Are You Paying Too Much For Hosting?
EVERYONE who has a website also has a hosting environment, even if they're not aware of it! If you own a website, your hosting environment could be included in your website service, or it could be that it's managed separately. Regardless, hosting is something that affects every website owner. And, unfortunately, it's a pretty vague topic most of the time. People aren't always sure what hosting options they have, how their hosting is affecting their website's performance, or how much they should be paying for their hosting.
We're writing this post in order to shed some light on the world of hosting! We'll be discussing what hosting is, how much you should be paying for it, and what kinds of hosting options are out there to choose from.
So... What's Hosting?
My favorite description of hosting comes from website.com. It can be broken down into three parts:
► Web hosting is a service that allows organizations and individuals to post a website or a web page on the Internet.
► A web host, or web hosting service provider, is a business that provides the technologies and services needed for the website or webpage to be viewed on the Internet.
► Websites are hosted, or stored, on special computers called servers.
So, when we talk about hosting, we're talking about the server that your website stored on AND who is responsible for that server. Different servers are what connect us all to the internet— whenever we visit a website, we automatically connect to that website's server.
Hosting In-House Versus Using a Hosting Service Provider
Some companies host their websites themselves on their own company servers, and some use alternative hosting service providers. There are pros and cons to each method, but hosting on a private company server isn't as common as using a provider, especially for small to medium-sized businesses.
In order to host in-house, you first need to own your own server and associated software (which isn't cheap in itself), have a high-speed internet connection, and either have extremely savvy technical skills or hire someone who does. Setting up a server requires a much longer setup period than signing up for hosting services online or with another company, which usually equates to more billed time in the setup process. In-house hosting also offers more chances for outsiders to break into your company's private data and create backdoors. If all of your company's data and files are located on one server or a set of servers, and an intruder gains access, then they would be able to access everything.
On the other hand, using a different service provider means that you don't have full control over your hosting environment, as you don't own the server. But, hosting companies generally have a lot more resources to allocate to their clients' websites than a typical in-house server does, delivering a higher and more reliable performance. Many of them also offer additional data security and extra functionalities, as well as support.
Because a lot of website owners don't understand hosting, it can be easy to be taken advantage of, either with overpriced hosting or with vendor lock-in. Below, we'll talk about the different pricing tiers found from most online hosting providers. And, we'll discuss how to look out for vendor lock-in situations and avoid them.
Hosting Prices (and what you get)
So, how much should you be paying for your website hosting? Hosting prices vary from free to quite a bit of money per month. Choosing how robust your hosting environment is (and how much you pay every month) should mainly be based on how much traffic your website has.
If you have only have a few website visitors per day, a lower-cost hosting plan could work fine for you. If you have a few hundred or thousand visitors per day, then a medium-cost hosting plan could be your best bet. And, if you have upwards of hundreds of thousands of visitors per day, then you'll need some powerful, pricier resources to keep your website running smoothly!
Free hosting is always a tempting option, but it follows the same rule as anything else that's free— it's not high quality, or even medium quality. Free hosting is typically very low-quality, bare-bones hosting that lacks basic security and any extra functionality that other hosting plans offer.
Most often, free hosting is shared, meaning that your website is stored on the same server as other people's websites. Depending on the type of server, thousands of websites can be stored alongside yours in a shared environment like this. But, your website's speed and overall performance are mainly fueled by your server's resources, and in a shared hosting environment, there's no guarantee that your website will get the resources it needs when it needs them— all of a shared server's resources can easily be used by just some of the websites it's hosting, leaving few or none for the remaining websites. This is how a lot of website crashes happen, especially when a website receives a higher-than-average spike in traffic.
If you go with a lower-cost hosting plan, you can expect to pay roughly $8 - $12 per month. Paid plans, unlike most free plans, usually come with an SSL certificate for your website included with their hosting services, which adds the https:// and Secure note in front of your website address. SSL certificates succeed in encrypting your website's traffic, which boosts your website's security and your visitors' privacy. These certificates have already become the current online security standard for all websites, and without one, your website will be marked as "not secure" by search engines like Google, and they'll give you a lower SEO ranking.
Besides the added security, low-cost plans can work great for basic websites with a smaller number of visitors. They'll usually give you all of the space you need for your website to function, with a reasonable level of performance, and their added functionalities can make it easier for smaller companies to maintain their websites.
Another thing to keep in mind with free and low-cost hosting is that the lack of functionality can easily increase your website's maintenance time. If you have a developer or even an employee in charge of your website maintenance, you'll most likely be paying them more for the extra time they need to spend than you would having purchased a mid-priced hosting plan with extra functionality.
The next level of hosting is what we at Trail 9 typically like to use, which is a more developer-friendly level of hosting. Mid-priced hosting is typically around $25 - $35 a month. We use Pantheon as our regular hosting company, for our internal websites and for whichever of our clients decide to use them as well. Their medium-sized plan costs $25 per month, and it comes with a lot of extra perks and functionalities that help streamline our website building process, from early development to going live as well as for later maintenance. It includes things like nightly backups, a Content Delivery Network (connected additional servers for faster content loading time), a code repository, and software for detailed performance metrics, as well as an SSL certificate and 24-hour support.
Most mid-sized hosting plans allow tens of thousands of monthly page views, usually in the 10,000-30,000 range. So, if you tend to get a fair amount of traffic to your website, or if you want extra functionalities, better performance, and higher speed with your hosting, then a mid-sized hosting plan would most likely be for you. A popular mid-level hosting provider is WP Engine, who offers a plan for $29 per month. While they cover up to 25,000 monthly page views (more than Pantheon's mid-sized plan of 10,000), they don't include as many extra functionalities as some other mid-level plans do. Different hosting companies and different plans will always offer different combinations of resources, and so it's always worth checking your options to see that you're getting what you need in a hosting environment.
Higher-cost hosting tiers usually support upwards of 100,000 page views per month, and their resources and functionalities vary between provider like every other hosting plan does. You can expect to pay an extra $100 or more a month for these plans, based on how robust you need your server resources to be. Small to medium-sized businesses usually work well with small or mid-sized hosting plans. High-cost plans are usually meant for bigger ecommerce websites and those who hold huge, busy online sales. Websites that give large Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales will want to look into increasing their server resources for those events.
Watch Those Contracts!
Vendor lock-in often happens from website companies who insist on hosting their websites after building them. A lot of companies will include their hosting price within their project price automatically, and if your hosting services are written into a contract like that, then you'll be stuck with that developer or hosting provider until your contract is over. So, if along the way you realize your website is too slow and you want more resources, or if you want to change developers, you wouldn't be able to for however long your contract lasts.
If you find yourself with very few options for your hosting, then you might need to search for a better choice. It's always good to have at least one or two additional options for hosting services. If your developer usually works using vendor lock-in contracts, you can try suggesting your own hosting provider or offer to pay the hosting provider directly while your developer works with it. That way, your website won't be held ransom by that company until your contract is over. There are even some companies who will lease your website to you, so you don't actually own it— you just pay X dollars per month or per quarter to have a functioning website.
How We're Different
At Trail 9, we're very conscious of leaving control with our clients, and we do so by making sure they own their website code, their domain, and everything associated with their project. We may purchase products or services on our clients' behalf, but we prefer it if they purchase critical items on their own. That way, they're sure to own everything themselves, and we can simply work to set up and maintain everything.
We try to be very flexible with our hosting services. We don't push people toward what hosting environments we think they should use— if they want to use their own server or a different hosting provider, that's completely fine with us. If we know that there's another option available that could boost their website's performance and speed, that's a lower price, or that has better security, then we'll tell the client about it, making sure that they're aware of they're other options. But, we make sure not to push our clients towards any particular hosting.