Starting a new website or blog, it’s very tempting to skimp on selecting a host. There are a deluge of advertised great deals on host who all claim excellent service, as well as free hosts. When I first started, I got caught up in all the excitement of starting my first blog and didn’t spend as much attention on finding a quality host. As it turns out, experience has taught me over the years that your hosting provider is the most important part of your website.
Don’t get fooled thinking that you can make up for poor quality of service with caching plugins or a content delivery service. While these may improve your website’s performance, you’ll get the best bang for your buck by investing in your hosting service.
Here are a few problems that I’ve had in the past with poor quality hosting:
- Slow speeds – this can affect SEO as well as overall visitor experience
- Frequent downtimes – If people can’t get to your website, what’s the point?
- Poor customer service – You want to be able to correct a problem if one arises
These are problems that you can’t simply patch up. The only solution is to start with a good quality host right from the beginning. The good thing is that you don’t have to break the bank to invest in your hosting provider. You simply need to plan ahead and be prepared to invest a small amount in your website. Good hosting can still be found for under $10 a month!
Free vs. Paid Hosting
If you aren’t planning to make money from your blog, then these free options are excellent. As a hobby, you can practice your writing and build up tons of traffic using a free hosting provider. Plus, all the technical support is handled for you by professionals, so you can concentrate solely on your blogging.
The downside to a free blog is that you are giving up a good portion of your control to the service provider. You are limited in how you want to design your blog, customizing your coding, as well as monetizing your blog. In addition, in some circumstances (as I experienced with blogger) your service provider can completely shut down your blog without notice.
Blogger, in particular, has an automated process to try and detect poor quality or spam blogs. This can result in false positives. Even simply posting content too quickly may trigger their bot to shut down your blog.
The other thing to keep in mind with free hosting is that you also won’t have full control over your domain name. For a hobby blog, you may not care if your domain is simply hobby.blogspot.com, but if you intend to monetize or grow your blog, then this is a limitation to keep in mind.
Paid hosting gives you the advantage of complete control. You have a wide range of options from choosing your own content management system (though I’d recommend wordpress) to customizing your theme to your needs. You can also register your own domain.
In my mind, paid hosting is the way to go if you are planning to either monetize your blog at some point in the future or have any plans to grow into a large blog. The dangers that come with giving up control of your blog to someone else are just too great if your blog is important to you in these ways. What if the company that was hosting your blog simply closed up shop one day and shut down their service? You could lose years of hard work, not to mention a source of income.
Basic Types of Paid Hosting Services
In general, there are just a few categories of paid hosting services that you really need to learn about: Shared hosting, Virtual Private Server (VPS), and Dedicated Servers.
Right now, you really don’t need to worry about this much at all. If one day, your blog grows to a huge size and you need dedicated resources, you can research migrating to a dedicated server. I just want you to be aware of this resource for future purposes.
A dedicated server means that you are utilizing an entire dedicated server just for yourself. This means that you have access to all the resources of the machine. You will have the full performance of the machine to run your blog. If you have thousands of visitors a day, a dedicated server can utilize all of its resources to keeping your blog up and running. This all comes at a price. This service is extremely costly and can run hundreds of dollars a month. Most blogs really don’t have the need for a dedicated server.
Shared hosting is where most people start. Shared hosting means that you are sharing one server with other people. The advantage is that the cost of the server is spread out amongst all the other people using the service, keeping the individual prices low. Quite often, the deals you see where hosting is only a few dollars a month are shared hosting services.
The downside is that you have to be extra careful when selecting your service. Because you are sharing a server, your blog can be impacted by other high volume websites that are also on the same server as yours. This can cause unpredictable performance hits on your website depending on the quality of the server. A poor quality service can also have frequent downtimes due to the load.
I would review my potential service very carefully before I select shared hosting. However, if you pick your shared hosting service carefully, you can find a great host for under $10 a month.
From personal experience, I would be extra careful when following the advice of many of the hosting reviewers online. I’ve found that many of those sites simply have a list of their affiliate hosts with ratings that don’t quite match up to their quality of service. Frankly, if you stumble across a site with a list of “recommended” hosts with 5 star ratings, I’d be wary.
That said, there are legitimate review sites out there. I personally trust the forum over at Web Hosting Talk. They screen their reviews carefully and check the IP’s of the reviewers to try and weed out the fake reviews.
The other thing I would do is ping the host to check their speeds. You do that by simply going to your command line prompt on your computer and typing the command ping followed by the url of the host. You’ll get back a list of the round trip times. I make sure the speeds are at the least under 80ms.
Between, pinging the host and reading all the reviews I could find on web hosting talk, I generally get a good sense of the quality of the hosting provider.
As for my personal recommendation on shared hosting. I recommend Hostgator. I personally started this blog using Hostigator, and continue running my wife’s animal beanie hat store on Hostgator shared hosting. (These are affiliate links)
VPS hosting is a step up from shared hosting. VPS stands for virtual private server. What this means is that you are sharing the same physical equipment as other people (this keeps costs relatively low), but at the same time there is a virtual separation so that you are not sharing the virtual resource of the machine. This is a compromise between a shared server and a dedicated server that results in better performance than you would get from a normal shared server.
Aside from better performance, if you are skilled at running networks, you will also find that there is more control on the back end of a VPS. You can install anything you want on the machine.
Generally a VPS will be more expensive than shared hosting. This is particularly true if you need a fully managed VPS. Fully managed means that the service provider is managing the software on your machine as well as the hardware. Typically, if you have a fully managed service, you will find the service as simple to use as a shared hosting provider. This is ideal for a novice computer user. However be prepared to pay roughly 3-5 times the price of a shared host.
One way to get the advantages of a VPS at a lower price is to get unmanaged VPS hosting. Unmanaged hosting means that the only thing you get from the provider is the virtual machine. You will have to set up all the software yourself. This takes some computer expertise. If you know what you are doing, it can be fairly simple, and you can save yourself a good deal of money by doing things yourself. As an example, I moved this blog over to an unmanaged VPS through hostigation for $6 a month.
Now, I’ll tell you a secret. I don’t know anything about setting up a server… but my brother in law does… So he helped me set up my server on my unmanaged VPS. If you know someone who is knowledgeable and willing to help you set up your server, then you can still go this route. I find it to be a great way to improve website performance at a great bargain.
The other route to go is to hire someone to do it for you. It’s a one time expense and may be worth it in the long run. If you are willing to be a little riskier, then you can easily find someone on fiverr willing to help you for $5. Just keep in mind that there may be future expenses if you ever need help troubleshooting.
I would say that if you know how to set up your own VPS or know someone that does, then I would definitely recommend going to an unmanaged VPS. If you do all your research, you will find great deals comparable to shared hosting and at the same time get the benefits of better website performance.
While you should do your research to find the best VPS service for you, I can tell you that this blog is currently running on an unmanaged VPS from hostigation. I personally recommend them for their great prices and service.
Finding the best host for your website or blog is a personal choice. However, it is the most important choice that you can make for your blog. Whatever your decision, do your research thoroughly. Be careful not to get taken in by unreliable ratings websites. Read up on a forum such as web hosting talk and find the best quality host for your needs.