In those exciting early stages of launching a new website, you have a lot of decisions you need to make. You need to clarify your brand, choose your domain, and plan out your website’s design.
On the long to-do list of getting a new website up and running on the web, one of the most important choices you need to make is what plan and provider to choose for web hosting.
Luckily, this step is easier than a lot of the other items on your list. Designing your website and promoting it once it’s live are much harder and more time consuming tasks than selecting a good web hosting service provider. But nonetheless, you do want to take a little time to consider your options and make sure you choose the best web hosting plan for your needs.
If you choose the right web hosting service provider from day one, you’ll save yourself the headache of having to migrate your site to a different company later.
But if this is your first website, then how are you supposed to know what to look for? Especially if you don’t entirely understand what website hosting really is.
What Is a Web Host?
Before we can choose a web host, it’s important you first understand the web hosting basics. Web hosting is essentially the physical side of the web. Every website you see online is made up of various images, media, apps, and other files that take up storage space. While we tend to think of the internet as something that exists outside of physical space, all those files have to be stored in a physical server somewhere.
In order to contain all the files that make up your website and serve them up to every person that visits it, a physical server must have a lot of power. For most website owners, owning and maintaining a server that powerful isn’t practical. That’s where website hosting companies come in.
Web hosts own a large number of servers that have the power required to provide consistent, reliable service for thousands of websites. When you sign up for a hosting plan, you rent some of the space on their servers. A good web host isn’t just selling that space, they’re also selling their expertise in keeping their technology running smoothly, efficiently, and securely—so that your website runs consistently without problems.
Do I Really Need a Web Host?
If you want your website published online where anyone can find it, the short answer is yes. Every website needs web hosting because it’s the mechanism that takes the pages you’ve designed on your personal device and makes them accessible to people on other devices across the world.
But in addition to making it possible for people to access your site, web hosting companies also offer some important additional value. They invest in the proper firewalls and other security precautions that make your website less likely to get hacked. And they keep experts on staff to provide any maintenance needed to ensure your website stays up consistently.
By investing in the right tools and talent to keep web hosting servers functional all day every day, they make sure that your website is available and loads quickly and without problem whenever your visitors want it.
10 Things to Look for in a Web Host
To get all the best benefits of web hosting, you need to find the right web host. With so many options out there, a newbie will understandably struggle to figure out how the different providers compare and which criteria are really the most valuable to judge each option by.
No matter what type of website you’re launching, these are ten of the most important features to look for in a web host.
1. They have a strong reputation in the industry.
One of the best measures of a business in any industry is their overall reputation. When a business consistently serves customers well for years, word gets around. But how do you find out what a company’s reputation is?
Look for evidence from third-party sources. Have they earned any web hosting awards from reputable organizations or websites? Can you find reviews of them from tech publications? If so, what do they say?
Just as importantly, what do reviews from their actual customers say? A little bit of sleuthing on Google will uncover a lot of information about what people have to say about the web hosting company you’re considering. If it’s generally positive, then you can trust you’ll be in good hands.
2. They promise at least 99% uptime.
If your website is for a business, any time it’s not available loses you money. Even if this is a website you’re starting for fun, you risk providing a disappointing experience to visitors and losing followers if they can’t access your website each time they try to visit.
The main job a web hosting company has is to keep your website up and accessible online. Every web hosting company will have to do occasional maintenance that will temporarily take your website offline. And if servers aren’t properly maintained, they could overheat or break down, which means more time your website is inaccessible.
One of the big differentiating factors in the quality of web hosting providers is how well they manage the types of issues that can take your website offline. In industry parlance, the amount of time a web hosting company guarantees that your website will be available is called uptime, and reputable web hosting companies routinely promise at least 99% uptime. The best web hosting companies go even further, offering 99.9% uptime with a money-back guarantee.
3. They offer a variety of plans.
Today, you’re looking for a hosting package that delivers what you need right now. But you have big dreams for your new website. You hope that in the coming years, the number of people that find your website and become regular visitors will grow. Maybe you hope to continually create new content to add to your site as well.
In either case, you need room to grow. Most new websites get everything they need with an affordable shared web hosting plan, but as a website grows in size and popularity, at some point you’ll want to upgrade to a cloud hosting, VPS hosting, or possibly even a dedicated hosting plan. When that time comes, you’ll have a much easier time making the transition if you can stick with the company you choose from day one. An upgrade is simpler than a full migration to a new company.
So before you choose the right hosting package for today, take some time to think about what you’ll need tomorrow and beyond and see if your provider has plans to match your future needs as well.
4. They provide 24/7 customer service.
When you’re up late at night working on those website fixes you’ve finally gotten around to, the last thing you want is to hit an issue you need customer support to resolve and realize you have to wait until the morning to get an answer.
Any time your website has a problem, you want it fixed fast. And you should be able to work on your website on your own schedule, without having to wait on the business hours of your web hosting company’s support reps. So make sure your web host offers top-notch customer support at all hours of the day. Bonus points if they offer a number of ways you can get in touch, so you can choose between phone, email, or live chat based on what works best for you.
5. The price is right.
Web hosting is a necessary cost if you want to have a website, but that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. Simple shared web hosting plans start at less than $3 a month. When deciding on the right hosting plan for your site, keep in mind that web hosting isn’t a one-time cost. Web hosts use a subscription model for billing.
Make sure that the cost is something you’re comfortable with moving forward, and that it seems in line with what the plan is worth. While many new websites will manage just fine with the cheapest type of hosting plan, some will find it well worth spending more for additional features and higher bandwidth. Sometimes spending more is worth it, just make sure the value matches the price.
6. Their account interface is intuitive.
While the main service web hosts provide is keeping your website published and accessible, they also provide an interface that allows you to do a number of important web management tasks, such as:
- Domain name management
- Setting up redirects
- Managing your SSL
- Managing your domain email addresses
- Adding new applications or databases to your website
- Managing your backups
- Upgrading or renewing your hosting solutions
You don’t want to spend a lot of time learning how to do some of the basic, but important work involved in running your website. Look for a web hosting provider that makes it all intuitive with a good interface and simple processes.
7. They provide ample resources for getting started.
Even if the overall design is intuitive, you’re still likely to have questions about how to do certain things with your website. Before choosing your web hosting provider, look into the type of resources they provide to help you learn how to use their products. They should have comprehensive support materials such as tutorials and how-to articles.
What’s even better is also having an active support community where you can turn to other people who use the web hosting provider for help with your questions. See if the company has an active forum, in addition to their other support resources and customer service team.
8. If you have a site already, migration is supported.
The idea is to find the right web hosting platform from day one, but not everyone meets that ideal. If you’re on the search for web hosting solutions because you’re not happy with your current web hosting company, then you want to find a provider that will help you with the process of transferring your website over. Look into what the migration process is like. Consider talking to a support person there for details, so you know what you’re getting into.
If they can make the process relatively simple and painless, then you’ll be able to switch over quickly and get back to focusing on the work of running your website.
9. They support domain name management as well.
Web hosting is one of the necessary elements all websites need, a domain name is another. One of the most important steps in starting a new website is finding and registering your domain. And it’s just as important to keep your domain name registration current for as long as you keep your website.
While it’s entirely possible to register your domain with a different service than the web hosting provider you choose, you’ll have a much easier time staying on top of domain name management if you keep it all in one place. Make sure your web hosting provider allows you to manage your domain registration and renewals in the same interface you use for managing your web hosting.
10. They offer satisfactory security options.
Hackers and data breaches are an unfortunate part of the online world today. Every website owner ought to prioritize security. While there are a number of steps you can take to make your websites more secure, one of the best things you can do for website security is choosing a web host that treats it as a priority.
A good web hosting company invests in powerful firewalls, includes SSL certificates as part of their plans, and offers affordable security software or other add-ons to enhance your website security. Research the company’s reputation for security to make sure you’ll be in good hands.
Bonus Feature to Consider: A Website Builder
If you already have a great professional web designer in mind for your website, or have the skills to do it all yourself, then this feature won’t be necessary. But for anyone wanting a quick and affordable way to build a website, in spite of lacking programming skills, an intuitive website builder will make your life much easier.
And opting for a website builder from a web hosting provider means you keep all your website management tasks in one place. It’s one less log in to remember and account to keep up with.
Choose Your Web Host Today
If you’re ready to make your decision and get started with a web host now, consider one of HostGator’s plans. We offer a range of options, so there’s plenty of room to grow. We have a money-back guarantee of 99.9% uptime. We also provide 24/7 customer support and lots of helpful resources to help you get started. And we’re one of the most respected web hosts in the industry, as evidenced by third-party reviews and awards.
Ready to learn how to build a website? Give our experts at HostGator a call today and we’ll help you find the best hosting plan for you and your needs.
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.