We are asked all the time about hosting. The points covered below should be considered when choosing a home for your online presence, can lead to you having a better platform for your online success, and save you a lot of headaches down the road. There is a lot more to choosing the right web host than price.
Secure Web Hosting is Key
If your website is important—or visited by people that are—make sure to invest in a host that keeps things updated and secure or makes it easy to do so.
Many people assume their website security is handled by their host. But many low-cost providers enable customers to use long-abandoned, insecure server software. Definitely a bad idea. As a result, far too many sites run on outdated server stacks with non-upgraded CMS software.
Finally, if you use software that has a record for frequent security vulnerabilities, you should absolutely deploy a web application firewall (WAF).
No matter what type of site you have, security should be top of mind. Yes, even if your site is just about your pet cat or documenting a new passion project. You don’t want your mom to check in to see how Whiskers is doing and wind up getting redirected to NSFW things they’d rather not see.
If you’ve got a business, this goes 1000x.
And backups. Please, please, please: make sure you have automatic nightly backups covering multiple days. On highly-durable and redundant storage. In a different data center than where your site lives. That you can restore on demand.
This will invevitably prevent a lot of heartburn down the road, and provide a lot of peace of mind until they’re needed.
Choose Fast Web Hosting that Scales
If you expect a lot of traffic, like for annual festivals or big events, having infrastructure proven and tuned to support thousands of concurrent visitors is key.
Choose a vendor that offers properly tuned and optimized configurations (vs. just throwing bigger servers at it), and has a proven track record of knowing how and when high availability (HA) clusters make sense. Picking the right vendor that truly knows high performance hosting should make a huge difference in cost and site speed, and result in more happy and engaged website visitors that convert better, too.
However, most sites will never see a lot of traffic. Even then, if you have a dynamic website on an outdated over-sold server, then your site won’t fare well in search. And today, website speed is more important than ever.
Caching and a content delivery network (CDN) should almost always play into your website infrastructure plans for the best chances for hitting page one in search and delivering a fast website that your visitors enjoy using. A great support team (see below) can also help you take a site that’s suffering under load and offer options to improve its performance.
Site Uptime & Availability Keep Visitors Engaged
The infrastructure that underpins the Internet—from global networks to the servers sites live on—is insanely complex.
That means outages will happen for an almost limitless number of reasons: regional network outages, bad BGP pushes, running out of diesel for backup generators during natural disasters, data center fires, hardware failures, bad code or bugs taking down the server stack, human errors on the data center floor, DDoS attacks, and about eleventy-billion other things. (We’ve witnessed all these in the past few years.)
There is also planned mainteance that can require downtime, often exempt from SLAs.
For important sites, consider a layered approach to improving uptime and availability. This could include full-page proxy caching, automatic failover or high availbility hosting that will survive both planned and unplanned downtime, and custom server error pages as a last resort with important contact details and links (e.g., for online banking).
Bonus points if you can quickly spin up a copy of your site in a different data center from last night’s backup, update your DNS, and be back in action.
Global Website Hosting Data Centers Keep You Close to Your Customers
Serving content close to your customers can cut down on latency, leading to faster pageloads for visitors. Organizations located in certain regions like the EU are also subject to privacy regulations like GDPR.
While a CDN can help cover for server latency, where data is processed, stored, and backed up should not be overlooked.
The Best Hosting Support Includes Your CMS
Most of the time when you need help, it’s with the software that powers your website not working as expected. While what you’re looking for, and rightfully should expect, is quick, genuinely helpful replies, that often doesn’t happen. Many hosts simply don’t have the knowlege or experience with all the possible software that runs on their servers.
Most hosts are good at one thing: managing cPanel servers and deployments. When something goes wrong with your website, though, they’ll usually refer you to whatever software project you use for your site.
A good host will help you keep things up to date or provide tools to do so, even for the software that powers your website.
Opt for Fast DNS to Prevent Problems
Some registrars are truly terrible at domain record management. In some cases they may take hours to reflect changes, which is a major problem if something goes wrong and you need to make a quick adjustment to your email or website records.
A smart choice is to use a DNS provider that updates records quickly, returns results lightning fast, and provides advanced DNS functionality including CNAME flattening or ALIAS records on distributed DNS infrastrucutre.
Separate Concerns for Simplicity
Two additional areas you may not have considered for your online presence and activities.
Email & Hosting Should Live Apart
Most hosts offer email along with their hosting as part of your account—many with unlimited inboxes. But if your business email is critical to your business, it’s better to keep your website and email hosting separate.
For example, if the IP of the site gets blacklisted on a shared host, this could also affect your email deliverability—making it much harder for your emails to get into the Inbox instead of landing in the Junk folder if it gets to the mail server at all.
If you don’t have your own Exchange deployment, use a third-party business email service that has invested hundreds of millions or more in doing email well, like Google Workplace, Office 365, Zoho, and others.
Directly Pay for Your Own Hosting Account
As a general rule, you should always directly pay for your hosting account.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have someone run it for you, but if the proverbial bus accident occurs or you just decide to change vendors, things are a lot simpler when you’re in control and paying the bill. We’ve sadly seen more than a few needlessly difficult situations from companies going out of business, or worse, people scrambling to recover their website when things go south.
If you have a direct business relationship with your web hosting vendor, you can avoid a potential headache.
Growing Businesses Should Invest in High Quality Hosting
Hopefully this article will help you make an informed decision about choosing the right host to help you achieve online success—versus just signing up for a low cost plan where you registered your domain.
If you’re interested in learning more about the types of hosting generally available, including cost ranges, please read Hosting Options and MODX Cloud, or if you have any questions please contact us for hosting advice.