Knowledge to Power Your Website

How to Choose a Web Host: A 15-Point Checklist

How to Choose a Web Host: A 15-Point Checklist thumbnail

Choosing a web host can be challenging — especially if you’re just starting your first website. There’s a lot of information to digest about hosting your site, and it’s easy to forget something important when you’re weighing the pros and cons of various providers.

However, if you know the right questions to ask, you can navigate the waters of web hosting without fear. There are many excellent plans to pick from. Making the right choice is simply a matter of considering your needs alongside what each service provider has to offer.

In this post, we’ll discuss why it’s necessary to determine your site’s hosting needs before you begin shopping. Then we’ll share a 15-point checklist to help decide which web hosting provider is right for you. Let’s get going!

Why It’s Vital to Identify Your Hosting Needs Upfront

There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all web hosting. Every website has different needs when it comes to storage, performance, features, and price. So before you start looking at plans, you’ll want to determine your site’s hosting requirements.

By knowing what you need ahead of time, you can narrow down your choices more quickly and avoid making costly mistakes when selecting your host. Some questions you might ask include:

  • How large is your website and what are its storage needs?
  • On average, how much traffic do you expect each month?
  • What’s your hosting budget?
  • What are your current website management skills? What might you need help with?
  • Apart from storing your site, what services will you need from your hosting provider?

Your answers to these questions will eliminate some hosts right away. Then, you can use the checklist below to determine if other hosting options are a smart match for your site.

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How to Choose a Web Host (A 15-Point Checklist)

There are many aspects to consider when choosing a hosting provider, and the process can seem overwhelming at first. That’s why we’ve listed out the 15 most important questions to ask when evaluating a hosting provider:

  1. How Reliable Are the Host’s Servers?
  2. Is It Easy to Upgrade Your Plan?
  3. Can You Easily Add a Domain?
  4. Are There Significant Differences in the Sign-Up and Renewal Costs?
  5. Does the Host Have a Generous Refund Policy?
  6. Is There a One-Click Installer?
  7. Will Your Host Provide Email Addresses for Your Domain?
  8. Will You Have Easy SFTP Access?
  9. How Difficult Is It to Find and Edit .htaccess?
  10. What E-Commerce Features Are Included (If Any)?
  11. Can You Easily Navigate and Use the Control Panel?
  12. Are SSL Certificates Included?
  13. How Often Will You Have to Renew Your Subscription?
  14. Does the Web Host Offer Easy Site Backups?
  15. Can You Quickly Access Support 24/7?

Now, let’s dive into each question in more detail to guide you towards the best host for your situation.

1. How Reliable Are the Host’s Servers?

Performance and uptime can make or break your website. Your website’s performance influences Search Engine Optimization (SEO), bounce and conversion rates, and how trustworthy your site appears to visitors. We’re not exaggerating when we say that the reliability of your server has a direct impact on your website’s bottom line.

Any provider you consider should have an uptime guarantee of at least 99%. At DreamHost, our uptime guarantee is 100%, as per our Terms of Service.

DreamHost's uptime guarantee.

It’s also wise to check out what performance-related features a given host offers. This can include built-in caching, access to a Content Delivery Service (CDN), and more.

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2. Is It Easy to Upgrade Your Plan?

If you’ve created a website with all the elements it needs to succeed, chances are it’s going to grow. With any luck, you’ll see an increase in traffic and conversion rates. This will likely mean you’ll have to upgrade your web hosting plan.

Most new sites start on a shared, low-cost plan. As your online presence expands, however, you’ll need more resources, bandwidth, and disk space to maintain your site for all its users. A host that offers easy upgrades to a Virtual Private Server (VPS), Managed WordPress, or Dedicated Hosting plan can make this process smoother.

Upgrading a hosting plan in the DreamHost control panel.

If you choose a host that makes it difficult to change your plan, you could find yourself migrating to a new provider just a few months after launching your site.

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3. Can You Easily Add a Domain?

As your digital brand grows, you may find that you not only want to expand your current site but start a new one as well. Alternatively, perhaps you simply like collecting domain names or you want to get into website flipping.

Whatever the reason, if you’re going to purchase additional domains, you’ll need a host that makes it simple to acquire and manage them. Choosing a provider that offers unlimited domains ensures that you won’t ever run out of space.

4. Are There Significant Differences in the Sign-Up and Renewal Costs?

It’s important to choose an affordable host. However, be careful when signing up, as you don’t want to get roped into a plan that’s more expensive than it seems on the surface. Some companies will offer attractive sign-up deals for new customers. Then, when it comes time to renew, they’ll raise the price.

Make sure to look into your potential host’s renewal fees as well as the initial sign-up cost. Some difference between these two is an industry norm. However, you’ll want to keep the contrast as low as possible and avoid a higher renewal rate entirely if possible.

5. Does the Host Have a Generous Refund Policy?

In an ideal world, you’ll choose the perfect host the first time around, your website will flourish, and you’ll never need to cancel your service. However, things don’t always go according to plan.

If you need to cancel your hosting for any reason, you’ll want to avoid excessive fees. It’s also wise to choose a host that offers a trial period so that if things don’t work out in the first few weeks of service, you can cancel without penalty.

6. Is There a One-Click Installer?

As the most popular Content Management Service (CMS) on the web, WordPress often receives additional support from hosting companies. Managed WordPress plans and WordPress-related features can be especially helpful if this is the platform you intend to use.

A particularly useful feature that some hosts offer is a one-click WordPress installer.

The DreamHost one-click WordPress installer.

Better yet, some hosts will pre-install WordPress for you. This can save you a lot of time during the initial setup. You can also find one-click installers for other platforms, such as Joomla and Zen Cart.

7. Will Your Host Provide Email Addresses for Your Domain?

Whether you have a business site, a blog, an e-commerce store, or some other type of website, your visitors will probably need a way to get in touch. Having an email address that’s associated with your site’s domain (i.e., zoe@mysite.com) appears more professional and is easier for users to remember.

Checking out a potential host’s email services is a must if you want to incorporate this feature into your online presence.

DreamHost's email services.

Choosing a host that includes this service in its web hosting packages or provides it for a low cost means you won’t have to set up custom email addresses manually.

8. Will You Have Easy SFTP Access?

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) are vital tools for website maintenance. At some point, you’ll likely have to use one or the other to resolve an error, customize your site, and carry out different tasks.

Your host should provide credentials so that you can use FTP or SFTP via a client such as FileZilla. This information should be easy to locate so that you can access it at any time. Additionally, some hosts will provide their own FTP clients for your use as well.

DreamHost's WebFTP client.

This is a nice bonus and can be an easier and more secure option than third-party FTP clients.

9. How Difficult Is It to Find and Edit .htaccess?

For WordPress users, the .htaccess file is a crucial part of your site. It contains a wealth of configuration information that influences permalink structure, caching, 301 redirects, file accessibility, and more.

You may need to edit .htaccess at some point to resolve an error, tighten security, or carry out other tasks to improve your site. Unfortunately, this isn’t always easy, since .htaccess is a hidden file.

Even if you can find the file, editing it via SFTP can be risky. It’s helpful if your web host provides a file manager for editing .htaccess, to minimize the risks to the rest of your site.

10. What E-Commerce Features Are Included (If Any)?

All websites have the same basic needs. However, if you’re running an e-commerce site, you’ll need some unique features. For instance, you’ll probably want more frequent backups and a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to reach customers around the world.

A specialized e-commerce website hosting plan can help you get the support your online store needs at an affordable rate.

DreamHost's WooCommerce hosting plans.

Some plans — including our own e-commerce plans — will even pre-install WooCommerce and the Storefront theme for WordPress retailers.

11. Can You Easily Navigate and Use the Control Panel?

You’ll be spending a lot of time in your hosting control panel. Being able to navigate around your account easily can make managing your website much less challenging. Plus, you won’t have to rely on support as much when you’re figuring out tasks such as billing and upgrading.

Choosing a host that offers a custom control panel can save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

The DreamHost control panel.

Our control panel, for instance, offers clear navigation menus. That way, you can easily find information on your site, contact support, or edit your account information.

12. Are SSL Certificates Included?

Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificates are vital for keeping your site and its users safe. This is particularly true if you’re dealing with sensitive information such as credit card details, SSL certificates, and the like.

Adding an SSL certificate to your site is usually an additional expense. However, some hosting providers will include one in your plan at no extra cost. Choosing one of these hosts can save you a little extra money while helping to keep your site secure.

13. How Often Will You Have to Renew Your Subscription?

Many hosts require a monthly subscription from their customers. There’s nothing wrong with that model, and if your fees are low enough, you might not mind having to pay monthly. However, this option isn’t always the most cost-effective.

Other hosts will offer one or even three-year plans. By paying for a longer term upfront, you can often save some money down the line. When comparing prices between hosts, make sure to consider this.

DreamHost's renewal term options.

Don’t forget that you’ll have to renew your domain name as well. This is usually an annual occurrence, although you can find options for two- and three-year registrations here at DreamHost. You can also sign up for an auto-renewal program to avoid forgetting to renew your domain.

14. Does the Web Host Offer Easy Site Backups?

We all like to think the worst will never happen to us. However, it’s best to be prepared. Accidents and attacks happen, and if you’re in a position where your site has been destroyed, you’ll want a way to restore it.

Backups ensure that you have a way to bring your site back if it’s lost. While there are many methods available for backing up a website, one of the easiest is to do it through your web host. It’s even more convenient if your host offers automated daily backups for your site, along with one-click on-demand backups.

15. Can You Quickly Access Support 24/7?

Your relationship with your web host will hopefully be a long one. Reliable customer support is key if that relationship is going to be mutually beneficial. Making sure any host you’re considering has multiple contact methods and a 24/7 support team can guarantee that someone will be available whenever you need help.

DreamHost's 24/7 support page.

Additionally, specific support for WordPress, e-commerce, or other niches can come in handy. Choosing a host with a team that is knowledgeable about the tools you use will ensure that your site has the best support possible. For example, if you opt for DreamPress, our WordPress-specific managed hosting, you’ll get priority access to our elite squad of in-house WordPress experts.

Finding the Right Web Hosting Service

When it comes to choosing a web host, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. There are many factors to consider, and your decision could ultimately determine your website’s success or failure.

However, if you go into your web hosting search with your needs clearly outlined, you’ll eventually find the best provider for you. Asking careful questions about the quality of the host’s services and equipment, the additional features it offers, and its pricing will steer you in the right direction.

If you’re a WordPress user, that direction just might be DreamHost’s Starter Shared Hosting plan. This plan is a low-cost option that’s ideal for small business owners or those just starting out. With Shared Hosting, there’s no limit to the amount of disk space you can use for your site. Unlimited bandwidth means when your site goes viral, you don’t have to stress about storage space. Most importantly, with any DreamHost plan, you’ll be able to answer “Yes!” to each of the questions on this checklist.

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Ellice comes to us from House DreamHost, the first of her name, Gatekeeper of All Things Content, Protector of the Brand and Ruler of Social Realms. tl;dr - Ellice is the Content Marketing Manager at DreamHost and oversees all social media and content efforts.