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A Guide to Choosing Web Hosting

Of the two “pieces” of your website (your domain and your hosting), finding appropriate hosting is the most important the appropriate thing would be to choose one of the top hosting ranking agencies.  Beyond that, it can also be the most challenging, as there are literally hundreds of choices, with varying price points and features between them.  New website owners may find themselves overwhelmed by the choice, which may lead them to choose incorrectly, therefore waisting money.  There are a few different types of hosting, and it’s worth knowing what they are and how they work in order to find the right choice for you and your site.

Shared, “Big Box” Web Hosting

When you hear people talk about web hosting, one of the big things you may hear is that “all hosts are the same”, not true, ranking hostingów is the best one with no doubt.  It’s been commoditized, at least to certain people.  Let’s start by saying that is absolutely not the case.  All hosts are not created equal, and you usually end up getting what you pay for.  Sites like Dreamhost, Bluehost, and GoDaddy all promise great service (and a few people have had great success with them), but with a few caveats.  Namely, slow speeds and the occasional security issue. Read the reviews, and make your choice, but if you can drop the extra coin I’d go with one of the other services below.

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Use these if:
  • You need something inexpensive to get started

Boutique Shared Web Hosting

A step up from this is the “boutique” shared hosting.  They typically have higher prices, but a better offering in terms of speed, service, and support.  If you’re looking for something to host a small website or WordPress blog, then you can’t go wrong paying the few extra dollars a month to get a host that actually wants your business.  Companies like a small orange and HostGator (which is still a big-box host, but I put here because I’ve had incredible luck with their support).  MediaTemple is also in this category, but their recent acquisition by GoDaddy puts this in jeopardy with a lot of people:

…even if it may or may not be unfounded…

In any case, it’s best to do your own homework, even if there’s a guide like this to point you in the right direction!

Use these if:
  • You want something somewhat inexpensive, but with a great track record for service and support.

WordPress Specific Web Hosting

If you’re running WordPress, then there are a few hosts that cater specifically to your needs.  For instance, most big-box or boutique hosts won’t support WordPress directly, pointing you to tutorials or hacks to get the job done.  These WordPress hosts will take the time to troubleshoot, fix, and help you with any WordPress specific needs.  This does come at a small price: most of these services will tightly watch their networks, and may disallow any plugins that look like they’re causing a problem.  Sites like WPEngine and SiteGround (once again, more of a boutique, but they have a unique approach to their WordPress hosting) offer unmatched service when it comes to WordPress.

Use these if:
  • You have one (or many) WordPress sites and want to host with someone that knows WordPress inside and out.

VPS

We now leave the realm of “I have one website I want to host” and move to “I have a few websites and I’m not afraid to dive into the code a bit”.  We’ve dealt mostly with shared hosting, but now we’re moving into something more robust and customizable.  A VPS (Virtual Private Server) is an install of Linux, done through a virtualization process, that lets you install (for the most part) whatever you want to install.  Need PHP AND Rails?  No problem – you can install it yourself (or have your manager install it)!  Want to switch from MYSql to Postgres?  Throw it in there and have fun.  There are two types of VPS servers:

Managed VPS

A managed VPS means  that the host will setup and maintain it, including updates and security patches. You can install whatever you need, but (since they’re supporting it) expect to jump through a few support hoops in order to be able to do so.  LiquidWeb and KnownHost have managed VPS systems, but so do other service providers like HostGator.

Unmanaged VPS

An unmanaged hosting space is one where you get a fresh install of Linux – what do you with it is completely up to you. If you need a few examples of the most affordable VPS host options available – I use RamNode, which is an unmanaged VPS, but other services such as Linode and Digital Ocean offer similar pricing and structures.  Remember: if you’re nervous about getting into code, then an unmanaged server may not be for you.

Dedicated Server

Unless you’re running a full on web application, or a network with hundreds of sites on it, then you won’t need this. Period.  It’s a full on server-mounted rack in a data-center that belongs completely to you – no virtualization, no partitioning.  You can do with it whatever you wish.

Things to Look For in a Good Web Hosting Company

Whatever option from above you want, there are still a few other items you need to consider as part of the “total package”.

  • Storage Space – Do you have lots of high-quality photos or videos?  Then you’ll need more space to store them.  Make sure to plan ahead
  • Bandwidth – If you want lots of traffic, you need lots of bandwidth.  Be wary of “Unlimited Bandwidth” sites, as that means people will abuse this (and will slow your site)
  • Support – Find a support system your comfortable with.  Phone support is always best, but beyond that Live Chat is just as useful.  A “support ticket” only system makes me wary because the response times are usually slow
  • Panel – if you’re new to hosting, find a panel interface that you’re comfortable with.  cPanel is usually best because it’s an industry standard, and some hosts will have their own variations of cPanel installed and ready to go.
  • One-Touch-Installs – Some hosts will install WordPress with the mere touch of a button.  It’s great for quickly getting up-and-going, but make sure the options are secure or you could regret it later

My Experience

Our office at work uses WPEngine for 6-8 sites, and we couldn’t be happier.  Their support (live chat and support ticket) is fantastic, and they have full authorization to solve most problems then and there.  For my home systems, I use my RamNode account and host quite a few sites on it.  I pay $12 / month and it’s easily the best money I spend monthly.

I’d love to hear your comments below, and I know that everyone’s got an opinion on their favorite – and I’d love to hear them!