Web Hosting shopping guide – compare prices and features

When you’re choosing between Web Hosting from different companies, you want to make a good long-term choice. There’s more to it than just comparing price, though, and it’s not alway easy to tell exactly how different packages compare.

This guide takes you through the ways Web Hosting features can be labelled, packaged, and priced. So if you’re wondering whether there’s a difference between shared hosting and cPanel hosting, or if 10GB of storage is enough, or whether SSL is important, you’re in the right place.

Web Hosting goes by a few different names

You might have a range of tabs open with names like Web Hosting, Shared Web Hosting, cPanel Hosting, or Linux Web Hosting. These all refer to the same thing.

  • It’s web hosting because it makes it possible for your website to appear online.
  • It’s shared hosting because a lot of customers like you all have your sites stored on a single server (with technical “walls” between them).
  • It’s cPanel hosting because that’s the system that you use to manage your hosting.
  • It’s Linux hosting because that’s the server’s operating system. This name it differentiates it from Windows Hosting, which is usually more expensive. (As a Web Hosting user, you shouldn’t ever need to worry about server operating systems. Some providers, including us, don’t even mention Linux in our descriptions of our Web Hosting packages.)

cPanel is a common system used all around the world to manage web hosting.

So, for example, you can safely compare “Shared Web Hosting” from one provider to “cPanel Web Hosting” from another. In this article we’ll just call it Web Hosting.

Related articles: Linux hosting vs Windows hosting, and how cPanel and Plesk fit in

Understanding what’s in Web Hosting packages

Looking at Web Hosting packages on different websites, you’ll soon notice that some companies keep their feature lists short and to the point, while others will list dozens of bullet points. Let’s go through the important things to look for – and some hidden tricks to avoid.

What you’ll find in every Web Hosting package

No matter which company’s hosting you’re looking at, it will always include:

  • Storage space on a web server. The amount of storage can vary a lot.
  • A connection from that server to the internet. The speed of that connection, and the amount of data you may transfer through it, varies between packages.
  • A limit on the number of websites that you can host.
  • An account to log into, where you manage your hosting.
  • A monthly or annual bill, which can be affected by short-term discounts and charges for other features.

What all the numbers mean – storage, bandwidth, and uptime

Storage needs can vary a lot between sites. These days we offer unlimited storage so our customers don’t need to worry about it, but our smallest package used to include 3GB which is enough for basic websites. You could need much more – for example if you’re running a store with lots of products or building a portfolio with a lot of images or videos that you’ll store on the server. Unmetered or unlimited storage is the easiest way to avoid these problems.

Bandwidth is a measure of the amount of data that web server sends out to your visitors. Every time someone opens one of your pages, a little bit of bandwidth gets used as that webpage shoots out of your web server and into their browser. When you’re comparing packages you’ll probably see numbers in the hundreds of gigabytes, at least. It’s very unlikely that bandwidth will be an issue unless you’re going to have thousands of visitors a week or have a very data-heavy website.

Uptime guarantees usually start with two nines. Promises of 100% uptime are not credible. 99% and 99.9% look similar, but think of the downtime. If a server is up for 99% of a day then it’s down (and your site is offline) for almost a quarter of an hour, which adds up to over half a week every year. With 99.9% uptime a server is down for 0.1% of the time, or less than 9 hours a year.

You might also see database limits in web hosting packages. Unless you’re working with a web developer who has relatively complex plans, you can probably ignore these limits.

Don’t pay extra for crucial Web Hosting features

Some web hosts offer dirt-cheap packages with the basics listed above, and then pile on fees for “extras” that almost everyone needs. It’s like when airlines offer cheap seats and charge heaps for your luggage and meal. Don’t sign up for Web Hosting without knowing that you’ll get everything you need.

Not every hosting provider includes personal support from real experts.

SSL (sometimes listed as “SSL Certificate”) is a must. Without an SSL certificate most browsers won’t display your website (instead they show a security warning). Some hosts charge extra for SSL, so look carefully.

Back-ups are copies of your website that are stored separately. In a perfect world you will never need a back-up, but if there’s ever a disaster then this is an important part of your recovery plan. Check how often and how thoroughly back-ups will be taken, and whether they will cost extra. (Partial back-ups can be an issue. We have a competitor that offers unlimited website storage, but only backs up 1GB of that site.)

Email hosting lets you have email addresses with the same domain as your site (so if your site is www.example.com your email could be [email protected]). Lots of web hosting packages (like ours) include email hosting. If it’s not included, this might be an extra cost to consider.

Support is a big differentiator. If you need help you want access to a competent, helpful person. Some companies separate personal service out as a paid extra and leave you to solve your own issues with the “help” of chatbots or FAQ pages. If your site is down and it takes days to find a fix, that’s an expensive wait. When companies say they provide real service, check their reviews and see if their customers agree.

Understanding Web Hosting pricing (including some common tricks)

Let’s clear one thing up before we talk about prices:

Free web hosting is always a classic example of getting what you pay for.

We’ve written about ten common problems with free WordPress hosting, for example, and most of them (like ads you can’t control, a complete lack of support, and outdated and insecure software) can apply whether or not you’re running WordPress.

So it’s time to look at how Web Hosting packages are priced, and what to look out for when you’re comparing numbers.

A few simple things

  • Double-check the currency. We’re a New Zealand provider and we charge NZD, but a lot of our competitors work in more expensive US dollars.
  • Check pricing periods. Monthly or annual bills are most common, but you might also find weekly prices, which can look very low at first.
  • Check whether GST is included or not. (Like most providers, we display prices excluding GST.)
  • Will you be locked in? Some deals require you to pre-pay for a certain number of years, so be careful before you commit.

Some of the ways advertised Web Hosting prices can be misleading

Please don’t be fooled by “introductory” prices that turn into big bills later. These are usually shown as specials or discounts, and they can look very attractive.

Never trust a discount with no clear end date. If you see “Usually $10/mo, Now $8/mo!” then you want to know how many months the discount will apply for. If in doubt, assume it’s only one month.

Some discounts only apply on certain billing cycles. One of our competitors muddies the waters with offers like “$15.99/mo with a 1-yr term”. The price is shown as a monthly amount, but if you sign up for monthly billing you don’t get the discount.

If you can see a “renewal” price, that’s what you’ll pay after all the short-term price incentives disappear. To pull another quote from the same competitor: “You pay $77.88 today. Renews at $331.87.” The renewal price is more than quadruple the original deal! (That’s some of the smallest, greyest text on their page, by the way.)

Always read the small print: This is an actual screenshot from a company that hits customers with huge price hikes after a year.

So compare long-term or renewal prices rather than short-term deals.

Domains and hosting sold together

Some Web Hosting packages come with a domain name packaged in. This might be advertised as hosting with a free domain, or a domain with free hosting. Either way, a $100 hosting package with a free domain does not beat a $60 hosting package with a $30 domain.

Always ask:

  • How long will the free part be free for? For domain names, one year is common.
  • What will the regular cost of each component be after the deal expires?
  • What sort of domain can I get? Free offers often limit your choices, and it’s common for .nz domains, for example, to be excluded.

In short, look past the word “free” to the bottom line.

A $100 hosting package with a free domain does not beat a $60 hosting package with a $30 domain.

We’ve seen domains that start out free for a year and then cost twice what we charge – so the savings completely disappear when the first bill arrives.

Ready to compare options?

Everything we’ve said here is about shared Web Hosting, which is likely to be perfect for any website you make. The next step up is to run a virtual server (VPS), which is a more technical undertaking. You can compare shared hosting and VPS, but only go beyond shared hosting if you really need to.

Main image: Mouse Trap Cheese Device by Skitterphoto, used under the Pixabay Content License.


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