If you are into building websites, I bet you have heard some horrible things about cheap website hosting. I know I have. There is no doubt cheap, or even free website hosting has some horrible drawbacks. It can ruin your business or rob you of hundreds of dollars. But, if you can avoid these five problems, you can also save a bundle.
Cheap Website Hosting Problem #1—Time Sink
Why do busy people insist on signing up for the cheapest and most basic website hosting? It must be because they were too busy to do any research, for few of them know what they’re getting into.
Building a website takes time and energy. It’s true that you can outsource much of the required work, but if you choose cheap website hosting you deprive yourself of the easiest way to outsource your system administration work—by paying your host to manage your webserver software.
Most cheap website hosting companies offer one-click installs and control panels that let you add software and administer your website from your Web browser. That’s great, but you’re sorely mistaken if you think that frees you from having to deal with system administration issues.
Take for example the scourge of the Internet—spam. You will need to use the tools your cheap website hosting company gives you to fight spam—but you’ll probably also have to go out and look for some of your own tools. Cheap website hosting companies sell hosting—not spam protection.
If you’re busy running a business and you can afford a few hundred dollars a month for website hosting, consider the value of your time and look at managed hosting. But if you choose cheap website hosting, be prepared to do your own work.
When I started building websites I made a few bad mistakes with my hosting choices which set my business back months if not years.
Cheap Website Hosting Problem #2—What Tech Support?
The top cheap website hosting companies, like HostGator or DreamHost, make great tech support part of their customer commitment. But plenty of less savory companies are willing to shave a dollar or two off of their hosting plans by laying off trained tech support.
Call one of these cheap website hosting companies and you’ll probably get some clueless college kid—but only after you wait on hold for an hour. If you submit a support ticket, don’t bother to wait for the reply—it won’t come.
The best way to avoid this kind of company is to read honest reviews written by real customers. But sometimes you can still get duped, or (sadly) good companies can go bad. So here’s what I suggest:
Make sure you find a company that offers to refund your money if you’re not satisfied. Often these refund offers are for 15 or 30 days. HostGator offers a 45-day refund.
Then, during the refund period, look really hard for something wrong with your website or control panel or even the documentation. Then submit a support ticket.
See how long it takes the company to respond. (For even better testing, submit a support ticket on the weekend.) See if their answer makes sense—if it helps you. In short, test their tech support before you really need it.
Cheap Website Hosting Problem #3—Old Software
It must be true that cheap website hosting companies, by lowering their prices, don’t have enough revenue to do everything the more expensive hosting companies do.
One of the things the cheap website hosting companies don’t do is update their software frequently. WordPress 3.2 came out recently—take a look at what ancient version the company you’re considering is using. (Oh, they don’t mention version numbers on their website? What a surprise.)
Old software isn’t just old—it isn’t just missing the latest features. It’s also likely to have security problems. Hackers just love it when there are thousands of websites all with exactly the same software with exactly the same flaw. In just a few minutes, the hacker can attack all of those sites and get whatever he is looking for.
Sometimes the hacker is looking for financial information. Other times the hacker is trying to get your password—he’s guessing that you use the same password on other sites too. And sometimes you get hacked by an amateur hacker who just defaces your website—embarrassing you in front of all your friends, family, and colleagues.
It’s almost impossible to upgrade all of your own software on most webservers—you’re at the mercy of the cheap website hosting company. And if they don’t have the resources to upgrade—because you paid bottom dollar prices—you pretty much have to live with what you got.
On the other hand, I find that “if you give a little, you get a little.” And updated software is worth an extra couple bucks a month to me.
Cheap Website Hosting Problem #4—Kicked Off
Not a single one of the top 100 blogs as rated by Technorati is using cheap website hosting. That’s not really a surprise. But what could come as a surprise is a note in your email telling you that you’ve been kicked off of your website hosting company.
Cheap website hosting companies offer you a great deal because they assume you’ll be like most of their customers and barely use your website after the first two weeks.
That’s right, most people give up on their website after a short time—but they keep paying for hosting “in case I want to do something with it later.” (Even I fall into this trap sometimes.)
Much like how the airlines oversell capacity on flights assuming some people won’t show up, cheap website hosting companies oversell capacity on their servers assuming most people will get hardly any traffic. The problem for hosting companies—and airlines—occurs when they guess wrong.
Most cheap website hosting companies have a simple policy: if a website gets too popular, shut it down.
Now, you might be thinking that being too popular is a great problem to have. But popularity on the Internet doesn’t tend to grow organically or even geometrically—it grows exponentially. If you aren’t ready for the traffic spike when it comes, you’ll lose your big chance. It might be months (or years) until your site hits the front page on Digg or Reddit again.
Less cheap website hosting companies like DreamHost have moved their customer websites to dedicated servers during traffic spikes. And with plans at DreamHost costing only a few dollars more than plans at the cheapest website hosting companies, that’s protection that makes me happy. (DreamHost hosts one of the top–100 Technorati blogs too—proof that they actually care about customers.)
Cheap Website Hosting Problem #5—Slow
Imagine that you’ve done a great job promoting your site and you’ve managed to convince people to click links to your site—but your traffic stats are stagnant. What’s going on?
Google Analytics, which most people use to track their statistics, only tracks people who finish loading the HTML of your page. If people don’t finish loading your page, they don’t get counted by Google.
What’s the number one reason people don’t finish loading your page? It was loading too slow. (How many times have you closed a tab or hit back because a page loaded too slow?)
Why do your pages load slow? For the same reason you might get kicked off of your cheap website hosting company—capacity issues. Think about the airplane analogy from before—a heavy airplane needs a longer runway to take off and land. That’s why jumbo jets leave half-empty from some island airports with short runways.
Your overloaded webserver from the cheap website hosting company has the same problem. It’s so packed full of websites that it’s struggling to serve every page.
But remember that slow page loads are costing you traffic. Not hypothetical traffic—but real people who clicked on your links and who now refuse to wait forever for them to load.
How much are those extra visitors worth to you? If it’s more than a few dollars a month, it’s time to dump your cheap website hosting and try a company that will help you succeed.