All the web hosting information founders and startups need in one handy guide.
What Is Web Hosting And How Does It Work?
Crafting a gorgeous, truly intuitive and optimised website is no easy feat and usually isn’t what people expect. That’s because the end product may resemble a work of art, but the truth is that it’s actually rendered from a load of files.
Yep, just boring old files.
Those files that constitute your site can’t just float around the internet until someone needs them though, which means that they need a place to live. “Web hosting” is basically the term used to describe the process by which the files that comprise your website are housed on a server. Whoever owns the server on which your files (website) are allocated space is actually your hosting provider.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? And that’s good, because this web hosting guide is here to simplify the hosting process.
Now, let move on to why you should care about web hosting and how it’s performed.
Why Is Web Hosting So Important?
The internet is a vast place and it’s difficult to get noticed. This means that every business decision you make has to be optimised for success, and choosing your hosting provider is no exception.
Your website is akin to your modern day storefront. It’s often the first touch point that your target audience will have with your brand, so you want to ensure that it’s a good experience. Your web host can make or break your website user experience (UX), so it’s a crucial decision and can be costly if you get it wrong.
So how do we ensure that you give your online presence every chance of success?
The 4 Main Forms Of Web Hosting
Although web hosting is an enormous umbrella term, you can generally group the types of hosting into 4 broad categories:
- Shared Hosting - If your website is sharing server space with other websites then you have a “shared hosting provider” my friend.
- Dedicated - You’ve chosen to be a little more selfish. Your website now has its own “dedicated” server. This usually means better performance (and higher bills).
- Virtual Private Server (VPS) - The halfway house between shared and dedicated hosting. A VPS imitates the shared server experience even though you’re still sharing physical server space. Very technical and extremely boring, but suffice to say that you can quickly get bitten if you don’t know the performance metrics to look out for.
- Reseller - As simple as it sounds. An intermediary purchases server space from a hosting company before selling it on for a profit. This one’s definitely not a route we recommend to founders and small businesses.
As you can see from the categories above, the amount of server space you’re allocated matters. It’ll impact how your site performs and therefore that all important consumer UX.
This web hosting guide is going to focus on “shared hosting”. It’s easy, economic and will suit the needs of over 99% of small to midsize businesses.
The 5 Questions You Need To Ask Your Hosting Provider
Appraising the main players in the web hosting industry is a little like walking into a car showroom to choose between two models of exactly the same car. To a casual observer, there’s absolutely nothing to differentiate between the two and they think you’re mad for paying more for either. Open the door and pop the hood though and we’re admitted to a world of difference in terms of horsepower and trim. This translates into a huge difference in the actual value that you’re getting.
Web hosting is no different. Ostensibly, you can judge the disparity between the introductory offers from companies like Bluehost and GoDaddy in pennies. However, once we scratch the surface we begin to find a world of upsells and value traps. These upgradeable services are how the hosting providers differentiate themselves from their competition and determining true value can be a nightmare.
Fortunately, you can use the following 5 questions to determine the true value of their offering:
- How fast is my site load time?
Sales funnels are crucial to the success of any business, but especially to small or midsize ones. Many of them will rely on generating organic search engine traffic .That means that you want to ensure that your page is ranking as high as possible on the search engine results page (SERP).
A fast site loading speed is crucial if you want to conquer the SERP and get more clicks. Google downranks slow load times and research has proven that your bounce rate rockets from 9% to 38% if you keep consumers waiting for 2 seconds instead of 3!
- How secure is my site?
If you have a website these days then you’re almost certainly planning on taking online payments or holding personal customer data. If you have a website in the modern era then you’re almost certainly doing at least one of them. The boom in ecommerce over the past 2 years has thrown cyber security to the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Malicious cyber actors are only getting better and It’s honestly not worth logging on to discover you’ve been hacked just to save a few pennies a month.
- What’s your customer support like?
The vast majority of people aren’t technically competent enough to manage faults on their own server. That means that you’ll have to rely on customer service at some point.
The last thing you want is a disinterested customer support team looking after your site. You want someone who understands that this is your actual business. Someone who understands that It could even be your livelihood on the line.
That sense of urgency should necessitate a mindset shift from “time to resolution” as opposed to “time to acknowledgement”. Many customer support metrics focus on the latter, which is useless. Acknowledging a fault is meaningless until you’ve rectified it.
- How easy is it to scale my business with this hosting provider?
Nobody starts a business without at least some hope that it will grow to be the next Amazon or Facebook. Astronomic growth is something all founders want and that means they should ensure that their hosting provider is able to service that growth without exponentially increasing their cost.
That leaves you with two scenarios. You’re either going to have to factor in scaling from the outset and purchase more than you need or ensure that your web host can economically upgrade your plan.
The former leaves you paying for services that you don’t need, the latter requires you to be somewhat more scrupulous when judging value offerings. I know which one I’d pick…
- How much is hosting my content going to cost me?
You’re probably asking why I’ve put the almighty dollar last on this list? Well, as already mentioned, the main hosting providers all come in at nearly identical initial costs.
That means that you can only understand the true cost of what you’re purchasing once you’ve decided which upsells to opt for (because believe me, you’re going to need to purchase at least some of them).
What’s Wrong With GoDaddy?
We can’t really compare GoDaddy to their competition without first appraising the publicly traded American web hosting juggernaut. I mean, they’re clearly doing something right considering their customer base clocks in at over 20 million and they celebrate their 25th anniversary this year.
So let’s take an objective view of both the good and bad aspects of GoDaddy’s introductory offer.
What GoDaddy does well:
There has to be a reason GoDaddy have amassed their customer base. Perhaps the multitudes were attracted by one of the following?:
- Extremely low introductory cost of less than £4.
- Impressive site load times of 480ms on average.
- Unmetered bandwidth as standard.
- Free domain for the first year.
What GoDaddy does poorly:
- All of the above freebies require a 12 month contract signup period.
- No security credentials in sight. Even a secure socket layer (SSL) certificate will cost you extra.
- Anecdotal evidence of wildly fluctuating wait times for their customer service.
- You need to sign up for a 3 year term if you want to unlock their best features.
As you can see, GoDaddy’s ostensibly excellent value offering folds under a modicum of scrutiny. So are there better web hosting services out there? And if so then where?
The Top 5 GoDaddy Alternatives
1. Tiiny Host
Tiiny Host are rapidly forging a reputation as the most intuitive static web hosting provider on the market. Rock solid security and a phenomenally intuitive UX make them a perfect fit for startups and marketing agencies.
Google will almost certainly continue to heavily bias faster load times in their SERP rankings. Tiiny Host’s positioning as a static content host affords them unbeatable speeds at a fraction of the cost.
This gives you an edge from both ends of the value chain when serving your customers, and could prove the difference in competitive arenas such as ecommerce.
Your server is probably going to be working harder than Elon Musk’s PA once your content library grows and your traffic picks up. That’s because dynamic content requires your server to render content afresh for each individual consumer. Remember those files we mentioned? The ones that constitute your website? Well, they’re going to be flying around faster than characters in a marvel movie, which gives cyber attackers plenty of opportunities to intercept the packets.
Tiiny Host has negated many of the traditional cyber vulnerability issues by focusing on security as a design consideration. Specialising in cached content means your server isn’t constantly exposed having to render file after file. This drastically reduces the number of times it’s exposed.
Tiiny Host have decided to take a radically different route to their competitors when it comes to customer support in that they purposely don’t offer a phone line or 24/7 support.
This may seem counter intuitive at first glance. After all, the aforementioned facets have been the pan-industry hallmark of customer service for decades. Nevertheless, Tiiny Host have opted to mitigate any issues in the 3 following ways:
- Every ticket is dealt with by a human at the first instance. This negates the need to qualify through a bot masquerading as an artificially intelligent assistant.
- Tiiny Host focus on that all important “time to resolution” metric as opposed to the “time to acknowledgement”. This means that they consistently resolve issues faster than competitors, as opposed to just dispatching a holding email.
- Tiiny Host’s user interface has purposely been designed as the most intuitive one on the market. This means that they simply don’t handle the same level of customer service complaints and queries as some competitors.
Scalability has once again been dealt with at the design level by Tiiny Host. Their “drag and drop” UI is simplicity itself. This removes a significant barrier for both technical and non-technical startups and agencies to cheaply and rapidly test content and scale projects.
The inclusion of password protection at the toggle of a button means that you can secure your test environment with ease and only release when ready.
Couple that simplicity with a simple bolt on service for larger file sizes and more sites and you have a service that scales as your startup or agency does.
Tiiny Host have clearly designed their pricing model with growth minded startups at the forefront of their thinking. Their pricing perfectly aligns with their scalable bolt on packages and is modeled around file size and number of sites.
This equates to a hosting service you can scale both economically and simply.
The dynamic hosting stalwart boasts an impressive value offering and is arguably the best of the dynamic hosts.
Although they lag behind Tiiny Host in terms of speed, Siteground nevertheless proved the fastest of any of the dynamic hosts’ basic plans. This is likely due to their “supercacher” feature, meaning that they’re able to provide phenomenal load speeds without opting for the dedicated server.
Couple that with their (reportedly valid) boast of over 99% uptime and you’re on to a winning formula.
The basic security package offered by Siteground is arguably the best of the dynamic web hosts, paltry though it is.
The IDS/IDP security forms a line of defence against malicious bots and Modsecurity is installed on all of their shared servers.
Although they bolster their offering through a custom web application firewall and weekly updated security rules, you’ll still want to purchase their upgraded security for peace of mind.
And peace of mind doesn’t come cheaply…
The industry standard of 24/7 support through both phone and chat is on offer here.
That’s all well and good, but the service doesn’t appear particularly nuanced.
Siteground’s “supercacher” feature coupled with their unmetered traffic means that your service can grow with you. The addition of a content delivery network as standard is also a nice touch and bolsters their appeal to international customers.
However, you’re probably going to want to opt for Increased memory and 30% faster PHP if you intend to meaningfully scale and that’s a premium feature.
Siteground’s introductory offer would be an impressively low £2.99 a month if it wasn’t for the fact that their competitors have similar pricing structures and necessary upsells will undoubtedly increase the cost.
Nevertheless, their basic plan is arguably the best of a bad bunch.
Hostgator have clocked an impressive 6 straight years as PCMag’s web host provider of choice despite the fact their basic “hatchling” plan leaves much to be desired.
Hostgator are able to closely mirror Siteground when it comes to rendering dynamic content. Siteground’s “supercacher” and free CDN give them the advantage in this area though and definitely present better value for money.
Less impressive than their close competitor Siteground here but still beating GoDaddy. Hostgator offer an SSL as part of their basic plan alongside their free “spamassassin” spam protection. Backups and malware protection are only notable by their absence though and including them will necessitate reaching for the credit card…
No surprises here as Hostgator fall directly in line with the aforementioned industry standard. A decent knowledge centre bolsters their ticketing system and 24/7 phone and chat coverage though.
Hostgator perform surprisingly poorly when it comes to scalability. They match GoDaddy’s unmetered bandwidth but fail to offer a CDN.
It’s honestly difficult to know where to start here. The simple fact of the matter is that Hostgator’s introductory cost of £3 is completely overshadowed by the need to lock in for 3 years.
That wasn’t a typo and you didn’t read it wrong. That’s simply a criminal amount of time to demand anyone commit to a service and undermines any value that is otherwise delivered.
If there was a superpower in the world of web hosting then Bluehost would undoubtedly take the crown. They’re certainly the biggest, but size doesn’t always equal value…
Bluehost are fast out of the gate here. How fast you might ask? Blisteringly so. In fact, they’re the only provider who’s basic offering is capable of beating Siteground’s “supercacher” and they scored near perfectly in site uptime.
It’s a real shame to follow such an impressive performance with an shatteringly poor one but Bluehost somehow manage it. Their basic plan only extends as far as an SSL certificate. This brings them slightly ahead of GoDaddy in terms of value offering, but leaves them woefully lacking against stiffer competition from the likes of Siteground.
No prizes for guessing Bluehost’s support package as it’s a near perfect mirror of GoDaddy’s.
However, anecdotal evidence of a lacklustre approach to customer support seriously jeopardises that all important “time to resolution” metric.
Bluehost begin turning things around here by offering unmetered bandwidth before topping it up with an industry leading 5 free email accounts. That represents a significant saving once you factor in the cost of G suite.
We’re still lacking a CDN though and their content builder is an absolute nightmare when it comes to UX.
If it wasn’t for the unavoidable upsells then Bluehost’s staggeringly low introductory offer of £2.20 would be unbeatable. However, we begin to discover significant issues once we scratch the surface and interrogate the value offering.
Woefully lacking security and lacklustre customer support leave you exposed at the worst of times.
Assumptions can be costly in the world of web hosting. For example, Dreamhost’s independent status should arguably result in a more personalised service…
Servers located in North America and Western Europe result in excellent service for Western customers. However, their site load times don’t compare with Sitegrounds’ and the lack of a CDN seriously undermines the service for international visitors to your site.
Dreamhost fare slightly better here. They easily beat GoDaddy by offering an SSL certificate and domain privacy as standard. You’ll still almost certainly want to opt for their “dreamshield” security package though, a significant cost increase.
Dreamhost’s customer support is a tale of two halves. Their channels fall firmly in line with their competitors and they get brownie points for basing their call centres in the U.S.
However, not only do they fail to offer an inbound support call service but also charge their customers for the privilege of a callback option!
The lack of an inbound phone based customer support function isn’t unique for the industry. However, the move to charge your consumers for a callback function leaves a sour taste in the mouth and undermines trust in Dreamhost.
Unmetered bandwidth brings Dreamhost in line with GoDaddy but 50GB of storage raises them above the web hosting juggernaut. Both are suitable for running a fairly large site and allow startups and founders to scale.
Dreamhost’s introductory offer is competitive in terms of price but they’re let down by their attempt to charge their customer base for a basic service. Their cost also doubles not once, but twice once you add their “dreamshield” security package and at contract renewal respectively.
Web Hosting Wrapped Up
The fog of confusion surrounding the web hosting industry only serves the purposes of the major players. They use shockingly low introductory offers to cut through the noise before insidiously upselling their consumer base.
This web hosting guide arms you with the knowledge to thoroughly interrogate your web hosting provider. This means you not only get the best hosting provider based on price, but also one tailored to your current and future needs as you scale and grow.