Host Dispatch is a site dedicated to honest and real reviews of various web hosting companies I have used throughout the years. Unlike many other web hosting review sites that base their ratings on the amount of referral fees they can get from each provider, I actually look at things that matter when it comes to hosting a site, and how each company compares to the next.
I then use the information gained from my personal experience to give you a comprehensive review of each company and how they compare to each other, and whether or not they are the right choice for your hosting needs.
But before we get to that, let’s get a better understanding of what hosting actually is, and why you need one.
What is Web Hosting Anyway?
Whether it’s a personal or commercial site, one built using CMSs like WordPress or Joomla!, a hand coded HTML web page, one created using a template or online website builders, every website needs a web host to function.
A website (whether it has one page or millions of pages) can not be seen on the internet without being hosted on a server, somewhere.
In the greater scheme of things, imagine your website represents your business, and it runs from a server, which you can liken it to be a building where your business is physically located. Somebody else is going to own the building, to whom you pay regular rent to make sure of smooth and efficient running of your business. This landlord is the web host.
In other words, web host allows you to put your website on to its physical computer. This computer is linked to the wider Internet, and the connection makes it possible for users to access your website. The computers at these web hosting companies are no different from your home PC. The only distinction is that it is purpose-configured to store websites, which is why they are called “servers“.
There are many such service providers out there, so you need to keep an eye on stuff like space availability, service quality and customer support. The fate of your business is directly linked to your choice of web host. So, while price is always an important factor, never let this one be the only consideration.
Imagine your business is highly dependent on seasonal shopping, and your website goes down (due to the web host crashes) just days before Christmas. The loss in business is obvious, but you also lose opportunities to give your business a decent and necessary exposure during busy shopping period.
About Web Hosting Reviews
I think the best way to identify an ideal web host is to learn from experience of other users that have had real interactions with a number of service providers. Your first task should be to check out the feedback on various web hosts available online. But this process can get tricky.
It is easy to find such reviews, but not necessarily all are helpful. Some webmasters have the audacity to fill misguided information on their internal online forums, sometimes even the public ones. So, the same guidelines apply when you check out others’ inputs; read them all with a skeptical mind.
Amazingly positive comments can be posted by people working for the concerned web host. And in similar fashion, overly negative feedback could be attributed to the competitions in the industry.
To further complicate things, many online forums are profit driven. How it works is that these operators get to derive some commissions whenever new users bring their business to certain web hosts after reading the posts at their websites.
Obviously, the users’ interest would be compromised in this case as they tailor their content according to the generosity of individual web hosts.
But unscrupulous business practices aside, you also got to ask yourself if you find glowing remarks from someone who actually has been with the service provider for a short time. Let us give the poster the benefit of doubts and assume that he or she is entirely honest. But the fact is there is no way to conclude any service quality with just a few months on the service. While the experience may be genuinely good during the initial period, it may not be a consistent observation over time.
Just the same, an honest negative feedback may not represent the true picture. Of course, it could be an indication on how lousy the web host is.
But on the other hand, it may also reflect lack of experience on the webmaster side. It is always easy to apportion blame on the other side, but one need to understand that there are many technology components that need to be grouped together before your e-commerce website can operate optimally.
So, if somebody is new in this space, he or she can fumble pretty easily. I have come across negative rants that say a lot more about the inadequacies of new webmaster rather than the poor service of web hosts.
The fact is that hosting industry is huge, but web hosting review industry is even bigger (not really, but I am trying to make a point here). Providers often pay hefty referral fees for bringing new customers to them, which is why there are hundreds and thousands of sites focused on this topic. Even PC Mag has a section dedicated to web hosting reviews. So, you are bound to come across all kinds of bogus reviews.
Having said what I said, I like to assure you that whatever you read here are the results of my personal experience. I have disciplined myself to hang around with any particular web host for at least six months before I make a judgment.
I think a six month experience is just about right to understand the depth and breadth of any offering, in order to qualify myself for fair assessment on that particular service provider.
With that said, here are a few other things to consider. Having a basic understating of these terms will help you immensely in choosing the best host for your website (s).
How to Choose the Best Host?
Choices are always aplenty when it comes to the competitive web hosting business. From Google web hosting and JustHost to GoDaddy and a Small Orange, there are hundreds of companies catering to the needs of personal and commercial websites. This directly makes it more complicated to find the right one for you.
For me, there are two critical factors that could determine which one to choose:
1. Types of Hosting
A key consideration before you make your decision is to figure out exactly what service you will need. Generally, web hosting can be broken down into Share, VPS, Dedicated and Cloud (Although there are a few other types as well)
- Shared Web Hosting
This could be ideal for new businesses or new bloggers. The cost outlay is the lowest among the four types. As the name implies, your website actually shares with a number of other websites inside a server. Usually, the same IP address is shared between you and these other sites.It may not be in your best interest as far as SEO is concerned (it’s debatable). Because the concept works on shared resources, naturally you will be in competition with other websites for computer speed and resources. In that context, the definition “unlimited hosting” is never exactly true. But it is not all that bad. Especially for new websites, it is unrealistic to expect the traffic to hit the peak during the initial time frame. And the advantage here is a cost effective solution.
- VPS (Virtual Private Server) Web Hosting
This is for webmasters with slightly bigger budget for hosting purpose. Online virtual private server (VPS) acts as if you have a server dedicated to you, but physically you are still sharing resources, over a number of physical servers.
- Dedicated Server Hosting
Not my favorite option (I recommend cloud instead). Dedicated server cost the most among the various options. You’ll buy a physical computer at their data center. This option offers you maximum reliability and performance as you don’t have to share this computer with other websites, since it belongs to you.
The latest trend in the hosting business is the emergence of cloud. This option balances the needs for cost-effectiveness and maximum performance/reliability. It also allows you to make adjustment on computing resources as and when necessary, so scalability can be easily achieved with this option as well.
2. Determining Your Needs
The other factor in this equation is to sort out what you really need. There are a mind-boggling number of plans out there, and you may feel compelled to grip the most comprehensive possible, given how competitive the industry is. But if you don’t want to get into trouble later, it may be wise to look at your exact requirement and find a corresponding plan. The idea is not to spend unnecessarily on computing resources that you have no use for.
Naturally, there are a lot to consider when it comes to selecting a web hosting company. I have summarized below more the more important criteria:
Normally HTML pages are pretty small in size (in the range of 40 to 52 kb), so a large number of webpages can fit nicely into fairly small disk space. If you have graphics, they are going to occupy more space. Still, if your site does not require regular interaction with a database, chances are the disk space requirement is still fairly decent.I have reproduced the terminology commonly associated to diskspace below. If you are familiar with computer terms, you can skip the followings.
- When you consider that storage typically comes in many multiples of GBs, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out your web pages, collectively would not require big investment on disk space. And if you are observant on the computer market, you would know that price of hard drives has been dropping like a rock.Naturally, those web hosts would offer tremendous diskspace to tempt you. It is okay if it doesn’t add much to your budget. But as a rule of thumb, most can get by with 20 MB storage size.
Bandwidth is measured in either MB or GB. This sets the limit on the monthly usage. It defines the actual amount of data transfer from the Web server (that hosts your website) to the users (who are checking out your website). Once that limit is breached, you are levied an extra charge, or your site would simply go down.You would decide on the bandwidth size in accordance to the amount of traffic (users) anticipated.Some web hosting companies boast of unlimited bandwidth. It is too good to be true and never get sucked up with this trick. Bandwidth is a cost component for these web hosts so there is no chance for them to forgo this expenditure. The reason they are making these claims is that they are fairly sure that you are not likely to consume lots of bandwidth, which is why they make this false promise. The moment your traffic goes up, I can assure you that your website would go down.For average websites, there is no need to resort to huge bandwidth. In fact, close to 99% of websites don’t use more than 2 GB every month.
The exception is when your site facilitates a lot of graphic animations, multimedia presentations, and downloads (of software and drivers), then you would need more. For this reason, Video sites would require significant more bandwidth, as in the case of sites doing music sharing business. Usually most should be safe in the region of 50 GB.
- Reliability and Speed of Access
We expect reliability and speedy connection on the part of web hosts. But additionally we should also demand service level agreement that ensures 99% uptime (where normal operation assumes). In fact, it has become a norm to ask for 99.5% (or higher) nowadays. Failure to uphold this agreement should invoke some penalty (in the form of prorated discount or refund).Granted, conformance to any service level agreement can only be ascertained by the providers side (small website operators lack the resources to pin the exact percentage down). Nevertheless, we should all do our job to make web hosts realize that they have to work hard for our money.
- Email Account
There is no guideline on how many email accounts are necessary so you work on your individual plan.
There are a lot of questions to ponder. Would email support do? Do you have real need for phone support? Do you want the support on 24 x 7 basis? My suggestion is that if your website is not a major source of income, then you probably can do without 24/7 and phone support. Web hosts often have a tiered pricing scheme for all sorts of support structure, so don’t overspend on unnecessary level of support.
- Server Type
If your website is small, chances are good that you don’t have to make a decision on the type of server to use. There is a price implication. For example, a Linux powered server cost much less than a Microsoft W2k server.If you website is dependent on MS SQL Server database to run efficiently, or you need MS Active server pages to be served out to your users, then an investment on MS Win2000 Server could be unavoidable. But if you are clueless on the above scenario, stick to the cheapest server you can find.
- Other Features like Database, Server Side Scripting
Technology is often broad and confusing. Web hosts have to layer in loads of capabilities to fit the various requirements of their myriad users. But if you are content with the simple web pages that you designed, without having a clue on ColdFushion, ASP, mySQL and the likes, don’t even bother to look at the whistles and bells of such enabling technologies, as they don’t serve your purpose.If your website is fairly sophisticated in term of technology, you better have a good idea on what provisions you expect from the web hosts.My point is that only invest in tools and accessories that you need. If you fancy adding a member forum into your site, then you would need a database. My suggestion is mySQL, the most ubiquitous database on the web discussion boards due to its low cost.
- Glossary of Web Hosting Related Terms – the University of Harvard: Read it here.
- How to Choose a Web Host – TheSiteWizard.com: Read it here.
- Understanding What Bandwidth Really is – About.com: Read it here.
- Web Hosting Types – W3Schools.com: Read it here.
You need web host for your newly designed websites to get exposures. For most of the beginners, the task involved is a no-brainer: start with a shared plan at the lowest possible rate (target at no more than a $10/month plan), and you can also scale up when traffic picks up later.
If it is a sophisticated website that needs more computing power and involves a lot more technology, then VPS or even dedicated server is the way to go. At all times, monitor the data traffic to decide on an appropriate plan – from both technological and financial perspectives.
The bottom line is to never spend unnecessarily on servers just because you read a positive review. Pay what is right in the context of your current requirement and adjust your budget accordingly when it is time to upgrade your web hosting account!