As a web designer, I’ve worked on websites using a number of popular web hosts. While I once believed that most hosting companies were the same, I’ve since learned that they vary widely when it comes to things like customer service, pricing, and even pageload speed.
If you’re new to self-hosted WordPress, choosing a hosting provider can feel overwhelming. Most of us ask our friends (or Twitter followers) what host they use, search for a few reviews to make sure the company isn’t horrible, and end up choosing just as blindly as we would have without getting advice from others. Why? Because there are a million hosts out there, and sifting through them to find the best one isn’t easy, especially if you’re not even sure what you need.
(To put things in perspective, I started my own hosting business because of my disgust with many of the big name providers. I’d rather do things myself and know they’re done right than depend on a host that doesn’t have my best interests in mind.)
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re searching for the best hosting for your WordPress site:
Ask yourself why people recommend certain hosts.
I’ll be honest: I recommend my own hosting service to people because it’s a source of income for me. However, I also believe that the performance and personalized support are far better than what you would get with many other hosts, and I work my tail off to make sure I’m providing a great experience for my customers. That said, there are many bloggers (particularly big name famous ones) who recommend hosting services that they don’t even use themselves. Why? Because they have an affiliate relationship with the hosting company, meaning if you click their referral link and sign up for an account, they get paid. Think about it… Does a huge site with thousands of visits per day really use shared hosting? Of course not! They are using a VPS or dedicated server. And while they might have used a certain host when their sites were smaller, how long ago has that been? Does that person even know if the host is still a good one, or are they just trying to make more money?
Cheaper isn’t always better.
No one wants to pay more than necessary for hosting, especially if you have a newer site or blog that isn’t bringing in enough income to cover the costs. Still, you should be suspicious of any host that offers ridiculously low-priced plans – if you’re paying $10 a year, imagine what kind of service (if any) you’re getting for that price. Choose a host with plans that are comparable to other companies, or be sure to find out how that host is able to keep costs so low.
Know what you’re really getting.
So many hosting companies offer “unlimited” hosting. That sounds great, right? Let me tell you now – nothing on the internet is truly unlimited. A server only has so much space, and while you may be given more than you’ll ever need, that doesn’t mean you can’t reach a point where your host says, “Hey, you need to do something about this.” When I still used shared hosting, I hit the maximum number of processes allowed by my host. And immediately got an email telling me it was time to upgrade to a higher package or risk downtime for my sites. Oh yes, I could have all the file storage and bandwidth I wanted; I just had to do it within that number of processes. Which was a limit, but a hidden one.
Understand what “shared” means.
Shared hosting is the most commonly chosen hosting plan, and for good reason. If you just run a blog with a few thousand visits each month, shared hosting will be more than adequate to meet your needs. However, keep in mind that “shared” means exactly what it says: You’ll be sharing server space with other websites. Usually around 5,000 other websites. If someone on your shared server has a huge traffic spike or is using a lot of resources, that means there are fewer resources left for you and the other 4,999 people. If your site is inaccessible or slow on a regular basis, it could be because you aren’t getting a fair share of the server.
Try out the customer service before you sign up.
If you’re considering a particular host, talk to someone from the sales department before you make the decision to become a customer. Are the reps knowledgable about the service, or are they reading/typing from a script? Do the staff have training in dealing with WordPress? (You’d be surprised how often they don’t.) If your site breaks and you need the support staff to restore from a backup, do you have to pay extra? (Again, you’d be surprised.) It’s also important to find out how quickly you’ll get a response if something goes wrong – the last thing you need is a host who takes hours to respond when your site is down or you can’t figure out how to do something important.
Don’t rule out a small hosting service.
I swear this isn’t a plug! Smaller hosts can have a great number of advantages over larger companies, including better/more responsive customer service and support, less competition for server resources, and even better pricing. Just beware of hosts that might outsource support to a third party – if the person running the company doesn’t understand the technical aspects of maintaining a website, s/he may not be able to optimize the server you’re using to best work with your WordPress site.
Don’t be afraid to leave if your host sucks.
I have watched way too many of my friends struggle with an unresponsive host or slow website because they think it will be a hassle to move elsewhere. Never fear! Many hosts will move your sites for free and take care of all the details to get you up and running again. You can also get a refund (generally) if you haven’t finished out your plan with your old host. There is absolutely no reason to stick with a hosting company that doesn’t provide what you want or need (within reason of course).
The Bottom Line
When it comes to choosing a host for your website, asking questions is the most important thing you can do. If someone tells you a host is awesome, ask them why. Have they ever had a problem that the host solved? Or have they been happily coasting along and assuming that no news is good news? Find out what you’re getting and what you need for your particular site and level of traffic. If you aren’t sure what you need, find out! You can always email me if you have questions about choosing a host – I try my best to be unbiased and will never push anyone to use my hosting service if it’s not the right fit for you.
Your web host is one of the most important factors in having a site that is reliable and ready for growth. Don’t leave your website’s fate to chance – be proactive and research your options thoroughly before you decide what company is best for you.