So, you are looking at building yourself a simple website or blog, but you are unsure of how to choose a website host that will suit both your budget and requirements? In this article we will help point you in the right direction, as well as help you filter through some of the marketing BS that you will be reading while doing your research.
Before you even start looking for a host, you need to have a plan of what you want your website to be and do. A couple options for this could be:
- A simple static website,
- A website with a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla with regular articles added,
- A CMS with some eCommerce integration.
Once you know what kind of website you need, you know what you require of your host. For all 3 of the options above you will be able to start off with “shared hosting”. This is where the host uses one server to host multiple websites, sometimes up to 3000 sites on one server. You need to be careful though that you don’t select a host that overloads their servers to a point that all the websites on it suffer from bad performance.
I am a firm believer in not overpaying for hosting. If you are starting a new website you will start off with zero traffic, unless you have a $100 000 marketing budget to get you off the ground (if you do have that kind of budget, stop reading now and give some of that money to a hosting specialist instead).
If you are going for option 1, you should be able to choose just about any host out there and you will be ok. Options 2 and 3 you will need to be a bit more careful as the sites require a database to function and therefore need a higher performing server. The rest of this article will cover requirements for the last 2 options.
I have found a host offering unlimited websites, disk space, databases and bandwidth!
Don’t fall for it!
I will use Bluehost as an example (there are many others) of this as they are very well known in the industry and just about everyone has heard their name mentioned at one point or another. Bluehost are one of the providers that offer unlimited everything in their shared hosting packages to try attracting customers, even though installing 5 or more Joomla or WordPress instances will trigger a warning that your account will start experiencing degraded performance due to the high number of files on your server. Not quite “unlimited” then is it? I recently had to migrate a few sites away from Bluehost for a client as all the CMS based sites were really slow in reading from the databases (This is a case of server overloading and is particularly noticeable when working in the administrator section of your CMS).
Many of these kinds of hosts also attract their customers by offering them amazing deals of really cheap hosting, free SSL certificates etc. for the first year, but beware, your bill to renew your hosting next year could be up to 3 times as much! Their renewal fees are often hidden, so you may have to ask about it.
If you happen to have 10 websites that you want to host, you will be better off buying a reseller account from a reputable provider, rather than using one of these unlimited offers. That way each site will have it’s own control panel, resource limits and in the end you will have less trouble.
So how much disk space, bandwidth and databases do I need?
The honest truth here is the majority of websites won’t use more than 200MB of disk space, and I will provide some examples. Tech A1 is currently using 94MB of disk space including the database; this is 13 posts and 4 pages. Now if you think about a small showcase website for a business; a nice homepage, a few pages showcasing your services and then the standard “about us” pages etc. and you’re done. So if you are looking at your prospective host and they have a 1GB package, that may be all you need.
As a bigger example, this site currently has 152 posts, 16 pages and is using 269MB. So it’s a much bigger site, but would still be able to use a small 1GB package.
These figures will vary a bit, but not by too much. Some factors that could influence this are having large image galleries or using your server to host video files, so that should be taken into account before making your decision.
The amount of bandwidth used by your site is directly related to the volume of traffic you receive. A small business site getting around 100 visits per day would use an estimated 4GB of traffic per month. The majority of web hosts around will offer enough bandwidth allowance with their packages to cover this.
If your site is using a lot more than this, you could look into integrating a service like CloudFlare to help reduce your bandwidth usage and improve the performance of your site. Cloudflare basically keeps a copy of part of your site on their servers and distributes them to your sites visitors. Using their service can save you around 50% of your bandwidth usage.
Each installation of WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or whatever CMS you decide to use, will use one database. I don’t recommend sharing a database between different installations. Normally I would look for a package that allows at least 2 databases. This will allow for one database to be used for your site and one spare that could be used for development work etc.
What about all my emails?
I come across this quite often; client has issues because they have reached their disk space allowance. Their site is using 78MB, but they have 946MB of emails on the server.
YOUR WEB HOST IS NOT THERE TO STORE YOUR EMAILS!
You need to setup your email accounts to POP so that the mail is removed from the server. If you require your mail to be stored in the “cloud” to access it from multiple devices, then route all your mail to Google Apps (the free version allows you 15GB of storage). Most good hosts will help set this up for you.
What else should I look out for?
Other than what has been mentioned already, there are some other points you should take into consideration.
You need to pick your server location to match your target market. If you are targeting users in the United Kingdom, your website should be hosted in the United Kingdom. The same goes for any other country, try and get your website hosted as close as possible. This will help your site load faster for your target market and improve their user experience. In some countries users are even charged more by their ISP’s for using international bandwidth (visiting websites located outside of their country).
Reliability / Support
I have grouped these two together because I generally look in the same places to get the answers. While some hosts will have a server status page showing how much down time they have experienced in the recent past, some of the best info you will get is from real user interaction. Now just doing a Google search for “hosting reviews” is going to return a boat load of spam sites trying to make a buck from hosting affiliates, but there are a few forums where you can get some solid info. Web Hosting Talk is a good place to start your search, if you can’t find what you are looking for then just ask.
That just about covers the major factors of selecting a host for a small website. In the coming weeks I’ll be preparing an article for those that have outgrown their shared hosting and are looking to migrate to a VPS.