There are more than 300,000 hosting providers in the world. Their hosting plans, price points and features vary widely. Some charge pennies per month to host websites, while others cost hundreds of times that. Some offer robust features, like direct SSH access, while others give you a bare-bones web interface and wish you the best. With so many options out there, how can you choose the best hosting provider for your business? The answer is complicated, but here are nine factors to consider when selecting a hosting company.
1. Shared vs. Dedicated Hosting
One of the first questions to consider looking for the best hosting company for your business is whether you want a shared or dedicated server to host your websites.
On a shared server, your website is hosted alongside those of other customers (with permissions locked down so that users can’t view or change each others’ files, of course). This option is almost always the less expensive approach.
A dedicated server means the entire server hosts just your websites. You may also have more access to the server’s operating system in this case because the server does not need to be configured to isolate accounts.
Dedicated servers are more secure in some ways due to the isolation they provide. That said, realistically speaking, security risks associated with shared hosting are minimal because hosting providers are pretty good at keeping different accounts isolated.
Dedicated servers may also provide better performance because they eliminate the “noisy neighbor” problem, which happens when another user hogs all of the server resources and deprives your websites of those they need to function well. Here again, though, most hosting providers now do a good job of enforcing resource quotas to prevent users from consuming more than their fair share of resources.
Many providers offer both types of plans, but some offer only shared hosting. If you want a dedicated server, be sure to choose a provider with this option.
2. CMS Support
You can manually deploy any content management system (CMS) that you want on a hosting provider’s server. However, many providers offer automated tools that make it fast and easy to deploy popular CMS platforms, such as WordPress. These tools also usually simplify the process of keeping the CMS up to date.
If you want to keep things simple, choose a hosting provider that provides automated deployment and management of whichever CMS you plan to use to host your website.
3. Data Backups
In a world swimming in ransomware, backing up data has become more important than ever.
You can always back up your data yourself (and doing so never hurts, even if the hosting provider also backs it up). But if you don’t want to have to manage your own backups, choose a hosting provider that automatically backs up your website data.
Be sure, too, to check how easy it is to restore websites from the provider’s backups, and whether there is a cost associated with doing so. Some providers offer easy-to-use tools for restoring data and allow you to deploy them for free. Others just give you the raw data backups and leave it to you to figure out how to restore your site from them. They may also charge special fees when you need the backup data.
4. Server Access
Virtually all hosting providers offer Web interfaces that customers can use to manage websites and domains. They also usually support FTP for uploading and downloading website content.
But if you want to be able to log into your server and run commands on the command line, you’ll need to choose a host that offers SSH access or another form of remote login, such as RDP support. These access options usually come with a cost premium, but they are worth it if you need advanced administrative control over your sites.
5. Subscription Policies
While most hosts offer pay-as-you-go pricing, some may require you to commit to longer-term contracts, or impose fees if you cancel them early. In other cases, you may have the option to choose between paying as you go for a higher price, or selecting a contract that costs less money per month but locks you into a fixed term.
The right subscription policy will depend on your plans and whether you’re happy committing to a host for the long term.
6. Technical Support
Most hosting providers offer some form of professional support. But the nature of their support can vary in several ways:
- Availability: Some hosts offer 24/7 support, while others offer fixed hours.
- Access: Some providers offer phone-in support. Others may provide support only via email or Web messages.
- Response time: Some providers guarantee responses to support requests within a certain time period. Others make no such guarantees.
- Hand-holding: Some hosts provide access to experienced engineers who will walk you through issues command by command, even in cases where you are dealing with issues that are not the hosting provider’s responsibility (like a problem with a CMS plugin that you installed yourself). In other cases, support is limited to pointing you toward documentation or providing generic guidance (like, “Try reinstalling the plugin”).
7. CDN Support
If your website user base is spread across a wide geographic area, you may want a hosting provider that offers access to a CDN (content delivery network). CDNs boost the performance of websites for users who are located far from the main data center where the site is hosted.
For smaller-scale sites, or organizations whose users are concentrated in specific geographic areas, CDNs are often not necessary. But for large-scale, enterprise-grade hosting needs, CDN support is an important feature.
8. SSL Support
SSL certificates provide security for your users. They may also improve your site’s ranking with search engines. SSL has become a must-have feature for almost any website today.
Fortunately, almost all hosting providers today offer tools that make it easy to create SSL certificates for your website. But bare-bones hosting plans don’t always come with this feature, so it’s worth checking before you commit to a provider.
9. History and Reputation
It takes some time to migrate from one hosting provider to another. That makes it a pain when your hosting provider goes out of business or changes its offerings or pricing in a way that compels you to switch.
For that reason, as you consider providers, check how long they have been in business and whether they have an established reputation for providing stable and consistent services. Hosting providers that are new to the market may be cheaper than competitors. But if they go out of business in six months, you’ll probably spend more money migrating to a different company than you saved from using the fledgling platform.
A Final Note on Choosing the Best Hosting Provider for Your Business
If you’re struggling to figure out which hosting provider is the ideal fit for you, the good news is that they all do the same basic thing--host your websites. Fretting over minute differences in pricing or features is usually not worth the effort.
You should, however, consider the big-ticket items listed above to ensure that your hosting provider provides the core features and reliability to meet your goals.