Choosing the right web hosting plan requires understanding what makes your various options different.
And for someone new to the concepts and terminology around web hosting, figuring out what’s what is hardly straightforward.
One of the most important measures of a web hosting plan you need to understand is bandwidth.
What is Website Bandwidth?
Website bandwidth is the amount of data a website can transfer to visitors within a set time. Every website that’s available on the web is accessible because of web hosting. When the web servers that host a website serve up its content to visitors, they require bandwidth. The more visitors come to a website at a time, the more bandwidth the site has to use just to load simple web pages. For websites that have dynamic content and media like video and audio, even more bandwidth is required.
Why Website Bandwidth Matters
Website bandwidth directly affects how well your website performs. If one visitor on a website is watching a video, that requires a small amount of bandwidth. But if 500,000 visitors are all trying to watch a video on that website at the same time—it will require a lot of bandwidth to provide a decent playback quality for all of them. If the site’s web hosting plan doesn’t offer enough bandwidth, those visitors will face slow loading times, buffering, or videos that fail to load entirely.
The amount of bandwidth your website has to work with is determined by your web hosting plan. The web servers that web hosting providers use are typically powerful enough to promise a lot of bandwidth.
But for many types of web hosting plans, your website will be sharing a server with a bunch of others. When all that bandwidth is divided between dozens or hundreds of websites, each website faces limits on how much they can use without performance suffering.
Today’s visitors expect speedy websites that load as expected, right away. To provide that and ensure visitors stick around and are more likely to come back—both important goals for any website—you need to make sure your web hosting plan provides enough bandwidth for your needs.
How Much Bandwidth Does My Website Need?
The amount of bandwidth your website needs to perform well for visitors depends on a few main factors:
- The number of visitors that come to your website
- How big your website is (in terms of number of pages)
- How much rich content your website hosts. If your website is image rich, it will require more bandwidth to perform well than one that’s primarily text. If it has a lot of audio, video, or downloadable content, your needs will be even higher.
For small businesses that have simple websites with just a few pages and limited content, your bandwidth needs will be basic as well. The majority of personal websites and small business sites will get all the bandwidth they need from a shared hosting plan from a legitimate provider, even though it means they’ll be sharing the server’s bandwidth with a number of other websites.
Bigger businesses, organizations, and media sites will often have needs beyond the amount of bandwidth available on a shared plan. The next step up is a virtual private server (VPS) plan which is still on a shared server, but it’s shared between fewer websites and your section is blocked off from the others so you don’t have to worry about their bandwidth use affecting your performance. VPS plans cost more, but provide more bandwidth, so you can count on faster loading times and better website performance once your website outgrows a shared hosting plan.
For especially large, complex websites that see a lot of traffic, you may need to go even beyond a VPS and invest in a dedicated server plan. Dedicated server hosting costs more than your other options, but in exchange you get a web server all to yourself. That means all of the bandwidth the server has to offer goes to your website (or sites) alone.
If you’re reading all this and thinking “OK, but what do I do if my needs aren’t consistent?” There are options for that as well. Say, you own a business that sells ice cream and most of the year you get a fairly consistent number of visitors. Then in the summer when it’s suddenly blisteringly hot out, your traffic more than quadruples. How do you figure out how much bandwidth you need when your February needs are totally different from your August ones?
That’s where cloud hosting comes in handy. Cloud hosting web plans make it easy for you to scale up and down as needed, and only pay for what you use. So if you want to avoid paying for VPS-level bandwidth all year long when you only need it for part of the year, a cloud plan ensures you can ramp up your bandwidth access during your busy months, then shift things back down the rest of the time.
What Happens if I Exceed My Bandwidth?
Based on what you’ve read here, maybe you’re pretty sure you’ll be good with one of the more affordable web hosting plans. But you’re still worried. What happens if, in a few months, your website gets so popular that suddenly the bandwidth that makes sense right now isn’t enough anymore?
The answer technically depends on your web hosting provider and their policies for dealing with websites that go over a reasonable amount of bandwidth for the type of plan they have. But in most cases, the web host won’t go straight to taking your website offline. A good web host will instead get in touch to let you know about the issue, and recommend you either reduce your bandwidth usage or upgrade to a plan that better matches your needs.
If this is something you’re really worried about though, ask your web host about how they typically handle this before it becomes an issue so you know what to expect (and whether to switch providers).
Should I Go for a Plan that Promises Unlimited Bandwidth?
If you’ve been browsing the websites for different hosting providers, you may have noticed a number that promised “unlimited bandwidth,” even on their cheaper plans. That sure sounds nice, and makes you wonder why all the fuss about these other plan types. If an affordable shared plan offers “unlimited bandwidth,” why would you ever need to pay more for an upgrade?
That’s because the claim is a misnomer. No web hosting provider can truly provide unlimited bandwidth. Their servers can only handle so much and if it’s a shared server, what’s available still has to work for the other websites using it. These web hosting plans will have some kind of limit built in and if your website exceeds it, your performance will suffer.
By contrast, plans that promise unmetered bandwidth do so with accuracy. That means that you don’t pay based on how much bandwidth you use. You pay a set amount based on the plan you choose, no matter how much bandwidth you use month to month—so no surprise bills. But if you do exceed the amount their servers can handle based on the type of plan you have, that’s when you’ll hear from them about it—likely with a nudge to upgrade or reduce usage.
Bandwidth can be a confusing subject to the uninitiated, but most website owners won’t need to think too much about it on a day-by-day basis. If you’re confused about how much you need or which plan to go with, a web host with a good support team can help you figure out what makes the most sense for your website.