How to Choose a Website Host
Choosing a web hosting provider shouldn’t be an extremely difficult process, and it doesn’t have to be. Determining what you need might be tough, so we’ll break it down to each of the different services that you’ll need to host a website. After reading this, you should be armed with the information you need to make a smart decision based on your current need, your budget, and where you expect to take your website in the future.
Services You’ll Need
To understand and compare different web hosts, you first need to understand which part of the puzzle of “hosting” you need. There are providers who offer everything you need for a website, and some who specialize in one service. Know Thyself: Most likely you have a pretty good idea of where you should be on the hosting scale. It may just come down to what’s cheapest, which is not what we’re about. If you’re looking for the best value, however, read on.
Anyone who has purchased a domain name [example.com] is familiar with at least one registrar. These companies allow you to purchase a name and allow you to indicate where the authoritative Domain Name System (DNS) server is located. Dot com domains are becoming harder to get, and you shouldn’t have to pay more than $15/year for a non-premium domain. However, it may pay to shop around for non-dot coms, because prices can vary between registrars quite significantly.
In general, we recommend to stay away from GoDaddy. They are everywhere with their marketing and ads, so it’s likely you’ve heard of them if you’re not a customer. Their reputation for cutting corners, providing terrible support, and just generally being a sketchy company can be personally corroborated by our team. Their prices may be tempting, but it’s not suitable for a business-class website.
Domain Name System (DNS)
The DNS server is a critical function of the web, as it turns your domain name [example.com] into an IP address that a computer can locate. DNS is used in loading websites, routing email and other more advanced purposes. DNS can be used to route visitors to different servers based on location, web traffic volume, or even for failover protection in case the main web server goes down.
Route 53 and Dyn DNS are two options that we’ve used and they are both high quality and value. This tends to be a pretty inexpensive service, though it can be tough to get it all setup correctly. If load time is all-important to your site, you can shave off a few milliseconds by using quality DNS, so it should be in your arsenal.
Many all-in-one providers offer email as an add-on or included in their fees. However, they are almost always lackluster and not suitable for business use. If you are using your domain to run a business, you will almost certainly want to host your email somewhere that makes you look professional, gives you productivity tools, and keeps out SPAM. Plus, it’s quite helpful if you can easily use a mobile device, hook up Outlook, and have calendaring included.
The two that we’d recommend are Office 365 or Google Apps. These both have industry-leading email performance for business and include productivity tools, cloud storage, no advertisements, and robust administration interfaces. In contrast, if you want a domain email for free, Zoho still offers a free email tier that will beat GoDaddy’s email service, and includes up to 10 users.
This is the server your website lives on. It’s the single most important part of the experience others will have when interacting with your online presence. When you have relatively low traffic volumes, your web hosts’ performance might not seem like a big deal. But since the goal of most websites is to grow their audience, if you succeed, you’ll need to think about this at some point. In fact, you will want to think about this before the traffic picks up, because that could mean lost customers. Firstsiteguide.com has written a great introduction to hosting that walks through the basics you’ll need to cover.
There are many factors that affect the speed a website loads, and with WordPress, it’s even more important that you select a good host, because it uses a lot of resources. WordPress stores information in a database, and depending on the theme you’ve chosen and the plugins you’ve installed, it might be doing a lot of querying of that database every time a page loads. If you have cheap hosting, it won’t take much to make your website fall over.
If you are on a shared server, did you know that you might be sharing it with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of other websites? An easy way to check is to use the Reverse IP Lookup at viewdns.info. What happens when one of those websites becomes a target for attackers? Your site could very well end up as collateral damage, or worse, it could be compromised through another sites’ insecurity.
The cheaper the host, the lower the barrier of entry, and the types of websites you’ll find will be spammy and/or trashy. Do you want your business website hosted on the same computer as a website peddling who knows what? Besides the risk to your website, your own data may be at risk, as those using 000WebHost recently learned when 13.5 million user records were stolen.
Best for WordPress: WP Engine is the best managed WordPress provider we’ve found. Their customer support is usually very solid, and their product is top notch. We’ve never seen WordPress sites load as quickly as when they’ve been optimized and loaded on wpengine.
WPoven.com is a notable provider as well, though their interface is slightly more complex and not as mature as WP Engine, their price is cheaper.
Avoid: GoDaddy, Bluehost, 1&1, HostGator, 000WebHost
Content Delivery Network (CDN)
Many good hosting services include a CDN as a premium ad-on, or you can work directly with a CDN provider to add the service to your website. Essentially, a CDN takes static elements of your website, such as images, and loads them from another server that is closer geographically to the user. This also takes a burden off of your web host, which is working hard to serve the rest of your website to its visitors.