In the market for a web host? Read on to learn from a web developer (and Internet genius!) what to consider when choosing a web hosting company.

Finding a good web host can be a difficult task. There are a lot of options out there with different pricing and features available. Knowing all the technical details can be tough as well. However, it’s important to choose a good web host because the security and reliability of your website depend on it. Web hosting companies commonly charge per year, so the commitment involved definitely makes the decision that much harder. Luckily, Skyhook Interactive has had plenty of experience with a wide variety of hosting companies. Here are a few tips and things to look for when choosing a web hosting company.

Don’t put all your Internet eggs in one web service company’s basket

This article mainly focuses on web hosting services. However, most web hosting companies also include other related services like domain registration and email hosting. While it may seem like a good idea to use the same company for all of your business’s online activities, be careful. The trade-off for simplicity is the risk of losing access to all of your online capabilities. If you end up receiving bad service from your web host, you might not want them to be in control of your email as well. When working with our clients, we generally like to recommend using separate companies for domain registration, web hosting and email hosting.

Know what you need

Before researching and comparing different web hosting companies, you should first know what your needs are. Do you want to simply host a small business “brochure” website? Are you planning on adding any extra features like a shopping cart or members-only area? You may even need to get a list of requirements from your website’s developer if possible. You’ll be able to quickly weed out web hosts that don’t offer what you need and save a lot of trouble down the road. The good news is that most web hosts will show exactly what their hosting plans offer, so you can compare them with others easily.

The first requirement you should define is which operating system your website needs. For most websites, Linux is the preferred web hosting platform. Most open source web software runs best on Linux web servers. Microsoft Windows should be used for sites built using only Microsoft web languages (ASP, .NET, etc).

Basic things to look for

When comparing web hosting companies, and even different plans within the same company, you’ll usually see a breakdown of features. Here is a list explaining the most basic features of a web hosting plan:

  • Disk space. Much like the hard drive in your own computer, this defines how much space you’ll have for all of your website files (scripts, html templates, images, etc).
  • Bandwidth. Every time someone visits your website, the web host transfers the necessary files to their browser. If your website hits the monthly cap, it may become unavailable until the next month. Luckily, it’s very common for web hosts to offer unlimited bandwidth.
  • Domains hosted. This one is very important because it can save you lots of money. Unless you really need to host only one website, look for a web hosting plan that lets you add on multiple domains. This means you can run more than one website from just one hosting account. In addition, make sure the amount of sub-domains available in the plan meet your needs.
  • Databases. While you technically could use one database for everything stored by your website, it’s definitely not good for security or efficiency. Look for how many databases (and file size of each database) is allowed by the plans you are considering.
  • Email. As mentioned above, we recommend hosting your email separately from your web host. However, if you don’t plan to do that, look for how many email accounts are available. Also, look for other useful features like web mail access, aliases, SMTP or IMAP support or anything else you might need.
  • Control Panel. If a web hosting plan does not include access to a control panel, it’s most likely not worth considering. Control panels are where you would typically manage everything on your web hosting account. If a web hosting plan does not include it, you either will have to do everything through the web hosting company’s support channels (which could be slow) or you simply won’t have the ability (which can lead to many problems).
  • Software installs. Many web hosts will allow you to install web software through their control panel. If you have not hired a web developer to build your website, this might help you get started easily.

Advanced web hosting needs

As mentioned earlier, if you’re planning on hosting a complicated website, you’ll definitely want to get a list of web hosting requirements from your developer. Other high-profile websites may have more needs to consider. Here is a list of some advanced features that you may need to look out for:

  • SSL. If you’re hosting a shopping cart website, this is a must. It is also strongly recommended for any other website with user accounts.
  • SSH. Website developers may need to use SSH to configure complicated scripts or solve issues quickly on your website.
  • Dedicated IP. While shared web hosting plans can be good enough for many businesses, it may be necessary to have your own IP address for security needs.
  • Cron. This can sometimes be overlooked as a feature in web hosting plan, but it is a very useful tool for web developers to add advanced functionality to your website.
  • Other extensions. Depending on the language your website is built in, there may be additional software needed on the server. Make sure the web hosting plan you choose allows you to add those extensions.

You don’t exactly “get what you pay for”

You would be wrong in assuming that a more expensive web host is a safer choice. In fact, it has been our experience that there are plenty of web hosting companies out there that charge a lot more than their competitors, while offering far fewer features and support. This fact can definitely make your choice harder.

You should also be aware of web hosting companies that are really just re-selling another company’s service. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad choice, but you might as well take full advantage of using the main company and not the re-sold version of it.

Back to security and reliability

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned the importance of choosing a good web host for your website. It may be tempting to just use one of the well known companies or the one that puts out the flashiest advertising. And there are times when a simple shared-hosting plan is all that you need. However, if your business relies heavily on your website, you need to make sure your web host offers the best security.

Rather than comparing feature lists, look for blog and support articles that explain recent security threats and what the company is doing about them. Read other tech websites to find news on which web hosts are being targeted. If you know the software platform your website will be built on, look for specific security issues that could compromise it. These types of stories are happening all the time and can help you see which web hosting companies really take security seriously.

Don’t rush the decision, and do try to plan for the future. I guarantee that your web developer will thank you for it. You can avoid lots of problems, wasted effort and costly rework by choosing the right web host from the beginning.