Christiaan.com was purchased by me back on March 28, 1997. If I remember right I had to pay something like $50 for it since domains used to cost a lot more. So it has been 20 years since the first version of my site was uploaded to the web server I was using at the time. My, how the world of the internet has changed since then. Back then I was running the most popular website on Stonehenge and making a tiny bit of money selling an ebook that helped kids with their Stonehenge reports at school.
My corporate "day job" was in the Information Technology industry so I worked with most of the services used by every hosting company out there. I have a clear grasp of what is important to look for in all technology needs an entrepreneur has while trying to run an online business. Choosing a website host is one of the most critical decisions you can make because it can lead to lost revenue if problems arise. In this blog post, we will cover some key things you need to understand so that you can make an informed decision regarding choosing the right web host for your new business.
I plan to share some of the most important things I have learned about hosting like the essentials of how hosting works, the key things you need to look for in a quality hosting provider, and what type of hosting really fits the needs of your business in its current state. I want to make sure you avoid all the common pitfalls people make when picking a website hosting provider.
When I started internet marketing back in the last 90s, there weren't that many places to put up a webpage. Things have changed and there are literally hundreds of web hosting companies you can pick from. Talk about business overwhelm! As an entrepreneur how do you know which to choose and what is right for your business?
Well I want to set aside some of your anxiety and let you know that ultimately you can't make the wrong choice. You just might make one that isn't that great and can cause you some problems for a while. The reason I say you can't make the wrong choice is because you can always move your website to another hosting provider. Yes, this might require lots of work, but there usually is nothing that will lock you into the hosting company unless maybe they have something in their terms of service during your purchase.
If you are just getting started with your business, choosing a web server can be a very scary and overwhelming process. Almost every hosting service looks the same and throws a lot of technical jargon at you. Just keep calm and remember that if something looks too good to be true, then it probably is and you should steer clear of it.
So let's get you up to speed on web hosting and help you make this key business decision...
What Web Hosting Companies Do I Recommend?
I was going to put this section at the end of the article, but figured there might be some people that just want this questions answered immediately. So I decided I would just get it out of the way. I strongly suggest you read the rest of the blog post, though, so you can make the most informed decision.
Please note that honestly since I don't know your business I am not going to "recommend" any specific web hosting provider to you. If you want a real recommendation then reach out to me and we can have a strategy call about how to set up your business correctly.
Otherwise, I want to provide a general list of the hosting companies that most online business owners use. They all have decent reviews and fit the needs of most entrepreneurs, but I cannot guarantee your experience because each person can have a good or bad experience with a place. Read my notes on each, though, for some input and thoughts. I removed the hosts that probably aren't best for you in the bigger picture.
- KnownHost - I currently pay for a VPS with this company and have been with them for many years. I do absolutely love them and their support team has provided outstanding help even for the advanced coding and configuration needs I have. So if I was going to suggest one company to a person I just met, I would say KnownHost. Plus each year they have upgraded my server configuration for free with more resources and bandwidth without additional cost. Investigate and decide based on your own opinions, though.
- DreamHost - I have limited experience with them. They are becoming very popular because of their ratings from notable companies like PCMag, etc. I know many business owners that are switching over to using them as their hosting provider for a variety of reasons.
- BlueHost - I have not used them for enough length of time to have an opinion. I do know many business owners use them and feel they support them and their website very well.
- GreenGeeks - This is the industry's leading green energy hosting provider. While I haven't used them, I certainly believe in trying to use a company that currently puts 3 times the power they consume back into the grid. They have a wide range of packages and a wonderful rating.
- WPEngine - I have no experience with this Wordpress hosting provider because I coded my own blog software. But, this is one of the premiere Wordpress hosting solutions out there that is recommended.
- A2 Hosting - This is another very popular Wordpress hosting company that many people use. I don't have any experience with them but wanted to offer people another solution to look at.
- HostGator - I have used them before for a year with some basic website needs. They were ok but my site was on a shared host and I had problems because they had too many people using the same server. So it was slow, etc. Plus they just couldn't support my more advanced website needs.
- GoDaddy - I dealt with moving some domains off of their hosting services. They are used by many people but I have heard more horror stories than good ones. But clearly there are many people out there that think they are wonderful and recommend them. So I wanted to list them as an option for you all.
If you wish to support me and my website, please use the above links since they are tied to an affiliate program. I will use whatever funds received to continue to provide free content to my visitors and answer questions you all ask.
What is “Hosting”?
When I mention "web hosting" I want to quickly make sure you understand what it means. Basically, web hosting is where a company maintains a group of computers that are configured in such as way that they are called servers. Those computers are running special operating systems that allow them to store (host) website files and serve them to any person that is connecting to the server on the internet.
So you connect out to a domain name (e.g. christiaan.com), which is converted into an IP address by a Domain Name Server (DNS) and then your request is sent off to the web server that is assigned that IP. It is hosting the website you are looking for and when your request comes in, it sends you the data that your web browser displays for you.
Web hosting companies have hundreds of web servers sitting in a data centers serving out web pages on the internet and other services. It is a pretty cool experience to be in one of these data centers with their hot isles (from all the heat of the computers) and cold isles (very cold because of the air conditioning).
Why You Need Web Hosting
Usually you purchase web hosting from a company because it is much easier than doing it yourself. There are many security and technical challenges that you have to overcome when trying to host your own websites. It is just smarter to pay someone for it.
Of course, today in the world of business there are many options on where to have a website hosted. Also, you might even have a business that does not need to have a website. Maybe you just use Facebook or have others customer acquisition methods that a traditional website isn't as critical as it used to be.
Ultimately, though, as a business it never hurts to have a centralized place that you can promote your company and interact with your customers. That is primarily why you should have a website and host it somewhere. For your business marketing and a place you can call home to your business so your customers always know where to go.
What Happens When You Make The Wrong Hosting Choice?
As a business you need to make sure you don't make big mistakes that could put your company at risk. By not being smart in your approach with web hosting you could set yourself up for an ugly situation. Here are some bad things that could happen if you don't make an informed decision when selecting a web host company:
- Loss Of Revenue - If your website goes down and it is the primary way you receive income, then you could have a serious situation on your hands. You would lose out on potential sales and revenue. Maybe even customers in the long run.
- Loss Of Visibility - If you run a blog or have a lot of content on your website, it being down could cause your ranking on the search engines to lower. Also new prospective customers would not be able to find out about your products and services.
- Customer Security - If you don't take web hosting security serious, your website could be hacked and any personal information you keep on your customers could be released to the public. We all have seen the news stories about personal information being lost by big companies. Just because you aren't Target or something large, don't assume the hackers won't be trying to get your data. So make sure you have a web host that takes security seriously. Plus as a business owner you must take your customers personal information security seriously.
- Brand Image - Everyone understands that sometimes technology has a problem and a site could be temporarily down or something might be broken somewhere. But, if you have consistent issues or technical problems, that will start to affect your brand image and people might start questioning whether they want to do business with you.
What You Need to Know Up Front
First off you need to know your own hosting needs for the business and services you plan to offer or what ultimately you are trying to do with this website you want. Here are some questions you might consider:
- What is the reason of your website and what are you going to do with it?
- Do you need some common services like a blog, online store, etc?
- Do you need special versions of software (e.g. Django, PHP, .Net)?
- Does your website need to support massive amounts of traffic (e.g. like CNN, NBC, etc.)?
- What other unique things are you planning on doing with your site?
- What other technical requirements do you have for your site?
- What types of personal information do you plan on storing?
What To Look For In A Web Hosting Provider
You will find thousands of articles explaining all the technical details of what you need in a web host. While at some level all these things are important, in the larger perspective they aren't that important. The reason for this is most of the core hosting providers out there offer a decent service with the reliability and support that works for most people.
Basically, web hosting is a commodity now and you can find it in so many places that the technology isn't as important as the interaction you might need with the company. It all comes down the the nuances of the services they provide and how it resonates with your needs as a business owner.
But for transparency sake, here are most of the key points you need to make sure are covered:
- Experienced Support Staff - Of all the points this is probably the most important. The company you having hosting your website needs to have highly trained staff both in the server administration area as well as the customer support area. You need people that know what they are doing so when you have a problem it is fixed quickly and with little issue. You should be able to call their support line and have helpful people that care about you and do whatever they can to get you up and running as quickly as is feasible.
- Refund Policy - You should always be able to move to another web hosting company without a big fee. If you bought a year in advance and then 2 months later decided to move on, then that might be your problem and not the hosting companies. Ultimately, it always makes sense to purchase a month at a time for a couple months to make sure you like the web host and then get their larger term contracts. That way you can exit easier if need be.
- Green Eco-Friendly - It doesn't hurt to try to find a web host that supports the environment and is doing their part in this area.
- Account Suspension - You need to make sure you understand the policy around the Hows and Whys your website could be suspended or stopped from hosting. Know the rules and how you can recover from any potential policy violations before it happens.
- SSL Certificates - Will you be charged to use SSL certs or are they provided free / low cost? The internet is moving to a HTTPS requirement for all websites. So SSL is important and you need to support it.
- Server Backup - Understand the backup routine and expectations of your web server and your web site. You need to make sure you don't lose any files or data. What is your responsibility and what is theirs.
- Server Reliability and Uptime Scores - You need 24x7x365 hosting with at least 99.9% uptime score.
- Server Speed - Wherever you are hosting your website you need a speedy response in the displaying of that site. Google and other search engines use page load speed as a metric in them deciding on where to put your website in the search results. So it is important that a basic website loads quickly with your hosting provider. Note that you might add stuff that slows the page load down, but a basic site shouldn't be slow. A slow basic website means the server you are on is slow and you need to not have that happen.
- Server Upgrading Options - You should never be locked into a hosting plan unless that is what you really wanted. A good host will make it easy for you to expand the server you are running on without it becoming too costly.
- Unlimited Add-on Domains - As a business owner you likely will have many domains. It shouldn't cost extra to host more websites or "park" domains onto your server. It is ok if you are charged for more bandwidth or disk space because those are actual resources (that cost the hosting company money) used by the server, but domain names are not. So those should be free to add.
- Unlimited Email Addresses - This is just like domains. You should be able to add as many email accounts as you want.
- Databases - This is just like domains as well. You should be able to add as many databases as needed within reason. Now if you have special needs around a specific type of database, that could become an issue. But overall, usually the common ones like MySQL should be just fine.
- cPanel/Plesk, Scripts, Cron Jobs, etc. - You should have access to cPanel and all that other back end geeky stuff that your webmaster will likely need at some point. Access to e-Commerce features would be very helpful as well. None of this should break the bank or be a big additional cost if it isn't free.
- Pricing - This is NOT as important as people make it out to be. Cheaper is not always better. You don't need to spend a ton of money for a web host but don't go for the cheapest place in town unless they are proven to be a quality web host. Watch out for places that nickel and dime you for extra features that are standard on most other web hosts.
- Data Centers - Make sure that your web host has multiple data centers and are fully redundant in terms of power and connectivity. You don't want a mom and pop shop that has only one place for their servers. You want a company that takes hosting serious and will have disaster recovery plans in place to protect their business and their customer's websites.
- Geography - You want a hosting provider that has a data center that is close to your target audience within reason. In other words it wouldn't be smart to host your site on the west coast of the US and only serve customers in Germany. It would be better to pick a data center in Germany. But, if you have people everywhere then that can become a problem. That is where speed and quality of the hosting provider comes in. Or maybe they offer the ability to load balance your website across multiple countries and locations. That would be an added benefit.
- Customer and Review Site Recommendations - I would not trust most of the articles and comments out there because a large part of review sites is biased information. Also many comments are from people that horrible experiences and want to vent and just complain about the web services. Instead, I would look at the general view of comments out there from actual customers. If it is mostly good then I would consider the company. Obviously, I would stay away from companies that have complaints mostly. I wouldn't listen to 99% of the review sites out there unless it was backed with a lot of technical and research data. The best advice would be from people that I knew personally that used a web hosting company. Of course, you can always try them out and see what you get yourself before you commit long term to a single company.
Types Of Web Hosting Plans
There are many different type of server hosting plans that you can select when looking to build and deploy a website. Each of these have good and bad things about them. As a beginning internet marketer you really only need the simpler plans and nothing too advanced. Of course, you need to make sure you evaluate all your options before deciding. If you really aren't sure what to do, then reach out to me for a free strategy session.
Here is a list of the different types of web server hosting options you have:
- Free - It's possible to find free web hosting, but very few professional webmasters will recommend that you use it. There are just too many other ways you can host now.
- Shared - This is sometimes called virtual hosting. Basically it means you are sharing one server with other customers of your web hosting company. The number of people using that same server is determined by them. Shared hosting is usually cheaper because of this reason. Many people using the same resources allow the web host to lower the cost. Unfortunately, if one of the websites on your shared server is using a lot of resources it can affect everyone else. Sometimes you can get bad performance or have problems because you are sharing the server with others.
- Dedicated - This means that essentially you have an entire server just to yourself. The resources you are paying for are dedicated to your website. This is why it can be expensive but for some businesses it is a requirement.
- VPS - This is basically a cross between shared and dedicated hosting. You are put on a very powerful server that you share with a small group of people but each person has the dedicated resources assigned to them based on the package they select. So you won't be affected by other websites because you have dedicated resources.
- Reseller - This is a type of shared hosting where you rent out parts of the server you are paying for to other people. Basically you are a middle man in a way. These people pay you for the use of the server part that you gave them.
- Collocated - This type of hosting is primarily for big companies. Basically it is some physical space in a data center that you rent for the purpose of putting your own equipment in. You install your own servers and network gear and then have access to the space.
- Cloud / Containers - This is the latest of hosting technology. Basically you are able to purchase just the resources of a server and spawn off your own instances or "mini-servers". There are also things like Docker which creates container servers that only have key software installed in them versus normal servers which have a large amount of software installed. Only programmers or application developers look for hosting like this usually.
- Managed - This isn't a type of hosting but instead of service added to it. Usually you have to manage some parts of the server or website yourself. With managed hosting, you are paying others to do it for you and take care of the management and upkeep.
- Unmanaged - This is the opposite of managed hosting. You are responsible for almost everything except the most basic of server responsibilities. Usually this is patching the operating system or stuff that is critical to the actual hosting companies needs.
- WordPress - With the advent of blogs, Wordpress really took off as the perfect blogging platform. So website hosting companies started offering a fully managed service where they kept the wordpress blog software up to date and made it very easy to use. This was compared to other hosting services where you had to deal with scripts to install Wordpress, etc. If you are serious about using Wordpress, you might want to go with a managed service versus having to stay on top of each new Wordpress version and updating your website. Wordpress it targeted by hackers so you have to keep the software up to date.
I don't doubt that you are in complete information overload at this point. Don't worry, though, we all have been in that spot at some point. I just happen to have 25 years of experience in the computer and internet marketing field so it is easier for me now. But, I really do want this to be simple for you.
If you are just starting your business then get a simple shared hosting plan at one of the decent hosting providers I listed at the top of this post. Sign up for monthly services and give them a try. If you think you want to stay with them then sign up for a year.
But, most importantly, you need to have your business strategy in place first to some extent. If you aren't really sure on where to start, then you might considering reaching out to me for a free strategy session.
If you have other questions about web hosting or something that this blog post confused you on or you want clarification on, then use the question box below to ask your question. I will be glad to help...