How to Choose a Web Host: 7 Top Tips for Finding the Best Provider for You

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Choosing the right web hosting provider is crucial for the success of your website. If you pick the wrong one, you may experience site crashes, security breaches, poor loading speeds, or the endless headache of dealing with shoddy support.

We’re here to help you succeed online, which is why we’ve pooled our expertise to bring you this guide on how to choose a web host – the right way…

How to Choose Web Hosting: 7 Steps

  1. Check what types of hosting are available
  2. Compare pricing with your budget
  3. Explore customer support resources
  4. Make a features checklist
  5. Don’t leave security to chance
  6. Pay attention to speed and reliability
  7. Consider any specialisms you need

Choosing a good web host also involves knowing what you want to get out of your provider, so this is a good chance to check in on your goals and priorities to make sure you’re on the right track.

1

Check What Types of Hosting Are Available

There are many different types of web hosting out there, and choosing the right one for your needs is a big part of setting up your site for long-term success. Not every web host offers all types of hosting, so it’s important to check in advance.

The different types of hosting include: 

  • Shared hosting 
  • VPS hosting 
  • Cloud hosting
  • Dedicated hosting
  • WordPress hosting

Most web hosts provide shared hosting, because it’s the most popular, but other types of hosting – for example, cloud hosting – are more hit and miss.

choosing a web host hostgator hosting types
Some hosts, like HostGator, offer a wide range of hosting types, while others are more limited.

Think about which type of hosting best suits your needs, and make sure that your web host has what you’re looking for.

You also need to plan ahead. For example, if you’re starting out with shared hosting, it’s also worth checking out your web host’s VPS plans, since that’s the natural step up once you’ve outgrown your shared plan.

There are some questions you’ll want to keep in mind when checking a web host’s different packages:

  • How many plans are included in each hosting type? For example, if there’s only two plans, that doesn’t leave much room for scalability
  • Is there room to grow? If you’re aiming to stick with the same host long-term, make sure it has good VPS and dedicated plans as well as starter shared hosting plans
  • What’s the difference between the packages? For example, if a web host is offering WordPress hosting, then what WordPress-specific features make it different from normal hosting? Dig deep into what’s offered – don’t be drawn in by just the name of the hosting plan. We’ll look closer at features in a bit!

Where to Look: Best Providers for Each Hosting Type

Once you know which type of hosting is best for you, you can set about finding the best web host for your needs. Not all hosting providers were created equal – while one may offer amazing WordPress hosting, another may offer better shared hosting, and so on.

But how are you supposed to know which provider is best for your preferred hosting type? Well, we’ve conducted 120+ hours of hosting research so that you don’t have to. Here’s a quick look at which web hosts are best for what:

Find Out More

For a more detailed look at the best web hosts for each hosting type, check out our full comparisons:

2

Compare Pricing with Your Budget

It’s important that you can comfortably afford your hosting plan, with money left to spare for the other costs of running your site – whether that’s buying new plugins, paying freelance contributors, or maintaining a custom domain.

The good news is that a lot of hosting plans are very affordable. 

Shared hosting is the cheapest kind, and can cost as little as $1.39 per month, making it a great budget-friendly option. However, it can also be very limiting once you start to grow your site, which brings us to an important piece of advice…

Top Tip!

Don’t choose your web host based purely on pricing. Super cheap prices can be appealing, but a great discount is worthless if it doesn’t give you the features, support, or reliability you need. Choose a web host within your budget, but don’t make your choice all about price, either.

The more advanced your hosting plan, the more expensive it will become. Dedicated hosting is usually the most expensive type – for example, HostGator has the best dedicated hosting plans, and they start at $89.98 per month.

Web Hosting Pricing: Explained

Discount vs Renewal Prices

One of the main reasons why hosting prices are so cheap to start with is because new customers receive discounted prices. Once your first term is over, you’ll pay the regular price for your hosting plan.

Good to Know: How Long Is Your First Term? 

Your first term will be the length of the subscription you choose. So, if you sign up (and pay) for three years, you won’t start paying the regular price until those three years are over. If you sign up for three months, then your discount will end after three months.

It’s always important to check a web host’s regular prices in addition to the discounted prices it uses for new customers. This gives you an idea of how affordable a host will be in the long-term, and prevents any unpleasant surprises once your first term is over.

For example, say you wanted to sign up to HostGator’s $2.75 per month shared plan. Your plan will renew at the regular rate of $6.95 per month after your first term, unless you cancel your renewal.

Subscription Lengths

The other reason hosting plans look so cheap is because web hosts always display pricing for their longest billing cycle – which is often 36 months long!

choosing web host billing cycle hostgator
Always check the pricing for different billing cycles – the cheapest option is usually for a three-year contract!

The more time you sign up and pay for up front, the cheaper your overall monthly cost will be. However, you may not be ready for that longer time commitment. Bear this in mind when you’re comparing price plans, as chances are you’re seeing prices for a three year contract.

We recommend looking at 12-month contracts to start with, as you still save money off the regular price, but without locking yourself in for three years.

How to Tell If a Hosting Plan Offers Good Value

Although cheap prices are eye-catching, here at Website Builder Expert, we prefer to pay more attention to value for money. A $1 per month hosting plan is useless if it can’t support your site!

Here are five things to look out for when considering pricing plans:

  1. Is there a money-back guarantee? How long is it? Make sure you’ll get a refund if you’re unhappy with your web host
  2. What’s the renewal price? Your price will go up after your first term, so make sure you know exactly how much you’ll be paying after that
  3. How much does the price change if you pick a different contract length? Most web hosts advertise pricing for a 36-month contract – and shorter contracts will cost more
  4. What’s included for free? Free SSL is a must. A free domain, free backups, and free migration are all great perks too, and will save you money elsewhere
  5. What extras are added at checkout? Even if you’re not ready to buy, preview your checkout to see how many paid add-ons are selected – then, either factor these into your budget, or make sure to deselect them before you pay!

Where to Look: Best Value Web Hosts

Whether a host has good value or not really depends on the type of hosting you’re looking for – so in our testing, we made sure to identify the best value hosts for each hosting type.

That said, Bluehost scored consistently well for value across different hosting types. It’s not the cheapest web host we’ve tested (that award goes to Hostinger!) but Bluehost sure does pack a lot of features and freebies into its affordable plans.

Find Out More

3

Explore Customer Support Resources

Don’t wait until you have a problem with your website to explore your web host’s help and support resources. The quality of these resources should actually be a big part of your decision making process!

Before committing to a web host, we highly recommend that you:

  • Browse its help center – read articles and watch videos to see if you find them helpful
  • Explore its customer forum – are other users active and supportive? Are most issues marked as resolved?
  • Get in touch – what communication channels are available? And how fast and helpful are the support agents?
how to choose web host bluehost support
Be sure to explore your web host’s support resources before signing up! In testing, we found that Bluehost has great quality support. Click the image to explore Bluehost's knowledge center.

Don’t be afraid to get in touch with customer support before you choose a plan – this is one of the best ways to see if you’ll be happy with the customer service once you’re signed up. Things to ask yourself include:

  • Can you contact the support team in a way that suits you? For example, if you prefer speaking to someone directly, can you access phone support?
  • How quickly can you get through to someone? If you have to wait for an hour or more, that’s a definite red flag
  • Is your support agent knowledgeable? Make a list of questions you want help with and see if you get satisfactory answers
  • Is your support agent polite and helpful? We all know how frustrating a bad customer service experience can be – support agents should make you feel supported and welcome to ask questions!

Where to Look: Best Support We’ve Tested

While we thoroughly analyse every web host’s support resources, so far we’ve put four providers through extra testing by using their customer support and comparing the quality firsthand. Before starting, we conducted surveys to find a customer service expectation benchmark to measure each host against.

Then, we got in touch with each host to ask a set of questions, marking them on the speed and helpfulness of their responses. We tested each host’s live chat, email, and knowledge base support. The results? Bluehost was by far the best, with InMotion Hosting coming in last!

bluehost vs a2 hosting support
4

Make a Features Checklist

The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all web host for everyone. But there is a right web host for you. The best way to choose a web host is to know what you want from your provider, which is why we recommend making a features checklist!

Knowing which features are important for your website’s success before choosing a host will help you cut through the noise and pick the right plan for your needs.

Here are some factors you’ll want to think about:

  • Storage (also known as disk space) – How much storage do you need? Too little storage will limit your growth!
  • Bandwidth – How much traffic are you expecting? Not having enough bandwidth means your site could crash if it receives too many visitors
  • RAM – How much memory do you need? This stores data so it can be accessed quickly, improving performance. The more programs you run, the more RAM you need!
  • Quantity – How many sites do you need to host? Basic plans usually only allow for one site
  • Organization – Do you have a control panel preference? Most web hosts use cPanel, but others use their own custom control panel
  • Backups – Are free backups included? Or do you have to pay extra? How regularly are backups made?
  • Domain name – If you need a domain name, you may want a plan that includes one for free!
  • SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) – These days, if a web host doesn’t include a free SSL for free in all its plans, consider this a red flag. It’s worth checking if you can buy a more advanced SSL through your web host later, if you need better security
  • Control – If you want to get more hands-on with the technical side of things, look for features such as full root access and access control
  • Switching – Do you need migration services? If you’re already hosting a site elsewhere, you’ll need to migrate it. Does your new web host offer free migration? How much of the process do they manage for you?
Top Tip!

Look for SSD storage – it’s better than regular storage because it’s faster, and boosts your site’s performance

Choosing a web host can feel overwhelming because there’s so many features available – it can be hard to keep track! Creating a priority list will make it easier to eliminate options and stay focussed on what’s really important, instead of getting drawn in by cheap prices or non-essential freebies.

5

Don’t Leave Security to Chance

Your web host is responsible for keeping your site’s servers secure, so make sure you choose a web host that has good security measures in place. Examples include:

  • DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) Protection
  • Firewalls
  • Virus scanning
  • Brute force defense
  • Server hardening

It’s worth mentioning that often web hosts are cautious about sharing too much detail about their exact security measures, for fear of helping hackers find a way around their defences.

Other security features to look out for, which may depend on the plan you choose, include:

  • SSL – most web hosts include a free SSL certificate. If you run an online store, you may want a more advanced SSL; check if you can buy one directly from your web host
  • Domain Privacy – this keeps your personal information anonymous on the public WHOIS database, in order to reduce spam
Diagram showing an Insecure connection vs encrypted connection
SSL certificates are responsible for turning HTTP into HTTPS – it encrypts sensitive data such as login details that users enter into your site.
Good to Know… 

Usually, hosting becomes more secure the more advanced your hosting type. 

For example, shared hosting means multiple sites are sharing a single server – so if there’s one breach, then all the sites sharing that server are at risk. In contrast, dedicated hosting gives your site a whole server to itself, which is much more secure.

Find Out More

6

Pay Attention to Speed and Reliability

A poorly performing website will struggle to succeed online. Loading speeds can make or break a website, from user experience to SEO – and your web host is a vital tool for ensuring fast delivery. Although it can be hard to tell how speedy and reliable a web host is at first, there are some things to look for…

Uptime

Uptime is the percentage of time that your server (and therefore your website) will be up and running. 100% uptime isn’t possible, because all servers experience downtime at some point, even if it’s just to run updates.

You should aim for at least a 99.97% uptime guarantee, which equates to around 150 minutes of downtime per year. Ideally you don’t want any more downtime than this.

Most web hosts make their uptime guarantee easy to find on their websites – if you want to go a step further, some also provide a server status report where you can track recent uptime performance.

Where to Look: Best Uptime

The best uptime we’ve seen is an impressive 99.99% guarantee from HostGator, which is the best you can hope for!

Server Locations

The more server locations a web host has, the faster your website will load for people across the globe. The closer a visitor is to your server, the faster your website will load, so it’s extremely beneficial to have multiple servers to choose from.

Not all web hosts will let you choose your server location, but some do, so it’s worth looking into!

In addition, check if you get a free CDN included in your hosting plan. CDN stands for Content Delivery Network, and describes a network of servers at different locations working together to deliver your content as quickly as possible.

Using a CDN can hugely improve your site’s performance, which keeps your visitors – and search engines like Google – happy.

7

Consider Any Specialisms You Need

Earlier we talked about the different types of hosting, but there are some more specialist hosting packages to mention before you leave to go and choose your web host!

1. WordPress Hosting

There are two main types of WordPress hosting:

  • Shared WordPress hosting – for new, small, or basic WordPress sites, such as a new blog or static brochure site
  • Managed WordPress hosting – a more advanced type of hosting that’s best for growing business websites

When you’re choosing a web host for WordPress hosting, there are a few things to look for:

  • Automatic WordPress installation
  • Automatic WordPress updates (software and/or plugins)
  • Specific WordPress support
  • Free backups
  • Custom themes

These features not only make your life easier, they also help your site succeed by keeping it up to date, secure, and running smoothly.

Where to Look: Best WordPress Host

Bluehost is the best WordPress hosting provider on the market – it scored impressively in our research, and even has an official recommendation from WordPress itself! It has both shared and managed WordPress plans to choose from.

bluehost logo

Do You Need WordPress Hosting?

WordPress itself has recommended Bluehost since 2005, and we agree – it’s the best host for the job!

Find Out More

Read more about the Best WordPress Hosts for our ultimate list of the top picks on the market right now

2. Linux vs Windows Hosting

Most hosting plans are Linux hosting – it’s the most popular choice, and tends to be the default. However, if you have specific needs then you may want Windows hosting instead, which uses Windows as the operating system and provides more niche programs.

Where to Look: Best Windows Host

Less hosting providers offer Windows hosting, so it narrows down your choice – the best one we’ve tested is HostGator!

Find Out More

3. Reseller Hosting

Reseller hosting is often used by businesses looking to set up their own hosting company, as it allows you to resell hosting space to others. It’s not offered by all web hosts, and is a little more technical than other hosting types – such as straightforward shared hosting, for example.

Where to Look: Best Reseller Host

When we put together our shortlist of the top reseller hosts, there was a standout winner – InMotion Hosting is the best choice for reseller plans!

Find Out More

How to Choose a Web Host: Summary

Choosing a web host can feel daunting at first – there’s so many out there, and they all offer different packages, prices, and features. It’s hard to tell the good from the bad amidst all the noise.

That’s why we put together this guide to help you focus on the important stuff, and look out for what matters most to you. Now you know exactly what to look for to find the right web host for your needs – let’s have a quick recap:

How to Choose Web Hosting: 7 Steps Recap

  1. Check what types of hosting are available
  2. Compare pricing with your budget
  3. Explore customer support resources
  4. Make a features checklist
  5. Don’t leave security to chance
  6. Pay attention to speed and reliability
  7. Consider any specialisms you need

Choosing a web host is a very personal decision, because it totally depends on your unique situation. Remember to think about what you want out of your web host, and keep asking: how is this web host going to help my site succeed?

Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below, and happy choosing!

About Lucy Carney

Lucy Carney

You’re not alone! Building a website can be scary, especially if you’re like me with no previous coding experience. With the help of our experts I’m here as a friendly voice to help guide you into the exciting world of website building. If I can do it, so can you!

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