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How to Choose a Website Host: Key Factors and What to Ask

Richard Sutherland Author image
How to Choose a Web Hosting Service
Your website is the centerpiece of your online presence. It’s where you interact with your customers the most, explain the benefits of your services, and sell your products. That means you need a fast, reliable, secure, and easy-to-use hosting provider if your website is to be a success.

A web host stores all of a website’s files on a server, giving people around the world access to them through their web browsers. There’s no shortage of web hosting providers vying for your business, so take your time to evaluate each of them on their merits. In this guide, we outline 10 points to consider when choosing a hosting service

1. The Type of Hosting You Need

There are many different types of web hosting. Choosing one that’s best for your needs depends on how much traffic you expect to have, and how hands-on you want to be in administering your web server daily.

Shared web hosting is generally considered to be the cheapest, but that means you’ll be sharing server resources like a CPU and hard drive space with other customers. VPS hosting (or virtual private server hosting) costs more, but you get a set number of resources that no one else can use. Another option is dedicated hosting, which gives you a server to yourself. It’s the most flexible of the three but requires more ongoing maintenance on your part.

2. Hosting Costs

Budget is a concern for any company, so when looking at the packages that a hosting provider offers, the cost will undoubtedly be a major factor you need to consider. 

Don’t be fooled by impressive introductory offers. Many hosts will present an attractive price to get you to sign but might bump up the price when it’s time to renew your plan. You probably want to stay with your web hosting service for the long term, so be sure to review all of their costs upfront.

The cheapest hosting is not always the best option either. Inexpensive hosting companies tend to set stringent limits on storage space, network speed, and performance, and that will affect your website loading time. 

Cheap website hosting packages regularly cut corners on other things too, such as features or customer service. When buying hosting, check to see what’s included in your contract and the add-ons you’ll need to purchase separately.

3. The Web Hosting Service’s Scalability

Besides managing their day-to-day operations, small business owners have to think about how they want their businesses to grow. A common web hosting mistake they make right as they’re about to get an online presence is choosing a plan that works in the short term, but that they quickly grow out. 

If you expect your business to grow significantly, it’s worth considering cloud storage. This type of hosting stores your website on a network of servers across multiple data centers. When your business grows and you require more resources, it’s straightforward to scale up your plan. This is much simpler than having to transfer your website to a new server.

IONOS offers a variety of web hosting services starting at only $0.50/month Get Started

4. The Hosting Company’s Reliability

Reliability is hugely important when running a website. If your site is offline, even for a few minutes, customers may not come back. Your website may even drop down the search engine rankings, which could significantly hurt future sales.

Web hosts typically offer an uptime guarantee. For example, Bluehost guarantees your website will be available 99.99% of the time, while HostGator has a 99.9% uptime guarantee, both of which are excellent.

Before choosing a hosting company, check the fine print of the uptime guarantee they offer. It should include a compensation amount that you’ll receive if your website goes offline for an extended period.

5. Page Loading Speed

Many businesses new to online sales underestimate how critical it is that web pages load quickly, and how speed can affect your bottom line. 32% more customers will bounce away from a website that takes three seconds or more to load. A sluggish website is enough to deter people from buying your product.

When evaluating website providers, it’s best to perform your own speed tests during the free trial period. In general, choose a website host with servers located near where your key customers live, as this typically means your website loads faster for them. More speed means more sales.

6. Security

Security is a prime concern when choosing a hosting provider. Select a company that stays on top of security updates, and will update software automatically for you. 

Read the security policies they have in place to deal with cyber attacks against your website, and whether they perform automatic scans for malicious software.

It’s also wise to check whether they include security certificates (HTTPS) in your hosting plan, or those come at an extra cost. Those are important for keeping the data transmitted between your website and its visitors private, which is particularly crucial for payment transactions.

7. Ease of Use

Make use of website providers’ free trials to test their administration panels for ease of use. Does the host have a one-click installation process for popular open-source software? Does it offer a content management system (CMS) that makes it simpler to manage your website's text, images, and videos?

Evaluate how easy it is to get customer support. It’s always a great sign when you can you talk to a technician via live chat facilities. You’ll also want to check if they’re open to assisting with common website administration tasks, and if there’s a useful support site that details how to use all the features of your hosting. All these things can make running a website much easier over time, so be sure to look into the details before you commit.

8. Value-Added Features

Every hosting provider offers a laundry list of features, but the devil is in the details. When you’re signing your contract, ask about unlimited storage, a domain name and an SSL certificate. It’s a sign of good faith if they’re willing to add those features to your plan at no extra cost. 

Other things that should be included are automated backups, one-click installers for website building software like WordPress, and domain privacy (which means people can’t look up your name and address from your website URL). If they’re not part of the standard offering, calculate how much extra you’ll need to pay to get them.

9. Add-on Services at a Cost

Beyond hosting features, many website providers offer extra services that can help your company grow. These can include professional website development or online marketing services. They may be able to handle the day-to-day maintenance of your website too, also known as managed hosting.

If you’re focused on growing your business, look for a provider that can offer you add-ons like social media marketing, email marketing, pay-per-click advertising, and search engine optimization. 

10. Website Building Capabilities

Creating a website is much simpler than it was a decade ago. This is due to the rising popularity of easy-to-use website builders, which let you design a website, code-free. Typically, you choose a website design from a selection of templates, make a few tweaks to the images and text, and your online presence is ready to go.

Most web hosts include one or more website builders as standard. Test them out to get a feel for which works best for you. Remember that 61% of all site visits come from mobile devices. So it pays to use a website builder with responsive web design. This means that the sites will work just as well on mobile as they do on desktop.

Take Stock of Your Needs When Choosing a Hosting Service

If you’re running a small business, you shouldn’t take web hosting lightly.  It’s a pivotal part of your online presence. Plus, it can often be difficult to change your host once you’ve established a website.

Consider the type of hosting you need, whether that’s basic shared hosting or scalable cloud hosting. Research how reliable, fast, and secure each website host is, and find the website hosting provider that offers the features and add-ons you require at a price that’s right. 

Take advantage of free trial offers to test the ease of use of their administration panels, the power of their website builders, and the efficiency of their customer support. Only then will you be ready to commit to a website host that will grow with your business.

Richard Sutherland Author image
Richard Sutherland writes for Top10.com. With over 20 years experience in web development, SEO, and marketing, Richard has worked with and developed software for huge brands like Samsung and Prudential Insurance. He has written for top tech websites, covering topics that include web hosting, consumer and business technology, and SaaS platforms.