If I as a web developer could impart one piece of advice to businesses with regards to their websites, it would be this…
Please do not buy the cheapest web hosting you can find.
It is a sure fire way to spend more money in both the short and long term. As well as increasing the likelihood of issues for you, your customers and your web developers. As it is in day to day life cheap products often have little in the way of value and return, particularly in relation to business. Traditionally web hosting for the most part is no different. Buy cheap buy twice.
With the cost of developing high quality bespoke websites having increased in recent years, the idea that you would invest in the best website you can only to cut costs on web hosting is fairly surprising. Yet it happens, and I’ve witnessed it first hand. If you are planning for a new website, budget accordingly for quality web hosting that delivers value. I can’t stress the importance of this enough.
If your budget is strictly limited either as a startup or small business looking to move online, then I’d suggest starting with a website which is your minimum viable product. Then invest some of what has been saved into appropriate web hosting to deliver a fast and secure product for your customers.
The beauty of websites is that they can continually be built upon, everything does not have to be done in one go. You can make small iterations and improvements to features as your business progresses, and budget becomes available. Managed correctly, customers will see this as continuous improvement as long as you can deliver on your core functionality and unique selling points. However a slow or insecure website due to an inappropriate hosting choice might well turn your potential customers off your business.
So what are the reasons to avoid cheap web hosting?
Shared web hosting splits resources and limits security
Low cost web hosting is often shared hosting. This means that the server your website is hosted on is shared between multiple websites and users. So the available resources are also split and options to upgrade them will be limited. Security is decreased, and would likely be a stumbling block for PCI compliance for e-commerce. There’s a good summary of security concerns regarding shared hosting by Pyramid Staff over on Medium.
Web server resources matter
Web hosting costs are predominately based around resources. So if you want more CPU’s, more RAM, more storage, better throughput and latency then you will likely have to pay extra. As such cheaper hosting typically has less in the way of computing resources. These resources matter as they affect your web servers ability to process information at speed. If the performance is insufficient for the needs of your website, perhaps a large blog or e-commerce portal then the result could be a rather slow site. Poor website performance has a direct effect on your customers experience and conversion rates. So much so that Google has an entire arsenal of tools available to help you identify these issues. Tools like PageSpeed Insights are particularly helpful at identifying performance issues.
Hosting package features are important
The features and functionality available with web hosting packages are typically tied to their monthly and annual costs. Such features might include (but are not limited to) automated backups, website statistics, free domains, temporary performance boosts, visitor numbers, email accounts. It’s worth considering if a cheaper web hosting package is really going to meet your needs if it doesn’t provide the key features you need.
Automated backups are one of the most common omissions with cheaper hosting, so be careful when making your choice. Always consider what you would do if you’re website were hacked, became corrupt, or the data was lost. Losing data could be a huge hit to your business and your customers trust.
Best working practices for web development
Modern web development generally follows this simplified work flow:
- Develop the website locally
- Push the website to a staging or development domain for client reviews and testing
- Deploying approved changes to the live website
This approach is excellent for developing websites as it keeps potential breaking changes away from your live website. This is particularly helpful when new features are being created, or re-designs are launched.
A good quality web host will have options for creating safe staging and development environments, allowing for good working practices from your developers.
Hosting solutions where staging and development environments aren’t available have the potential to increase development time and costs. Avoiding costly mistakes and potential down time on your website is always going to be preferable, so investing a little more in hosting to begin with is going to be worth while.
Unmanaged servers, or limited low priority support will leave you frustrated
Broadly speaking web hosting falls into two categories, managed or unmanaged. It’s quite common for cheaper hosting solutions to be unmanaged, this will leave the majority of the web server management tasks in your hands. Such responsibilities might include creating FTP user accounts, applying SSL certificates, adding domains, setting up backups, sorting firewall rules, managing PHP versions and modules, and more.
With a managed option your often paying increased costs for automated solutions, or for technical support to resolve these concerns for you. Managed options might cost more but they are saving you time and some potentially steep learning curves. Knowing your limitations when it comes to server management is important. It’s caught many people out, myself include when I was first starting out.
You may find with particularly cheap hosting that technical support is also limited, or that you are in a low priority group. Apart from the frustrations of having to wait longer to get help, this doesn’t bode well for critical issues on websites where time is money.
Think carefully, cheap hosting can cost you more in the long term
I acknowledge that this is a relatively brief overview on why cheap web hosting is best avoided. However, I hope it provides you with some substance on why simply choosing the cheapest web hosting isn’t always the best option for your business. If you want to be spending your time on managing and growing your business, and not managing your web server, then I would strongly recommend investing in good quality hosting.
Poor decisions in selecting web hosting can lead to a need to switch hosting platforms for better features, sourcing a new supplier, and even requiring more input from your web developers. These scenarios are all going to incur your business additional costs, time and resources that could have been avoided to begin with.
By investing in high quality (not necessarily expensive) web hosting from the start, you can lay the foundations for hassle free website maintenance.
I am planning on writing a follow up article to this, detailing the importance of taking ownership of your hosting. And on how to determine what hosting is suitable for your WordPress website. So keep an eye out for this soon. If you have any questions in the meantime feel free to get in touch.