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Choosing a web hosting provider: 5 common mistakes to avoid

laptop open on desk displaying website
(Image credit: Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash)

As a first-time website owner, you might find the process daunting of reviewing and deciding which web hosting provider, from the best web hosting services, is best to buy. In such a vibrant industry, it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of online experts keen to share advice on web hosting. 

This barrage begins from the moment you decide to launch a site, and it's easy to make rookie mistakes at this early stage. With this article, we want to inform you about what the most common mistakes are and, more importantly, how you can avoid them.

1. Choosing a free web hosting provider 

As appealing as a free web hosting service might sound, don't forget there's always a danger your site could end up covered in pop-ups and banner ads. Also, websites hosted on free services aren't always Google-friendly. 

Still, if you just want a site to promote a particular interest, blog, or community group, and you don't mind losing SEO (search engine optimization) points, it could still be an option.

There are decent free web hosting providers out there, but you'll need to do some digging first to find the best of what can be described as a bad bunch. These services tend to be very unpredictable with inconsistent speeds, little to no guaranteed uptime, and limited support. 

The trouble is because you haven't paid anything for the service, the service provider is under no obligation to provide you with any assurances. 

Don't expect any advanced features, and be aware that hosting with a free provider can result in your business losing a certain degree of legitimacy. This point is particularly valid if you choose to go with a free service that trades under the name of—or something equally unprofessional sounding. 

As with any service, you often get what you pay for. And if you're getting something for free, you don't really have any grounds to complain about the quality of the service or the features that do or don’t come with it.

If budget is a major concern, there are plenty of cheap web hosting providers offering a superior service at a minimal cost. For more information on which of the free services are recommended, read our guide to the best free web hosting.

2. Avoid web hosting packages that don't offer a refund guarantee 

Not choosing a web hosting package with a refund guarantee is an easy mistake to make/ and is particularly important to avoid as a new website owner. 

As you have little experience in the field, you may well have selected an unsuitable package the first time around, so it’s essential your provider offers a money-back guarantee. 

Any reputable web hosting company should be happy to give you a refund, or even transfer you onto a more suitable package, if you find the service you've signed up to doesn't suit your requirements. In the end, a happy customer could well be a repeat customer. 

Although numerous companies do offer guarantees of this kind, the length of time they are valid for is inconsistent. Usually, an offer like this would remain valid for 30 to 60 days, but one of the service providers we identified had a money-back guarantee lasting 90 days.

3. Deciding between a shared web hosting package or VPS, and making the wrong choice

There are two principal kinds of web hosting packages: shared or virtual private server (VPS). If you only have a basic, barebones site then it's best to opt for shared hosting. You only need to go with a VPS if your site is generating a lot of traffic. 

Keep an eye on the volume of traffic coming to your website, and if needs be shift over to VPS, or even dedicated, hosting. But remember, you'll save a great deal of money by sticking with a shared hosting package right up until the point where switching is a necessity. 

When deciding between a shared plan or VPS alternative, take a detailed look at what's being offered in the package. Ideally, you want to find a provider and plan that can scale up at the same rate as your company.  

For example, you might find bandwidth and email limits a bit of a headache as your business grows in size and popularity.  

4. Don't just go for the best-priced option

You can approach this issue in two ways. The first choice is to simply presume that all web hosting providers are the same, and go with the cheapest option. The second is to presume that the more you pay, the better the quality of service, so you pay for a premium option.

It's at this point that you have to ask yourself, "What do I want my website to become?"

Once you decide how you'd like the future of your site to pan out, you can make a decision on a package that will suit your growing needs—whatever they might be. But price shouldn't be your only consideration

In such a competitive industry, many companies will introduce special offers and slash prices to draw in customers, so stay alert for any discounts. 

It's also important to remember that a cheap package could well do the job required to host a small site or blog, so you don't always need to pay more for quality.

And remember, that tempting offer is usually only representing a month of hosting. When it comes to paying, you'll probably find this figure multiplied by 12 with the addition of VAT on top. It's not always a bad thing, though, and many companies will offer discounted rates for longer contracts. 

5. Being unaware of limitations

During your pursuit of the best web hosting provider for your site, you'll no doubt encounter limitations. In some cases, these limitations could be detrimental to your business: for example, if a provider puts a limit on the number of different products you can sell in your online store. 

This is why it's so important to find a web hosting provider that can adapt your hosting plan as your business grows. You want a service that can scale easily and at the same pace as your business. If restrictions are too tight, you might find yourself in a situation where resolving an issue harms your site. 

Be sure to scrutinize terms and conditions. Look out for personal file storage constraints and restrictions on streaming and other media in particular. Limitations are there for a reason. They ensure the service they provide is consistently reliable for all users and can save web hosting providers a great deal on running costs. 

Go through this checklist before signing up and ask any potential providers the following questions: 

  •  Is it possible to maintain multiple POP accounts?
  •  Is there a way to add statistics to my account?
  •  Am I able to install any WordPress plugin I want?
  •  Can I add a shopping cart to my website?
  •  How many items is it possible for me to list on my ecommerce website?
  •  Is there a scheduled backup of my data?
  •  How comprehensive is your customer support program?

The final question in the above checklist is particularly important, as you never know when you'll need help—day or night. 

This is an excerpt from an eBook called "The ultimate guide to web hosting", published by TechRadar Pro in association with Planet Hippo. 

Kieron Allen

Kieron is a freelance science and technology journalist with more than a decade of experience writing for magazines in print and online. Today, his focus is on cybersecurity, blockchain, and emerging tech.