Choosing a web hosting company is not easy. There are literally thousands of hosting companies and prices/month are often less than a burger at a fast food joint.
Googling “website hosting” is probably the first step people take when looking for a home for their website. But how should you decide which one to pick? All have flashy websites, many promise “unlimited space” or “unlimited bandwidth” which sounds really good, right?
Let’s look at a couple things that you may not think of when selecting your hosting service.
1. “Unlimited Space” – too good to be true? Think about it. Websites are files that are stored on a hard drive (=server). In a shared hosting environment, many websites share a server. Think of it like an apartment building. You have one big building (the hard driver = server) and many apartments. One apartment is yours (your hosting space).
A hard drive costs money, even if it is not that much. It needs to maintained, software needs to be installed, updates performed, malware removed, attacks prevented and so on. Even if a hosting service would give you a hard drive just for yourself, would they give you another one for the same low price because they promised “unlimited”? …and another one once you run out of space again?
Probably not. So how can they promise “unlimited”? Because there is also, often very well hidden, a TOS = Terms of Service page. That TOS spells out what kind of files you can store and how you can use your space. Usually, the language is rather vague and contains sentences like “we can terminate your account at our discretion if we deem your space needs excessive”. In fact, once you read that long and confusing document, you will see that there is no such thing like “unlimited space”. In one extreme case, I dealt with a company that did not provide any backups of their hosted websites AND disallowed to install your own backup program.
Even under best of circumstances, things can go wrong. Having several backups of your site is crucial.
2. “Unlimited Bandwidth”: Bandwidth is the measurement of data transferred between the server and visitors of your site. Therefore, it is often called “traffic”. Bandwidth is something hosting companies have to buy and pay for on an ongoing basis. Reading the TOS, you will again find language that limits your bandwidth to “normal” usage. But who determines “normal”? How is “normal” defined?
You will be better off with a hosting company that clearly states the limitations of each package they offer. Then you can decide how you want to use your allocated space and bandwidth.
3. Too cheap to be true? As we discussed above, hosting servers cost money and need maintenance. So how can some companies offer hosting for less than burger at a fast food joint? Because they put a LOT of websites on a server. The fuller the server is, the lower the performance. That means your website will take ages to load or even crash often. In addition, they save on maintenance costs. Skip security upgrades, leave old, insecure software hanging around – jeopardizing the integrity of your website.
4. Who else is hosting on your server? In a shared hosting environment, it is impossible to control which websites are on the same server. After all, you are renting only a small “apartment”. And like in the real world, if you live in an apartment building where known gang members live, your own reputation suffers. Therefore, it is a good idea to check what kind of websites are allowed on your server – do you fit in?