Choosing a Web Hosting Provider

So, you've decided to host your website with a web hosting provider. Now, you need to decide which hosting provider to choose. Given the sheer number of hosting providers, and vast array of hosting plans on offer, this may seem a bit daunting.

In this article, I aim to help you develop a process that will assist you in choosing the right hosting provider for your needs.

Step 1: Create a List

I recommend you create a list of essential features/services that you must have. All items on your list should be items you can't do without. You might also like to create another list which includes your preferred features/services. These are items that would be nice to have, but aren't essential.

On your list, create a column for the features/services, another column for your requirement, then a column for each hosting provider you investigate. Alternatively, if you are investigating many, you might like to have just 1 column for the hosting provider, and simply create a new list for each provider.

Your list/s could look something like this:

Feature/serviceMy RequirementHosting Provider 1Hosting Provider 2
How much disk space do I need (now and in the future)?
How much bandwidth do I need (now and in the future)?
How much traffic do I need to support?
Website availability - how much downtime am I prepared to accept?
Do I need a domain name?
Do I need email addresses at my domain? How many?
Do I need support for a server-side scripting language? If so, which one/s? (eg. ColdFusion, PHP, .NET etc)
Do I need support for a database? If so, which one/s? (eg. MS Access, SQL Server, mySQL)
Do I need e-commerce facilities (i.e. shopping cart, payment gateway)?
Do I need SSL (for protecting user details such as login info, credit card details etc)?
What are my traffic reporting requirements? (eg. unique visitor sessions, page views, referrer info, client browser info etc)
Any other reporting requirements? (eg. RAM usage, CPU usage, Disk usage, network availability etc). If so, how would I like these reports delivered and how often (eg. via online control panel, monthly via email, hardcopy)
Job/issue tracking. How would I prefer to contact my hosting provider when issues arise (eg, phone, email, online ticket system)
Is location important? (eg, does it need to be a local web hosting provider?)
How much control do I need to have over the hosting of my website. For example, do I need remote access to the server? Do I need to be able to install third party products on the server?
Do I need the hosting company to assign me an account manager?
Will I accept my hosting provider placing third party ads all over my website? (some free web hosts place ads on their customers' websites)
Price. What is my budget?


Step 2: Begin Your Search

Once you've created your list/s, you can start searching for a web hosting provider that offers everything on your essential list, and hopefully some on your preferred list. Try as many avenues as you can. For example, search engines, directories, technology sites, local business directories (online and offline), ask friends and colleagues etc.

As you find hosting providers that match your criteria, add them to another list. After a short while, you will probably have a very large list of web hosting companies to choose from. You only want one (presumably), so now need to reduce that list to one.

Assuming all hosting companies on your list offer hosting plans that match your pre-determined criteria, you may have found some that stand out from the rest. Perhaps they offer a feature or service that you could find really useful. Or, maybe they offer a special deal. Or perhaps they just seem more professional than the rest. Whatever it is, you might decide to reduce your list (a little) based on these factors.

If you can't find any suitable hosting providers at this stage, you should go back to step 1 and review your criteria.

Step 3: Due Diligence

At this stage, you should do your "due diligence". OK, I'm not suggesting you get all legal on me now! In this context, what I mean by due diligence is that you simply try to uncover things that aren't obvious at first glance. In other words, find out more about these companies and the hosting plans they're offering.

Create a due diligence checklist. Create a rating column for each hosting provider. The rating could be, say out of 5. This will help you arrive at a score for each hosting provider. The one with the highest score gets your business!

If you find that none of the hosting providers measure up well enough, you'll need to go back to step 2.

Your due diligence checklist could look something like this:

ItemDescriptionRating (Hosting Provider 1)Rating (Hosting Provider 2)
Service & SupportDoes the hosting company offer 24/7 support? What's the agreed turnaround time for support issues? Does the hosting company offer an SLA (Service Level Agreement)? Is it acceptable?
Company LegitimacyIs this company legitimate? (there are a lot of scammers out there).
Company StabilityIs the company financially stable? How long have they been around? How big are they? Are they growing? Are they about to be acquired by another company? Or have they just been acquired?
SecurityWhat physical security does the company have? What network security does it have? How much redundancy (i.e. what happens if there's a power outage, or a major backbone link becomes unavailable? Do they have diesel generators and other network providers?)
Interviews/Site VisitIf you have a large and complex website, you might prefer to arrange interviews with representatives of the company. You might also like to arrange site-visits. This can give you a great insight into how well this company is going to look after your website.
References/recommendationsCan you find current customers who recommend this company? Try forums and technology review sites. Make sure its an independent source. Also try contacting current customers (any good hosting company should be able to provide referees).


Step 4: Sign Up

By now, you have (hopefully) found a suitable hosting provider. You can now go ahead and sign up. Typically, this is as simple as completing an online form, providing your credit card details, then following the instructions in the email sent by the hosting provider. If you have a larger, more complex website, you may be assigned an account manager and/or a technical account manager, who will assist you in getting your account set up and website configured. In this case, you may also have technical people at your end to assist you in the process.

Need Help Choosing a Hosting Provider?

If you're a little dazzled by the prospect of searching through thousands of web hosts, and prefer that I just suggest a web host, check out our partner sites below:

Full disclosure: These are affiliate sites and I earn a commission on any sales.

Frequently Asked Questions

For more information on web hosting, check out these frequently asked questions.