Many popular hosts such as Hostgator, Bluehost, and iPage (which are all part of the EIG hosting group company) have a reputation for overloading servers with websites with not enough resources. This leads to downtime (where your website is not available) and very slow loading times for your website. These factors can cause your business to lose customers and create a poor representation of your brand.
Much of the information you can Google or find online regarding the "best web host" or "reliable web hosting service" are not very reliable because the web hosts with the largest budgets in the industry can buy out top search results and offer the highest-payouts to their affiliates. This leads to many top bloggers who can easily post and appear on the first page results of the keywords "Best web host" to sponsor and recommend for these large budget web hosts to gain the maximum amount of referral rewards.
One may argue that the web hosts with the largest budgets have the ability to invest in the best technology and support, but this is not the case for many top-budget web hosts. Many of the popular web hosts are actually under a name called Endurance International Group (EIG) Hosting. This big company acquires web hosting companies with a strong user-base and totally renovates the business for higher profit margins in satisfying their shareholders. You can read an article on EIG covering reviews on their web hosts and their business structure where they fire many experienced knowledgeable staff to hire cheaper staff, migrate websites to low-quality servers and do whatever to cut costs.
So here are the main factors to consider when choosing a reliable web hosting service:
1. Speed and Scale- response times, page speed, caching
One of the most important things to consider when choosing a hosting service is speed. Your website's page speed can determine the difference between a customer bouncing off your website or making it to the checkout page to submit an order.
Starting from the hardware that your host uses, using a hard disk drive (HDD) versus a solid-state disk drive (SSD) to store all your files can make a huge difference in load times for your website. Since accessing information from a hard disk drive can take much longer than a solid-state disk drive. Here are some statistics and tests on the comparison of the two different disk drives.
Another important aspect that is not mentioned very often is the amount of resources that is available per website. For example, a website with one WordPress install is recommended to have at least 100 megabytes of RAM and 10 GB of storage. Unfortunately, many hosts disregard this and rather overload their servers with websites to increase profit margins. This leads to a lot of downtime and consistently slow page speeds for many people running their websites on these hosts.
Caching is also another important aspect that can drastically reduce your page load speeds. Since web pages not only contain static content (Html, CSS) but dynamic content that consist of server side programming code, your website can cache the dynamic content for users so that there is less server load and processes to display dynamic content. There are different kinds of caching such as page, browser, web server and CDN (Content Delivery Network) caching. Here's a more in-depth simple explanation on caching.
Speed is essential to success in delivering content but not without the ability to serve multiple people on your websites. By multiple people, I mean having hundreds, if not thousands of people accessing your website at the same time. This can lead to having millions of visits per month to your website where your server needs enough resources to handle all these requests, but once your server reaches the maximum amount of resources used, it needs the ability to scale.
Scaling is an essential to handle spikes in traffic, if your website ever gets featured on a popular blog or website, there will be a large amount of people accessing your website at the same time. There also may be certain times of the day where there is more people on your website. A scaling infrastructure will handle these traffic spikes by sharing resources from a group of other servers. This is something that will need to scripted or setup so that whenever the maximum amount of resources are used on a server, the server will request to serve the extended amount of traffic to other servers so that no servers will have any downtime and all requests will be served.
2. Up-time and Backups
Up-time for a web hosting service is essential to everyone's success because if we are offline, then we lose the whole purpose of being an online presence. Some factors that affect a hosts up-time is the infrastructure of the physical servers, the amount of resources available per website, and the management of DNS (Domain Name Servers) and site migrations.
The root of downtime can be caused by poor maintenance and care of the physical servers in a web hosting facility. Since web hosting servers are computers that need to compute a lot of information, they can get very hot and if they are placed with enough space and fanned in a temperature controlled facility, they will get too hot and eventually crash leading to down-time. This may not happen very frequently with most web hosts but can be a underlying issue if the servers are not cared for.
Another obvious vulnerability web hosts need to protect is the physical entries of anyone by creating restrictions of the property and hosting facilities with 24/7 Security Services with constant monitoring of CCTVs. Electrical issues can also be also an issue due to blackouts, having batteries and generator backups are important to reviving electrical downtime.
Again having enough resources for each website will be critically important to have up-time since the server will crash if it uses up all the resources available.
A website can also have down-time when a domain's name server is moved or has the incorrect A records leading to the domain being pointed the incorrect servers. When migrating websites, the web host will run into DNS propagation and without proper management when moving database/files it can lead to downtime. To reduce the amount of downtime, a web host needs to first move all the database and files/folders to the new location in a working condition. Then, the web host may point the domains to the new location and will need to consider DNS propagation which can take up to 24 hours (Although it is usually pretty quick).
In any case such as during a downtime or security vulnerability, it is possible that a server can lose all its files including all the database information that has been stored.
This is why web hosts should always should have backups of all the files and databases either stored on a cloud drive or anywhere not on the server itself. You may also want to backup to return to any previous state after making a mistake on your website (that is hard to reverse), update errors (updates on software causing errors), or any other reason that is irreversible or unknown.
3. Security and Maintenance
Security is an essential to protecting your website from hackers and intruders from accessing sensitive information, harming your website or server, or even using your server resources to benefit themselves (such as mining crypto-currencies which has been on the rise). Some of the main factors for strong security are firewalls, ssh keys, software updates, malware scanning, file permissions, and SSL certificates.
Starting with firewalls, web hosting services need to create firewalls to prevent access to private areas of the server such as databases and files. Allowing only access to the public area such as access to your website will prevent any attacks and vulnerabilities.
SSH allows you create private and public keys so that you can disable password authenticated logins to prevent password guessing intrusions. SSH keys prevent it from being cracked since it is too encrypted for a modern computer to run through possible passwords. Fail2Ban can also prevent users by creating a limited number of password guesses and lock out users.
Software updates need to be up to date so that any security vulnerabilities known will be patched and blocked. Scanning and monitoring should be always done on the server to remove any malware or to prevent any intrusions.
File permissions should also be set correctly by preventing any unauthenticated users from accessing and writing to files that are sensitive and should only be available to the owners of the server. Lastly, SSL certificates should be installed so that sensitive information such as credit card information are passed on an encrypted connection.
With all speed, reliability, and security you would have a wonderfully performing website, but without phenomenal support it would be tough during times when you need an extra hand. Such as having confusion with working with software or needing your site to be migrated or backed up. Not the generic web host that will help you with basic things such as registering a domain but a knowledgeable host in server administration, web development, and search engine optimization. Your web host support should be able to answer all your technical questions and also be able to give you advice/recommendations to improve your online website. You would want a support staff that will grow with your business and not just available for minimal support.
Here is a list of the things you need to look for when looking for a reliable web host:
- Speed and Scale
- SSD Hardware
- Enough resources per website
- Scaling infrastructure
- Up-time and Back ups
- Secure physical infrastructure
- Cloud back ups
- DNS management
- Files and database management
- Security and Maintenance
- SSH keys
- Software updates
- Malware scanning and monitoring
- File permissions
- SSL Certificates
- Software help
- Knowledgeable support: Server admin, Web development, SEO
- Advice and recommendations