The Web Hosting Mirage
Web hosting companies are offering practically everything under the sun for almost nothing, and it sure looks fantastic. The obvious question is, “Why on earth would I pay more than a few dollars a month to host my website when there are so many companies practically giving it away?” The answer is easy when you know how the system works.
How Some Companies Wiggle Out of Their Promise
There is always a “gotcha” with every company that offers unlimited storage and bandwidth for almost nothing. Most companies hide limitations to your account in the fine print or create dependencies that result in your inability to use all the resources they advertise. Here are just three common ways some web hosting companies get around their promise of unlimited everything for practically nothing:
- If they offer an enormous amount of space, it's likely that they will have a file number limit that means even if you have space left but you have surpassed the number of files they allow, they will shut down your account.
- Or, they may say, “sure, use all the space with as many files as you want, but if you get too much traffic, then we'll shut down your account.”
- Or, they may say, “sure, use all the traffic and space and files, but if you use too much of the processor time on the server, we'll shut down your account.” (This can happen if you have a blog that suddenly gets popular, or host a forum for your clients, or have some type of database-driven application on your site.)
Granted, sometimes they will only suspend your account until you correct the violation of their terms of service, but by then, the damage is done, and in many cases, it's so easy to violate the terms (especially when your site becomes successful) that after a number of violations, they will ask you to pay them more money and upgrade, or permanently close your account.
What is Overselling?
When the hosting is super cheap, your account is usually placed on a computer with 100s of other accounts—the lower the price, the more websites will most likely be on that same computer. In some cases, there could be 300, 400, 500, or more websites on that one server. If every site used all the resources offered, it would require much more space and server power than the server would ever have. Selling more resources than you have is, strangely enough, called overselling.
The web hosting companies who do this are banking on the statistical probability that the majority of websites will never use 1/100th of the resources promised. For the most part, this works since most sites are tiny and never get any traffic. However, if you plan to be successful, then you're all but guaranteeing that you'll be the exception and will lose the probability gamble. And when your site actually needs those promised resources and they aren't available, you'll be wishing you'd paid a few extra dollars for better quality hosting.
In most cases, you don't need all the extreme drive space, unlimited bandwidth, and CPU power that you're being sold. All you need is a moderate amount of space with guaranteed access to the resources you are promised. Good quality shared hosting has a low number of websites allowed on the server, and every bit of space and processor power sold is available for each account.
Why Should I Care?
Let's imagine for a moment that you've just sent out your newsletter with that great new service or product that you just started selling on your fancy new website. You finally got everything up, and now people start clicking the link in your email and coming to your site in droves. But unfortunately, you've blown it with your cheap web host's terms of service somewhere along the line, and your site has been suspended. Even worse, you won't even know it until one of your clients hits your site and finds the dreaded “404 Not Found” error, or possibly the “503 Service Unavailable” error, or the most damaging ever “Account Suspended” message. What happens next is pretty predictable and, sadly, completely avoidable.
What You Lose
- You lose credibility as a business in the minds of your visitors and clients.
- You lose sales.
- You lose email (remember, your email is likely down if your site is down unless you're using Gmail or similar.)
- You lose time tracking down the problem.
- You lose referrals from folks who thought you were a reputable business.
- You lose new customers who just found your site and only saw an error instead.
- You lose sleep wondering how you will make sure this never happens again.
Obviously, everything hinges on having a rock-solid, reliable website.
The Price Suddenly Changed at Checkout Time!
The last thing to note about many of the incredible deals you'll see is the fact that the final price they are advertising frequently does not include all the bells and whistles they mentioned in the ad. In fact, you will frequently have to pay for each bell and whistle as an add-on “feature” if you want to get the total package as advertised, and the price will differ from the one they used to get your attention in the first place. If you sense that's what's going on, move on. There's a better deal elsewhere.
So How Do You Find the Good Companies?
I ran my own hosting company for 9 years and learned firsthand how all this stuff works. I discovered the many pitfalls that await the innocent business owner who simply wants to put up a website. Finding decent web hosting may seem impossible, but fear not. There really are some great hosting companies out there, and there are some easy questions to ask that will help you find them.
Look for answers to these questions:
- Do they emphasize service and support? That's a good sign. If you ever need help, you'll be glad you have someone to call at any time of the day.
- Do they have a moderately higher price than average and offer fewer resources than the super cheap companies? Also a good sign. This means they are probably not overselling, and you will actually be able to use the services you were promised. (Double-check and verify this! Just ask them if they oversell; the good companies are proud to say they do not.)
- How is their support? Have you tested it? They should offer 24/7 telephone support as well as a trouble-ticketing system. They should respond to tickets within a few hours at most and within an hour on average.
If it's insanely cheap with outlandish storage and unending bandwidth, it's almost always too good to be true.
First, check Google and other search engines. Search for the name of the prospective company you plan to purchase hosting from in conjunction with negative keywords like sucks, scam, terrible, awful, problems, etc. See where it leads you. Just because there are a lot of negative reviews, it doesn't mean a company is bad, though. Everyone has unhappy customers at one point or another, but it's how you handle the situation that matters. I know that if I can depend on a timely response and solution to my problems, that's more important than being ignored even when I have almost no problems at all.
Check forums where you can depend on the veracity of the people there. One place I always check first when reviewing a hosting company is Web Hosting Talk. This is my early warning system for bad (and great 🙂 ) hosting, and it's really all you'll ever need if you combine it with a decent Google search.
If you are not yet receiving thousands of visitors per hour and don't need the extreme performance of a dedicated server, or if you're just getting started with your website and need an inexpensive but good quality host, I'm currently recommending WPEngine (affiliate link).
The pricing is reasonable, but more importantly, the support is excellent and the performance of your site will be outstanding. Support gets back to you quickly, and their site migrations are fast and professional.
Domain Name Registration
If you need domain name registration with no fear of domain hijacking, great support, a fast, well-designed interface, and easy transfers in AND out to other registrars, I now use and recommend only NameCheap.com (affiliate link)
If you have any remaining questions, please leave a comment below, and I'll be happy to answer.
All the best!
I support this site by partnering with some of the companies whose services I also use. If you click the links on my blog right before you sign up with a particular program, they will pay me a small percentage for sending you to them. Of course, this does not affect the price you pay and has no effect on what I may say about them. I only recommend products or companies that I use myself. And sometimes, you'll see recommendations disappear if I ever discover that the company or product has not lived up to expectations. This is why it's really important that you let me know if you're ever less than thrilled with anything you might have purchased that I recommend.