Before they come to us at VOiD, one of the main problems our clients face is finding the right web host for their website and, admittedly, it’s a very difficult choice to make with quite a few pitfalls. Countless options exist across a massive price range, from free and freemium to upwards of £20 a month for premium hosting services offering exclusive powerful features. It’s not a “one-host-fits-all” sort of deal, either – different sites have different needs, which different hosts fulfil. In this post, we’ll attempt to demystify the process behind choosing the right web host for your site, and what you should be looking for in a provider. Among all of the aspects you need to consider, we’ll focus on the four we think are the most important: Speed; Downtime; Communication; and Support, as these are major areas that our clients have trouble with.
“Firms consistently report millisecond slowdowns on their websites leading to hefty decreases in sales; Amazon reported that half a second extra could lose them $1.6B.”
Speed of the server is incredibly important. The difference between a one second load time and a ten second load time is extremely noticeable, and could mean you miss out on sales – the average internet user will not wait over two seconds before jumping ship and going elsewhere. Firms consistently report millisecond slowdowns on their websites leading to hefty decreases in sales; Amazon reported that half a second extra could lose them $1.6B. When choosing based on speed, you’ll need to be aware who you may or may not be sharing a server with, as cheaper options often have multiple sites tied to one host. Traffic will be shared with other sites on the same server, and a sudden spike in bandwidth usage can lead to a website slowdown. Free hosts may use bandwidth limiters to encourage you to pay for a better package. You can work around it if your website doesn’t use much storage or bandwidth and it’s a personal or small business site. However, for larger business sites, you may consider purchasing space on a dedicated server, where you won’t share bandwidth.
Unexpected crashes and downtime can put a major damper on your website, causing you to lose traffic, revenue, and even reputation. The right web hosting service can provide a stable server with near 100% uptime, keeping crashes to a minimum through taking necessary security precautions. Those crashes that do happen will be fixed as soon as possible. Companies offering dedicated servers often guarantee this – a dedicated server runs less of a risk of overloading as a result of shared traffic strain (it only has your traffic!). Their data centres are often locked and accessible by authorised personnel only, because the majority of crashes are caused by human error, from anything as simple as tripping over a cable to malicious intent. It is, however, more expensive. An alternative are the free or cheaper hosts, where you will likely share a hosting server (their traffic, too) with other clients. Free hosts do, however, sometimes force downtime to encourage paying for a package and aren’t always the most reliable. Shared hosting also carries more risk of crashes through overload. It all depends on how much downtime you can tolerate for your website while weighing cost against possible interruptions to your service. Can you afford to have an hour of downtime each week? If your service doesn’t rely on being active 24/7, then you probably can. If you need to be available for the entire time, then you’d be better off paying extra for a more reliable service.
“A host with a 24/7, knowledgeable support service is always desirable, able to fix whatever problems you may be having with utmost efficiency.”
In the age of GDPR, security has come up as a major concern everywhere. Now more than ever, taking necessary precautions against malware and attacks is important. Security, or lack thereof, is also a cause of downtime, as threats need to be neutralised before they cause great harm to your site or server. This is where dedicated servers and larger companies shine, allowing for greater protection against threats. Free hosts and shared servers make good targets for attackers – infecting a website with malicious programs can spread to the server it’s contained on, and if your site is on that server then it’ll be infected as well. You’d then have to take the site down while both it and the server undergo maintenance, and to prevent data being stolen, leading to disruption of revenue and sales or losing customers and reputation permanently. Big companies aren’t completely immune, either. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are frequently targeted at large websites to cause mass disruption. Take the 2017 NHS attack, where various organisations, most noticeably the NHS, across the Globe were infected by WannaCry’s ransomware and crippled for 4 days while it was fixed.
When something goes wrong you want the best possible support network for your server. The level of support varies from provider to provider; sometimes a higher cost will contribute to aftercare and maintenance, as well as providing comprehensive FAQs and guides. A host with a 24/7, knowledgeable support service is always desirable, able to fix whatever problems you may be having with utmost efficiency. This is a pitfall no matter where you go – your experience will vary on an individual company basis, so looking to reviews and complaints will be your first port of call when examining this aspect. Specialist ranking sites tend to look towards what type of support is offered; E-mail, phone, live chat or a support ticket, using response times as the yard stick to measure quality. Their hardware factors in as well, as the deciding factor on load times and the site working well is the quality of their server hardware, which some cheaper hosts might not keep up to date.
Of course, support does not stop there. It extends to other features and services that you’ll find in a package. Some web hosts offer immensely useful data backup and protection services, safeguarding you from any lost data and giving you the ability to easily restore previous versions should the worst happen. Some offer more storage on the server than others – some unlimited, which is incredibly important if you have a lot of media or data-heavy parts of a site. SSL Certificates, too, will give your website security, longevity and credibility – some web hosts simply do not offer this as a service, whereas others will include it as a perk of a package for no added cost.
“It all depends on the needs of your website – while some things like good support and communication are universally useful, other factors such as storage, limitations, uptime/downtime and shared traffic might be more or less important to the welfare and success of your site.”
Rounding it off, we have Communication. Tying in neatly with Support, you need to be able to communicate freely with your host for problems, queries, general information, solutions and maintenance. Do they have accounts on Twitter and Facebook for direct responses? What’s their customer service line like? The former can help identify problems like downtime – a lot of companies use social media accounts for quick updates on service interruptions or maintenance, and to provide quick responses for general information that’s not available elsewhere on their website. Their customer service line will deal with the more technical side, as we’ve mentioned about the support element, and you’ll be looking for quick responses on an intuitive platform. For instance, a live chat with under 5 minutes’ wait is good. E-mail that makes you wait days isn’t helpful at all. Phone calls that make a real person difficult to contact aren’t either – nobody wants automated messages when they’re looking for solutions. Luckily, most hosts are hearing these complaints and responding accordingly, offering improved services and a wider, more competent support network.
Out of all the web hosting services available, you can spend countless hours searching for the right one. There are sites that specialise in reviewing them based on these factors and more (though be aware they might be affiliated sites). It all depends on the needs of your website – while some things like good support and communication are universally useful, other factors such as storage, limitations, uptime/downtime and shared traffic might be more or less important to the welfare and success of your site. All of the choices available make it quite a minefield to navigate – that’s why at VOiD, we’ll help you discern all the needs of your website and help you choose the most suitable host – then, if needs be, we’ll transfer everything over to the new server and help with the set-up. Don’t hesitate – get in contact today for the solution to all your web problems.