If you’ve settled on building your website on WordPress, then you’ll need to set up an account with a website hosting provider.
What is website hosting?
You can think of web hosting as space on a web server where all of the files and databases on your website are located.
This is the space where all of those files can be accessed by visitors to your website and search engines like Google.
There are a LOT of hosting providers out there, so it can become extremely overwhelming to decide which one to choose for your website.
Which hosting provider is right for you?
To be honest, it’s not that hard to pick a quality, reliable web host, but it’s far too easy to pick one that isn’t any of those things.
For a lot of small business owners, it can be super tempting to choose the least expensive hosting option you find.
I see a lot of this in Facebook groups that I belong to, where business owners are looking for cheaper hosting providers to move their websites to, without giving it any further thought beyond the price tag.
This is one of those times when you pretty often get what you pay for.
The cheap hosting companies are not reliable for long-term support of your business’s website.
Please do not go with one that promises the world for a few bucks per month. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
So what should you be looking for?
There are six things in particular that I want you to look for when you are researching possible hosting providers for your website.
What to Look For in a Hosting Provider
You need a web host with solid customer support.
It’s all fine and dandy to pick a provider who you can be confident will eventually get the job done, but you don’t want to ever have to fight to get in touch should you have questions or concerns.
I once had a client who had her website mistakenly marked as terminated and her hosting company was taking close to a week to respond to each support ticket.
That’s crazy. And completely unacceptable.
You should be able to expect reliable and fast support from your web host.
If your website goes down (and it could), you want to be able to submit a ticket or phone your host and get that resolved quickly.
A hosting company with poor support is worthless to you as a business owner.
If your website host doesn’t provide fast and high-quality support, you may be left with issues that can’t be fixed and will result in you having to switch providers in the end.
How do you know if they are going to have good customer support? You can start by seeing what they indicate about their response time.
If they say nothing about their availability, chances are their support is poor. In which case, keep on looking for another web host.
One of my recommended hosting providers, Siteground, has a page dedicated to outlining what you can expect from their support team, including 90% resolution at first contact and the fact that support tickets receive a first reply within 15 minutes on average. They also include 24/7 Live help.
Another great hosting provider is WP Engine (this is who I currently use to host my own websites). They also indicate 24/7 support, 365 days a year.
But I have also seen small hosting companies that say absolutely nothing about their availability, which would concern me greatly.
This is one of those times where a recognizable name doesn’t mean a whole lot when it comes to expectations of quality.
Some of the big names you may be familiar with for hosting aren’t necessarily the best option.
Just because you’ve heard of them, doesn’t mean they are good.
Do your research. Google is your friend. Read online reviews and see what people who have actually used their services say about the big-name providers.
You may be surprised to hear how some of the most popular hosts are the most difficult to work with.
But while Google is good for research, please don’t rely on Google alone.
Talk to people in your business community about who they have used. I highly recommend joining relevant business Facebook groups and ask those community members for their input and experiences with website hosting providers. They will share their favourites and you’ll have a shortlist from which to narrow down.
That said, one small business’s good experience with a provider doesn’t equal the multitude of experiences a long-time website developer can speak to.
My team and I have worked on the back-end of hundreds of websites, so hopefully my recommendations on this topic will carry some weight.
Or, if you’re working with or know a developer you trust, ask them who they recommend and who they would stay away from.
Bigger, in this case, is usually better.
While a recognizable name doesn’t always mean high quality, bigger is still usually better.
I am a big fan of supporting small, local businesses. However, when it comes to website hosting, I recommend going with a larger, well-established company.
The fact is, your small, local hosting company generally won’t have the capacity to give you what you truly need in terms of support. And, as I said, you need to have reliable support.
You’ll need to understand your website’s needs and if you have specialty needs, for example, if you need a dedicated server, then you’ll want to make sure the host you decide on can provide them all.
Also, if you think your website will require more features or have greater needs later, make sure you can scale up. If your web host can’t help you easily take your website (and consequently your business) to the next level later, then they aren’t the right web host for you now.
You may also need other types of features, like the ability to have staging websites.
A staging environment is essentially a clone of your live website. It is used to test plugins, themes, custom code, updates and things of that nature and it’s used primarily for testing things prior to taking it to your live website.
A really significant feature that your website hosting company must have is a reliable backup and restore system.
This is a topic unto itself, so watch How to Choose a Web Host: What’s Their Backup Plan, where I walk you through the specific features you need to ensure your hosting company has with respect to backups.
As a heads up, you’re looking for at least 30 days worth of daily backups.
Yes, price is a consideration.
I know I said don’t choose your hosting company based on price, and I still stand by that.
This isn’t one of those times I suggest looking for the best deal. You don’t want to go with the cheapest option.
However, if you have a small, non e-commerce, typical service professional type of website, chances are you do not need to spend $100 a month, either.
Your Hosting Checklist
At the end of the day, here are the must-haves that you should look for in a solid website hosting provider:
- A good reputation
- 24/7 customer service
- Multiple ways to contact the hosting provider, including live chat, email, phone and online support tickets
- Easy installation of Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates.
- Solid backups that meet the requirements I’ll talk more about in next week’s video
- Security protection
- Scalable plans for when/if you grow out of a smaller hosting plan
- Easy to set up staging sites
Recommended Hosting Providers
Until recently, I happily used Siteground to host all of my own websites, as well as for clients looking for a reliable hosting provider for their WordPress-based site.
The reason I moved to WP Engine is simply that it is the better solution for running a website that houses a course platform (which I’ll talk about in a minute).
Siteground does offer a heavily discounted rate for your first year of service, so please note the regular rate to ensure you aren’t surprised when renewal time comes around.
WP Engine is a little more expensive but also excellent. I have a number of clients happily using their hosting services, and as I said, I recently moved my own websites to WP Engine’s hosting platform.
LMS Plugins – A Caveat
If you are planning to use a Learning Management Software (LMS) plugin to host a course or membership website, Siteground will not be the right option for you.
For example, if you were planning to use something like Access Ally or LearnDash.
I personally use Access Ally for my course website and have used it to build course websites for clients. I absolutely love it so feel free to email me if you have questions about using it for a course or membership site.
However, there are certain specific hosting platforms that are better at this than others.
If you are planning on using something like Access Ally as well, I would encourage you to look at hosting your course or membership site on a managed WordPress hosting provider like WP Engine or Kinsta.
While Siteground is one of the providers I recommend for hosting typical small business websites, I’ve been increasingly hearing about it running into problems with their caching technology conflicting with Access Ally and other learning management software.