Choosing Web Hosting: The Ultimate Guide

Choosing web hosting is easy. Doing it well is not so easy. That's why we've put together this guide to help you work out what you need.

Posted on 29 August 2017 -
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Choosing web hosting, the clever way

You can buy a web hosting service with a credit card and a couple of clicks, but that won’t necessarily get you what you really need. By investing a bit of time into researching what your requirements are and which technologies are suited to those requirements, choosing web hosting can become a way to improve your website’s performance, make your business more cost effective, and prepare for future growth.

Let’s carry out that research now with this ultimate guide to choosing web hosting.

Know your customers

Before you can choose the best web hosting for your needs, you first need to know your customers. How many visitors and pageviews does your website get each month? And what are your plans for future growth? By estimating future visitor numbers you can find a web hosting service that is suited to growing with your business.

Websites with relatively small numbers of visitors can thrive with relatively simple hosting services, such as virtual private server (VPS) hosting or an entry level dedicated bare metal hosting service. If your website is busy and has large numbers of visitors, you will need a more complicated service. Private cloud hosting and larger dedicated bare metal hosting setups are examples of hosting services that are more robust and scalable.

Understand how people use your website

With a handle on visitor numbers, it is now time to understand how those visitors interact with your website. Is traffic to your website steady each day or are their large fluctuations day-to-day? If there are fluctuations, can you pinpoint what causes them? Study your website’s historical record and factor in how your growth plans might impact this in future. If publishing a new article or piece of content tends to attract large numbers of people, but those numbers then drop down to a more manageable level, you will want to opt for a service that provides plenty of scalability, such as private cloud hosting with a content delivery network (CDN).

Similarly, are there seasonal patterns? Does, as is the case for many e-commerce websites, you website attract far more traffic in Q4 than in the rest of the year? Again, it will be worth choosing web hosting that allows you to easily scale up to meet the demand in Q4 without having to pay for that capacity for the rest of the year.

Perhaps your website never has huge numbers of people on the site simultaneously, but those that are on the website use it in a way that is resource intensive. For instance, e-commerce shoppers that are viewing large numbers of photos, colour or style options and using sort and filter functions will put more strain on your database resources than if they were merely reading the content on a page. In this example, a private cloud supported by a dedicated bare metal database server would be the sort of infrastructure suited to cope with the demands.

In whatever way your customers use your website, you need to choose a type of web hosting that offers the technology that streamlines the process.

Locate your customers

Where in the world is your audience? Tools like Google Analytics make it easy to find the geographic location of your customers. Once you have done so, it makes sense to base your server as close to them as possible. Choosing web hosting services that will allow your infrastructure to sit within your key markets will offer huge performance improvements for customers in those markets.

Although we like to think of the modern internet as being wireless or operating in the clouds, in fact it is as reliant as ever on a physical network of cables and servers. Minimising the distance data has to travel between your server and your customer’s device will increase page load speed and reduce delay and jitter. The greater the distance between the server and the customer, the greater the likelihood of user experience problems arising for your customers. If you operate in geographically disparate markets, it might be worth investing in multiple servers so that an instance of your website is hosted in each key market.

Another factor in this regard is data sovereignty. If it is important for either you or your customers for your website and data to be subject to a specific legal jurisdiction, this will be another important factor when choosing web hosting locations.

Work out how much availability you need

One of the key considerations when choosing web hosting is how often you can afford to be without your website. Different web hosts and web hosting technologies will offer different levels of availability. Obviously, the more guaranteed availability you hosting service offers, the pricier it is likely to be. It is about finding the right balance.

For some businesses, an hour offline might not even be noticed by the business owner, let alone the rest of the world. For others, it might cause the share price to plummet. You need to assess the cost to your commercial operations and reputation of your website being unavailable, and compare this to the price of suitable web hosting.

Serious businesses ought to be aiming for 99.9% availability. High levels of availability can be achieved by using dual or multi-server hosting infrastructures and load balancing, which will mitigate against faults and maintenance periods affecting any single server.

Understand your software

Which content management system (CMS) will you be using with your website? What other software and applications will be installed. Understanding the software, how it operates and what resources it requires will help you when choosing web hosting.

For instance, Microsoft SQL databases benefit from being placed on a dedicated server, while ecommerce platform Magento often uses a large amount of RAM. Analysis of the quirks that affect your software will help you to put in place the best hosting package for your requirements.

Don’t forget storage

Servers are often used for lots of things beyond standard web hosting. Will you be storing videos, images, documents or databases on your server? If so, the nature of that storage and the provisions put in place to keep it secure and accessible will be key factors in choosing web hosting that works for the way in which you intend to use it.

Prepare for disaster

Choosing web hosting is mainly about picking technology that works for you, but it is also important to prepare for things going horribly wrong. That means considering how often you need to create backups and planning for disaster recovery.

As with availability, the greater the number of backups and the speedier the disaster recovery process, the more expensive your web hosting will be. Again, you need to balance the competing costs of the prospective disaster and mitigating against it.

If you lost all of today’s work, what would be the cost to your business? What about if you lost all of last month’s work? And if a hacker, a natural disaster or human error decimated your website, how long could you afford to be without it? The answers to those questions will help you to start to weigh up how much you need to invest in backups and disaster recovery.

ISO 27001Stay secure

We finish this guide to choosing web hosting with another of the major considerations: security. Failing to take security seriously can undermine everything else we’ve discussed so far. The theme of weighing up the cost of worst case scenarios and comparing that with the costs of protection and mitigation continues here.

Using private cloud technology or dedicated bare metal servers rather than public cloud services is one way of maintaining control over the security of your web hosting infrastructure, but you will probably still be reliant on the security provisions of your web host. Choosing a host with ISO 27001 certification is one way to minimise the risk because you will know that the company takes security and information management seriously. In addition to being a good rule of thumb, picking an ISO 27001-certified host might also be a requirement of your organisation’s corporate or insurance policy.

Still got questions?

We can walk you through the entire process. Once we know a bit about your business and website, we'll draw on our knowledge of working on hundreds of other websites to advise you on choosing web hosting.

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