Whether you’re just getting started with a brand new blog or you’re looking to move your blog, at some point you’ll probably have to shop for web hosting.
Just like shopping for any other kind of service, most people need help when it comes to making a decision. So, I’ve put together this little guide to help. There’s also a free printable worksheet at the bottom of the post to help you narrow down your choices. Just use the form down below to sign up for the mailing list and download the worksheet!
Before I get ahead of myself, let me just start with the basics (if you already know this, then you can skip down to Step 1).
What is web hosting?
The best way to describe it is like an apartment. Your web host is your landlord and your blog is the tenant. Your domain name is your address. The hosting plans are like floorplans, in that the different plans satisfy different needs you may have for disk space (the amount of storage space you use) and bandwidth (which is related to the amount of traffic and resources your blog uses). Your web host is just the vendor you choose to purchase your service from.
How do you know if you need web hosting?
If you’re looking to self-host your blog (as opposed to creating a blog on a site like Blogger or Squarespace), then you’ll need a web host. Self-hosting will give you more control over your blog and the ability to monetize and customize it as you see fit, but it does require some technical responsibility on your part (although you can contact tech support when something is broken or you need help). There are, however, hosts that are hybrids of self-hosted and not self-hosted, called managed hosting. WP Engine is a very popular example.
Step 1: Figure out what you need
First, you need to figure out what you need. Most people who are shopping for hosting are either experienced and tech-savvy or beginners. I’ve got a few tips below, depending on which category you fall into.
For the tech-savvy
For tech-savvy shoppers and more experienced bloggers, you probably already know what you need. But in case you don’t know, you may want to make note of your blog’s usage and performance so you can use that when you shop around for a new host.
For the not-so-tech-savvy
If you’re just starting out, you probably just need a smaller plan just to get your blog going. I’m assuming that you want to use WordPress (because it’s the most popular blogging platform), so make sure that your host has a WordPress plan or a WordPress installer that you can use.
- What is your budget? Most starter hosting plans typically cost between $3 and $10 per month.
- Do you need a domain name? A domain name will usually cost between $10 and $15.
Still have no idea?
If you’re not just starting out but you still have no idea what you need, no worries! Ask your current host if you’re on the right kind of hosting plan, based on your usage stats. Take the recommendations they give you and use it to shop around. You can also just take down your usage stats from your control panel (how much bandwidth and disk space you’re using and how many pageviews your site gets per month) and use those.
Step 2: Look for recommendations
If you have any friends who have blogs or websites, ask them who they’re hosted with and if they’re happy with the service.
You can also check your favorite blogs, websites, and other influencers to see who they recommend. Just be aware that many of us do receive a commission for our recommendations, so that could be a factor in why they are recommending a company to you.
Another way is to ask around in any groups or communities that you’re part of to see which hosts they recommend. Most people are excited to recommend their host to you and may have some helpful tips.
Who do I recommend?
I’m currently hosted with Big Scoots, and I highly recommend them. They have really great technical support and I love that they’re a smaller company. Yes, that is an affiliate link, and no, I’m not just promoting it for a commission!
Step 3: Compare plans & pricing
Take the companies you have listed and go to each one to compare plans and pricing. Do they have a plan that’s within your budget? Does the plan include all of the features you’re looking for?
If you’re just starting out, you may just want to go with the simplest plan for now. There are also a few questions you should ask yourself:
- Is the plan you want billed monthly or yearly? Yearly plans require more money up front but can save you money in the long run.
- Is there a money-back guarantee? Most hosting companies have a 45 day money-back guarantee, but you might want to check to make sure.
- Will they help you move from your current host? If so, how much does it cost?
Step 4: Check reviews?
I hesitated to even put this here, because hosting reviews are pretty pointless to read. You’ll find a bunch angry rants and complaints for any hosting company you research.
However, you can get a pretty good idea of how good the hosting company is by doing a quick Google search for for “______ reviews” (put the web hosting company name in the blank). Then look at the review headlines and star ratings on the first page. Are they mostly good or bad?
It’s also helpful to pick a review website and look at their star ratings for your potential hosts. For example, I really like WebHosting Geeks because their reviews seem balanced to me.
Don’t forget your recommendations from Step 2. You can even go to your group or community and ask them what they think about a particular host.
Step 5: Try it out
Once you’ve checked reviews, it’s a good idea to try them out. You can sign up for a plan and play around with it a little, and then request a refund when you’re done. This is a lot of work and money up front though if you’re looking to try out a few. Instead, I recommend that you ask for a backend demo. Then, maybe sign up for an account on their website and go through the process of purchasing a plan (but don’t check out unless you’re ready). This is all just get a feel for how their interface works.
You can also submit questions to the sales department. How friendly are they? How fast do they respond? Note that the sales department is different from the tech department, but you’ll at least get your questions answered.
Step 6: Make a choice
It’s time to make a choice! Try not to spend weeks trying to decide on a web host. If it doesn’t work out with the company you choose, you could always just switch hosts (although I admit that moving can be a pain).
Photo by Andrew Neel