This is a guest contribution from Jerry Low.
Blog hosting can be a confusing thing to navigate, particularly if you’re new to the blogging game or just striking out with your own domain. If you look at WordPress’ previous official web hosting company recommendations, there are three hosting companies suggested – DreamHost, Laughing Squid, and BlueHost.
(Editor: Check out this updated blog post to see Darren’s updated recommendations for the best blog hosting for bloggers in 2018.)
While I fully agree that these three are quality hosting companies, I wouldn’t label them as the best WordPress hosting choice for every blogger.
For example, DreamHost is a bit pricey for someone looking for an option that fits into a tight budget. The servers at BlueHost could be too packed for someone looking for extra reliability and CPU power. Laughing Squid is not a choice I’d recommend for a newbie or a non-techie.
Just because one host is one man’s meat, it could be another man’s poison. A lot depends on your specific needs as a blogger, your budget and even which features you may want to add to your site in the future.
With that in mind, I want to teach you how to pick the right web host for your blog instead of following others’ recommendations blindly.
What makes a good web host? 7 must-know factors
1. Reasonable Price
Some hosting providers target uninformed shoppers and are extremely overpriced. This is why it is important to compare multiple web hosting companies and what they offer in their packages.
User Friendly Control Panel: Both cPanel or vDeck are easy to use and there are many online tutorials on various blogs to talk you through their use. Beware of a customer built dashboard. They are very hit or miss and can be downright painful to use sometimes.
2. Helpful Customer and Technical Support
Make sure you can contact the host 24/7 for tech support. In addition, there should be multiple ways to contact the hosting company, such as via email, a ticket system on their website, and via telephone.
3. Reliable Server Uptime
There is no excuse for repeated downtime. The site simply must be up most of the time. It is best to try for a site that has a 99.9% uptime guarantee. 99.5% is (just) okay, but the 99.9% is preferable. Make sure they offer a guarantee. Don’t just take their word for it either. Track your site’s uptime with tools like Uptime Robot and Pingdom.
4. Payment Plans
You have to be comfortable with the payment plan. I’m okay with a yearly subscription if there is a decent discount, but other people want more flexibility. Just because you don’t mind a yearly subscription now doesn’t mean that’s the way it will always be either. Look for a host with more flexibility, such as 1-, 6-, 12-, 24-month subscriptions.
5. Easy to Manage
The control panel should allow you to easily install WordPress or the content management system you want with a few clicks. If it is too complicated to install the software, you’ll wind up paying fees to have a techie do it and then your budget will be blown. Check out the demo control panel before signing on with a hosting company to be sure you can easily complete the tasks you’ll need to.
6. e-Commerce Features
If you need or think you might need in the future e-Commerce solutions, make sure you have access to SSH access, SSL certificates and even easy to install shopping cart platforms.
7. Room to Grow
Is the hosting company one you can grow with as your site grows? Can you upgrade to a VPS or a dedicated server? While it’s smart to start off with a good shared hosting account, you may quickly grow to a point where it just makes sense to upgrade. You don’t want to have to move your whole site if you don’t have to.
Understanding your hosting needs
It’s important to evaluate the specific needs you have for a hosting company. Otherwise you may fall into the trap of blindly following the advice of others and wind up with a hosting company that doesn’t meet your needs as a blogger.
Questions to ask yourself or your hosting provider:
Do you need email hosting?
Do you want [email protected]? If yes, then you will need to stick with hosting companies that provide email hosting. Keep in mind that an email with your domain name looks more professional.
Do you need large storage for media files?
For example, do you plan to upload unique videos, infographics, or high resolution photos? If yes, you will need to get a host that offers large storage solutions. However, be wary of hosting services with unlimited storage as some of them will limit your storage usage by capping on your inode usage. Ask your web host before signing up about inode usage. Anything below 100,000 inodes on a shared web host is unacceptable.
Do you expect the site to grow fast?
If yes, then you probably need to stick with a web host that provides room to grow. More traffic = more data transfer and CPU power. Look at the cost of bigger packages and private hosting. Some hosting companies offer a cheap rate for small packages, but charge much more than they should for larger ones.
What other additional services you need?
Do you need server root access? Do you need someone to backup your site for you or automated backup? Do you need automated malware scanning? These could be deciding factors on your hosting choice.
What is your level of hosting knowledge?
Do you need spoon-fed support or you can pretty much cover everything yourself? Do you prefer phone calls over live chat; or vice versa? If you have very little knowledge, look for a hosting company that caters to newbies or offers inexpensive tech support packages.
Can you tweak and secure the WordPress yourself?
Do you need a developer to do it for you instead (some hosting companies provide web development services)? Check carefully the cost of such developer services. Does the company charge by the hour or by the task? Will they teach you to manage your own backend on the server or will you be paying them for all eternity to update your site?
Is the server location important?
If you are not planning to use a CDN, then you probably want a server that is closest to your blog targeted audience so your blog loads faster for them.
Protecting yourself from a bad web host
There is nothing worse than paying for a year upfront only to realize your blog hosting company is downright horrid. There are some things you can do to protect yourself from a bad web host, though.
- Register your domain name with a third party registrar even if the hosting package comes with a free domain name (use that free one for a domain to park on top of your main one). NameCheap and GoDaddy are my two favorites for registering a domain.
- Check if the web host IP is black listed – use Spamhaus Block List.
Once you’ve already committed to a website:
- Track your site uptime using free tools like Uptime Robot and Pingdom.
- Backup your site regularly. Even if the web hosting company offers a free site restore/backup option, backup your site anytime you do a major update. There are many nightmare stories about complete websites being lost forever.
- Ensure that all files are using the correct CHMOD permissions. CHMOD permissions range from 000 (no access) to 777 (full access). You can use a FTP tool to check and set the right permissions on each folder and file. Filezilla or Cute FTP are two examples, but there are many free and paid FTP software solutions out there. Choose the one that is easiest for you to use. Typically, you can right click on the folder on your web server within your FTP program and see what the permissions are set to.
- Use a strong password and change it regularly just in case your password is stolen by someone working in the hosting company.
So how do you pick a good host for your blog?
If you are just getting started with blogging:
- Pick a web host that you can afford for at least 2 years. Your blog may not make any money at all, particularly at first, so you want to be sure you don’t have to shut the blog down because of lack of funds.
- A reliable shared web host should be good enough for now. Just remember to check about space limitations and check uptime.
- Right now you should focus on building useful content and growing your community. You should spend more on marketing and content. Get a good newsletter service and start building your email list, start social media marketing ads, get in touch with local bloggers and hire them to promote your blog, etc.
- Ask questions about customer service and if they will help you understand running a website because you are new to blogging.
For seasoned bloggers:
- As part of your job now is to make sure your readers can navigate smoothly within your blog. You need a very reliable and fast web host.
- You should track your site uptime and response speed with tools like Pingdom and Uptime Robot.
- Monitor your blog memory usage and know your limit – once your blog hits 80% of the allocated memory (this the usual bottleneck you’ll first bump into with shared hosting), then it’s time to consider upgrading to VPS hosting.
- Also, consider using an SSD hosting for faster site speed.
Do hosting reviews matter?
As someone who makes a living writing hosting reviews, even I would say that it depends. Sometimes reviews don’t matter at all, because:
- Hosting reviews are sometime useless as reviews are affected by commission payouts (although many of us try to keep things unbiased as much as possible).
- Real users who are not affiliated with web hosting companies and write feedback are either very upset with the service or extremely happy with the web host. Those in the middle, who likely can easily see both the pros and cons, may not comment at all.
- Haters gonna hate. People tend to leave feedbacks when they are angry. Big companies – with tens of thousands of customers – are bound to have negative comments. Pay attention to the negative reviews, but understand that may not be the whole picture.
- Some web hosting shoppers have unreasonable expectations. When those demands aren’t met, even if they are unrealistic, they are angry and leave bad reviews.
- This is why every hosting company – no matter how good they are – will have negative reviews. Weight the positive and the negative to get a clearer picture.
- What’s important is to see how these hosting companies handle critiques and negative comments. Are they trying to improve? Are they polite to the complaining customer or dismissive?
- But in reality, most of the time, the hosting service is doing okay – slightly better than expected or plain mediocre. Perhaps the hosting service is nothing to shout about, and yet nothing awful enough to complain about. You seldom see hosting reviews that say the service was average.
On the other hand, hosting reviews can help you get a clearer picture of whether a hosting company will work for you or not:
- A good hosting affiliate will give you the inside picture and let you decide if the host is right for you. I am not going to tell you to sign up for a web host I personally didn’t think much of, because that would impact my reputation and trustworthiness. Most hosting affiliates feel the same way.
- Don’t want to read those small texts in TOS? Want uptime records for a web host? that’s what good reviewers do for you. They dig down into the important information and share anything you really need to know to make up your mind. For example, the following images are uptime record I made for my InMotion Hosting review at WHSR.
The Big Picture
The bottom line is that you have to look at many different elements to figure out whether a web host is right for you. Read hosting reviews to discover what others think about that host. Then, run your own test and ask your own questions.
Trust your gut instincts when making the final decision about which host is most suited to your needs. Never be too lazy or afraid to switch hosts when things turn bad. Even a great host can grow too fast or all under new management and become the opposite. If you’ve given a host a few months for things to settle and things aren’t improving, then it’s probably time to shop around.