Choosing a Hosting Company: What are you buying, anyway?
It’s the end of a long day. You’ve been training and teaching all day, and all you really want is to go to bed. But you know you need to get this website stuff figured out.
And you know that part of that is choosing a hosting company. Maybe. At least, you’re pretty sure that’s what you need… right?
This isn’t the first article you’ve looked at about this stuff, and despite a fair amount of research, you feel more confused than ever. Wix? WordPress? GoDaddy?
The truth is most small business owners struggle with figuring all this stuff out. You’re not alone. Not even close.
So, what pieces DO you need to build a website? And how can you make the right decisions?
The 3 Pieces That Make Up Any Website
- Domain Name
- Your Website Files
When you pay for hosting you are essentially paying someone who keeps their computer (a specific type called a server) connected to the internet all the time. When you see notes about “uptime” on hosting companies website, this is what they’re talking about — the percentage of the time they are able to keep their servers online.
When you build your website, you create files of code that tell internet browsers what should appear on your site — text, images, etc.
Those files then get stored on your hosting companies servers.
Finally, your domain name is registered with ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. When you use your computer and type a domain name into a browser, ICANN is the service that tells it to access the files associated with that domain name by pointing the computer to your hosting company’s servers.
Which is all fine and dandy, but it doesn’t actually tell you what to BUY.
Choosing a Hosting Company for Your Website
Most hosting company websites look an awful lot alike. They spit out tech specs, without any real explanation of the benefits of those features — basically leaving you to assume that those features must be impressive, or they wouldn’t be highlighting them, right?
They say things like “99.9% uptime,” “Chat Support,” “100 GB storage,” “Free SSL certificate” and “100 email addresses!” Then they ask you to choose between shared hosting or VPS or Dedicated Servers…
But what do those things actually mean? And how should they influence your decision to choosing a hosting company?
Let’s start at the top.
Uptime: Remember how I said hosting was basically a company you pay to keep your files connected to the internet at all times? Welllll… nothing’s perfect. This 99.9% figure is the percentage of time they’re promising to have your site online. Occasionally things happen and they have to reboot a server or something takes a server down, and it causes things to go offline. Most companies are pretty good about getting them back up quickly and at backing up your data so that nothing bad happens in that scenario. But that’s what uptime is measuring, so yup, definitely want it to be 99.9% (or better) but, honestly, at this point most companies can claim that, so it’s not much of a differentiator.
Chat Support (or any support): When you are talking tech stuff, support is good. Lots of good support is better. Having chat support and general support available 24/7/365 is important. And not all companies offer that. It ensures that if something goes wrong or you can’t figure out how to get WordPress to install correctly at 2am on a Sunday, which is the only time you have available to work on this stuff, someone is going to be there to help you. It’s also worth looking at reviews for the companies you’re considering when choosing a hosting company — reviews will spill the dirty details on whether support is actually good, or if they just keep up appearances.
XX GB Storage: This is the literal space they will give you to store your website. Which is great but… how much storage do you NEED? To give you an idea, I’m using less than 4GB and I currently have 10 websites on my account, each with their own WordPress installation. If you’re going to be hosting audio or video files on your site (instead of on Youtube or a podcast service like Libsyn) then this may be more important, but for most basic WordPress websites, most basic plans at most hosting companies will provide enough storage.
Email address: This is another thing that companies brag about but that’s pretty standard. Most hosting companies will allow you to create an email address using their platform at your domain name (though it often means signing into your email in odd ways and can be complicated to set up).
Free SSL Certificate: Definitely look for this — Google announced companies without a security certificate (SSL) will be marked “unsafe” in Chrome starting this year — but again, most companies have begun to offer this.
Alright, so that’s a lot of things that seem brag-worthy but really… aren’t so important, with the exception of support, right? So what should you look for?
What Actually Matters When Choosing a Hosting Company
In addition to support, you’ll want to know what version of PHP they offer. They should offer whatever the latest version is — at the time I’m writing this, we’re talking version 7.2. This will impact the speed of your site.
You may also want to look at any speed tests that are out there for the hosting companies you’re considering choosing (just google the name of the company and “speed test”). Your hosting company can have a big impact on how quickly your site loads. And, finally, you’ll want to look at whether they support whatever type of software you plan to use to build your site (like WordPress). In fact, if you’re using WordPress, I recommend looking for a company that offers a 1-button install option (this makes it incredibly easy to set WordPress up and get started).
From there, you’ll need to determine which of the many plans each company offers is the best fit for what you need. For most small businesses, shared hosting is going to be the way to go. Jon Morrow explains it well:
If you’re under 100,000 visitors per month, don’t torture yourself by getting a VPS or dedicated server. Just grab a cheap, no-frills shared hosting account.
My Recommendation: Use Siteground
Using all that criteria, I changed who I used for hosting about 6 months ago. I moved my website to Siteground (affiliate link). I’d previously been on Site5, but it was purchased (as so many hosting companies have been) by EIG and the quality of their service had been reeling ever since. Every time I logged into the site, I had new problems pop up. It was a mess.
So I asked around in several online groups I frequent, full of other website designers and developers, and over and over again WPEngine and Siteground were the recommended choices. Both have stellar reputations, and offer great service and the latest technology. The biggest difference is that Siteground is a “value” company (you good good value for the rate — shared hosting starts at $3.95/mo) where as WPEngine is seen as a “premium” company. The premium option was a bit too expensive for my tastes, since I didn’t need the premium features and my site doesn’t get enough traffic to justify their rates.
Since making the switch, I’ve been consistently pleased with Siteground — how easy their site is to use and how good their support agents are. In fact, I’ve been so pleased with them, I’ve been recommending them to my clients and have become an affiliate for them (affiliate link); they’re also the service I recommend in my class and used when making all of my class videos.
So, if you just want someone to tell you what to use there it is: Go sign up with Siteground (affiliate link) — I don’t think you’ll be sorry you did. And while you’re there, you can buy your domain name during the process of purchasing hosting, so you can kill two birds with one stone.
Then, if you’re feeling extra ambitious, go check out my current class — The Business End of the Dog: Building a WordPress Website. Bronze spots start at $65!