24 Web Host Features You Should Know
You have an amazing idea for a website and you can’t wait to get it started, but where are you going to host it or build it? Great, there are over 100 choices all claiming to have some sort of competitive advantage. How do you know which one to choose? Here at HostComparison.net, we understand how difficult finding a good host can be, so we created this list of features to remember when you start shopping.
Probably the most underlooked, but also one of the most critical, how can your web host grow with you. If you start with a bargain basement hosting that only offers one version of shared hosting, if your site goes viral or gains a great following over time, you will have no way to easily make the needed upgrade. Larger webhosts will offer Virtual Private Servers (VPS) which are a big stepup from shared hosting, and if you are fortunate enough, dedicated servers or cloud servers after that. It is nice to start with a shared service if you are just testing out an idea. If you are a small business you should start at a higher level, like a lower level VPS or a cloud host.
Cloud hosting such as SiteGround, 1&1 or SoftLayer allow for full scability. You pay for what you get. It will be more expensive than shared but can be comprable to VPS if you are not using excessive bandwidth or storage. It is especially good for seasonal businesses that need to scale during the holidays or tax time, but can decrease the server needs during of the offseason.
Again, although this is rarely discussed, this is the most important concept when choosing which hosting package you are going to choose. Infact we wrote another entire article titled What Type of Hosting is Right for Me.
With how inexpensive storage is for most computers, it is no surprise that storage is not as big of a factor as it used to be. Websites continue to grow in multimedia functionality and interaction, and most importantly with integration of videos on websites become common place, it is no surprise that the average website page us up over 2.1 megabytes up over 300% over the last 5 years (at the time of writing). If you plan on having 500 pages and they are average, then you would need 1 gigabyte of storage at a minimum. If you are building a video site and are hosting all of your own videos you could need terabytes. You should consider the following questions:
- How many pages am I going to need?
- What kind of multimedia will I need per page?
- Will content be generated by users?
Even the most basic hosting companies offer cavernous storage. In 2015, I would not worry about this too much, unless you have 500 hours of cat videos you have to get online.
Bandwidth is simply the amount of data being transferred to and from your server. Every time a bot hits your server, a user downloads a file or you update with a new video on your site. You can quickly see how this can become problematic if your site does what we all hope our sites do, go viral. If you choose the wrong plan, the overages can cost you a mint depending on which service you go with. Often times, the web host will give you a price per additional gigabyte or terabyte of bandwidth. Some sites say they are are unlimited, be careful of that. They are unlimited, but the point is that the service itself is limited in scope. You should always check the fine print on bandwidth and make sure if you already have an audience to your site, it might be worth upgrading to the next level of hosting in order to avoid bandwidth charges.
High Quality Tech Support
When everything goes wrong, who are you going to call? Can you call? Email Only? Chat? When comparing services, how good is their support. Good support will save you countless hours when something goes wrong. Often times, good service will go above and beyond to assist you so that everything is working fine for you. If it is not and you get frustrated, they you may not renew your service. It is only in their best interest to take care of you. But how will you know? There are a couple ways for you to do your due dilligence. First, simply check one of our reviews and we will break down the tech support for you. Otherwise you can check out their support forums to see if tickets are being handled or ignored.
This one gets a little tricky. Concurrent connections are the number of users that are atively hitting your server. Note that this is not how many people are looking at your website. This is how many users can conntect, ie upload, download data from your server at once. If a user comes to your site to read an article, one the article loads in their browser they are no longer connected. Once they go to another page, they are once again interacting with your server. You could have 10,000 people reading your website at once with no active connections. With this said, if you have a video site and you are streaming video from your site, not through a third party like a CDN, these users will all be active. This can be a big problem if the hosting package you have only allows 50 connections. Not a problem for a blog that has 5,000 word articles, but with multimedia becoming more and more prominent, make sure you know what you are being offered.
Number of Domains
This is one of those small things that you may or maynot need. If you have a blog and you are only ever going to have this one blog, then move on. If you have multiple sites and you want run them all through a single web host, well choose carefully. Things like managed wordpress or a website builder like squarespace will limit you to a single domain. A shared hosting account will let you have add-on domains but they are actually subdomains to the primary. It will work fine, but it is not idea. If you are planning on running multiple sites, I highly endorse a VPS at the very minimum. VPS is just like your own server, so you can set up a “hosting account” for each domain and give each one its very own cPanel. If the domains are not going to be active.
Another consideration is if you are planning on eventually selling your website. If you think this a possibility, it might be a good idea to put each domain on its own small hosting plan this way you can hand over the login and password to the new owner making for a very easy process.
Most hosting services offer unlimited email accounts, but not all. For instance, HostGator’s smallest shared hosting package offers unlimited emails, yet BlueHost’s smallest package limits you to 100 emails and only 500mb of storage for each account. Now, if you are trying to run a small business off of BlueHosts entry level package you will run into issues. Although a business should never be running on such a small plan anyway and the next tier offers unlimited for only $2 more per month. Other hosting options such as GoDaddy’s managed wordpress only comes with one email account. You can create multiple aliases, but they are not in seperate accounts for multiple users. As always do your research or check our reviews and plan accordingly.
mySQL is the most common database you will find with hosting packages and really should be enough for most users. WordPress and others CMSs require mySQL, therefore everyone is going to offer it. Note: if you are a developer and you need a particular server, than make sure that the host offers it. If they do not say they it, then they probably don’t.
Quick 1-Click Installs
If you are not technically savvy and want to make your life as simple as possible, than a 1 click install app in your hosting panel is the way to go. OK, it is not perfect but it can save you a lot of time. Some times a 1 click install app will try to get you to install additional components that you don’t need. Personally, we have heard of any major security flaws from the 1 click install. Want to throw up forum software or a wordpress install, it only takes a few fields and click go and there you have it. Handy too if you want to throw an app on a subdomain, like webmail. Simply make a mail.domain.com subdomain and install a webmail program and you can have an quick and easy way to access your email in seconds and it can be better than the normal Cube, Horde or Squirrel that comes with cPanel.
Mobile App or Mobile Website
At this point, most of the major hosting companies will have a mobile site and possibly and app. It is handy to get to adminsitration settings on the go and possibly statistics. Additional features such as alearts when load gets too high and or when the site crashes due to strain all good things to be looking for.
SSH Shell Access
This is really hand even if you are not a well versed developer. Having access to the root of things will make some tasks simpler such as assigning permissions or moving large amounts of files. There are plent of tutorials out there to show beginners, but it is not for the faint of heart.
For many “website builders”, you do not get access to all of your files or they hid the .htaccess file. Simply put, this file directs users based rules that you place in this file. Being able to edit this file is important to maximize the customization of your website. Almost all web hosting companies give you access, at times you have to check to have hidden file shown.
A cron job is simply a task that a server runs at a particular time. This is a pretty advanced option that most users will not need. If you are a developer you will need to make sure you have this functionality, if you are a blogger with a wordpress, move on, there a lot of plugins that will do these types of tasks for your.
PHP, great! Now what? If you need Python or Ruby on Rails, you need to make sure that your host is offering them. If there is a particular CMS or script, they often have minimum requirements based on how they were developed, so you will have to make sure that the host has the correct versions and that they are available. Often times some of the smaller hosting companies do not upgrade their systems as often. If they say they have PHP, make sure the version is the one you are looking for. There is a big difference between Python 2 and Python 3, make sure they have what you need.
Free Advertising Credits or Bonuses
OK, this is often advertised, but rarely important. It is often Google AdWords, Bing & Facebook ads coupons ranging from $25 – $200. The credits are usually not significant and can be received for free when you start up an account. Google often runs $100 for free when you first start up an account. Remember, the coupons from a host also are only good during the intial startup, so if you already have an account then they have no value for you.
Automatic Site Backup
Not terribly difficult to setup on your own, there are web hosts who offer to automatically backup your files for you. Some particular hosts will have an easy system to optimize and restore form different points. It does give you peace of mind and if your site goes down in knowing that you can quickly bring it back from the dead in minutes and not hours. If you have a simple wordpress install, there are free plugins that will help protect you as well and allow you to automatically backup to dropbox or another cloud based storage.
Choice of Operating System
For everyone this is pretty much a non issue, unless you need a Windows Server for development. Majority of servers are Linux based and because of the scale and because it is open source there are not the additional costs that you would accrue through paying for the use of a windows license. If you are a developer in ASP.net then you will need a Windows server, but you knew that already.
Making sure the service you use has the versions you need can be tricky. Smaller services often do not have the latest versions of particular frameworks and because of this can cause problems for you and your development goals. This is one surprise that you don’t want to face after signing up for a year of a hosting service.
100% right? Not really, well 99% is ok right? Not exactly. 99% means that you can have more than 7 hours of downtime over the course of 30 days. What about 99.9999%? 3 seconds of downtime over the course of 30 days. What is really important though is what is in the Service Level Agreement (SLA). They may advertise one level of service, but when you check your SLA you find out that they only guaranteed 99% not 99.9999% which you now know is a huge difference. You can play around with this uptime calculator yourself so can see the difference.
Another question to ask, does it really matter? It depends on the kind of site you are running. If you are a business and buying traffic to it, it will be a huge deal. You could be paying to send people to a blank page.
Dedicated IP Address
An IP address is like a street address on the web. When muleple websites share a single IP address like shared hosting, it is like a big apartment complex. They all have the same address and there is no way to tell one from the other from just the IP. When a site has a dedicated IP address, it is like a house with a street address. You can type in the IP address in your browser and go to that website. When it comes to SEO, having a dedicated IP address will help you. Why? Well not because you just have the IP address, but if you install SSL. Google has come out and said that SSL is something they will consider because they want all websites to be secure. With that said you can not have SSL on a shared IP address. I recommend to everyone to get a dedicated IP and an SSL certificate. It is good for your users and good for your rankings.
Free Domain Name
This is not important. Repeat, this is not important. If you buy a domain, you should buy it at a reputable site. You should keep all of your domains in an account away from your hosting. This is just a recommendation, there are always exceptions to the rule, but there have been many horror stories of people thinking they can switch providers and take that domain with them, only to find out they can’t. I have personally lost a great domain because of this issue. I learned my lesson and now my domains are safe in an account away from my hosting.
Location of Hosted Servers
You want to have your content as close as possible to those that are consume it. We will discuss Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) in a moment, but making sure that your hosting is living where you want it to live is something to consider. If you are a shoe store in London, than you do not want a host based out of Seattle, WA. That difference speed could affect how consumers view and interact with your website.
Content Delivery Network – CDN Support
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a network setup with the sole purpose of distributing a websites content to users that close to that server so that it runs much faster. As we discussed above about the geographic placement of servers, the network puts your content next to your users. Also, this provides additional security in the form of SSL and if you upgrade the service it will help protect from a denial of service attack from hackers. Some hosts have them integrated already in the cPanel so you can get started immediately, otherwise the most well known name in CDN, CloudFlares has instruction to integrate into your site. Other services such as MaxCDN are great as they offer a ton of features for as low as $9 per month.
We will update this section with a dedicated article all about CDNs and of course, reviews!
There is nothing wrong with a little link on the bottom of the site saying, “powered by webhost”. Nothing wrong with earning a little bit of revenue everytime someone goes through your link and signs up. If you have a well known site that performs like a champ, the money could add up faster than you think. Not a make or break type of feature, but still something you may want to consider all else being equal.