Choosing a Good Web Host

The most common answer to “Who’s your host?” or “Where’s your domain registered?” is “GoDaddy.”

You might not care what a web developer wants. It’s your site, and it’s the developer’s job to launch your site on whatever web host you want. But you should know how the host you choose may end up hurting both you and your website.

Avoiding Bad Hosts

Your host is what makes your website visible to the world. It’s where your website lives and what makes it work. A poor web host means poor performance and slow load times.

A good web host should give you everything you need and nothing you don’t. When a host advertises FREE things at a GREAT introductory price, make sure to read the details. Those prices usually increase after a year. You end up paying for all those FREE things you don’t need.

So how do I choose the RIGHT web host?

An alternate, silly explanation for the cloud, which is basically a web host.
Image from XKCD 908

It can be easy to feel lost or overwhelmed. What, then, makes a good host, and how do I know it when I see it? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t just a simple referral. The quality of hosting companies is always changing. Hosts start out great, but once they are sold to one of the few giants, they start to care less about quality. They change their services or increase their prices. Sometimes they make improvements to previous negatives and end up as a better choice. New hosting companies are appearing all the time.

A good web developer will know what hosts are currently among the best. They know which ‘best of’ lists are actual reviews and which are affiliates. Most of the ‘best of’ hosting lists are advertisements.

But don’t give up just yet. There are a few things you can look out for when looking into web hosts. You can also read up on some of the terms related to websites.

How to Tell the Bad From the Good

As always, it’s important to do your research before signing up for a web host. There are many people who do the heavy lifting for you. They sign up for accounts, host websites, and test for the best and most reliable. Just like the web hosts themselves, resources about hosts can be good or bad. As long as the resource making the recommendations is transparent about their methods and any affiliate links, it is usually considered reliable.

Most mediocre hosts usually have at least a few of the following things in common:

  • There is a “countdown” for how long their deal will last. Untrustworthy hosts will often have more than one “deal” page, all with different prices. Once promotional prices end, they usually renew at a much higher rate. Also, look for early cancellation fees.
  • There is some sort of checklist about the FREE and UNLIMITED things included. Some free things might be temporary, and some free things might be worthless. Just because a company offers something doesn’t mean it’s of good quality. Free customer support might come with a two hour waiting time unless you have the PRO account. Free support should still mean great support.
    • Unlimited space does not actually mean unlimited. If you are using what is deemed “excessive” (often determined by the host on a whim), your account can be disabled. You’re sharing that unlimited space with unlimited others who also got unlimited space. What other people are doing on your server can affect your website’s performance.
  • Hosts that advertise 99.99% uptime might not be telling the truth. That shouldn’t be something you should base your decision on. Almost all hosts claim that level of uptime, and only some of them actually mean it.

How to choose the right host:

  • Know what you’re looking for. There are tons of forums and people to talk to. If you’ve hired a developer, they might have a preferred server that they find easy to work with. Tell them what you need and they’ll tell you what features to look for.
  • Trust your gut. If a site feels like it’s a scam or too good to be true, it probably is.

Knowing When to Change

It usually starts slowly. They’ll make updates to the account area that don’t make sense. Server updates cause your site to go down or cause other website issues. Loading times can become an issue.

Then comes the customer service speed, which seems to be pretty good at first. But now their chat seems to be just for show, and your tickets never seem to get answered. Then they make some crucial mistakes like failing to auto-update your domain despite the account settings.

Hosting Recommendations

There are some good independent hosts out there now. I’ve worked with quite a few hosts over the years. My list of recommended hosts is now a small but strong list of 3 to 5 hosting companies. The following links are affiliate links, and if you decide to purchase a hosting plan with them after clicking one of these links, I may be compensated.

I offer hosting for current and future clients, which includes backups, updates, and security.

I have decided to make the switch to Cloudways, which is a nice robust solution without having to configure the server yourself. It seems to be an option between the shared and managed hosts. You pay only for what you use, so while there’s no special signup bonus price, the cost can end up being much cheaper in the long run. And a much better solution for more advanced sites than the shared hosting.

If you’re looking for shared hosting, I’m a pretty big fan of InMotion. Their pricing is on par with other hosting providers, and their customer service is great. Everything is easily accessible, and I haven’t run into any issues so far. 

I’ve had clients use Media Temple as well, though it’s a little more complex and not as intuitive. GoDaddy actually owns them now, so don’t entirely fit the ‘independent’ qualification anymore. But they’re great for more serious hosting needs. Media Temple is more for enterprise and more intense sites that want or need more control over their environment. They tend to charge separately for things if you can’t do them yourself (much like GoDaddy) but can be a good place to go for a powerful solution. And even GoDaddy has made the effort to improve its services to be able to compete for the developer’s good word.

There are also a number of good managed WordPress hosting that will take care of some of the technical stuff but give much less flexibility if you plan on including anything custom. This makes it easier to have a WordPress website without having to know all the ins and outs of a WordPress site and web host. I’ve had some good experiences with all of the main 3 WordPress managed hosts: Kinsta, WP Engine, and Flywheel. These hosts are going to be a little more expensive because they’re giving you more included support and services.

If you still need an alternative to those, SiteGround has reasonably priced packages for the initial term. Just keep an eye on the renewal price. They make it easy to do a lot, and they’ve added on some great features like staging sites, but I’ve found that they’ve begun to limit resources for their shared hosting and their support has begun to decline. Unfortunately, after two years of hosting with them, my sites have started having issues on Safari, and SiteGround hasn’t done anything to help solve the issue, just blamed it on my websites.

Wrapping Up

The bottom line is this: If you use your common sense and do a little bit of searching around for reviews, your host will probably be adequate. Check their refund terms to see if you can switch to a different host if you don’t like them.

And don’t hesitate to reach out with questions about hosting questions. We’re always here to help!

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