With so many hosting options out there, where does one begin? You have your $5-per-month generic hosting, your managed WordPress solutions, options to buy and host your own servers, and you can even go straight to the infrastructure for a less-managed solution. If all of that made your head spin, it’s no wonder why people turn to agencies for help with recommendations. Below, you will find the things we consider when searching for a website host that fits our clients’ needs, a little glimpse into what we consider the gold standard for any host that we would want to partner with and recommend.
Please note: no one solution is perfect for every type of client. It’s why we have a few hosts in particular that we choose to work with depending on the project. But as a customer, you should know that you have options, too, whether your concerns are financial, performance, or purely based on up-time monitoring and support.
One of the most critical things to consider is support for your website. The purpose of your website and its goals, whether it’s just for informational purposes or fuels your business, will affect how much support you need. For example, available support hours and type of support offered will vary from host to host and could even vary plan to plan. So, if your business is purely digital and your team is distributed across the nation or even the globe, then ensuring you have access to human support 24/7 is probably critical. You don’t want to be left out in the cold when trying to get a hold of someone at 3 a.m. should your site go down.
Alternatively, maybe hours of support isn’t your concern, but rather how you communicate. Some hosts offer chat support, while others offer a ticket-based service, which operates a little bit slower, like emailing back and forth. There may even be options for phone support, but that varies from host to host. If those are things that are important to you, you should find a host that will support you in the way that you need it the most.
In the same vein as support, a service level agreement (SLA), is going to indicate what type of guarantee you receive from your host to stay online. Often times, it fluctuates from host to host; so you need to ensure that your SLA covers what is most important to you. Be mindful of whether or not the SLA covers network availability, is an infrastructure guarantee, or if it’s on the hardware. It’s possible that the SLA could cover all, or just some of those. But again, it’s important for you to know what type of SLA your host operates under, so you know what is and isn’t covered by the agreement.
Most often than not, your hosting provider is purchasing their technology (aka infrastructure) from someone else. In the case of purchasing hosting directly from Rackspace or Amazon Web Services, for example, you’re purchasing directly from the source. However, most managed hosting companies are just reselling infrastructure with their own tools and optimizations built on top of it. This is totally acceptable. That’s the trade-off when you go direct to the infrastructure; you don’t generally get as many tools or platform-specific (WordPress) support. But certain technologies provide certain features that will vary depending on the type of service you need.
Let’s say that you need highly scalable architecture, ensuring that the technology behind your host (aside from SLA, customer support, etc.) is able to sustain the amount of traffic and load that your site requires from their technology. Most hosts these days disclose who their technology provider is, but if they don’t, it doesn’t hurt to ask. From there, you can better identify what type of infrastructure will be powering your site.
This goes hand-in-hand with the technology but also includes the unique optimizations that your host might build on top of that tech infrastructure. For example, a lot of the hosts that we partner with have their own mix for performance and optimization, which is why they’ve become so successful as brands.
It’s no secret that SEO is important for your site to succeed, and the easier it is for someone to get to your site and get the information they need, whether it’s a human or a bot, is going to net you better rankings. Fast sites historically perform better. So if having a good user experience and ranking higher on Google is a concern for you, then looking into the performance of the host is going to be of major importance.
There are also statistics that prove that the longer it takes for your site to load, the more likely someone is going to abandon your site and get their information elsewhere. And with hundreds of thousands of sites sharing similar content, we’re conditioned to getting information as quickly as possible. If you want to keep readers and visitors on your site, looking for a highly performant host is critical.
Backups are pretty standard these days, but be mindful of how long those backups exist and how easy it is for you to access them. Just because your host is taking a backup doesn’t mean it will be helpful for you if you need to implement it, which plays into the support angle. When you need to retrieve a backup, it’s usually at a critical point. It’s one thing to know you have a backup, but another thing to actually restore a backup.
Backups come in handy for a number of cases—just keeping a running copy of your site if you have to revert for any reason, especially when WordPress and plugin updates are released. Some hosts even remind you to perform a backup before every update you make to your site. Imagine drafting a bunch of blog posts only to find that a WordPress update broke your site! If you hadn’t made a backup, you would have lost all of those draft blog posts. Backups are there to do just that: backup your site and act as a safety net. So finding a host whose backup policy works for you, or even just being more mindful of what type of backup support you need, can set you up for success.
Depending on what type of site you’re operating, you may or may not care about developer tools. But if you have a team of devs, or even a singular developer, the tools that a hosting provider offers can make a difference.
Staging sites, analytic tools to help you understand how your site and content are performing, or even things like more complex things like GIT integration can affect development workflow. Some hosts can be pretty restrictive with code reviews or force you to use their workflow. We try to recommend hosts that we’ve had great experiences with ourselves, so we’re not throwing you into the deep end with anything unverified.
One of the most underrated but simplest things to keep in mind is the control panel. Again, its importance depends on how much time you plan to actually spend on your site, but the experience could be dramatically different if you have only one website versus managing 10. How easy is it to get support, to the resources that you need, to access the tools, or even have the visibility over the performance of your accounts?
Having a control panel is like having the best navigation system for your car. A basic one will get you from point A to point B, but a souped-up one is going to give you more insight, more knowledge, and more tools to do more with your site.
To reiterate, there are a lot of variables to consider, which means that no one host is a perfect for no one client. Thankfully, our team works with the best of the best to provide you a great recommendation based on your needs. Consider what we outlined, think about your unique site needs and whether or not your current hosting solution is supporting you in the way in which you prefer to be supported. If it isn’t, our team is always happy to help talk you through options and point you in the right direction. Contact us today.
Also published on Medium.