By Gary Nugent

Not all webhosts are created equal. There is a perception among many people, especially those new to building a presence online, that one webserver is pretty much the same as another and with cost being a consideration, finding the cheapest webhost is what you should do.

Not so.

In many cases you get what you pay for – good and bad.

Shared Webhosting

When most people start building websites, they will opt for a shared hosting account. These are cheap – roughly $12 per month. Some webhosts offer discounts the longer the hosting period you buy. Some offer lower monthly prices. And hosting packages differ between companies. So what should you look for?

Going for a big, well-known brand may seem like an obvious choice. But in some cases, style wins out over substance. It’s always a good idea to do some research and look around for reviews of hosting companies.

For example, Hostgator have a good reputation and they’re certainly a hosting company I would recommend.

A2Hosting is the company I now host with due to their excellent support and fast servers.

GoDaddy, on the other hand, while being a high-profile brand, I would not recommend for a whole variety of reasons. I won’t reiterate them here but if you want to learn about those reasons, you can read them here on my Internet Marketing Strategies blog.

It helps if a webhost offers telephone support or, failing that, Chat Support as, if you have a problem, this is the quickest way of getting it resolved. Everyone offers email support or a support ticketing system but you may have to wait a couple of hours to as long as 24 or 48 hours for a reply to a query. That could mean it takes 2-3 days to get a problem resolved with email support being so slow by its very nature.

I use a Hostgator shared hosting account primarily for my static websites (i.e. not blogs). I did build several blogs on the account at one time but the releases of WordPress (from about V2.8 onwards) seem to use up a lot more server resources. The upshot was that I couldn’t run more than 3 blogs simultaneously on the hosting account. Not good if you plan on building a number of blogs. I do have one blog running on the account now, but it’s not a high traffic one.

The lesson I learned here is that if you plan on building a number of WordPress blogs, shared hosting accounts are simply not up to the job, unless you have just one site per hosting account, and even then a high-traffic site may still overuse resources.

To blog with WordPress you need to at least get a reseller hosting account (and I now use such an account at A2Hosting).

You’ll also see many webhosts offering “Unlimited” this and that. Take those claims with pinch of salt. Your hosting account is allocated a certain number of resources (bandwidth, memory, processes, files and disk storage). So what you’re allotted is finite.

Unlimited (infinite) anything just won’t squeeze into something finite. If you exceed any of your allocated resources, your webhost will warn you and if you don’t take action to remedy the situation, they’ll suspend your account. I know because it’s happened to me.

Reseller Webhosting

Hostnine Reseller Hosting PackagesReseller hosting accounts were originally created so that people could resell hosting to other people. In fact, that’s how a lot of smaller webhosting companies got started, branding the reseller packages with their own logos while behind the scenes another company was actually providing all the hardware and software that goes with it.

Reseller accounts are more expensive than shared hosting accounts. They typically cost $20-$25 per month. But what you’re paying extra for is a greater share of the server’s resources – so you get more bandwidth, memory and disk space.

With a shared hosting account, you only have one cPanel from which you manage all your sites. On a reseller package, you can create a cPanel for each of your domains. This makes each one discrete and separate from the others so the search engines cannot visit your primary domain and crawl down through your addon domains as happens with a shared hosting account unless you specifically take steps to stop that.

With a shared hosting account, the search engines (specifically Google) can see all the sites you own in one go. And that’s bad because if for any reason one of those sites gets blacklisted by Google, they could blacklist all your other sites because of their association with you. When sites are walled off from each other by being in their own cPanels, you’re protected from that kind of intrusion and possible fallout. It’s like not having all your eggs in one basket.

I’ve had reseller accounts with a number of different companies over the years and in almost every case I’ve run into difficulties. Part of this has been down to me wanting to keep costs to a minimum, so I’ve opted for cheaper options in some cases. In other cases, the resources provided in the reseller package haven’t been up to the job of running multiple WordPress installs.

I was with Site5 a couple of years ago and when my blogs overused resources, they suspended my account permanently so I had to move lock, stock and barrel to another webhost. They did at least provide a Zip file of everything I had on their server and copies of the WP databases, but moving sites is a hassle.

I switched to Heroehost and Hosteasier, both small outfits with Heroehost getting very good recommendations. Hosteasier I switched to because they had cheap reseller plans. Heroehost was sold by its owner and the new owners didn’t manage the business as effectively (support became bad, the were lots of times sites were down, etc.) so again I had to move my sites. Hosteasier was another company that couldn’t provide the resources needed to run a lot of blogs on one account, so I dropped them and switched to LiquidWeb.

VPS Hosting

LiquidWeb are quite expensive for what they offer though they come with a glowing reputation. I was paying $60 per month for a VPS with them. VPS in case you don’t know stands for Virtual Private Server.

It’s the next step up from a reseller hosting account and will cost $50+ per month depending on the type of package you order.

LiquidWeb’s VPS, unfortunately, also wasn’t up to the job of running multiple WordPress blogs and I had a huge number of issues with sites going down, blogs suffering from the dreaded “Missed Schedule” problem and overuse of resources.

A big disappointment but I can’t fault their support – it’s one of the best I’ve come across. I eventually dropped that account and moved my sites over to Heroehost.

Back in 2012, I was recommended to use Bolt Webhosting. Support was excellent and the hosting packages were competitively priced and well resourced.

Things went well initially and I moved my primary blog over to them. It’s a reasonably high traffic site so resource usage was a little on the high side but they tweaked the server settings so the site had a few more resources and wouldn’t go down when the resource limit was reached.

I’d added a couple of other new blogs to that hosting account so they were getting very little traffic. But as time passed, I found that the sites (all of them) were going down more and more frequently and when they were down they were staying down for longer.

I consulted the forum where I’d first got the Bolt Webhosting recommendation and found that a huge number of their customers were suffering from the same issues.

The upshot is that the then owner of Bolt sold his business and moved on and the new owners didn’t have the expertise to deal with the hardware issues that arose that caused people’s sites to go down.

The sites on Bolt were down for the best part of 2 weeks! Webmasters lost a lot of revenue from that downtime. It was one thing after another – they’d get that fixed and something else would break and sites would be down again.

To be fair, the new owners pulled out all the stops to help get things sorted, but it all took too long. Bolt’s reputation was fatally damaged I’d say.

You might ask why I didn’t just switch to another webhost. Two problems:

  • Buried in Bolt’s small print was a statement to the effect that they would not do regular backups of sites so not only could I not migrate a backup to another webhost but they couldn’t even restore my site to another server from a backup just to keep the site up and running, even if it was a bit out of date.
  • Because Bolt changed the server settings without telling their customers, plugins like BackupBuddy wouldn’t run so I couldn’t even back up my own sites. I was trying to get this resolved when the server hardware issues hit.

Once everything was eventually fixed, I decided to give them a second chance and again things were good. Then about 10 days lqter, my sites started going down again. Plugins like BackupBuddy stopped working again (server configs again changed without informing their customers).

So it was time to move again. This time I switched to ServInt and got a VPS. These guys have been around for years and have a great reputation.

Unfortunately, ServInt didn’t live up to my expectations. I stayed with them for over a year but my main site was always slow – slow to load and slow in pulling up the WordPress admin screens. I had several other sites on my server as well.

ServInt worked with me to identify the problems and I eventually upgraded from my $60/mth package to a $90/mth package so I could get access to APC and eAccelerator caching options which are designed to increase site performance. Initially, things looked good but then started going downhill again. Server load frequently went over 50 (over 1 is bad enough!).

I had to look for yet another webhost. This time I picked HostNine. But I opted for a reseller plan instead of a VPS. $24.95 per month got me a hosting package that allows 100 cPanel accounts, 50Gb storage and 500Gb bandwidth per month.

What I liked about HostNine was that you could pick the server location for each of your sites. They now have six locations, three in the USA, one in the UK, one in The Netherlands and one in Asia. And what was even more appealing was that each cPanel account had it’s own IP address. I had 30+ sites hosted with them and each one of those sites was on a unique IP address.

Since memory seemed to be the core issue with ServInt, I started moving my sites from them over to HostNine. I left my main site with ServInt as it’s huge and moving it is not easy. I had hoped that as I moved sites off ServInt, resource usage would drop and performance of my main site would improve. In terms of server load, that did happen, but the site load time was still a sickly 20+ seconds. Running BackupBuddy on my main site was also problematic.

I finally pulled the plug on ServInt and moved my main site over to HostNine. Remember, my Hostnine account was a reseller rather than a VPS. Once I got my main site up and running again, there was a marked improvement in performance. Page load times were between 5-8 seconds (still slower than I’d like but way better than 20+ seconds).

The Hostnine owners then sold the company. As is very common with such sales, they didn’t inform their customers about the change in ownership. The first customers knew was when support tickets went unanswered for long periods. And when they were answered, it was obvious that the technical expertise that had been present was now missing.

They moved from a ticket based support system to a chat-based support system. However, in many cases the technical ability of the front-line support staff was so poor that queries had to be escalated to more senior staff and when they promised to action an issue, they frequently didn’t follow through.

One issue in particular – a site that they’d taken offline without consulting me – wasn’t addressed for 8 months. Then it took another 2 months of intermittent communication before the problem was actually resolved.

Hardly a glowing reference for a company.

So, once again, it was time to move my sites…this time to A2Hosting. That’s where my sites are today and I’ve been very happy with them as a company.

Summing Up

The lesson to learn here is that you should choose your webhost with caution. Go read some reviews about any webhosts you’re thinking of signing up with. I don’t think any webhosting company will have a 100% reputation. There’s always going to be someone who’s had problems. And it’s how those problems were dealt with that will reveal the true nature of a company and whether or not they’re worth giving your money to.

So, if you build static websites, shared webhosting is probably fine though you may need to upgrade your account if your sites get a lot of traffic.

For WordPress blogs (more than two on the same account), you need a reseller hosting account or a VPS.

And right now, my top recommendation for WordPress webhosting is an A2Hosting Reseller Plan.

A2Hosting Reseller Accounts

 

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