Looking for a web host can be an overwhelming task. If you are new to hosting, the multitude of hosting companies and the plethora of features, packages, and technical jargon can be intimidating. If you’re a veteran of web hosting, and your DreamHost has just turned into a nightmare, it becomes hard to take the plunge again, knowing you’re bound to be disappointed.
Shared hosting sucks. Shared hosting is like moving into an apartment in a strange neighborhood, sight unseen. Your host may put you in the building with the party animals and crack dealers, whose visitors park on the lawn, hog the elevators, and clog the hallways. When one of your friends show up, they can barely make their way to your door.
Even if you find a great host you can still have an experience that sucks. Hosting companies often have hundreds of servers and your bad luck might land you on a slow or buggy one. You may have email problems after your host is blacklisted because of spammers. A hacker may take down your server with a DoS attack on one of your neighbors. The person who answers your support call may be a lifesaver or a jerk.
When it comes to web hosts, I prefer serial monogamy to marriage. Finding a good host is tough, maybe even hopeless, but here are a few suggestions on how to increase your chances of finding a host that will work for you.
AN Hosting offers an incredible 500 gigs of disk space and 5,000 gigs of bandwidth! You’d have to pay 10 years in advance to get the same deal from DreamHost! Use the code UPSTARTBLOGGER for 3 free months! But hurry— offer expires at midnight on Halloween!
What Do You Really Need From a Host?
Before you even begin looking, make a list of your hosting requirements.
Every host will offer a full menu of features and services, many of which may be of no importance to you. How many email or FTP accounts do you really need? What stats do you need? (Regardless of what stats your host may offer—Webalizer and Analog are the most common—I’d recommend using Google’s free Analytics service instead.) Do you need e-commerce features? How about Ruby on Rails support?
Here are a few things that may actually be important to you:
Bandwidth This isn’t the most important criteria, but I list it first because many hosts use it as an enticement, tempting you with gigenormous or even unmetered bandwidth. You’ll probably never be able to take advantage of it because of resource limitations (see TOS below), and the typical blog (a couple hundred page views a day, say) probably uses only a few gigabytes in a month, at most (if you’re really worried about pumping terabytes through the pipes, you should give some thought to dedicated hosting). But some hosting plans do have ridiculously low bandwidth allotments, so be sure to give yourself room to grow.
TOS (Terms of Service) Every host is going to place some kind of limitation on your resources (CPU and memory), and it’s a good thing they do; shared hosting only works when everyone plays nice with their neighbors. Some will be vague about resource limitations, others more explicit (e.g., limiting it to some percentage). You’ll have to dig for this info, which is usually buried in the TOS. Make sure you read this document, which will also have details about refunds, uptime guarantees, and other important details.
Number of Domain Pointers How many domains will you need? Many budget shared hosting plans limit you to one, or perhaps a few, domains. If you intend to have more than one site, or to publish more than one blog, make sure you can host all your domains under one plan.
Number of Databases Some hosts offer unlimited domains, but give you a paltry number of databases to work with. Sure, you can put more than one blog in a single database, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Control Panel You’re going to spend a fair amount of time poking around in your control panel, so make sure it’s user-friendly. If you’re used to cPanel, which is almost ubiquitous among hosts, you’ll probably find a proprietary backend (like those used by GoDaddy, 1&1, and DreamHost) somewhat awkward to use. Most hosts offer a demo of their control panel. Check it out before you make your final choice.
Blog-friendly? If you’re going to publish a blog, look for a blog-friendly host. I’d avoid GoDaddy and 1&1, for example, which have awkward backends and weren’t, in my experience, particularly WordPress-friendly (it’s been a couple of years since I was with these hosts, though, so things may have changed; feel free to comment if you’ve had a different experience). Most hosts offer Fantastico, or some other method of one-click installation of popular blogging packages. Make sure your host has the required versions of PHP, MySQL, or any extensions that are required (e.g., WordPress requires mod_rewrite for permalinks).
Service Your host may offer online, email, chat and/or phone support. If you’re new to hosting (and even if you’re not) I’d recommend finding a host that offers phone support. Trying to explain what you don’t understand in an email or in a chat can be laborious and frustrating. You won’t always get an immediate answer by phone (sometimes a more tech savvy person will have to get back to you, usually by email), but it’s a relief when you do. And there are few things more infuriating than not being able to speak personally to someone when your host has just deleted your account without warning.
Affiliate Program Okay, this is the least important thing to consider. But I’d hesitate before choosing a host that didn’t offer a referral fee. Any blog with traffic should be able to get a few referrals over the course of a year and with most hosts you’ll make more than enough to pay for your own hosting.
It’s impossible to predict your future satisfaction with a host for reasons outlined above. There are few reliable sources of comparative information about web hosts, and testimonials (including mine) are perhaps the least reliable source of all. Be especially skeptical of review sites; most of them are affiliate link farms. Nothing wrong with making a commission for a referral (I’ve included a few links of my own below) but a site that’s devoted to hosting will tend toward hyperbole). And keep in mind, as you do your research, that any popular host is likely to have ardent supporters and detractors due to the sheer number of customers.
First, limit the field by using your list of what’s really important to you to find a handful of candidates that meet your needs. Then, start your comparative research.
Google I’d start by searching Google for comments about your potential host. Also, try “[your potential host] sucks” (don’t forget the quotes). Consider these results for example:
Upstart Blogger is currently hosted by AN Hosting, so let’s start with them. Google search for “AN Hosting Sucks”: No results.
Since AN Hosting is owned by Midphase , let’s do a search for Midphase. Google search for “Midphase Sucks”: About 38 results.
Before AN Hosting, I was with Hosting ZOOM. Google search for “Hosting Zoom Sucks”: Two results, both because of me.
Before Hosting Zoom, I was with DreamHost. Google search for “DreamHost Sucks”: About 24,200 results (I contributed a few).
Now, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as Carl Sagan said. The lack of Google results for your potential host may not be an indication of anything. But a multitude of “[your host] sucks” results should be a red flag.
Hyperspin Don’t host with a company that doesn’t offer at least a 30-day money back guarantee. And while you’re in that honeymoon phase with your new host, sign up for Hyperspin’s free monitoring service. They’ll notify you immediately by email or SMS if your site goes down.
You’ll also find a ranking of hosts by uptime on Hyperspin, but it doesn’t tell you very much. The 100th ranked host (at least at the time of this writing) posted a respectable 99.740% uptime. And these rankings only include companies that pay to be monitored by Hyperspin; the fact that your host chooses not to pay for this service doesn’t mean it’s unreliable. The same is true of Netcraft, which publishes a similar performance ranking.
WebSitePulse If you want to get a quick sense of the relative performance of a host, you can run a website test at WebSitePulse.
Status Pages, Forums, and Blogs You may have to hunt for these, but most hosts have status pages (where you can monitor uptime), forums (where you can get the pulse of their customer community and see how responsive the host is), and company blogs (where they may write about customer concerns). These are often the best sources of information. DreamHost has a DreamHost Status site and one of the better blogs. Midphase/AN Hosting lets you check the status of any of their servers online.
A Place to Start
I’ve given you some things to think about, but where to begin? Since I’ve had some direct experience with a handful of hosts, I’ll briefly share some of my experiences here.
N.B. My experiences are not the best indication of your future happiness with a host (see everything I’ve written above); this is just more grist for your mill. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I will get a referral fee if you follow these links and sign up with one of these hosts. Some of the details below may have changed by the time you read this.
AN Hosting Upstart Blogger is currently hosted by AN Hosting. AN Hosting offers a generous package that includes 500 GB of disk storage, 5 TB (that’s terrabytes!) of bandwidth, 40 domains on one account, a free domain for life, and unlimited MySQL databases for $4.95 a month (yearly payment). Though AN Hosting is owned by Midphase, Midphase’s basic plan (Mega-Phase) lets you host only one domain name and one MySQL database, and their Pro-PHASE plan, while it lets you host unlimited domains and offers unmetered bandwidth, gives you only three MySQL databases. AN Hosting is a much better deal. Recommended
Hosting ZOOM I was actually very pleased with Hosting ZOOM for the better part of a year, but sometime after I signed on with them they eliminated their phone support. Then, within a week of moving me to their new Clustered Failover Hosting, they lost all of my databases and my backups. I was shocked and pissed for a couple of days before moving to AN Hosting. Still, I kept my account for a while to use for testing. But their customer service has become so intolerable that I cancelled my account. Not as bad as DreamHost, but STAY AWAY.
DreamHost DreamHost is one of the most popular hosts, at least among bloggers. It’s the host some people love and other people love to hate. They offer generous plans, including 200 GB of storage and two terabytes of bandwidth, along with unlimited domains and MySQL databases, for only $9.95 a month (yearly). It all sounds good, but read Why DreamHost Sucks before you go any further. DreamHost was my hosting nightmare. They’ve got personality. In spite of all my warnings, people still chose DreamHost after reading my horror story. If you still want to host with DreamHost, use this link and enter the code FUTUROSITY for a $50 discount. But, I can’t recommend DreamHost. Avoid.