::by Michael Penner

Cheap web hosting plans are not necessarily bad. The only criterion for a “good” web hosting package is that it fits your organization’s web hosting needs. And what should those needs be? Cost is certainly a valid concern, especially if you’re not getting what you need. In that case, any cost is too much. Here are a few critical things to consider.

  1. WordPress®, Drupal®, Joomla®, or any self-hosted CMS website requires frequent updates that can occasionally cause serious problems. Can you login to the server control panel and initiate a manual backup of your own, that you can then use to instantly restore the website in case something goes wrong during an update?
  2. Does the web host allow you to download backups from the server, including the website’s database. Again, I’m thinking in terms of websites that are built on a self-hosted CMS like WordPress.
  3. If #1 and #2 are not possible, don’t worry. That’s not unusual and it doesn’t mean there’s something deficient with the web host. However, in such cases are you able to run backup plugins, like BackupBuddy from iThemes, that lets you grab a copy of your website and restore it quickly?
  4. Does the web host offer a staging website resource? Not all do, and that’s okay. If you can download a copy of the website, you can hire someone (like me) to use that copy to create a protected staging website.
  5. If none of the above are possible, you are going to have it a bit harder than your competition that isn’t constrained by such hosting limitations. It means when you update plugins and themes, you have no staging server to test the updates on first (which is considered an industry best-practice). If something goes wrong, you find out about it immediately and for the first time on the live website.
  6. Getting a bit more technical now, we turn to the issue of “web caching”. This refers to mechanisms on the server that accelerate the delivery of web pages. Caching is great until you need to make content or structural changes. It can even become problematic when you update your page builder plugin such as BeaverBuilder or Divi. The old plugin’s parameters can conflict with what is stored in the server cache, causing layout issues. Clearing that cache fixes it, so if your server uses caching, it’s important that you, the client, have control over that cache in some way.
  7. What is it like to seek technical support from the web host? Is it a protracted 30-minute experience just getting verified that you are who you say you are and are authorized for support? Do they issue support tickets (preferable) or is everything chat-based with no record of the support incident available afterward? This is relevant because one of the things support will ask is, “What have you already tried?” If they aren’t keeping ticketed records of support requests, it will be up to you to re-hash everything that’s been tried. Most business people aren’t going to remember the technical details of their last support request.
  8. Test the website’s speed for visitors and then for administrators logged into the website’s dashboard. If the web host has not optimized their database connection, you might see protracted load times in the dashboard, with slightly better performance for your visitors on the front end. Login to your website’s dashboard and click different menus. Is it taking more than 10 seconds to load dashboard elements each time? You may need to speak with your web host and find out why that is. There are lots of solutions to this, so it’s not a show-stopper.

After almost twenty years of building websites, my preferred web hosts are baremetal.com, getflywheel.com, wpengine.com, and siteground.com. These four web hosts offer packages that make website backup and security a breeze, as well as creating clones for pre-update testing.