The hosting company you use can dramatically affect your website’s performance, its uptime, and your overall experience and peace of mind. In this section, we will take you through our evaluation process and what we look for in a host. (See our recommended hosts here.)
There are many factors that go into our review process that we will discuss in more detail below. We take into account each hosting type, their allowed traffic levels, how much storage is provided (and its speed), the processing power of the CPUs, their up-time, quality of service, and their customer support. We individually test all of these factors to determine what the best web host is in each category. Our goal is to provide the best free and honest advice about web hosting we can.
In the following sections, we will discuss each of the aforementioned factors in more detail and give you an idea of what we specifically look for when choosing a web host.
As you may remember, we covered the different types of hosting in a previous section. A little graphical reminder …
The type of hosting plays a large role in the evaluation of a web host. One host may have excellent shared hosting and terrible VPS hosting, or the other way around. Sometimes hosts focus on being great at something like WordPress hosting but could care less about their shared hosting customers. We rate each hosting service by each of its hosting types individually, not in aggregate.
You’ll want to spend some time determining which type of hosting you’ll need for your site. Again, we highly recommend you read up on our Types of Hosting section to help make that determination. If you feel like you’re ready to go, great! We’ve done the leg work for you in determining the best hosting deals for each type of hosting.
The bandwidth (or traffic) allowed by a web hosting plan refers to the amount of content sent from your server to a client’s browser. It’s a good idea to calculate the minimum bandwidth you’ll need before signing up for a hosting plan.
Visitors per Month x Page Size x Pages per Visit = Bandwidth Needed
Let’s say you have an average page size of 1MB. If your site gets 10,000 visitors per month and the average going to two pages each, then your bandwidth calculation goes like this:
10,000 Visits x 1MB Per Page x 2 Pages per Visit = 20GB of Bandwidth
Keep in mind, you’ll want to choose a plan that exceeds your minimum bandwidth needs just in case your traffic grows beyond its current levels.
Storage refers to the amount of content, data, and files you can store on your server.
Usually, websites do not have a tremendous amount of storage needs, but if you are hosting video or large images or user information, you may find this to be a concern. We do recommend having a minimum of 20 gigabytes (GB) of storage available for your web server.
Standard Hard Drives vs. SSD
Also, there are two different types of hard drives used these days. The standard hard drives are usually just referred to as say, “20GB Storage.” The other type of hard drive is referred to as an SSD, which stands for solid state drive. These drives are typically faster than standard hard drives and you may see them listed as “20GB SSD”.
Advanced Configurations and RAID
In addition, as you get to more and more complicated hosting, there are multiple options for hard drive configurations. These configurations have to do with making sure a single hard drive failure does not compromise your system and/or to increase the read and write speed of the drive.
As a brief introduction, there is a technology referred to as RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks) that groups many hard drives into one logical drive. Below we have outlined some popular configurations you might see. Don’t worry if you don’t understand this. It makes very little difference for choosing a web host. We just want you to be aware of these terms in case you see them.
Uses two or more drives to parallelize writing to disks. This is called “striping.”
This is when two or more drives keep redundant copies of the data. Therefore, everyone writes to one drive is also writing the data to the other. This is referred to as “mirroring.”
This is sort of a combination of RAID 0 and RAID 1. Three or more drives are basically used to both increase the write speed and mirror the drives. Usually, you’ll come across RAID 5 used in production.
There are other types of RAID available. We encourage you to research this further if you are interested.
Processing power can be a determining factor in choosing a web host, especially if you are looking at dedicated or VPS hosting.
Usually, web hosts will list the number of cores, or CPUs, that are available for each level of service. In general, the more cores that run at higher speeds, the better.
That wasn’t too complicated, was it? Let’s continue on!
For example, Google needs a near 100% uptime. If Google ever went down, there would be not only a huge loss of search traffic, but there would also a huge loss of revenue for Google.
On the other hand, our blog about cute puppies could go down for an hour a month, and it would have virtually no effect on me (in fact, some people might cheer). You need to determine the level of uptime that is acceptable for you.
In many cases, 99.9% uptime is acceptable, sometimes 99.99% is acceptable and sometimes 100% is imperative. Most hosts list their uptime as a percentage like this. Our hosting reviews will include uptime for each host anytime we can get our hands on a firm number.
For obvious reasons, customer service is a very important factor in every product, but especially in web hosting. When you have trouble with your host, you want to be able to contact them and get an intelligible response in a timely manner.
You may want 24/7 US-based support or you may be OK with an email response within 24 hours. You will need to determine this for yourself.
In our genuine hosting reviews, we tend to award higher ranking to web hosts that offer phone support and are willing to help debug and/or explain technical issues, even if they’re outside the scope of their normal services. Some hosts focus on customer support and going above and beyond in this way, while others will simply say, “Figure it out yourself.”
Clearly, you don’t want to work with the latter option.