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Choosing The Best Web Host
choosing the best webhostLet me first distinguish between the 3 primary types of hosting:
Type 1 - Shared Hosting
Your sites are hosted on a server along with sites from other customers. The drawback is that because you are sharing the server resources (CPU, memory, disks), your sites can suffer if another customer is running resource-hungry applications. If you have a simple static html site, then you may not notice this too much. Where you are likely to notice it is on database-driven sites - and don't forget blogging (WordPress) and CMS platforms are database-driven.
This can be a problem because many people will simply lose patience with a slow-loading site and that could mean lost business. It's the reason I moved to a VPS.
However, if you are serious about your business, I would still recommend that you buy some shared hosting for SEO purposes. I explain why in this post on the blog.
The extreme competition in the market means that hosting is not expensive. Don't go for the cheapest - it is a false economy. You are likely to be buying from a teenage kid managing a reseller account from his bedroom. And you know what affect hormones can have on teenagers.
Type 2 - Virtual Private / Dedicated Server - VPS
VPSA VPS is a hybrid. You are still sharing a server with other customers. Each virtual account is isolated from the others, and access to hardware resources (RAM, CPU, Disk Space, Network throughput) is managed by the physical server. So, for instance, a server may have 2GB RAM, 100GB of disk space, and 2 x 2GHz processors, with 10 VPS accounts on it. Depending on the VPS software that's used on the host machine, each VPS can either share hardware resources, or have guaranteed access to 200MB RAM, a disk space limit of 10GB, and an effective CPU of 400Mhz. Now, this is a slight oversimplification, but it gives you an idea of a potential VPS scenario.
Furthermore, many hosts will provide the option to make use of extended resources automatically should your website require it. For example, you make get some PR in a national magazine and there is a large number of hits on your website.
When purchasing a VPS service, check carefully about the level of assistance and software that you will receive. A VPS has a learning curve - if your focus is on business and not technology you don't want this to be too steep.
Dedicated ServerType 3 - Dedicated Server
As the name suggests, you have your own server which you can manage yourself or pay for a managed solution. The primary benefit, of course, is that nobody else is using your server's resources.
So how do I choose the best web host?
You can go round and round in circles comparing web hosts. Save yourself the time. Almost every review you will find is a fiction. Here are the facts:
the top hosts are virtually the same in terms of features and prices
you will find negative comments about them all - you have to accept that the larger hosts will have more people making complaints. Check out their support forums and decide for yourself whether you like their attitude
on shared hosting you take a gamble - the biggest impact on performance will be the people with whom you are sharing the server
you can normally cancel fairly easily so the risk is minimal
One thing I would recommend is that when you buy your domain names, you have the ability to manage the nameservers yourself. I tend to register my domain names with a domain registration company rather than my webhost. It means that if my webhost has problems, financial or technical, I simply edit the DNS entries and within a few hours my website is up and running on a new host.
Does server location matter?
This is a question that is often asked. If I am in Europe and targeting a European market, shouldn't my server be in Europe. Well the electrons have less distance to travel but since they are travelling at the speed of light, that isn't really an issue. There may be a couple of extra hops on the way over but the main impact on how fast your website loads in the browser is not the distance from the server, it is the server. Servers are the bottlenecks.
My thinking is that it may actually be a benefit to be hosted in the USA. Because of time differences, a USA-based server will have little demand from the USA during the European day. Of course, if you are not targeting Europe you may need to think again!
From a SEO perspective, I think server location is irrelevant. I have always hosted on USA servers for the website I mentioned on my Creating Search Engine Friendly Pages page and have ranked on page 1 on UK-based searches.
Webhosts I can personally recommend
Given my previous comments, I cannot claim that these are the best. All I can say is that I did a lot of research before I chose them and that I have been very happy with their service since.
1&1 - the biggest hosting company in the world - which means that you are likely to see negative publicity. Most of this, as with all large organisations, is because somebody falls between the cracks in their systems.
For the vast majority, 1&1 works perfectly, otherwise they would go elsewhere. They compete hard on price, so you will get a good deal (often an excellent introductory offer). Their server set-ups are feature-rich and easy to use (with so many customers it is in their interests to make it easy - fewer customer service calls). My own experience has been mixed. It took a long time for me to receive replies to support emails; however, I was then give the contact phone number for support (it was given freely, it's just not obvious from the website) and so got immediate responses.
The VPS that I am on has worked fine and through the Plesk control panel I have been able to install several applications and, more importantly, create my own default domain setup. What it means is that every time I add a new domain, a set of files are automatically loaded onto the server. In my case, this is a WordPress blog with all my plugins and themes. This saves me hours!
Dreamhost - I host several sites on Dreamhost shared hosting. All work perfectly and the back end is a joy to use. Unlike other hosts, Dreamhost do not use CPanel. They have created their own management console for users. It is much more intuitive and allows you to do so much.
The Dreamhost service has been very good and their is a very good knowledgebase with many step-by-step guides - even for some quite esoteric features. They are also great fun! Very quirky newsletters showing that being professional doesn't mean that you can't smile too.
Hostgator - one of the largest webhosts and favoured by many internet marketers because they make life so easy through automated processes. Very feature-rich and, like any large host, they have the benefit of the experience curve - the more you do something the better you get at it!
I don't have personal experience of the following webhosts but they seem to receive a lot of recommendations in internet marketing forums: