Choosing a Webhost

With thousands of options available, how do you compare between web hosting companies? In the article below we have compiled a checklist to help you make informed decision. It is by no means a complete guide, but it should get beginner started.

Choosing a web hosting provider can be tricky. There are a number of factors to look at. For most, the main determinants are features and tech specifications, server uptime, customer support, scalability, security, and ultimately, the prices.

1. Features & Tech Specifications

Windows or Linux web hosting?
Windows might rule PCs but Linux is currently the most popular operating system for web servers. It all depends on your needs and requirements. If your website runs on Windows-specific technologies like ASP, .NET, Microsoft Access, or Microsoft SQL Server (MSSQL), Windows hosting is recommended, otherwise Linux is the industry standard.

Is Cpanel or Plesk installed?
cPanel is currently the most prevalent web control panel, followed by Plesk, though webhosting companies may also offer other open-source administrative panels. It is a matter of preferences, but cPanel and Plesk have more familiarity since they are so widely used. You can find all the documentation for these two platforms, especially cPanel, readily available online.

Are the common features available?
FTP, PHP, CGI, Perl, SSI, .htaccess, SSH, MySQL, Cron, SSL access, subdomains, POP3/IMAP email accounts, autoresponders, mail forwarding, spam filtering, hotlink protection, multimedia support and ecommerce shopping carts. Sounds like a lot, but all these should be the standard features for a web hosting account. Anything less is a bad deal.

Is Softaculous, Installatron or Fantastico included?
Auto-installer script libraries like Softaculous, Installatron or Fantastico can help you build websites and install web applications in seconds. They are very helpful towards your web development tasks, and could save the needs of hiring a programmer. It is preferred that your webhosting account comes with one of them.

2. Server Uptime

Can it achieve at least 99.5% uptime?
Many webhosting companies nowadays promise a 99.9% uptime guarantee, but this is hard to verify until you become a customer. Try checking out the feedback and reviews from other users, as well as asking for the company’s previous uptime statistics. Did you know that among the webhosting industry, even a 99% uptime is considered bad, and a 99.5% uptime should be the minimum.

3. Customer Support

Can issues be solved quickly?
Even with the most reliable host, there are times you may inevitably encounter some major technical issues, or your website may go down for unknown reasons. When this happen, you will appreciate a good support team to answer your queries, and to sort things out as soon as possible. Try to test a webhoster by emailing them and see how long it takes them to respond. Also be sure to check if they are technically competent.

4. Scalability & Limitations

Disk space and bandwidth limitation?
Many website owners understandably opt for “unlimited hosting”. They are great, however, it is important to note that all webhosting companies enforce an Acceptable Usage Policy (AUP) for this type of hosting, therefore being “unlimited” is not really unlimited in practice. If your website grows beyond a certain point where it exceeds the server CPU and RAM allocation, you will need to upgrade regardless. That said, it is still better to go for unlimited (few less things to worry about), just remember to read the terms before signing up.

Room for growth and adjustment?
Is your webhost scalable? It means the ability and flexibility to adjust according to your growing needs. When you are starting out, a basic level of features is all you need. But as your website grows, you may require further sophistication, more addons, a higher RAM or CPU power, or even an upgrade to Virtual or Dedicated Server. A good webhosting company would provide those options and is able to do it seamlessly with minimal service interruption.

5. Backup & Security

Automatic backup in case something goes wrong?
Your webhosting account should come with an automatic backup and restore feature like R1Soft. This is a necessity. There are times when hardware and system failure, malware and virus, hacking, human error, or other unanticipated events may happen. Your files might get corrupted or wiped out in the process. The backup and restore system creates daily backups and allow instant restore of the website to its pre-error state. Without it you will be pulling your hairs when things go awry.

Reliable protection against hacking, DDoS and spam?
While no security is 100% impenetrable, a responsible webhosting company will always stay on top of security upgrades and patches. To test it out you may perform a malware, spam and security scan on the webhoster’s website itself. The rationale is that if someone can’t take care of their own website, it is unlikely they can be trusted to look after other websites. Also try asking the security procedures they have taken to protect their customers.

6. Package Prices

Is the pricing only for first purchase or long-term contract?
The webhosting industry caters to a highly competitive market and prospective customers are usually price-sensitive. It is therefore, companies may resort to all types of gimmicks. The advertised prices might only be an introductory offer (just for first month or first purchase, after that back to regular rates) or may require 2-year upfront payment. Many will put asterisk (*) next to the prices, signifying that there are catches. You should read and compare wisely to avoid nasty surprises.

Is domain name included?
Your webhosting subscription may or may not come with a free domain name. If it doesn’t you would have to buy one. The choice is entirely yours, on whether you want to separate domain and web hosting. Take note that some webhosters offer free domain name only for the first year, while others give it forever as long as you remain a customer. The latter is definitely more ideal. Be sure to clarify that the domain ownership belongs to you and could be transferred even if you change hosting provider.

Free Google or Bing ad credits?
It is not uncommon to see webhosting companies bundling free Google or Yahoo/Bing advertising credits into their plans. They are great to jump start your new website. However, Google requires a minimum spending before you could receive the free credits. It means spending your own money first. Yahoo/Bing ad vouchers are largely country-specific (i.e. residents of US and Canada only). All these should be taken into consideration if free ad credit plays a major role in your decision.

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