Choosing a quality web host can be a challenging proposition in the increasingly complex, highly competitive, and often confusing world of website ownership. Additionally, most web hosts advertise in a slightly deceptive manner, making it even more difficult to distinguish the good web hosts from the bad ones. In other words, it’s really hard to know how to choose a web host.
Based on over 17 years of experience dealing with many web hosts, I’ve compiled a mental checklist of requirements that must be met before signing on the dotted line with any web host. Now I’m sharing that checklist with you.
This article assumes you’re using WordPress as a back-end for your website. Even if you’re not, the following advice will serve you well moving forward.
Knowledgeable, Responsive Technical Support Is Important
If you’re not a website developer, you’re eventually going to need technical support, no matter how skilled you are. Things usually work as they should, but sometimes they don’t.
Maybe your website slows down dramatically for no apparent reason. Maybe you break something while designing. Maybe you can’t log in.
At times like these, you’re going to need high quality technical support from your web host.
So what does high quality technical support look like?
Wait times should be minimal.
Who wants to wait on hold for three hours while their website is down?
There should be a well-staffed online support system.
You should be able to chat online (fairly quickly) with a qualified technician 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Technicians should respond to email tickets promptly.
Once you experience waiting for days for a response to an urgent issue (like your website being down), you’ll understand why this is a big deal.
Technical support should be from qualified technicians.
It shouldn’t be from someone reading out of a manual. It’s no fun being treated like an idiot and wasting time, all at the same time.
Technical support should be in-house, not outsourced.
There’s a reason web hosts pay more to avoid outsourcing their technical support, and it’s called quality control.
The web host should provide an extensive knowledgebase.
You should be able to find answers to basic questions (and even advanced questions) in your web host’s knowledgebase.
Technical support should be available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
There will be times you need a technician when most normal folk are sleeping, like at 2:30AM on New Year’s Day. You’re up, trying to get your article ready for the beginning of the year–January 1. But something’s not working right and you’re desperate. Choose a web host that will be there for you at such times.
And the best hosts will provide said 24/7 support via phone or via online chat.
There should be an active online support community.
When you post a comment in a knowledgebase article, there should be technicians that answer your comment in a timely manner. An active community of users and technicians means up-to-date information.
Low quality web hosts provide low quality technical support. Pray that you don’t have to deal with a web host like this. I have. And I can’t get back those meaningless, frustrating, waste-of-time lost hours of my life. A pox on web hosts with poor technical support.
A Low Price (paired with a high-quality service) Is Important
Learning how to choose a web host can be tough because there are so many to choose from with a wide variety of prices, from free to hundreds of dollars per month. As with any product or service, the price should be as low as possible. And that price should be paired with the highest quality product or service possible. You want the best bang for your buck (cliché but true).
Price includes a few different elements.
Is the company well-respected?
You might ask, “What does being well-respected have to do with price?”
You might pay a slight premium for companies that are indeed well-respected. When evaluating price, it’s important to ask yourself, “Why is this company’s price a little bit higher than that other company’s price?” Sometimes the answer is simple. It may be that the company that charges a little more does so simply because their product or service is superior.
It’s the reason one Buck knife costs more than an 18-piece Farberware set. It’s the reason a Weber costs more than a Charbroil. It’s the reason a rib-eye is more expensive than a rump roast. Things that are better cost a bit more.
Of course it’s not always the case. Sometimes a product or service is marketed so well that it fetches a premium, even if it’s inferior.
So, is the web host you’re considering well-respected?
Head on over to the Better Business Bureau and see for yourself. If you pay a slight premium for an accredited business you may find it’s well worth the peace of mind. Not all companies are BBB accredited. Companies are under no obligation to seek BBB accreditation. There’s a reason why some companies never make the attempt.
If a business has been accredited by the BBB, it means the BBB has determined that the business meets accreditation standards, which include a commitment to make a good faith effort to resolve any consumer complaints. BBB-accredited businesses pay a fee for accreditation review and monitoring for continued compliance and for support of BBB services to the public.
How much are you paying each month?
This is an important number. You want the price to be low. But you want high quality. Find the best balance. If a company is charging $100 per month for “managed hosting” and you can’t even figure out what that means, you’re paying too much.
If you’re paying $1 per month for unlimited everything but you can’t even communicate with the technical support department, you’re not paying enough.
Is your initial price a permanent price or is it an introductory offer?
It’s almost always a temporary price.
Almost all web hosts entice you with a low-price introductory offer, including my own favorite web host. Look for the longest introductory price guarantee you can find. If you can pre-pay for two years to lock in your low introductory price, that might be a good idea (if you’re confident you’ve discovered a quality web host).
Is there a money-back guarantee?
Can you get your money back if you’re not satisfied? Look for, at the minimum, a 30-day money-back guarantee. Be sure it’s in writing. And know there are companies out there that offer much better than a 30-day money-back guarantee.
If you already have a website, will there be a charge for moving it?
Some web hosts will transfer your website for free. Some web hosts will charge for moving your site. This can be a significant charge, so if you’re moving an already-existing website, be sure to find out the cost for the move. You can always move your site yourself if you have the technical know-how.
Price is important. Our money should, after all, stay in our own pockets. So when we have to spend it, we want as much as we can get for as little as possible.
Shared Hosting, Managed Hosting, VPS, Dedicated Hosting Explained
I’m about to go on a rant. So please bear with me.
Shared hosting is the most basic form of web hosting offered. Shared hosting is “shared” because there are many websites on the same server. And that’s why it’s cheap. Shared hosting is not bad, it’s just–shared. It’s great for most websites.
Web hosts claim that they offer unlimited bandwidth and storage space for their shared hosting accounts–their lowest-level accounts. Really? Unlimited bandwidth? But the reality is that nothing is unlimited. Nothing except the love of God. And you can’t buy that.
Anyone that believes the lie of unlimited is not really thinking about the meaning of the word unlimited. Think about it. What do you know of that’s truly endless?
Unlimited features really mean nothing. Let me convince you. Why would Host G – – – (and other web hosts) offer unlimited (they’re calling it “unmetered” now) bandwidth and storage space on their shared hosting plans ($3-$10 per month) and then put a hard cap on their VPS hosting plans, which are much more expensive plans?
Their basic VPS is almost $60 per month with 2,000 MB of RAM, 120GB of disk space and 1.5TB of bandwidth at about 15 times the price of their shared hosting offerings.
Doesn’t make sense, does it?
This is standard advertising practice in the industry. It would be nearly impossible for companies to compete if they didn’t offer unlimited storage space and bandwidth on their shared hosting plans.
So how do web hosting companies get away with advertising unlimited storage space and bandwidth on their shared accounts? I’ve asked them. Their answer?
We do provide unlimited storage space and bandwidth. But we don’t provide unlimited CPU usage.
Now the truth begins to emerge. If a site gets visitors, that site is using a percentage of the server’s total possible resources. And if a website owner is uploading a lot of photos to their website, that site is again using a percentage of the server’s total possible resources. Everything that happens in a website’s life cycle takes up CPU resources.
So if a website gets too many visitors or has too much spam or is uploading too much data (and those numbers are always nebulous), that website’s CPU usage will be deemed “too high” and that site will be throttled (slowed down by the web host) or shut down.
Does that sound like unlimited to you? It doesn’t to me. And that exact scenario happened to me.
Some web hosts buck the “we provide unlimited everything” trend. These web hosts provide so-called “managed hosting.”
Managed hosting will cost you about ten times the price with far fewer features available to you as a consumer. Don’t buy the hype.
I tried WP Engine for a while. I only stayed with them a few months. I realized that the management they were providing was something I could take care of myself–for a lot less.
There were several nice features, like a staging area, enhanced security and daily easy-to-restore backups. Also, they don’t falsely advertise unlimited services which don’t exist. I really respect their honesty. It’s a rarely-found trait in the crazy-competitive web hosting space.
The price-to-feature ratio, though, is crazy. For example, I could only have 100,000 unique visitors per month otherwise I’d have to pay significantly more. And I was already paying $100 per month for one of their entry-level plans, which is about 20 times more than shared hosting and about double the price of a VPS (virtual private server) with most web hosts.
I’m currently on a VPS with my current web host and have a lot more freedom and features than WP Engine ever offered me–and I’m paying well under half what I was paying for WP Engine’s services.
For most people, managed hosting is extreme overkill. Unless you are independently wealthy and simply don’t want to have to take any responsibility whatsoever for the operation of your website, try something other than managed WordPress web hosting.
Virtual Private Server – VPS
A VPS is a virtual private server. It is still considered shared hosting, but each customer is allocated a much larger percentage of their server’s resources (as well as being given more control over technical aspects).
Each website is allowed to use significantly more CPU resources than a website on a shared hosting plan. A VPS is a lot more expensive than shared hosting (but a lot cheaper than managed hosting). A VPS is not typically necessary for most website owners unless they start experiencing significant traffic.
Websites that have extremely high traffic need dedicated hosting. Dedicated hosting means the website is all alone on the server. The server is dedicated to that website only. Dedicated hosting is very expensive and typically reserved for big business.
Essential Features of a Quality Web Host
Standard features for a quality web host should include:
- shared, VPS, and dedicated hosting solutions,
- 24/7, 365, in-house technical support with minimal wait times (try calling and see how long it takes to get a real person),
- updated, high-quality equipment (SSDs–solid-state drives–if possible),
- a solid reputation (personal recommendations, BBB accreditation),
- free website transfers,
- a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee (30 days minimum; hopefully better),
- an option for WordPress hosting,
- an easy-to-use control interface like cpanel or Plesk,
- email services and
- lots of unlimited options (just kidding).
Quality Hardware Is Important
What kind of equipment does your host utilize? Are they using state-of-the-art solid state drives, which are faster and more reliable or are they using old-fashioned spinning drives? This is an important question to ask. If the company’s website doesn’t advertise the use of solid state drives, they’re probably using older, less reliable equipment.
And for the high-quality hardware to work well, the web host shouldn’t over-cram customers onto any one server (which is standard industry practice as well). This is a nearly impossible question to get answered as most web hosts won’t bother telling you the truth, even if you ask.
Personal Recommendations Are Your Best Source of Information!
Don’t trust the web host reviews websites you find out there. They’re typically affiliates (web hosts pay them for sales generated by their links). This means the majority of their reviews are meaningless because they don’t care which company you buy from, as long as you click one of their links first.
Not all web hosting review websites spew meaningless information. Some are legit. But most are simply massive affiliate factories hoping you’ll click on one their links and buy web hosting–from anyone!
So if you can’t trust most of the web hosting review websites (found by typing in such typical phrases as “best web host” or “best web host 2016,” etc.) then which recommendations can you trust?
Hopefully one of your friends or co-workers has a website. Ask them about their chosen web host. Ask them about their experiences with their host’s technical support. Ask them how much they’re paying each month. Ask them about the features they use most. A personal recommendation is the most reliable information you can get.
Am I an Affiliate?
Yes, I am. But you probably knew that by now, didn’t you?
Why Should You Trust Me?
Now it’s time to get personal. I’m not your typical affiliate. I say this for a number of reasons.
Affiliate marketers have a bad name.
I’ve found this to be the case as I go to WordPress meetups and as I meet other WordPress and website-building fanatics. People simply don’t trust most affiliate marketers.
Why? Because affiliate marketers will sell any product or service they can successfully promote, without knowing anything at all about the product or service. And that turns people off.
Affiliate marketers have a bad name because they usually don’t provide a legitimate service. They clog up the web with advertisements, promises they can’t keep, and all sorts of glorious information about products and services they’ve never even tried.
So I get it. I understand why folks don’t trust affiliate marketers.
I provide a legitimate service.
I get personal satisfaction from helping others. Really. That’s why everything on this website is geared toward helping other people start their own WordPress blog or website. And that’s why I offer free support for your WordPress blog or website.
I won’t build your website for you. I can’t answer all your questions. I’m not a programmer or developer. But I am a guy who understands WordPress pretty well and I’m also a high-school teacher so explaining how things work is second nature to me.
I’m an affiliate for only one web host — the one I use for my own websites.
I don’t write a lot of promotional articles. I don’t spend a lot of time selling. I spend time helping others (for free) and writing articles that I think will be useful for those starting a WordPress blog or website.
My primary goal is helping. Sales are secondary. I’ve helped many, many people over the past few years learn how to make a website without making a dime. And that feels good.
It’s impossible to really help people if sales are the primary concern.
I can feel good about promoting the web host I use because I know them inside and out. I can promote them honestly because I have a few years of experience with them.
Do they make mistakes? Of course. All hosts do. Have I ever waited on hold for technical support? Yes, now and again, but not for too long. Have my websites ever gone down? Yes, it’s happened. But I’ve utilized multiple web hosts over the years (since 1998) and my experience with my current web host has been my best experience. So I’m sticking with them.
I’ve tried the cheapest web hosts out there. Ugh. I’ve tried the most expensive. Nice, just way too expensive. The best web host provides the best balance between price and features.
My Recommended Web Host
Their prices are extremely competitive, especially if you utilize my discount (over 56% off shared hosting; Inmotion’s best discount anywhere).
Inmotion uses solid-state drives for all their hosting plans, even their shared hosting service. Their 24/7, in-house, US-based technical support and comprehensive knowledgebase are second to none. They’re BBB accredited. They have a 90-day, best-in-the-business money-back guarantee. They’ll transfer your existing website for free.
And, with my link, you’ll save over 50% off their listed price. So you’ll be getting an above-average web host for a below-average price. What’s not to love?
How to Choose a Web Host – Discussion
I hope this article has been helpful for you as you figure out how to choose a web host. I hope you’ve decided to use Inmotion. However, if you decide to go with another web host (or if you’re already using another host), I’d love to hear about it. Please let me know in the comments which web host you’ve decided to use and how they stack up.
Alternatives to Traditional Web Hosting
WordPress.com offers web hosting, software, themes, a domain name with privacy protection — everything needed for a website for very reasonable prices. There are a few downsides to using WordPress.com, so if you’re interested in knowing the differences between traditional web hosting and WordPress.com, check out this article.
Free Support for Your WordPress Blog
If you need help with your WordPress blog or website, contact me. I’m happy to help. And if you purchase your hosting via this link, you’ll get over 56% off and I’ll help you with some specific things.