Whenever I talk with a new or prospective client, the topic of web hosting always comes up. Some clients don’t have an existing site, so the issue of hosting is new to them. I give these people a brief description of what hosting is and how much it will cost. But clients with an exsting site usually have hosting already, and they often want to continue using it in order to save money. In the past, I would try to work with this hosting, but now I tell them that if they already have hosting, I need to approve it. Here’s why:
There are a LOT of hosting companies out there, with a wide range of pricing. How can you decide what to buy? For most people, this comes down to advertising. People see ads for companies like GoDaddy and 1&1, and so that’s what they buy. Looking for hosting online is not much better; every company makes the same claims about their great service, 99.9% uptime, and so on. Without direct experience, it’s impossible to evaluate these claims. Since most people don’t understand the subject, they usually shop by price, and end up with $2.99/month hosting. You can even find articles written by “experts” who say that all hosting is the same, so go for the lowest price. I don’t know why anyone would believe this; it’s like saying a Yugo is just as good as a Rolls-Royce. Anyway, here are the main differences between good hosting and cheap junk:
Tech support – All hosting companies offer some form of tech support, but it can vary widely. Why does this matter? Because sooner of later (usually sooner), something will go wrong and you (or your developer) will need help. The best companies offer three kinds of support: telephone, live chat, and support ticket (email). These should be available 24 hours, since the problems never seem to happen during normal business hours. Some cheap companies only have phone support between 9 and 5; I’ve even seen a few that have email support only. Having a good support team is expensive, which is why bargain hosting companies don’t have it. If your site goes down on Friday afternoon and your developer can’t get help until Monday, you’re losing money. That bargain hosting doesn’t seem like such a good deal now.
Poor server capability – Like most developers, I build sites using WordPress, a popular and flexible web development platform. WordPress has minimum technical requirements that the hosting server must meet in order to work properly (I won’t bore you with the details). Nearly every hosting company I’ve ever seen claims to support WordPress, but this can be an illusion. If the server falls short of the WordPress requirements, you might be able to get a basic WordPress site to work on it, but it won’t work properly or reliably–and might not work at all, in spite of their claims. When I create a site, I build it on my server, then move it to the client’s hosting server. In one case ($2.99/month hosting), when I tried to move the site, the server was so crummy that the process kept timing out; there was no way to do it.
Lousy performance – Assuming that you can get a WordPress site to run on cheap hosting, it will be slow — maybe very slow. I moved one site from cheap to good hosting, and the time it took for the site to load went from five seconds to one. A slow-loading site will cost you customers, and it also reduces your site’s search ranking in Google. Cheap hosting also risks securoty vulnerabilities; just like tech support, providing security costs money, and cheap hosting companies don’t include it. I once had a client’s site on cheap hosting, and there was a large-scale hack against the company (and several others). The client’s site was down for a month before the hosting company could get it fixed.
Sometimes, a client with cheap hosting will insist that I use it. This is a red flag for me, and tells me several things: the client is not serious about their business and unwilling to invest in it, they will nickel-and-dime me over everything, and is likely to be a problem going forward. I don’t work with these people — it’s just not worth the trouble. Depending on your site, good hosting will cost between $120 and $200 per year, which is really not that much. Is it really worth losing even one customer because of cheap hosting? Like most things in life, you get what you pay for.