There are a lot of factors to consider when you’re a small business owner setting up a website. You know that you need a hosting plan to get your website online, but what does that really mean? You may be tempted to take the first cheap hosting plan you find, throw a site online, and call it a day. If the only thing you look for is cheap hosting, instead of quality and affordable hosting, you’re making a mistake.
Think of web hosting like any other business utility. Cheap hosting sounds good, but what you really want to focus on is finding something affordable and appropriate to your business. Would you want to go with the cheapest security, the cheapest accountant, or the cheapest lawyer? Of course not! Below, we’ll take a look at what makes a good hosting plan and discuss what is and isn’t worth paying for when you’re just starting out.
- Server Management
- Site Management
- Support and Assistance
- General Tips
Server Type: The Biggest Difference
The main decision you need to make when choosing a hosting plan is to decide what type of server you want. Broadly speaking, there are three categories.
Shared Hosting: A shared hosting plan is typically the most economical option. Shared hosting is when multiple users all share the same physical server. Costs of operating and maintenance are split amongst them. Costs usually range from roughly $2 – $10 per month.
Virtual Private Server (VPS): A VPS is still technically a shared server, but a certain amount of resources are set aside just for you. That means that no matter how much bandwidth or data any of the other sites need, they can never infringe on what is yours. You have a considerable amount of freedom when it comes to installing programs and configuring systems on your portion of the server. Costs usually run between $20 – $50 a month.
Dedicated Server: The opposite of shared hosting, a dedicated server is entirely yours: All of the RAM, bandwidth, and disk storage of a server node are dedicated entirely to your account. As it is yours to do with as you please, you can host one or several websites on the same server, and you can customize your server however you like. You can expect to pay $100+ per month.
If you’re just starting out, a Shared Hosting plan is usually the best choice. With a shared plan, difficult maintenance tasks are taken care of automatically by your hosting company. Plus, you’re unlikely to need custom configurations or unusual software when you’re just starting to build your web presence.
If your website is offline, then it’s not doing you any good. You always want to make sure that your hosting company has a guarantee of uptime. Most reputable companies will have a guarantee of at least 99.9% (or better) uptime.
Bandwidth and Storage
Your plan’s bandwidth determines how much data your account can transfer at once. Bandwidth affects everything from how many simultaneous visitors your site can handle to how your site functions under intensive procedures like loading large images or running background apps.
Think of bandwidth like a truck. An 18-wheeler can certainly carry more merchandise, but do you need one right when you’re starting out? Could you drive it yourself, if you had to? Most affordable plans will offer a moderate amount of bandwidth. This is more than enough when you’re just starting out. Just make sure that your hosting company makes it easy to upgrade bandwidth later when your site traffic starts to pick up!
Storage space, like bandwidth, is something that you need to evaluate based on your business needs. Most WordPress sites aren’t going to be larger than five or six gigabytes. Unless you plan to host a ton of high quality images or create an online store with hundreds of items, you don’t actually need a ton of storage space early on. Just make sure that any plan you’re on makes it easy to upgrade— you don’t want to find yourself spending ten times as much when you just need a little more data!
More affordable hosting plans often have incredibly strong security. Surprised? It all comes down to the nature of a shared server. Remember, a shared hosting server can have hundreds of sites on a single server node. If you have a quality hosting company, expert technicians and systems administrators will be monitoring that server 24/7, updating it constantly with the latest security patches and bug fixes.
You’ll still need to take basic security precautions, of course, but you aren’t doing all of the work by yourself. Conversely, if you’re trying to run a VPS or Dedicated Server, you will need to take a more hands-on role in keeping your server secure. It’s not hard once you are experienced, but it’s not something you want to try and learn on the job if your business is on the line.
Make sure your hosting plan gives you access to more than just the front end of your website! You should be able to access some sort of control panel, like cPanel, to directly access files, change passwords, and install basic software. Many companies with low introductory plans lock you out of the ‘back end,’ preventing you from moving your site files or adding new features without paying hefty fees.
Anyone using the internet today expects a website to have a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate. If you’ve ever visited a site, only to be greeted with a browser warning that it may be unsafe, you’ve just encountered a site with an expired or invalid SSL.
InMotion provides free SSLs, and offers specialty SSLs for purchase if you have a particular need for them. Watch out for seemingly cheap hosting plans that make it difficult— and costly— to install an SSL!
A domain registration provides you ownership of your site’s URL. At InMotion, we provide a free domain name with most of our plans. We also make it easy for you to transfer or point domains you already own at our servers. Whoever you host with, make sure you personally maintain ownership of your domain.
Also, make sure it’s easy to add more domains to your plan if needed. If your business requires a second or third website, it should be easy to add it to your account and start building. At the most, more sites should only require an upgrade— not an entirely separate plan!
Content Management Systems
Very few businesses build their website from scratch. A Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress lets you post updates and make new pages with built in, easy to use tools. You may need another, more specialized CMS like Moodle for education and training. Make sure that whatever plan you choose provides the CMS you need— or has the option to install it on your server.
The two things to watch out for here are plans that require you to use a particular CMS, and plans that provide no CMSs whatsoever. A plan locked into WordPress wouldn’t be so bad, but a plan that requires you to use a proprietary CMS no other company offers could be trouble.
Conversely, there are may cheap plans available that are essentially just Linux servers running on the cloud. These plans are great if you’re an experienced sysadmin that wants total control. What if you’re a new web designer, though? You need to realize that these minimalist plans will require hours of extra work and constant maintenance. They’re something to aspire to, but not something to start with!
Email remains a vital component of any online business. If you’re focused on affordability, make sure that your hosting plan either comes with email or offers it as an add-on for a low cost. Beware of seemingly cheap plans that require you to purchase expensive, year-long email packages if you want this sort of basic function!
Support and Assistance
When you’re just starting out, sometimes the hardest part of solving a problem is figuring out what the problem is. Not every affordable plan will offer support. Before you purchase a hosting plan, remember to take the importance of support into account. It could easily be worth a few extra dollars a month to find a plan that offers support. Otherwise, you may find yourself spending hours upon hours on what could be simple tasks.
Remember, you shouldn’t focus on finding a cheap hosting plan but on finding an affordable plan that’s right for you. If this is your first website, we usually recommend a shared plan to start with, either our Shared Hosting plan or a WordPress Optimized plan. Start off with a plan that suits your needs, but don’t skip out on any features you may need. Finally, be sure your plan gives you room to build and won’t nickel and dime you for every feature.
Learn more about what to expect from a basic starter plan by taking a look at our Shared Hosting resources.