Two really important things you need to decide for your website before you even think about the website itself are the Domain and the Web-hosting. Both are essential services in order for your website to work. But here’s the thing, they are not provided equally not even close. There are thousands of hosting companies out there, all around the world, but the prices will vary greatly and so does the service offering (what you actually get for your hard-earned money!). In this article, we’re going to help you ‘see through the marketing’ to help decide which web hosting provider, and package, is most suitable for you.
Shortlist at least 3 hosts and perform detailed comparisons.
The best advice we can give right off the bat is to choose based on your needs tomorrow, not today. Choose a package that’s flexible and offers more storage, bandwidth or even more domain names than you have a need for right now. Anything can change in a month, never mind a year, so it pays to think ahead and not be restricted right from the start. It’ll cost you more to change later so gain some breathing room right from the beginning.
For most people, the ideal web hosting provider will deliver in five key ways:
We highly recommend you choose a web host that provides technical support by Phone, Email and Live Chat. Having all three options available provides you with peace of mind so you have help available to you in the form that’s easiest for you when the need arises. It’s all well and good when a web hosting provider markets ‘support emails are replied to within 1 hour’ but if your eCommerce Website is totally down, you could be losing hundreds if not thousands of dollars in sales per hour, you need immediate help and nothing beats talking on the phone or chatting with them via live chat.
If they are based in the same country as you, reaching them for support is obviously going to be easier. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be available when you need them or even available on the package you bought. Support availability is often tied to how much you pay for the package and if you bought a cheap one, expect limited support in return. It always pays to do the research and what’s clear in 2022 for companies based in New Zealand; is that web hosting providers located in Australia, Asia and the west coast of the U.S are often available immediately when you need them due to the favourable time zones.
Going off-shore is still the most cost-effective option for web hosting in 2022. Whether it’s a shared web hosting service, dedicated server or a cloud based solution. Choosing an on-shore web host within New Zealand can be as much as 30% more expensive for the same service offering. For most people, this negates any benefit especially once it’s all setup and working and that initial on boarding support is no longer required. There is nothing wrong with looking off-shore, just make sure you ask the questions and read the fine print prior to buying. You will not be protected under New Zealand law if you request your money-back.
Consider pre-paying yearly or longer. Paying monthly, especially when you intend to keep the package for a few years is unwise. Hosts often provide discounts or incentives to encourage you to pre-pay for longer periods. See if the Annual, Biannual or even Triennial prices result in a good saving.
Avoid getting caught up in the marketing jargon. The word ‘Unlimited’ is being used a lot these days and it’s misleading to say the least. ‘Unlimited Bandwidth’, ‘Unlimited Storage’ etc… you’ll see these terms advertised prominently and with good reason. Simply put, they work! These companies realised long ago that advertising any caps or restrictions deter shoppers so what did they do? Just re-worded them, they didn’t really change anything on the service side of things. Therefore, the old saying ‘if it seems too good to be true it probably is’ applies here. Nothing in the world of web-hosting is truly unlimited. Fair use policies apply in the vast majority of cases and in the rest it will be based on ‘access per second restrictions’. Such as transmitting anything more than 10MB per second results in you reaching a cap, for example. Make sure you ask them about these hidden caps and restrictions, some can be reluctant to reveal them and if that’s the case for you – walk away.
Look for packages with a guaranteed up time of 99.9% or above. An up time guarantee of the ‘three nines’ or 99.9%, is currently considered to be the industry standard for web hosting services and it translates to less than 0.1% of downtime in any given month. This equates to less than 45 minutes, roughly per month, that your website is inaccessible. Anything longer than that could lead to impact and your business being seen as unprofessional.
Money-Back Guarantees are common place these days in web hosting but ‘caveat emptor’, they are not created equal. Some companies offer very generous 90-Day Money Back Guarantees with minimal conditions. Others only 30-Days with lots of conditions applied. Always ask about your guarantees prior to ordering so if the time comes you do need to cancel, you know exactly what will happen when you do. If a provider is offering a free Domain name with a purchase you need to ask if you’ll lose this but often they can be negotiated and retained for a small amount. Remember to check the fine print as not every provider offers a money-back guarantee but as a general rule of thumb, if they are willing to offer a strong refund policy – they are confident in their service quality and this should reassure you.
Geography matters in web-hosting and directly impacts performance. Think about it, if you have to travel all the way to New York to receive data and then travel all the back to Wellington it’s going to take time and this results in your website loading slower. Especially when compared to travelling between Auckland and Wellington, for example.
But it’s important to know there are a few quick and easy ways to mitigate this and one is to ensure you are using the latest version of PHP. As of writing, PHP 8.1 is the latest and greatest. When compared to PHP 7.4, which is still the most common version, it’s as much as 40% faster and can handle more than 50% more requests. This is a huge improvement and absolutely worth your time, so if you’re website is running 7.4 it’s time to perform that compatibility assessment and update.
Compression is another easy win and relies upon the web server and web browser supporting it. Thankfully, most do these days but they might not be using the latest one. Brotli compression is incredibly efficient at compressing your website down for the journey between the web server and the visitor and once it arrives it decompresses the content quickly and serves it. This is totally seamless and all happens behind the scenes. Gzip used to be the way to do this, but Brotli is the new king. In some cases the overall front-end decompression is up to 64% faster than gzip so ensure your web server is using this.
Content Delivery Networks, or CDNs, have really helped improve website loading speeds as they are a distributed network of servers located in almost every major city. They are often called ‘nodes’, they store small amounts of data on your website such as structure and images. When a visitor loads your website, they are directed through the node that’s closest to them and it shares what data it has. Depending on how much you pay the CDN, it can share a lot of data, perhaps even most of your websites content. Ether way, this all helps reduce the amount of data traveling over long distances from the visitor to the web server which ultimately results in a faster loading experience for your visitor. CDN’s are a topic of themselves so we’ll cover them in more detail in a separate article.
The fastest web-servers in 2022 are often powered by Litespeed technology. It’s an alternative to the legacy Apache servers (which we no longer recommend) and NGINX servers which have long been considered the fastest. Litespeed cache technology is very fast and they partner with a CDN called QUIC Cloud. When these two technologies are combined, your website can load up to 67% faster than NGINX so it’s well worth asking your next web-host if they use Litespeed technology.
Who doesn’t love something for free?? But free doesn’t necessarily mean worthless. Especially when it could involve a free Domain Name, Free Email Accounts, Premium SSL Certificates and Dedicated IP Addresses.
We encourage all our clients to use Premium SSL Certificates, the simple reason for this is security and the guarantees they can provide. It is extremely unlikely you will be hacked if your website uses 256-bit Encryption and is protected by a GlobalSign approved SSL Certificate. Some even come with money-back guarantees to help with the recovery costs if the worst does happen. Wouldn’t you feel more at ease if you had access to $10,000 or more to help with the associated recovery costs? Premium SSL Certificates can offer you this peace of mind and in some cases could be worth their weight in gold so consider them carefully. Try to avoid the free ‘Let’s Encrypt’ SSL Certificates, they only provide the bare minimum level of protection and are not designed for high traffic eCommerce Websites.
Another thing that really helps with security, but more so with spam protection, is having a Dedicated IP Address. More often than not when you a buy a web-hosting package you will be put on a server with 50 or more others. These are called ‘Shared web-hosting’ services and are the most common form of web-hosting available. The problem with this approach is that all it takes is just one of them to be flagged as a spammer and you all could be impacted because you share the same IP Address. Ask yourself this question, is the risk worth it? Do you want your business to be flagged as a potential Spam source? We don’t believe so and recommend our clients choose Dedicated IP’s to avoid it. This provides them reassurance that the decisions made by others won’t impact them.
Your next steps.
At VIEWFULE, we would love to help you decide on your Web hosting package. It’s a minefield out there and we would be more than happy to provide you guidance so why not reach out for your FREE consultation?