I regularly have web design clients who either don’t yet have a web host, and need one, or have one they don’t like and want a new one. I used to recommend a bunch of different services providers, including Bluehost and GoDaddy, but now I only recommend SiteGround. It’s down to that one company because the others continue to go downhill in terms of customer service and continually have problems with everything working properly.
If you don’t know what a web host is, or why you need one in addition to your domain name, I suggest you read this blog post that I wrote as an intro: Getting Your Domain Name(s) & Web Hosting Organized
I’ve worked on hundreds of websites over the years, and it’s always nice when things get off to a good start by being able to count on your web host to be there when and how you need them. You’d be surprised by how many web hosting companies aren’t easily available to help, or provide woefully inadequate and ill-informed help, or who even intentionally mislead and blame their customers for issues that are undeniably the host’s fault.
It’s not the average website owner’s job to know all the things a web hosting company does & how they all work. That’s why you hire a web hosting company. And even though your web designer knows more, it’s not even their job to know all the things a web hosting company does & how they all work. And I get it — there are lots and lots of things that can go wrong with a site. And a platform like WordPress adds a layer of complexity with themes and plugins that can create issues, and it can be a grey area about who can and should help sort through a problem. Your web designer should be able to solve many issues that have to do with WordPress updates, or plugin conflicts, and other compatibility issues. But when all else fails, if your web host is unwilling to help if your site is down, or even point you in the right direction, what good are they? Especially when there are companies out there who will have your back when you need help.
All that said, what are some things you should look for in a web hosting company? Here are some of the important ones:
- They support the kind of site you want to build. If you’re gonna have a WordPress-based site, you want a solid WordPress Hosting Plan. It will be optimized for speed and security for the WordPress platform, and you definitely want to take advantage of both. It will also make it very easy to get WordPress installed & set up so that you can quickly get to building your site. They may offer a cheaper web hosting plan that isn’t WordPress specific, but using it means your site will always sort-of limp along comparatively, and you’ll have to do extra leg work to get WordPress set up properly. If you need to buy both a domain name & a web hosting plan at the same time, start with the best hosting plan and get your domain name in the same place for ease-of-use. Often the domain name will be bundled for free. Never choose your hosting plan based on the place you can buy the cheapest domain name.
- Their plans are optimized for speed. Related to the above, the loading speed of your site will effect how you rank in search results, and is dependent on a number of factors, but most important among them is the server hardware your hosting plan uses, and how optimized it is (via caching, etc..) for your platform. Often you’ll pay a bit more for more speed, and it’s almost always worth it. If you’re not running a huge e-commerce site, you probably don’t need the super-ultimate option, but do look for an option that advertises and prioritizes speed.
- Their plans come with SSL. In early 2017 Google decided that it would factor the security of your site into its search ranking — you’ve seen the kind of security they’re concerned with on the internet already when you visit a site and it says “secure” in your browser’s address bar and displays a little padlock, or the URL starts with “https://” (as opposed to just http://). An SSL certificate is an add-on to a hosting plan that adds the “https://” to your URL and makes your browser show it as a secure site. So even if you’re not gathering credit card information, having an SSL certificate is important these days.
- They answer the phone, and actually help you. If you have a problem or a question, you want to talk with someone who will help you out. You don’t want to be made to feel like an idiot, or to be blamed for your site’s issue, or railroaded into additional services you don’t need because you want your site fixed. You just want them to help. You also don’t want to have to wait for a million years, getting transferred from one person to the next. If you can’t even easily find a phone number on a potential web host’s site, walk away.
- They support additional site needs. You have a blog post that went viral & your traffic exploded? Rather than bringing your site down entirely because your usage exceeds your plan, they contact you and help you figure out how to handle the additional traffic with a better plan. You need an email address with your domain name? They can set that up and make it easy for you to add it to your email client of choice (eg: Gmail or Outlook). You want to make sure there are regular backups being taken of your site in case something goes wrong or you get hacked? That happens automatically and you can always access the backups if you need them. You get the idea … identify what you need, and make sure your hosting plan supports what you’re looking to do. Good hosting companies can handle all of it.
Keep in mind that you will read scurrilous things about every hosting company online. And even the best companies aren’t perfect. But if your website is the foundation of your business, don’t you want to invest in a company that has a good track record?