Assuming you are looking at website hosting companies for a standard Shared Hosting service you should consider the following:
Do you pay monthly, annually etc.?
Whilst most website hosting companies quote a monthly fee this is often just for comparison purposes and you actually have to pay 6/12/24/36 months in advance. Others offer various options, obviously being cheaper the longer you pay in advance. If you do not want to (or cannot afford to) pay in advance you need a website hosting provider which allows monthly payments. New customers usually get a good discount off a host’s standard charges.
Remember that any discounts you get will relate to your initial invoice only so you must also compare the standard prices which will be charged for renewals (you will want to avoid the hassle of changing suppliers).
How long are you locked in for?
If you do pay in advance you need to check the cancellation terms to see if you get a refund if you need to cancel for any reason.
If you pay monthly it is reasonable to expect to be able to terminate at a months notice.
Is there a money back guarantee?
Many hosting companies offer you the chance to cancel and get all your money back within a number of days of signing up. Whilst this should not be a major factor in choosing a provider it does at least show their confidence in their service and you might find out how good their support is during this period.
How many domains are you allowed?
The basic plans from many website hosting companies only allow one domain. This may be fine but it is worth looking at the costs for multiple (or unlimited) domains as once you get started you may well discover a need for another domain.
Is a domain included?
Some website hosting companies include a free domain. Check if it is always free or just for an introductory period and whether you will own it or if it is linked to the hosting. Before using such a free domain consider if it is the best option for you. Be aware that if you do own the “free” domain you will have to pay for it if you cancel the hosting or take advantage of the money back guarantee.
If you decide to change your website hosting company for any reason in the future if will almost certainly be an advantage if you got your domain name from a third party registrar (see our post How to Change Website Hosting Provider).
How many databases are you allowed?
Important if you will be using WordPress or any other database driven system. If this is the case there is no point having unlimited domains if you can only have 2 databases! There is no consistency between website hosting companies, sometimes the basic plan does not include any databases.
How much bandwidth are you allowed?
Website hosting companies generally have reasonable limits or unlimited bandwidth. Unlimited should mean that this will not be an issue in the short term – but see our post Unlimited Website Hosting – Does It Really Exist?
How much disk space are you allowed?
As with bandwidth it is safest to go for unlimited.
How fast and reliable is the service?
The speed of loading of your pages is important not just to users but also now to Google (with loading speed affecting search results). You can have your site monitored by third parties once operational but at the outset you can only go by existing user feedback on website hosting companies.
Many hosting companies provide a guarantee on percentage uptime of at least 99.9%.
Do you want Linux or Windows hosting?
Many hosting companies offer both Linux and Windows hosting. We recommend that you go for Linux unless you have a particular reason to use Windows (it doesn’t matter what operating system you have on your PC).
Linux powers the majority of websites, including major sites like Google, and there is a wealth of free software, tools, forums etc. dedicated to it. Many people now use WordPress to build their websites or blogs and about 95% of these installations are on Linux as it is easy and straightforward. We would only recommend using Windows where you have had a website built for you and the developers have used tools that require it to run in a Microsoft environment.
Is there an upgrade path?
Assuming that you are just setting up your website, or blog, a shared hosting plan should meet your needs for the foreseeable future (where multiple sites are hosted on one server sharing the resources). However, if your site becomes very busy you may need to upgrade to VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosting or even to dedicated server hosting or cloud hosting. If this does become necessary it will be much easier if you select one of the website hosting companies which offers these services.
You can minimize your hosting costs by using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) see our post on CloudFlare.
Does the Control Panel have all the functionality you need?
You should expect to be able to:
- set-up and control multiple email accounts on your domain, preferably with a webmail service.
- setup multiple FTP accounts
- have access to your databases (where appropriate)
- backup your site (and database where appropriate).
It is also good to see support for 1Click install or similar– which makes it very easy to install software like WordPress.
How good is the support?
The performance of web hosting services varies in terms of support and it is of prime importance that you go for a company with a good reputation. If you get stuck, the best service in the world is no good if you cannot get help from your website hosting provider. It is worth searching the web to see feedback from real users. Some companies provide support which can be contacted as promised but then tend to give standard responses rather than really trying to help.
Our recommendations which measure up well against the above criteria are shown in the sidebar (with coupon codes).