Web hosting is a foundational part of any website. Choosing the hosting company and plan that are right for your site can take some careful consideration. Not all hosts are created equal, and you’ll want to make sure you’re getting all the features you’ll need.
Fortunately, here at DreamHost, we have lots of experience when it comes to web hosting, and we know what the most essential criteria are. Once you understand precisely what you’re looking for, you’ll be perfectly positioned to start your new website off on the right foot.
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into 16 essential criteria you can use to pick the best web hosting service for your site:
- Your Website’s Needs
- Subscription Period
- Server Reliability and Uptime
- Refund Policy and Guarantees
- Upgrade Options
- Primary Features
- Add-on Products and Services
- E-commerce Site Functionality
- Sign-Up and Renewal Prices
- Control Panel
- Account Limitations
- Environmental Friendliness
- Email Hosting
- Website Backup Options
- Server Responsiveness
- What Web Hosting Is and Why You Need It
- How to Choose the Best Web Hosting Service for Your Site
- 1. Know What Your Website’s Needs Are
- 2. Confirm the Subscription Period for Hosting Contracts
- 3. Check for Server Reliability and Uptime Guarantees
- 4. Confirm the Host’s Refund Policy and Guarantees
- 5. Understand What Your Upgrade Options Are
- 6. Verify the Host’s Primary Features
- 7. Evaluate the Available Add-on Products and Services
- 8. Determine Whether the Host Supports E-commerce
- 9. Verify Any Differences in Sign-Up Prices vs. Renewal Prices
- 10. Find Out What Kind of Control Panel You’ll Have Access To
- 11. Gain a Firm Understanding of Any Account Limitations
- 12. Review the Company’s Approach to Environmental Friendliness
- 13. Research Whether Email Hosting Is Included with Your Account
- 14. Investigate the Host’s Website Backup Options
- 15. Make Sure You’ll Get the Support You Need
- 16. Test the Host’s Server Responsiveness
- The Best Web Hosting Service
What Web Hosting Is and Why You Need It
Regardless of whether this is your first or 50th website, it’s crucial to understand specifically what it is you’re getting when you buy a hosting plan. Essentially, your web host provides a place for you to store all of your website’s essential files and data. Plus, it takes care of delivering that data to the people who visit your site through their browsers.
The information stored might include images, videos, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) files, and even Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that tell your site’s theme how to behave. If you think of your site’s web address or domain name as a street address, you can picture the web host as the actual house.
Related: How Do Websites Work
When people try to visit your site, their browsers use that information to locate your web host and access the contents of your website. Without a web host, in other words, your website would not be connected to the rest of the internet.
Not only is web hosting a necessary element of launching any website, but it can also have a significant impact on your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This is because your web host affects your site’s speed, security, and more. We’ll discuss these items in more detail shortly. The primary point is that your web host matters, so it’s vital to make your choice carefully.
How to Choose the Best Web Hosting Service for Your Site
Now that you know a little more about what a hosting company provides, we can help you evaluate your options. If you want to help your site be as successful as possible from the very start, you’ll need to measure up each web host you’re considering against the following 16 criteria.
1. Know What Your Website’s Needs Are
To get started, it’s a good idea to sit down and make a list of your needs. After that, you can more easily prioritize them as you compare your list to what each potential host is offering.
If your website has a specific niche, for example, you’ll want to take that into consideration. If you’re building a photography website, you might need to prioritize speed and storage features. Additionally, some hosts also offer Content Delivery Network (CDN) options for content-heavy sites.
E-commerce websites, on the other hand, may want to focus on bandwidth and security. In fact, some hosts offer plans specific to e-commerce. Also, don’t forget to consider what kind of (and how much) support you might need.
Last but not least, think about the content management system you’d like to use for your site. WordPress proudly claims over 60% of the CMS market, so many web hosting companies offer services specifically tailored to the platform. For example, WordPress users at DreamHost can opt for DreamPress, an optimized WordPress hosting solution that comes with professional staging, daily backups, custom caching, and email.
2. Confirm the Subscription Period for Hosting Contracts
Many web hosting companies offer a flexible set of options when it comes to contract lengths. You’re likely to find monthly and yearly plans, as well as discounted rates for multiple-year contracts.
This means you’ll want to think about how long you’re willing to commit to upfront. Often, it’s smart to try out a new host for a few months to get firsthand experience with it. On the other hand, if you’re confident enough to sign up for a longer term, you can save a lot of money.
Besides contract length, it’s also a good idea to double-check a plan’s terms before signing up for it. Some hosts also allow you to move fluidly between contract lengths and plans, but be sure to ask about any relevant fees and/or penalties.
3. Check for Server Reliability and Uptime Guarantees
Another vital service you’ll want to investigate is what your potential host provides in terms of uptime guarantees. This affects how reliable you can expect the hosting service to be.
“Uptime” refers to the percentage of time that your website is online and available to internet users without any issues. Naturally, you should want your site to be live as much as possible, and your host should guarantee something very close to 100% uptime.
Of course, not every web hosting provider defines uptime in exactly the same way. Therefore, you’ll have to review your potential hosting company’s policy carefully to see what it’s actually guaranteeing. If there are a lot of bottlenecks slowing down your website, but it’s technically still available, your host may consider that “uptime,” even if you don’t.
You might also want to find out how the host handles any downtime. Having your site frequently unavailable is obviously not optimal when you’re trying to build an online following. To know what you’re getting into, it’s a good idea to look for reviews that indicate how reliable the host has historically been.
4. Confirm the Host’s Refund Policy and Guarantees
You never know what might happen once you start building your website. With that being said, it’s wise to thoroughly review your potential web host’s refund policy. If you’re not happy with your host or change your mind about the site altogether, it’s necessary to have options.
In addition to making sure you can cancel your plan and get a refund, it’s smart to understand what the host guarantees and what it does not take responsibility for. This might include looking at its uptime guarantee (as we discussed earlier) along with its terms of service documents.
You can also look to see if there’s a real-time status page you can view.
Whether you decide you don’t like your new host or you suddenly find yourself not needing a website anymore, being able to get a refund is critical. Here at DreamHost, we offer a variety of refund opportunities, and they do differ a little based on which hosting plan you choose.
Finally, make sure you know ahead of time what your deadline for a refund will be. Knowing how much time you have helps to make sure you’re all settled with your new provider.
5. Understand What Your Upgrade Options Are
“Reading the fine print” is a smart move whenever you’re signing a contract. This applies doubly to online services. Before you sign on with a hosting plan, it’s important to make certain you won’t be penalized for upgrading it later on.
After all, at times your new blog or podcast might go viral, and you’ll need to scale up quickly to provide your site with additional resources and space. That’s a good thing! However, you’ll need to make sure your hosting plan can move up with you, instead of holding you back.
6. Verify the Host’s Primary Features
We mentioned before that there are a lot of different kinds of hosting. If you’ve already determined what you need from your web host, you’ll be better able to navigate this particular step. Some hosts offer very general services, while others may provide specific features that can make your life a lot easier.
For example, at DreamHost, we’re pretty upfront about our passion for WordPress. With that in mind, we offer features that make building, launching, running, and maintaining a WordPress site easy.
When exploring the hosting provider’s website, you should be able to tell pretty quickly if what you need is a part of its offerings. If you have to dig for that information, the host might not be truly focused on the features that meet your primary needs.
Reading reviews is another great way to determine if a given web host will provide what your site requires. Customers are typically very honest in online reviews, so you can look for comments that discuss the features that will make the biggest difference to you.
Related: Why Should I Use WordPress? 12 Reasons to Choose the World’s Most Popular CMS
7. Evaluate the Available Add-on Products and Services
Once your website is up and running, you might run into situations where you’ll want to add new features. With that being said, scoping out what your host offers in terms of “extras” is worthwhile at this stage.
If you want to start small and work your way up as your site grows, you’ll need to make sure you can efficiently bring in new functionality without having to jump through hoops or move your entire website. Having the ability to pick features “a la carte” means you can design a plan that provides everything you need (and nothing you don’t).
This wishlist might include items like an SSL certificate or custom email addresses, which we’ll discuss in-depth later on. Alternatively, you might be able to add on storage and other resources without changing your base plan. Either way, establishing what’s possible upfront can help you avoid unwanted surprises in the future.
8. Determine Whether the Host Supports E-commerce
If you’re building an e-commerce website, it’s vital to make sure your chosen web host has everything you need to run an online store. This might include built-in e-commerce tools, one-click installations of useful applications, and even extra security measures for online transactions.
For example, if your host does not offer Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates, you’ll need to purchase one that meets the standards of the payment gateways you plan to use. Additionally, if you are not sure how to get your storefront set up, you can shop around for hosts offering website builders or other features that will benefit your e-commerce project.
9. Verify Any Differences in Sign-Up Prices vs. Renewal Prices
When you sign up for a hosting plan, you’ll often receive discounts based on whether you pay monthly or annually. Sometimes, you’ll even have the option to pay for several years at a time in order to get an increased discount.
Many hosts also offer a renewal discount. With that being said, you’ll want to be vigilant about knowing what the terms are before you agree to a plan. You don’t want to encounter an unexpected rate increase when you least expect it. It’s not uncommon for initial discounts to quietly give way to higher costs after the first few months or year of service.
On the positive side, if you’re a nonprofit organization, it’s worth noting that some hosts offer discounts tailored to your needs. This can be significant savings to any organization registered as 501(c)3 and needs to develop a web presence to further its mission.
10. Find Out What Kind of Control Panel You’ll Have Access To
Hosting can sometimes be the most technical part of running your website. However, there’s no need to feel intimidated. Most hosts provide a user-friendly control panel or dashboard. This is where you can configure different parts of your website’s setup and software.
The most common control panel you’ll encounter is called cPanel. However, some hosts offer a custom solution. In fact, that’s how we operate here at DreamHost.
Our panel is designed to be user-friendly and less confusing than some of the interfaces you might encounter with other hosts. Since it’s not a given that you’ll have a developer working on your website, checking out demos or tours of the control panel before you contract with a host can be very helpful.
Related: Do I Need Managed WordPress Hosting?
11. Gain a Firm Understanding of Any Account Limitations
Especially if you’re building a brand-new website, you might not know what level of traffic you’ll encounter. For that reason, we recommend thoroughly investigating whether or not your prospective hosting service will place any limits on your account.
This means you need to have a basic understanding of bandwidth. This is the term used to encompass the amount of data and traffic flowing through your server. If you have a lot of videos housed on your server, for example, you might eat up a lot of bandwidth as multiple visitors watch them at once.
Even when you come across a host that offers unlimited traffic, you should still research its policies. Remember that fine print we mentioned before? Sometimes “unlimited” plans still have some restrictions that you should be aware of.
12. Review the Company’s Approach to Environmental Friendliness
You might be wondering how “environmental friendliness” applies to a web hosting company. However, even businesses that provide a virtual product or service should be thinking about this element. For example, at DreamHost, we strive to provide “green” hosting.
Some companies work only in remote offices to reduce their footprints, while others obtain energy-efficient appliances and eco-friendly supplies. No matter the specifics, you should be able to review what your host is doing to reduce its impact.
13. Research Whether Email Hosting Is Included with Your Account
You might be used to having your personal email handled efficiently through Google or another service. That’s why email is often an afterthought when it comes to your business and website.
If you want your email to match your business’ branding and your website’s name, however, you will need a host for that service too. Sometimes an email address will be included in your hosting plan with limited usage. However, especially if you plan on using email marketing to reach your audience, exploring your email hosting options is highly recommended.
There are pros and cons to having your email host and your web host combined. Unless your host has provisions for protecting one or the other, you could be facing an “if one goes out, they all go out” scenario. This means that if your web host crashes, it will take your email with it as well.
On the other hand, keeping both services in the same place can simplify your life, and a reliable host should be able to avoid those kinds of problems. Fortunately, we offer several options when it comes to email hosting. Whether you are looking for a standalone email host or a web hosting plan that includes secure email, we have you covered.
14. Investigate the Host’s Website Backup Options
If you’re building a WordPress website, you have quite a few options for creating backups to keep your website safe. For example, you can use tools from the Plugin Directory for hands-on control of your backups.
One of the most popular and highly-rated solutions is UpdraftPlus.
This plugin has over two million downloads and more than 3,000 five-star reviews. With it, you’ll be able to easily and quickly restore backups of your website if needed. You can even keep your backups securely in cloud storage. Feel free to check out our list of WordPress backup tools.
However, it’s also a good idea to see what your host offers in this area. Depending on the kind of hosting you purchase, you might have access to daily backups of your website. This is especially helpful if your site gets hacked or if a file becomes corrupted. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to have multiple backup solutions in place.
When you evaluate the backup services offered by a hosting provider, look for information regarding how long your backups are stored and how often they are created. Also, make sure you understand how to access your backups if needed. If your site does get hacked, it’s extremely beneficial if your host provides a user-friendly restoration service.
Related: How to Start a WordPress Site in 5 Minutes
15. Make Sure You’ll Get the Support You Need
Along with site backups and restoration services, it’s worth emphasizing the value of reliable technical support. If you have in-house programmers and tech staff, you might not need this level of service.
If not, however, comprehensive support from your hosting service can be invaluable. Many small businesses don’t have the resources or know-how to deal with unexpected problems, attacks, and so on.
So it’s vital to review the customer support options each hosting provider offers. These can often differ between individual plans. Lower-level plans tend to be more “hands-off” in terms of support, while managed plans and more expensive options often offer premium support.
16. Test the Host’s Server Responsiveness
Once you’ve put your chosen host through its paces and worked down all the previous items, there’s one more critical element to consider. Rather than taking claims and reviews at face value, you can test the host’s responsiveness for yourself.
It’s a bit easier to test server response on a site you already have up and running. So if you’ve signed up for a plan, you can use a tool like Pingdom to get an upfront idea of the performance you can expect.
Alternatively, you can leverage the information available through Google’s PageSpeed Insights tools. If you know of a website that’s hosted with the company you are interested in using, you can also enter that URL into Pingdom’s tool. If possible, you may even want to get access to a test account or sign up for a free trial, and use that to conduct further testing.
The Best Web Hosting Service
Choosing a hosting package is not a decision to be made lightly. Here at DreamHost, however, we offer something for everyone. You don’t have to be launching the next big thing to demand (and receive) high-quality hosting services.
If you’ve studied our list of essential criteria, you’ll likely find that our shared hosting plans fit the bill for your new site. Not only will you receive a free SSL certificate, you’ll also get WordPress pre-installed on your account and free access to our handy WP Website Builder.
This means that even if you weren’t planning on launching the next big thing, you might end up doing it anyway with DreamHost!