For anybody looking to host a web site, the options are plenty and the choices, quite confusing. The online searches for the right web hosting service provider would throw you umpteen numbers of results and further aggravate your state of indecision. Some offer features that you have never heard of while others swear that they are the cheapest. Many include technical jargon in their claims which seems more of Greek to you.
Though everyone looks for the best web host, everyone’s needs are not the same. There are both big players as well as small ones looking to create their imprint in the web space. Everybody needs a reliable web host. Whether you maintain a simple blog or a heavy traffic laden ecommerce web site, your dependence on the web host can never be disputed and if this factor is overlooked, you would be in troubled waters soon. Pricing is an important factor that every web hosting service provider looks to capitalize on. With many new businesses and individual thronging to make their online presence a reality, sometimes it is the price that would be the crucial factor that decides the outcome.
However, with lower price comes the fear of lapses in quality and reliability. If you are totally new to all these, the chances of you making a wrong decision is higher. You may either end up paying more than what is required or get yourself entangled with a cheap webhost whose quality of service is also “cheap”.
Table of Contents
- 1 Comparison:
- 3 What is webhosting?
- 4 How do I choose the best web host?
- 5 What is there to choose?
- 6 Assess your requirements and the budget:
- 7 Disk Space:
- 8 Bandwidth:
- 9 Access Speed:
- 10 Uptime:
- 11 Web Security:
- 12 Intrusion detection Software Monitors (IDS)
- 13 Ease of use:
- 14 Customer Service and Technical Support:
- 15 Other add-ons:
- 16 Cost of renewal:
- 17 Hosting Platforms – Windows or Linux
- 18 Conclusion
The below table will give you an idea of what all they provide in their basic plans.
Free Weebly SiteBuilder and multiple Website designing Tools
||$3.96/month if opted for 3 year and 5.56/month for 2 year subscription
FREE Domain Name Registration or Transfer
FREE Site Building Tools
Over 150 1-click install tools
Spam Assassin Protection
SSL Secure Server for E-commerce
FREE Website Migration
FREE Marketing & SEO Tools
SECURE IMAP/POP3 E-mail AccountsGreengeeks Pricing GreenGeeks Review
Resource Protection Technology
|Choice of data center offered
Free Website Builder & CloudFlare CDN
Free Setup and transfer
Free Let’s Encrypt SSLs & SSL certificates
HTTP/2 Enabled Servers
SPAM Experts Spam Prevention & Anti-Hack Systems & Help
Free Shopping Cart Install
Account isolation technologySiteGround Pricing SiteGround Review
100+ apps with 1-click install
6 months plan for $4.75 / month
Now, this raises questions on what all factors have to be taken into consideration while choosing a webhosting service provider. What is the bare minimum requirement and what is the benchmark that decides the quality of service? A seasoned Webmaster would know all these very well, but for beginners, this guide would serve well in making the right choice. First let us understand what is web hosting.
What is webhosting?
A webhosting service is an internet hosting service that allows both organizations and individuals to make their web site visible and accessible through the internet – most likely the World Wide Web (www). Webhosts or Webhosting service providers are companies that provide you online space in their Data Center (either owned or rented). Now, Data Center is a facility used to harbor computer systems, components and other requirements for continuous operation. In simple terms, if you have a domain name (some www.abcd.com); a web host gives your domain the space to stay in the internet world from where others can visit you (and communicate too).
The primary responsibility of a webhost is providing you (rather your web site) uninterrupted online access and the capability to handle the traffic to your web site. They should also enable you to use other web based services by offering seamless integration options. As a value add, the web host may offer additional services like – domain name sale, web site deigning tools, SSL certificates, Anti-Virus security, Email system, and many more.
How do I choose the best web host?
I’ve so far tried 10 hosting services, 6 out of which are quite popular ones. Having used the services of 10 web hosts, I’ve gained some expertise in choosing the features and the price according to my need rather than spend extra from wallet for the many fancy add-ons. I’ve already burned my fingers and few holes in my pocket too, falling prey to many of the whims and fancies during the initial stages. Now that I have learnt my lessons by experience, I thought of lending my advice to those who are badly in need of. Highly priced web hosting services need not be the best and less expensive web hosts aren’t bad either.
What is there to choose?
The web hosting needs of a web site can depend on a number of factors like – number of pages or other content that would have to be made available online, the number of visitors to the web site or web page(s), the number of simultaneous requests the web site can hold, the back-up facilities, ease of administration, scalability and adaptability to other apps/services. How much you have to shell out for these is the question that needs to be answered.
Now, you would not find all of the requirements that I have mentioned above in the documentation of any web host. Instead, you will find technical jargon being used. So, let me first explain in as simple terms as possible the various technical terms that you should be aware of while choosing a web hosting service provider or a plan.
If I have to jot down the points in a sequence on what has to be taken into account to choose a web host it would look like this:-
- Assess your requirements and budget
- Disk space needed – throughout the subscribed period
- Bandwidth – Monthly
- Access Speed
- Reliability – Uptime
- Web Security against hacks and spam
- Ease of use – administration, site building
- Customer Service and Technical Support
- Other add-ons – Email accounts, SSL, PHP, MySQL etc.
- Cost of renewals
Now, let us take a look at each item mentioned above, so that you exactly know what has to be done and which hosting plan has to be chosen.
Assess your requirements and the budget:
Ask yourself, why do you need a web site? Is it a personal web site, a business web site or is the site meant to be a blog, or an online shopping portal. How many customers (or visitors) do you think would throng your web site in an hour or a day? Are you going to incorporate a payment option in the web site to enable the visitors to pay online? How often would you add pages, or content to your web site? What kind of content will your web site have? Are you going to get the services of a web designer or developer? Is your web site going to demand a database system to maintain the details of the visitors or subscribers? How long do you intent to operate the web site? Are you looking to get just one domain (web site) hosted or many? And most importantly, how much are you ready to spend in a year for the web site?
Now that you’ve got an idea of what are your requirements, you will be in a better position to identify what is expected from each feature.
Disk space refers to the amount of exclusive hard disk space reserved for you in the web host’s server. For a simple web site 10 MB would be more than enough. However, if you are going to keep adding space consuming content to your web site in the form of videos or other multimedia look for a plan that gives you around 500 MB of disk space. You would also need more space if you are going to use the web site for e-commerce as you would be continuing to add listings of various items. Hence, the need for more space!
Some webhosts advertise “Unlimited” disk space which may not be true as a shared server has finite space and depends on the space left. Please get the actual numbers ascertained before making that buy decision and also ask how much each extra MB would cost. Have a number in mind on how much more content you would be adding to your web site and ask yourselves if it is worth investing extra for an “unlimited disk space” plan.
This is the measure of the amount of data transfer that happens while a visitor accesses your web site. Bandwidth is consumed every time somebody visits your web site or any pages in it. Any link to your web site whether it is a document or a video if accessed over the internet would account in the bandwidth allocated for your web site. Typically, more the traffic more is the bandwidth consumed. Any download or upload activity to your web site will also consume data and decrease the available bandwidth. Bandwidth is sometimes also called as Data transfer and should not be confused with the interpretation of the term in usual usage. It is often measured and denoted as the data transfer that happens in the month. It is like a counter that resets itself at a given day on every month and the measurement happens from that particular day.
10 GB would be the regular requirement of Bandwidth. However, if you are going to have huge files that are going to be either uploaded or downloaded go for a bigger plan like 100 GB or more. Some web hosts also provide an unlimited Data transfer. As always, please read the offer documents carefully before investing!
Access speed is mostly not specified in the documentation by the web hosting service provider. Visitors enjoy browsing web sites that load up faster and loathe those that make them wait. A slow loading web site can make your visitors impatient and dramatically increase the probability of them switching to another site. The speed at which your web site is uploaded or downloaded for others to view largely depends upon the type of internet connection being used by your web hosting service provider. More often this metric is ignored as there is very little awareness on what the ideal speed should be.
The access speed is determined by the Load time of a web site (measured in seconds or milliseconds). Any shared web hosting service provider that offers an access speed of less than half a second (500 milliseconds) should be considered to be among the very best category. On an average the actual access speed when measured over a period of time would range from 600 milliseconds to 1400 milliseconds. If you are just looking to host a blog then you may compromise with the access speed, but if you are running an e-commerce site this factor is crucial for your business. You can check the access speed of your web site (or any web site) using the Pingdom web site speed test tool from https://tools.pingdom.com .
Don’t be surprised to see the results. There are many factors that contribute to the web site’s lag in speed and the web host is not the only factor.
Uptime is the percentage of time that a hosting server stays up and running. Higher the percentage would mean better reliability and fault tolerance wherein there is very little or no maintenance activity being carried out at the server that can have an adverse impact on your web site. This is a measure of RELIABILITY. The industry standard for uptime is 99.9%. 99.9% uptime would indicate that your web site will go down only for around 8 hours (8.76 hours) per year.
A better 99.99% uptime translates to 52.6 minutes downtime in a year while a lower 98% uptime would mean that your web site may go down for about 7.3 days in a year, which is a significant duration. If your web site is an ecommerce web site and your customers pay online or if your web site is a business generating platform, more downtime can mean greater losses and a negative impact on your account books!
Well, these numbers look good. But in reality there is no real way of consistently tracking the uptime of the web hosting service providers. We will have to go by their words and assume that they claim it right. Some web hosts may even include certain down time minutes per month in the terms and conditions while some others may provide a guarantee on the uptime.
This is something like an insurance plan or the ABS and airbag feature in the cars. You would like to have the features but always hope that you will never have to use them. An ideal web host ensures that the sensitive information does not fall into wrong hands, which is essential for an e-commerce web site. The data has to be backed up frequently so that in case of a server crash, the web site data is not lost.
Some of the security features of an effective web host are –
For any web host, a firewall is a must. The firewall protects the server and every site hosted in it from external threats – that is threat from the outside world (the Internet). Firewall acts more like a gatekeeper to your server monitoring the traffic and letting only the authentic ones go through.
Intrusion detection Software Monitors (IDS)
These are advanced systems that can track any attempts to gain unauthorized access to the server. This system helps identify threats to the server and enhance the security features by providing valuable insights on the nature of intrusion attempts.
Any system that is connected to the Internet, be it a computer or a complex server is prone to malware infection. I use the word malware, because viruses are not the only issue – we have Trojans, spyware, rootkits and many more. An effective anti-virus application will scan the files and keep the malicious content at bay.
Secure Mails (POP3) Support
Most users prefer the POP3 mail option due to its simplicity and wide usage. With this comes the risk of security. If your web host provides POP3 mail access, see to it that it is over a secure connection.
Spam can be related to either e-mails or web site. Let’s say if you have written an article and posted it in your web site leaving the visitors an option to comment. You have to protect the web site from spammers with malicious intent. Hence, the need for an Anti-Spam solution.
Secure Control Panels
Control panels are interfaces that a web administrator (or you) can access the controls and configuration settings of the web site. It is needed for administration purposes and needs to be secure as control in the wrong hands will mean a total catastrophe. The web host should provide you secure control panel – like cPanel.You need to ensure that you create a strong password to access it.
SSL is a network layer protocol to ensure secured connection between the server and front end (web site). If there is a lock symbol to the very left of the address bar, it means that the web site is SSL supported. It also lends credibility to your website. SSL certificate is a must if your web site has online payment options. This is made mandatory to secure customer’s sensitive or personal (Bank and card details) information.
The server would require regular updates to ensure that the latest patches are applied to prevent any vulnerability from being exploited.
Ease of use:
The web host must provide you easy to use controls. Taking a look at the configuration or setting page should not remind you of hieroglyphics. It should be easy to understand and simple to use. Most web hosting service providers employ a WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) concept to make it easy for the user to design the layout of the web site. However, even if these are not provided, there are many third-party tools that can be used to design the website with minimum or no coding required. Talking about the coding, you need to be sure about which language and database (if required) needs to be used. Based on this choice you need to select the operating system and the plan. Say, if the DB you are going to use is MS-SQL or Access you would need a Windows based web hosting service. We will deal with this difference in detail in the coming sections.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
I use customer service and technical support separately as they are distinct in nature. The web host may have a very good customer service team that is courteous, prompt and handles your issues related to pricing, additional space etc. quite well, but if they are not technically competent you will find yourself fuming. The technical support team is expected to not only answer the queries within an acceptable duration, but also demonstrate technical knowledge by resolving your technical issues and letting you know the probable ways of avoiding them, if possible. A follow-up on the status would also be appreciated. The service window should also be taken into consideration.
Look for a web host that provides 24 x 7 Support throughout the year. Multiple support options like Phone, Web Chat, and E-mail are quite the norm these days. You should also take into consideration the refund / Money back guarantee offered by these web hosting service providers. Look for a web host that is transparent in their pricing. Be wary of any hidden pricing tactics, like cancellation charges, one-time fee etc. used by some of the web hosts. Understand the terms and conditions well before you sign up.
These include other add-on applications and features that the web host provides either included in the plan or at an extra fee. Bloggers would love the WordPress application, and along WordPress their quite a few themes that you would love to deploy in your web site. Others would like Joomla or any other application that is used for content management. Choose the one that fulfills the needs of your web site. Also, you may need a database management system to maintain records of users, visitors, items etc. Your web host should be able to provide you with the desired database system (At least 100 DBs MySQL)so that you do not get stuck midway when you are developing the website. You would also need an e-mail facility; look for how many free e-mail accounts are allowed to be created and the size of the mailbox.
Other email management features like IMAP, POP3 etc. should also be looked into. If you are looking to secure the transactions made through your web site, you should check if your web host provides a SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate. SSL certificates can be obtained from other providers as well, but having everything under one roof is always a better option. Some web hosting service providers also provides you SEO (Search Engine Optimization)services to improve your web site’s visibility to the search engines either a free trial feature or for a nominal fee. Besides these, there would be a host of other features that your web host may ask you to sign in for a trial period. Be prudent in deciding on those features – if you do not need them then do not opt for them.
Cost of renewal:
This is one area where most web hosting service providers look to cash in, literally. You may be able to get the first year for a very cheap price, but after that the price may go up, several times fold. This strategy is used by almost all the web hosting service providers, both the giants in the business as well as the relatively smaller guys. The objective of this strategy is to lure potential customer to sign-up and use their services and monetize the relationship over a period of time.
While this tactic is good for their business, it is not for yours. The cost of maintaining your web site will go up more than three fold. Either look for a web host that offers renewal for the same price or opt for one that charges the least. The other option you have here is to hop to another web hosting service provider towards the end of the expiry period with the current web host. This is what is called “host-hopping”. If your web host provides you a pricing guarantee through the subscribed period, then subscribe for a longer period of time. You should also check out the “Any time Money back Guarantee” clause to safe guard yourself against any changes.
Hosting Platforms – Windows or Linux
To many, the choice of platform does not seem to have any implication on the outcome of the web site. When you have to choose a web hosting plan, you will have to select the operating system on which the web server will operate. Well, in shared web hosting, there is already a server running with an operating system. You have to choose which server based on the operating platforms – Windows or Linux. Windows and Linux are the two most popular web hosting operating systems. Operating systems typically work at the back end, managing the tasks, and choosing one over the other does not make any noticeable difference to the end user.
However, the options and features provided by Linux and Windows vary and these have to be taken into consideration. Choose the platform that offer features best suited to your requirements.
Let us take a peek on the features offered vis-a-vis these two platforms:-
FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is used to transfer files to and from a client computer to a server. Both Windows and Linux servers offer FTP access to your files. Generally, only Linux Hosting offers Telnet or SSH (Secure Shell) access by which a window can be opened directly on the Web server and edit them.
If the web site is going to be dynamic then you will need a database as well. MySQL and Access are the two most popular databases. Linux servers mostly offer MySQL.However, MySQL can run on both Linux and Windows. Access, being a Microsoft product is available only for Windows Hosting.
Security is one of the major head-aches for any web site. Though there is nothing to choose from, many consider Linux to be more secure than Windows web servers. Security has more to do at the level of hosting service administration than at the operating system level. Good web hosts ensure that your server remains secure irrespective of the operating system on which it is hosted.
All Linux based applications can run on Windows platforms, but the reverse is not always true. If your web site relies on Visual Basic or .Net, windows hosting is the best choice as Linux hosting cannot use these languages.
|Feature||Windows Hosting||Linux Hosting|
|ASP (.NET, AJAX)||YES||–|
|FTP over SSL||YES||YES|
|Microsoft URL Rewrite Module||YES||–|
|Raw Access Logs||–||YES|
|Server Error Logs||–||YES|
|Service Side Includes (SSI)||YES||YES|
Having seen the differences in features offered above now, it is up to you to choose. Your choice of the operating system for web hosting should be based on the features that you require for your web site. Linux web hosting is more popular because it has more features for web designing. If your website needs window specific applications then you have to go for windows web hosting. A point to note, the features listed in the table above only indicates whether it is supported by that particular operating system. Your web host may or may not provide all or any of these features. So, please check the documentation carefully.
In case you plan to experiment with both Windows and Linux hosting, you can opt for Java Hosting. With Java hosting, you don’t face any portability issues. The same underlying code works on both Windows and Linux servers. However, it is not commonly provided by the web hosting service providers.
Since the features and pricing of the web hosting services are dynamic in nature, something that would seem the best today may not be so tomorrow. So take all the factors into consideration and choose wisely!
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