Back in 2005, I purchased shared server space from a well-known hosting company. In an attempt to “save” money, I paid for two years up front, and $268 later, I had my first real home on the Web.
Two short months after that, I came to the harsh realization that my server package was completely inadequate for my needs.
Ouch. Ultimately, a few key details made the difference, and although I learned this stuff the hard (read: the expensive) way, the good news is that you can avoid these same mistakes. You simply need to know where the potential traps are, and that’s precisely what I want to share with you today.
Buying Web hosting is a lot like buying a new car. The sleazebag car salesman wants to sell you on all the crazy new features of a particular model, but all you really care about is whether or not your venti latte will fit in the damn cupholder.
The bottom line is that no matter what you’re purchasing, you’re going to end up with the best result if you’re able to make decisions based on the details that will affect you the most. With that in mind, here are three things you need to know in order to make the best decision about a Web host.
Web Hosting Sin #1: Too Few Databases
All blogging software, all forum software, and darn near every cool Web application you can think of requires a database in order to function. Unfortunately, most shared server packages only offer between 1 and 5 databases, thereby limiting your ability to expand with new sites or to experiment with new ideas.
In my opinion, this is completely unacceptable. If I want to see if I can tie 10 databases into one WordPress installation, then by god, I ought to be able to do that! Sadly, this would be an impossible task with just about every shared server package I’ve ever seen.
Because of this limitation, I have resorted to purchasing more expensive plans that offer more flexibility. Remember my first inadequate server that I told you about earlier? After that terrible experience, I opted for a more expensive server that cost me roughly $550 up front, and the primary reason why I went with the more expensive unit was because I could have unlimited databases.
But seriously, a $300 difference over a few databases?
What a joke.
Web Hosting Sin #2: Too Few Domains Allowed
Probably in an attempt to curb spammers, Web hosting companies usually limit the number of domains you can have on a shared server. Oftentimes, the limit is between 1 and 5 domains, but just like with the databases, this really affects your flexibility over time.
Want to start that new site you’ve been thinking of lately? Too bad, you’ll have to buy new hosting because you’ve already maxed out your domains.
Oh, and here’s another gem from the crazy world of Web hosting… I’ve seen shared server accounts before that would let you have 5 domains but only 1 database. If every site on the planet requires a database to run, how the hell can you run 5 domains with only one database?
The bottom line—and the thing you really need to know here—is that good shared server plans will offer you at least 20 domains, and even better ones will let you add as many as you like (usually up to 999).
Web Hosting Sin #3: Crappy Developer Support
So, that new version of WordPress you want to run requires MySQL 4.0 or higher in order to work properly? What a shame, because your junky shared server only runs MySQL 3.23 and hasn’t been updated since 2005.
Of the three cardinal sins I’ve listed here, this one is probably the easiest to avoid. However, developer support is the ultimate litmus test for any Web host, and you can bet your bottom dollar that if the company you’re looking at doesn’t consider developers a priority (we’re a raucous, complaining bunch), then they damn sure won’t consider you a priority.
No matter what hosting package you’re looking at, make absolutely certain that you see support for the following developer tools:
- Ruby on Rails
- cron jobs
Bonus Tip for WordPress Users
These days, most savvy people run their websites on WordPress. Although it’s hailed as an “easy” solution for your website, the reality with WordPress is far more complicated.
Here are just a few of the things you’ll have to deal with if you want to run a successful website with WordPress:
- Software updates — dealing with these can be particularly annoying, especially when you run a lot of sites on WordPress
- Themes and plugin compatibility — if you’re not completely up-to-speed with the development of your plugins and themes, you could be vulnerable to all sorts of unforeseen problems
- Databases and backups — for most people, dealing with technical stuff of this nature can be ulcer-inducing (not to mention that ever-present fear of “if I do this, will it blow up my site?”)
- Optimization — like databases and backups, this topic is highly technical, and therefore not for the inexperienced
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by that information, you’ll be happy to know that many companies now offer managed WordPress hosting.
The point of managed WordPress hosting is simple—to take care of these tough, technical matters so you don’t even have to think about them.
Although this kind of hosting tends to be more expensive than typical shared hosting ($60+/mo vs. $6/mo), you basically get a technical assistant for far less than you could on the freelance market.
Oh, and in times of need, you have someone you can turn to for help. In my experience, this is the most important factor of all, and it’s the aspect of hosting that I value the most.
The Bottom Line
From a Webmaster’s perspective, hosting is nothing more than a facilitative service. As a result, problems arise whenever you find yourself restricted by the account limitations of your server package.
In my experience, the points listed above have been the most upsetting issues that I’ve encountered with hosting, and as a result, I now buy server space based on these criteria. Most hosting companies will try to sell you on the total amount of space they’re giving you or on the total amount of bandwidth they’ll provide, but be warned! Those are just red herrings that will blind you from the reality that is 1 database on a 5 domain account :)
Finally, most of you know that bitching about problematic issues like inadequate Web hosts is not my style. On the contrary, I’m all about finding solutions to problems like these, and today, I’m happy to save you the time, energy, and anxiety required to find a good Web host.
Without further ado, here is the best shared server package on the planet (edit: link removed)—the one that not only satisfies my strict criteria, but also gives you more stuff than you will ever use!