web hosting package.
1. A reliable server
You want to know with confidence that anytime someone tries to navigate to your website, they’ll see the site you designed. Otherwise, what are you paying for? Good web hosting providers promise high levels of uptime (the amount of time your website is live). If a provider you’re considering doesn’t promise at least 99% uptime, then you’ll be better off looking elsewhere.
Note: All HostGator plans provide 99.9% uptime – even independent reviewers have confirmed how consistent the performance is. If you want to make sure people see your site every time they go looking for it, our plans are worth a look.
2. Compatibility with your web design needs
Whether you need an easy way to design a website yourself, or your developer is pushing for something that works with WordPress, PHP, Ruby on Rails, or some other specific website software, your web hosting package needs to work with what you’re using.
3. Ability to handle the amount of traffic you receive
For most new websites, this part isn’t hard – it takes some time to build up traffic and shared hosting accounts can manage in the realm of 30,000-40,000 monthly visitors without much issue. But if you anticipate more traffic than that, you’ll need to consider splurging for a higher-level plan that can accommodate those higher numbers.
4. Cost you can afford
You can only invest in what you can afford. Have a general idea of your budget going into your search. Shared hosting plans are good enough for a lot of website needs and are typically very affordable – just a few bucks a month. More expensive plans offer more features, more customization options, or better bandwidth and speed for higher levels of traffic. There’s no need to pay for all that if you don’t need it, but if you do, the extra cost will be worth it.
You can keep an eye out for good signup deals, but make sure you know what the ongoing costs will be. You must be able to afford the monthly or yearly fee once the signup deal has worn off.
5. Quality, accessible customer service
Whether you’re a newbie who could use the help of a human to walk you through the basic processes of setting up your website or you’re a veteran web designer who just needs to be able to get someone on the phone immediately when there’s a problem, you want to know the customer support will be there when you need it. No matter the type of website you launch or hosting package you go with, research the reputation the provider has for customer service.
Match Your Needs to Your Options
Now that you’ve identified some of the main things you should look for in a web hosting package, here’s a basic rundown of some of your main options to help you match what you need to what’s out there.
The Different Types of Hosting
You can get a more detailed explanation of how different web hosting plans work here, but here are the main categories to be aware of and who they’re usually for.
Shared hosting is the best option for new website owners that are just starting out. If you want an easy, affordable plan that will work for a smaller website with moderate traffic, shared hosting will do the trick. And if you choose a web hosting provider that offers some of the other types of plans on the list, upgrading down the line if or when your website grows will be easy.
Cloud hosting is another affordable option, but one that offers impressive speed. If you want to be extra sure that people who visit your site will see fast load times – particularly if you have a lot on your site that could slow the load time, like high res images or videos – then this is a good option. The main reason to go with cloud hosting is for affordable speed, but it also offers easier maintenance and better response to sudden spikes in traffic.
For websites that are getting bigger and growing their visitor numbers, VPS hosting is a step up from shared hosting in terms of the amount of traffic and storage it can handle. You’re not sharing a server with as many other websites, so your website can take advantage of a bigger share of the bandwidth. And for web developers looking for more customization options, VPS puts those possibilities into your hands.
Many websites that include blogs are built on WordPress, as the platform is designed specifically for blogging and has an intuitive back-end that makes it easy for website owners of all skill levels to make changes. For any website built on WordPress, a managed WordPress hosting plan can supply you with all the features you need for your website to run smoothly.
For websites that anticipate having lots of traffic and needing a significant amount of storage space, your safest bet is to go with a dedicated server. This option ensures your website will keep going strong no matter how many unique visitors you get or how many gigabytes of storage you load to the site. It also allows for any customization options your developer could need. It does cost the most, but it also offers the most.
Additional Features To Consider
Deciding on the type of hosting you need is a big step, but there are a number of additional features to consider based on the needs you defined:
- Website builder – Some web hosting packages either include a website builder as part of the package, or as an extra add-on you can buy. If you’re building your first website and want to save money on hiring a designer, this offers an easy way to do it yourself without having to learn to code.
- E-commerce features – If you’ll be selling products on your website, then you’ll need the functionality to allow people to add items to a shopping cart, check out, and ensure the whole process is secure. You need a web hosting platform that offers e-commerce features or is compatible with e-commerce software that does.
- Software compatibility – In general, you need to make sure that any web hosting package you consider will be compatible with the software you’ll be using for web design and e-commerce.
- SSL – E-commerce websites or any other type of site that will collect personal information from visitors should have SSL for protection. This feature encrypts all sensitive information you share through your website. It comes with many web hosting packages and can be bought as an add-on for many others.
- Easy migration – If you’re moving your website from one provider to another, you want the process to be simple. Web hosting providers that make the migration process easy and offer any support you need to get it done will make your life easier.
- Tutorials and other educational materials – If you’re new to running a website, access to educational resources will make a big difference to finding your way around the process. Many web hosting platforms will offer helpful tutorials and articles as well as customer support to help you get set up.
- Easy to use control panel – While those resources are good to have, not needing them is even better. An intuitive control panel can cut down on how much you need to learn in order to work with your website effectively.
- Site backup – Nobody wants to lose everything they’ve worked on in a moment. Just like you backup your work, you should backup your website. Some web hosting packages include automatic backups so you never have to worry about losing everything. Others let you purchase automatic backup services on top of the cost of your plan. This option can give you peace of mind and save you in a pinch.
There’s a lot to consider when choosing your web hosting plan. Knowing the basics of what to look for will make your selection easier. If you could still use more information to help you make a decision, our hosting experts are on hand to answer any questions.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.