We are often asked about hosting — who does it, how it works, how much it costs, who do we recommend, etc. We work with a handful of trusted hosts who have affordable beefy packages that can comfortably accommodate our typical client project. We will discuss those more later on, but first we wanted to share a few do’s and don’ts for helping you select a web host, especially if you intend to have us work on your project.
DO your research.
You wouldn’t look up “apartments” on Google and sign a year lease with the first complex or building you came across, would you? Probably not. Similarly, don’t just look up “web hosts” in Google and pick the first one you stumble upon. With minimal effort, you can find a web host that offers reasonable rates in a variety of packages and doesn’t make your designer or developer want to throw fruit.
Alternately, we don’t recommend you buy the web hosting package your domain name registrar hocks because you’re overwhelmed by their marketing. It may not be the best deal or the right kind of server for your project. For example, if you buy your domain with GoDaddy (who we love as a registrar), you’ll most likely be bombarded with several opportunties to purchase one of their hosting plans or to upgrade to such n’ such or add-on this or that. Scroll to the bottom and click the blue link that says “continue” or “skip”. Get right to the shopping cart, buy your domain and move forward.
Ask around, who do your friends use? Who does your designer like? Google them and look for reviews. And, if it turns out that the registrar’s hosting package is the right one for you, you can always choose it later.
DO take note of the website.
Does it instill confidence? Does it look professional? Well-designed? Does it load quickly? All of the things are factors you should consider. If it loads slowly, chances are your site will, too. Is it professional-looking and designed well? It doesn’t have to be fancy, but is it easy to find what you’re looking for? Does it look like it’s made and maintained with care? If so, that’s a sign the company takes care with their business and care about how they are perceived.
If you email them with a question, take note of how long it takes them to respond as it might be an indication of how quickly or slowly your support tickets might be handled. New business is usually top priority so if a representative is slow to respond without good reason, keep looking. Also check office hours: is their support available 24 hours? If not, are they in your time zone or within reason? Check if they offer support or customer service by phone. With a web-based business, we understand the desire to keep the phone to a minimum, but if the sky is falling and there’s a hosting issue we need to address, we do a little jig when we see a phone number listed on the site.
DON’T be tempted by the cheapest price.
Have you ever bought a pair of shoes at Payless? Like, vinyl knockoffs of the $400 Italian leather ones you really want at Nordstrom? They may look similar, but after one or two jaunts about town you have big red blisters and your feet smell like a cheese shop. Don’t let your website smell like a cheese shop… well, unless it actually is a cheese shop, in which case you don’t have time to deal with sub par web hosts — you have a cheese shop to run! Don’t buy cheap knock-offs that give you trouble — wait until Nordie’s has their Half Yearly Sale. Everybody wins.
In case that whole cheesefoot analogy was a bust, here’s the deal: choose the best host for the best price. The best bang for your buck, if you will. You can find web hosts for as low as a $6 or $7/mo that still come with all the bling you could ever want or need for your average web project. And don’t forget to check if the price is yearly or every two years, as some hosts offer even more cut-rates if you purchase two years in advance.
DON’T choose a Windows server.
For the love of the deity of your choice, please… look for the words Linux Operating System or Unix Operating System. We’re going to hear it from all those Windows server lovers out there, but this is more of our personal preference: Windows servers are a pain in our collective ass, frankly, and we don’t like to work with them. If you ask around, you might hear something similar from a colleague or two… surely we’re not alone. We won’t go into detail about why we don’t like them, other than to say from an administrative standpoint, we feel Linux/Unix servers are more client-friendly. And again, we won’t throw fruit. Much.
DO check under the hood.
See what they have to offer. Most hosts will have a ‘services’ or ‘packages’ or ‘features’ page that explains what is included in their hosting. We prefer hosts that offer the control panel called CPanel. It’s probably the most popular interface for server account management out there, so it’s very easy to find a host that uses it. You may see some hosts that offer a “control panel”, but while CPanel is a control panel, not all control panels are CPanel. *sigh* If only they were… We like CPanel a lot because it’s a very straightforward interface that allows clients to manage their own server-side stuff, like email accounts. It also makes it easy for the designers and developers (that’s us) to manage your databases, export/import and back things up, as well as other administrative stuff like domains and subdomains.
Look for how much storage the host offers, how much bandwidth they offer and how many email accounts you can have. Most hosts offer a ridiculous amount email accounts, but it’s good to check it as some hosts don’t offer email servers at all (which is bizarre, but it’s been know to happen). Believe it or not, you can find hosts that offer unlimited storage (the amount of space you have to keep your stuff, or as we put it in Blogging with Moxie, the apartment or condo you’re renting) and unlimited bandwidth (the amount of traffic your site can receive), along with a bunch of other stuff that you may or may not use depending on the kind of site you intend to have. Here’s an at-a-glance list of things we look for in a web host:
- MySQL databases (you’ll need at least one if you intend to run any blog software)
- Linux/Unix Operating System
- Unlimited bandwidth
- Generous storage or unlimited storage
- Email accounts are included (this is pretty standard, but worth checking)
- CPanel control panel interface
- Fantastico or Simple Scripts (these are packages that offer a generous amount of free programs and scripts that may or may not be of use to your project. Not all the offerings in these packages are gems, but a few, like WordPress for blogging and Open X for ad management, come in handy and make installation a snap)
DO pinch pennies
These are hard economic times, my friends. We totally understand the desire to save a few clams, so once you have narrowed down your selected web hosts based on confidence, quality, customer service, bells & whistles, bandwidth and storage… then compare price. Among them you should be able to find one that suits your budget. And once you’ve chosen that web host, Google the name of the webhost with the words “coupon code” and see what comes up. There are often promotional codes or offers available out there for a specific webhost and all you have to do is go look for them! You could also ask your developer, designer or friends if they have an affiliate account with your chosen web host so they can get a referral bonus or possibly you some kind of discount. But don’t go backwards and pick your host because you have a coupon. See #3!
As we mentioned, there are a few web hosts that we work with currently and have in the past that we recommend to our clients.
- Hosting Matters – They’ve been around forever and also run CPanel. Their support staff is very attentive and we’ve hosted with them for many years. Caveats: no phone support and they don’t generally have unlimited packages, but the packages they do have are very reasonable. Bonus: If you purchase through our link, Hosting Matters can offer you a special rate for unlimited packages, especially for our clients. Thanks, Hosting Matters!
- Fat Cow – They have all the bells and whistles that we like, plus their rates are surprisingly inexpensive. They do not run CPanel, which kind of goes against our preferences, but what they do run is a very similar-style interface and is quite user-friendly. They offer phone support and live chat as well as a support ticket system and they give you unlimited everything. Yay for that! Caveat: They do have some fine print to their “unlimited” packages so it’s important to read this info. If you have a very large site or community, you might want to go with another host. Bonus: They’re green!
- Hostmonster – We love that everything is unlimited, they have a phone number and have an ever-so-gracious and patient support team. They also run CPanel, if I’m not mistaken. If you have not purchased your domain name yet, you get a free one with their hosting account. This kind of goes against what I said in #1, but in their case, we will make an exception. They’re not aggressive about their marketing loopholes like some hosts.
To give you more choices, we asked our friend and colleague Mel of Emtwo Web Studios who she liked and she offered up these options:
- Surpass Hosting – Sayeth Mel, “I’ve used them since they started. But I like the fact that they have good customer service – they respond quickly and try to fix the issue as fast as possible.” That sounds good to us, too. We also noted they’re $4/mo, offer 24 hour email support and have a live concierge chat available. Nice!
- Insider Hosting – Their hosting is a little more, but they do offer a phone number, which is a perk, though it’s not toll-free.
Both hosts offer MySQL databases and a CPanel interface.
…and now for a few web hosts we DON’T recommend:
- BlueHost – We’ve seen mixed discussions about BlueHost around, but there are often mixed feelings about hosts. There was a time when Blue Host was not in our favor, but in the last year or so, they’d improved their features, so we thought they had improved, but we find their support team to be condescending and less than helpful, the load time on their sites is slow and their uptime is spotty, which their support team insists is *your problem* and not their hosting. We were fans… but now… not s’much.
- Thinkhost – We had such high hopes for this company. Their green mission is admirable and we love the idea of promoting an eco-responsible business. But the interface looked like something they hammered together in the backyard, the support was spotty and the server load time really did make it feel like it was run by windmills. We’re not alone in this experience. Walk on by.
- ValueWeb / Hostway – According to Kathy, their server can be slow at times and while they claim MySQL databases are included, her client had to upgrade their account in order to access it. Their support is quite slow and Kathy said she “had to sit on the phone for an hour just to get a subdomain added”, which is something you or your designer should be able to do in a snap with CPanel. To top it off, their basic packages start at $13.95, which is not so much a value, in our opinion.
- GoDaddy – While they’re a fine registrar, we’ve had similar problems with server administration. You aren’t able to manage the databases or subdomains on your own account, you have to call support to get anything done. And while my experience with their support staff has always been pleasant and courteous, this is something you really should be able to manage on your own. We also don’t love their guerrilla marketing tactics, slamming you with page after page of buy-ins and add-ons just so you can buy a $10 domain name. As we said, we like them as a registrar because we’re familiar with their set-up and our clients are familiar with the name, but as a host, they leave something to be desired.
- DreamHost – This company seems to be pretty popular but both Kathy and I have had miserable experiences with using their services. Their support is “eh” at best, their server’s can get pretty sluggish and we’ve both experienced significant downtime that lends itself to a lot of hair pulling and aggravation. There’s better hosts out there. See above.
We hope this info has been helpful and that you’ll feel confident about your choices when you’re ready to purchase web hosting…like you’ve splashed on a little Jean Naté.
web hosts, how-to, hosting, godaddy