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How to Select the Best Host for Your Website

11 min read

It’s your pride and joy. 

The web designers and developers have labored night and day to give you the perfect website for your business. 

All’s well with the design and you’ve got some really compelling images and content, but the next question is “who’s hosting this?”

Your design team may well have some space on their server and will be happy to put it up for you.

As a short-term arrangement, while you iron out some of the early glitches, this is OK, but most web developers are unlikely to have all the facilities to host your site and watch it grow securely. This can be a surprisingly complex task and it’s the sort of thing you want to get right the first time.

They’ll almost certainly have some suggestions for their favored hosts.

The really good ones will have some useful guidance to help you decide for yourself which hosting company is most suited to your present and future needs.

So here you are. Look no further, this is it!  

How to Select the Best Host for Your Website:

Plan Ahead

This step will save you a huge amount of grief later. This doesn’t mean you have to go for the maximum speed and capacity available. It’s just that if you know how you want the business and website to grow, you’ll select a hosting arrangement that has room and support for that expansion.  

Let’s start by asking a few questions.

Is the Website Content Static or Dynamic?

This is getting straight to the core of things. If your site is just showing pages providing static information with a small amount of image data that’s updated periodically then a very simple low cost hosting arrangement can probably do the job. 

Even static sites can push the performance requirements up though. Artist portfolio sites need to consider the image resolution that’s needed to adequately represent their skills. File sizes for high resolution images can add up and 3D panorama imagery can be huge. All this has to be read from a disk and sent to the viewer’s browser. 

Hosting video is another area where special arrangements will be needed.

At the other end of the scale you may be hosting dynamic content that’s constantly being updated from databases and live feeds. An e-commerce site typically has inventory with quantities and prices being constantly updated in response to sales. Quite apart from the need for the right tech behind it, the live updates can be critical to ensuring customers can only buy products that you currently stock. There’s a direct link between profit and uptime.

This will all affect the bandwidth needed and the possibilities for caching (page data stored temporarily in memory) to improve performance may be limited. 

What Sort Of Traffic is Your Website Expecting?

There is more to this than just saying “as much as possible”! 

Google is very keen on speed, you’ll find your search position is adversely affected by slow page loading speeds.

Sites expecting a lot of international traffic need to consider the actual location of the servers that host it. This is especially the case if you have large images or videos. 

You need to assess how critical your website is to the profitability of your business. The higher the demands from traffic and the volume of data that needs to be served, the harder the hosting servers will have to work. Expect costs to rise accordingly.

For high performance, mission critical sites, you’ll need top notch 24/7 responsive support. If you have in-house technical expertise then you may be able to deal with a lot of issues that arise from time to time but there’ll always be something that needs to be sorted out directly by your hosting company. 

Just ask Facebook how frustrating it is when your CDN provider has a problem! When the wheels come off, you need to know your hosting company has your back.

What’s Your Website Hosting Budget?

Be honest with yourself. Work out what value your website is contributing to the profitability of your business now and in the future. This isn’t just a matter of finding the maximum amount of money to throw in. If this is a new venture then the traffic and bandwidth that we looked at above will be starting low and increasing over time. 

Plan your investment over your expected traffic growth. If you choose an arrangement that has a good level of flexibility built in, you can ensure that you only pay for what you need. 

This Isn’t Just a Big Disk on a Server Somewhere

With the answers to your questions in hand, it’s time to look at the different types of hosting available and what they can do for you.

Shared Hosting

This is the least expensive option. Most hosting companies will offer an entry level account and this will be on a shared server. They set up separate password protected access to a disk. They’ll have several other customers with sites on the same disk and the access is controlled by the operating system. This is reasonably secure and other site owners cannot see your section of the disk. This is a very economic way of using the hardware for the hosting company but there are some drawbacks that may not be immediately apparent.

Every site on that server will have the same IP address so it’s easy to use a service like ViewDNS.info to list all the sites that are hosted on the same server. If you have a mission critical religious book e-commerce site, you may not be keen on people seeing that you share the server with a couple of adult entertainment sites.

Although security should be pretty good, it’s still possible for a virus to infect the whole server and take down your site no matter how careful you have been.

The hosting service also needs to monitor resource usage carefully. If another site goes viral, there’s a good chance your readers may experience slow page loading. On the flip side, if your site goes viral you may find yourself paying extortionate excess bandwidth charges. Check the EULA!

Hosting with a Dedicated Server

This solves most of the above problems but can be a lot more expensive. Once you’ve got an established site and good traffic, this is the next move. Here you have a server dedicated to just your site. 

No noisy neighbors! 

It’s worth checking the specification of your server though. You’ll need to make sure that it has enough memory and processor speed for your expected traffic (concurrent visitors) and ideally you want SD (solid state) disks these days. They’re a lot more reliable than hard disks.

You should also look at the technology stack that they’re using. Opinions differ so your web developer may have a view on the Apache vs NGinx debate. Some of the finer points here relate to how much dynamic content you are using. Most servers will be running on Linux of various flavors. Surprisingly this includes Microsoft’s Azure cloud hosting where Linux is also now the OS du Jour

Many hosting companies are providing dedicated servers using a VPS (virtual private server). This is done by creating an isolated server image on a cloud server. The beauty of this is that you can scale your storage, bandwidth and processor requirements as your site grows without having to move your site to a new server.

Website Hosting on Cloud Servers 

This is the most flexible option but can be expensive. There are many hosting services that will manage cloud servers for you. This is the basis of the VPS dedicated servers above, but you get a lot more options for adding extra services like CDNs (content distribution networks) and multiple local points of presence in international territories. The CDNs are particularly important for video hosting. As your requirements grow, your hosting grows with it and you should only pay for what you use on a day-to-day basis in addition to the management fees. There are a growing number of data management and SAAS (software as a service) services and integrating these into your website can be the starting point for moving the whole of your business management technology into the cloud. This gives you seamless integration and access to information from anywhere in the world from any device.

Website Hosts that are Content Management Specialists

There are hosting services that specialize in the particular requirements of content platforms like WordPress, Magento and many other e-commerce applications. These services manage everything for you and have experience in configuring their servers with the optimal settings for these products. WordPress can be deceptively easy to set up until you see the performance hit that conflicting plugins and the wrong version of PHP can do to you.

Not All Website Hosts Are Created Equal

It’s all very well having the best kit, but you need to ensure that your host knows how to use it. They should have a comprehensive package of security and support offerings to ensure that your site stays running at optimal performance 24/7. You need the reassurance that if something goes wrong there’s someone there ready and willing to fix it. 

Security is not just keeping the bad guys out.

The services offered by the best hosting companies should include:

  • Regular and comprehensive backups – and the means for restoring from them too.
  • Patches and updates to all software and operating systems immediately applied.
  • Hacking prevention, detection and mitigation.
  • DDOS (denial of service) attack protection
  • Regular malware scanning. Google will be very quick to notify all your visitors the moment they detect any malware on your site. A “manual action” notification from Google will really damage your SEO!
  • SSL (secure socket layer) support. Not just a freebie LetsEncrypt certificate but the option to have full certification authority support. If you’re recording financial and personally identifiable data then you need to be sure you are complying with all the data privacy regulations in all the countries your visitors will be coming from.

Bear in mind that hosting company quality can vary considerably from year to year. Sometimes the introductory offers can be very tempting but it’s important to check the small print on any unlimited storage and bandwidth deals. It’s also worth making a few calls to customer support before you sign up for the full package. Make sure you can get through to someone who cares and is knowledgeable.

Always make sure that you have a written SLA (service level agreement). This shows the contracted uptime performance percentage, available bandwidth and storage. Support response times would be a nice additional touch too!

Changing Web Hosts – Breaking Doesn’t Have To Be So Hard!

Finally, make sure that if you fall out of love with your web host, you can move your site to pastures new. Technically, this is not difficult, so long as you plan ahead. The reputable hosts will be set up to make it easy for you to transfer your site to a new host. Regular, comprehensive back-ups of content and data should be easily available. If you have a WordPress site then there are several excellent plugins that will help with this.

Of course, for advanced e-commerce sites with CDNs, load balancing and data capture, things will be a lot more complicated. There will be downtime but it makes sense to ensure that you have your hosting service’s agreement to help with this ahead of time. 

It’s also worth reminding you to always own your domain name and have the registry held by a different company to the hosting.  

The Perfect Host for your Website is out there

Armed with your answered questions and action plan you should be in a great place to narrow down your search. Some hosting companies will offer everything but may not stand up to detailed scrutiny. Some may have a narrow focus but can do exactly what you need. 

Now that you know what you’re looking for, book a consult, and CyberCletch can help you choose the best host for your website!

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