When looking for hosting options for your website, it's easy to place too much emphasis on cost, space/storage, free email, and even a free website because these are familiar benefits that we all understand. So naturally, hosting companies display those benefits prominently in their plans.
However, while important, these are not the most important factors to compare when choosing a hosting environment. Instead, look for these six essential hosting factors to ensure your website has the best possible platform to grow from.
Specialization / Expertise
One of the first things you should be looking for is which content management system (website software) does the hosting environment specialize in. For example, if your website uses WordPress, you should look for hosting options with a strong reputation for hosting WordPress websites.
This will make your website maintenance much easier, quicker, and cheaper. For example, helpdesk/support will know the software well, and more importantly, they will be able to help you quickly. No matter how careful you are with updates, plugins, modules, and content, your website will experience issues, and when those issues occur, the knowledgeable support staff is essential. Especially if your website is your business and every minute (downtime) counts.
Furthermore, a hosting company specializing in content management systems like WordPress can automatically pre-load many valuable tools and features to make your life easier. While, on the other hand, it's almost impossible for a jack-of-all-trades hosting company to do the same.
Small businesses often overlook this hosting capability because they don't recognize its core function. A staging environment allows you to test your website (copy) without impacting your live site. For example, security patches, custom code, and feature updates can all be tested on a staging environment before deploying them to the live website.
At this point, you may be thinking - we don't make those kinds of changes on our website. Still, at a minimum, you have to deploy security-related updates to your website to reduce the risk of getting hacked. And we have seen numerous instances where a "simple" security update breaks something on the website.
Having a staging environment is not expensive or difficult to set up; hence, make sure your hosting environment utilizes it.
All hosting environments have backups, but they are not all created equal. You are looking for automated (daily) backups as well as the ability to create them manually. The automated backups will ensure you have a snapshot of your website in case you need to revert to a previous version. For example, if someone accidentally deletes a critical component of the website.
On the other hand, manual (on-demand) backups are essential when deploying updates, code, or new features to your website. Why? When making this kind of change, you don't want to wait for an automatic (daily) backup because a) backups are usually executed in the middle of the night, and b) you have to freeze all content changes until the next backup.
Instead, it is much easier to take a manual backup right before deploying updates, code, or new features to your website. And more importantly, to isolate this kind of change if something goes wrong and you need to restore the backup.
In summary, make sure your hosting plan facilitates automatic and manual updates.
A content delivery network (CDN), sometimes referred to as a content distribution network is a distributed proxy server network. Simply put, a CDN ensures your website loads faster globally by distributing a copy of your website to different countries/regions. For example, let's assume we are running an e-commerce website in the U.S. If someone is trying to access our website from Australia, they will be served a local copy of our site (on an Australian server), which is obviously quicker than having Australian visitors redirected to the servers in the U.S.
You don't necessarily have to understand how CDNs work. Still, if you have visitors and customers (outside of North America), a CDN will help load your website faster and ensure you don't lose visitors and customers due to poor/slow website performance.
Not all hosting environments are created equal, and while it's easy to compare features (e.g., Staging, Backups, CDN, etc.), it's not easy to compare or anticipate performance differences. This is where a little bit of research will go a long way.
Google your hosting provider, read comments, read reviews, and read comparison articles. Also, check how long they've been in business and the kind of websites they are currently hosting.
Additionally, look for scalability. For example, your hosting environment should effortlessly handle growth (e.g., visitor numbers). Also, large spikes in traffic (e.g., Black Friday, Holiday Sales, etc.).
We left the cost until the very end because, while important, it is not the most important factor when choosing the best hosting environment for your website. Also, the hosting industry is highly competitive, so the cost (per month) is very similar from one hosting company to another.
For example, most hosting plans that offer the features and capabilities we discussed start around $15/mo. And with never-ending promotions, you may be able to start your website hosting with as little as $5/mo.
Small businesses should expect to pay between $5-$50/mo, medium size $50-$500/mo, and large companies $500 and above.
For many small businesses and startups, the website hosting environment is often an afterthought. This is unfortunate because the hosting environment you choose has lasting consequences, since the hosting environment you choose will likely host your website for years.
Lastly, switching from one hosting company to another is rare because it's not easy, even if you have a simple website. Consequently, many companies and small businesses wait until it's time to redesign a website to switch hosting. With that in mind, do your research because the hosting company you choose will likely host your website for years to come.
Your website is your business, and the foundation (hosting environment) should never be an afterthought but something you take seriously and choose wisely.
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