How to choose a web host without fear of costly mistakes: 2. web hosting features

In the previous article in this series on web hosting, we looked at which types of hosting are available for a WordPress site. We also came to the conclusion that when you are starting out on your online journey, you should choose shared hosting for your website.

In this article we will look at the web hosting features you need to look for when you choose a web host.

Web hosting features of the ideal host

1. Great support.

Strong support is one of the most important web hosting features for shared hosting.
Good shared hosting will offer you very strong support at all times. Photo credit: jev55 via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

As a WordPress beginner, support is one of the most important web hosting features that you should base your choice on. You really need to choose a host that will answer all the 1000s of questions that you have, on the spot and with a smile.

That’s why SiteGround is loved: they have 24/7 friendly helpers on chat and on the phone, who will usually go way beyond the call of duty to help you. Should you need to escalate your ticket, the gurus are also on call and will deal with your issue within minutes. There is something therapeutic about SiteGround’s chat window. And I hear that A2 is the same.

2. Speed.

Man speeding past on a bicycle. Speed is a very important web hosting feature.
Speed is a very important web hosting feature.

Speed is also very important among web hosting features. It is essential for good user experience and to make sure your audience doesn’t leave your website. And of course, it’s one of the elements that Google uses to rank your website.

There are various factors that affect the speed of your website. Many of them depend on you, your images and your design. You should always, for instance, make sure that your images are optimised for the web. Here’s an article on how to optimise your images with Photoshop, and another one on how to do it without Photoshop.

But your host is important, too. Make sure that your host has data centres in your continent, if not in your own country. Also check that it offers CDN (Content Distribution Network). CDN gets your web content distributed from many different points in the world which, in a nutshell, will make your website faster.

Some hosts (for instance, SiteGround) have proprietary caching technology which will speed up your website (speed = good SEO). Put very simply, caching means that data is stored so that it can be distributed faster.

If you want to know more on what affects speed and how to make your website faster, WP Speed Guru is your man.

3. SSL.

When you care about something, you make sure it’s safe. SSL certificates are essential web hosting features these days.

A Secure Socket Layer certificate will make your website safe for visitors. It’s essential if you want to sell online. Offering an SSL certificate has become a pretty basic web hosting feature since Google went on its campaign to make the web a safer place.

These days you can get free Security Socket Layer certificates from Let’s Encrypt. Most helpful hosts will activate one for you automatically. It’s still up to you to implement it though! Find out more about it in this helpful article I wrote with love for you.

Avoid a web host that offers shared hosting without offering a free SSL certificate (GoDaddy is one of those). If you are just starting out there is no need for an expensive certificate.

If you want an extremely comprehensive guide on absolutely all that refers to SSL, this is it: Http to Https by On Blast Blog

4. Back-ups.

It is imperative that you back up your website regularly: on a daily basis and every time you are about to perform a plugin update or other changes. Most reputable hosts offer a back-up service as one of their web hosting features. Find out what type of back your plan includes.

However, make sure you also back up off-server. Your host is solid, I’m sure, but be prepared for worst case scenario (all servers going up in flames or swept away in a landslide). Always have another copy of your website somewhere safe.

A raging fire in the countryside.
Always have a copy of your website off your host’s server. You will be safe in case of natural disasters such as a blazing fire or an earthquake.

There are many plugins and services that can help you with safe backups. Updraftplus is one of the great free ones. Backupbuddy is one of the most popular. I love to use ManageWP because for only $2 a month I can back up whenever I want, and restore so easily at the click of a button.

It’s also a good idea to download a copy of your backup every month. Most backup services only keep back versions up to a certain point in the past, and you never know when you might need an old version of your website.

5. Security.

Security from hackers is a bit of a holy grail. Basically, if your site is online, it’s vulnerable to attacks. It’s happened a lot lately and it’s not likely to stop.

Does your host offer malware scans at server level? And will they help you clean up your website in case you get attacked? Most cheaper shared hosts don’t offer this. Managed WordPress hosts (Flywheel, WPEngine) offer both server-side security and malware clean-up.

Backups help hugely towards limiting the damage in the unfortunate case of a hacking. So first of all do that.
On shared hosting, another option is to use a service such as WordFence or Sucuri. The free version of the WordFence plugin is an absolute must on your website, by the way.

If you want to know what you can do about your website’s security right now, read this great article by Rob Cubbon.

6. Scaleability.

You’re starting small but you are aiming for greatness. Find out whether your host can sustain you in your growth. The best shared hosting providers do indeed have plans that you can move on to as you grow.

Good on you if you grow too big!

7. Payment terms

Beware of web hosts who promise great deals by locking you into their hosting for years on end. It is much, much better to pay monthly or quarterly. Your needs might change quickly. The last thing you want is to be tied to a host that doesn’t make you happy anymore, or that you have quickly outgrown.

Up to a year is acceptable: more than year isn’t.

Conclusions

I hope this has helped you further understand what you need and what you don’t need from your ideal web host for your WordPress website.

As ever, any comments or questions or corrections are very welcome. And if you want lively, immediate debate and interaction, come join our great Facebook group.

Next on the menu in the web hosting series:

  • Web host recommendations
  • Web hosting jargon-busting cheat sheet

A little disclaimer

Web hosting is a huge subject. I do not claim by any stretch of the imagination to be an expert in it: it’s a whole profession into itself.

On the other hand, I do feel qualified to provide advice to beginners, self-starters and other small enterprises who need help with choosing their web host. This is all.

I am also, as ever, quite happy to stand corrected should I say anything that’s not accurate or old information.

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