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Does the Type of Hosting Matter?

May 25, 2017

These days, it seems everywhere you look someone is offering "nearly free" hosting. Offers for $10 bucks a month seem great, but before you whip out that credit card and get locked in for 3 years, you might want to consider the repercussions of getting a cheap host.

One of the first things to consider is, what kind of host do I need? This depends on a few factors, such as:

  • Type of Website (Static HTML, CMS, Microsoft.Net)
  • Dedicated Email Server or Outside Service (such as Outlook or Gmail)
  • Linux or Windows Environment requirement
  • SEO (Yes, SEO!!)

If you just have a static html website and use gmail, you're fine with shared hosting for $10 bucks a month. Go crazy.

If you are using Joomla!, WordPress, OSCommerce, Magento or any other database-driven website system, you'll want to consider things like site speed (especially at peak times), available memory, hard drive space and bandwidth. Sites like WordPress use database calls, JavaScripts, Ajax controls and caching, putting strain on a weak $10 server. While they may seem fine at first, the more you demand from your site's performance, the more frustrated and trapped you will feel. For example, we recently had a client using cheap hosting come to us complaining they couldn't update their CMS software because their server didn't support CURL, a common protocol used in websites for many years. They eventually activated it for them, after we wrote an email for them to present to their host. Within minutes of receiving our email, CURL was activated.

If you want dedicated email such as me@[mywebsite.com], check to make sure email is included in your shared server. They may charge more, or not be able to accommodate you without extra plans and charges. One of the best alternatives is Google for Business, which uses the Gmail servers to deliver your domain's email addresses. It's $5 per month per email account, but they offer packages for larger organizations.

If you are running a CMS, you will probably need Linux hosting, which is common and cheaper than Windows, generally. If you are running Microsoft .Net, ASP, ColdFusion, DotNetNuke or anything else Microsoft related, you will need Windows hosting. Be very careful here, as there are many pitfalls to the way hosting companies sell Windows shared hosting. Limited CPU usage, low memory or hard drive space, lower versions of MS SQL or SQL Express limitations are just a few issues that plague low cost Windows servers. Make sure you talk to a real expert, not just a salesman about your particular needs before making a decision.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) starts at the host. There are a few factors to consider, not the least of which is site speed. If your site is too slow, Google will weigh that factor heavily in your ranking. There are a few things you can do on any server to boost CMS speed, like Leveraged Caching, JS/CSS Compression and CDNs, but cheaper servers tend to crash and throw Error 500 when some of these common techniques are attempted. Checkout https://gtmetrix.com/ to test your site for free.

Besides speed, the search engines also look at how many sites are on the same IP address as you, as many of those domains may not be 'reputable' to Google, it will drag down other websites registered on the same  server. You should also check to make sure the IP address your site is on isn't part of any Blocklists, as this can destroy your ranking and email reputation. https://mxtoolbox.com/ is a good place to check your status.

I know much of this may read like stereo instructions, but that's kinda the point - people choose their hosting based on TV commercials and lowest price, to house the only form of Internet (and sometimes the only) marketing they have. Most business owners find out the hard way that hosting matters, but not until they shell out 3 years in advance, then are loath to change hosts, thinking they're leaving money on the table. I have seen this first hand over and over again, needing to coax clients to leave 18 months ($180) "on the table" to solve crippling issues with their website. Don't fall into this trap; do your homework, just like when you chose your office lease, your phone company, your insurance. It is just as important, if not more so.

In the 20 years  I've had to deal with hosting companies, first for myself and then my clients, I can tell you horror stories of battling into the wee hours of the night with hosting servers, both shared and dedicated. There are good hosting companies and bad, but I won't mention names here is order to be non-biased. They all have good and bad plans, servers and employees, the trick is to get the middle of the road (not the cheapest), making sure it fits your needs. Going cheap on anything for your business is never a great idea, and your website is one of the most important aspects of your sales and marketing; without which you would go out of business.