Considerations when looking for cheap hosting

In the past, cheap web hosting was synonymous with poor service and shady business practices. Services have evolved so that it is possible to find a good web host today if you’re operating on a budget. Knowing what you want from a host will help you make the best choice as you analyse the available options.

Cheap? What about free?

If you’re just starting out with web design, free hosting lets you get familiar with site building, file management and popular dashboard environments. A free service is also a good choice if you need a temporary site for an event such as a local festival or a family party. Since there are no cancellation fees, you can shut down your account at any time without a penalty.

However, free hosting comes with several limitations and drawbacks, including:

  • Display ads with no control over ad content
  • Little control over site appearance and function
  • No branded domain names
  • The chance that the host will shut down unexpectedly
  • Inability to migrate site layouts or templates to other services

These downsides generally make free hosting undesirable for establishing a long-term web presence.

How Cheap is Too Cheap?

The next step up from free hosting is a cheap shared hosting plan. Many companies now offer feature-rich plans for around $5 per month, and these can serve you well if your site is small and only receives a moderate amount of traffic.

Beware of $1 per month hosting plans that promise great service. It’s rarely possible to provide a quality hosting environment at prices that low. Promises of “unlimited” service on a shared host should also be viewed with a critical eye. Sharing server space with other users always means operating with a finite number of resources.

If you need more than shared hosting can offer, a virtual private server (VPS) provides a greater amount of resources and more control. Expect to pay at least $20 per month for these services. Cheaper hosting plans can’t guarantee the performance and support required by larger sites.

Price vs. Value

Cheap hosting is preferable if you’re operating with limited funds, but what you get for that low price is more important than the price itself. Compare offerings from the cheap web hosts you’re considering to figure out if you’re getting a truly good deal.

Features

Look for a host that provides a decent amount of bandwidth and disk space along with fast processing speeds and a realistic uptime guarantee. Find out if you can upgrade as traffic and resource demands increase. Hosting plans should also offer regular backup services to protect against data loss.

Support

A good web host provides support around the clock and is quick to respond to requests. If all you get is a support forum or a ticket system and can’t contact a live person in the event of a problem, look for another web host. Avoid plans that only offer support during certain hours or that require you to pay extra for customer service.

Security

Invasion by malicious users has plagued some web hosts in the past. Check the track record of each host you look at to see what, if any, problems they’ve had with security breaches and how those problems were resolved. Find out what kind of support is in place for users who are targeted by hackers and what protection the host uses to minimize this kind of attack. Cheap shared hosting environments can be especially problematic because multiple sites are sharing one server. If a hacker gets into one site, other sites on that server could be left vulnerable.

Long-Term Rates and Hidden Fees

Most cheap hosting providers only offer their lowest prices to users who pay for a year or more of service up front. Pay attention to the terms of these offers if you decide to take advantage of them. Sometimes the prices are only good for the initial subscription period, and you’ll be charged significantly more when it comes time to renew. There may also be fees for early cancellation that lock you into a plan whether or not you’re happy with it.

Some cheap hosting companies consider services such as account setup and domain transfers “extras” and charge additional fees for their use. Factoring these fees into the base price of the hosting service may reveal that the apparent deal you’re getting isn’t a deal at all. Read all the fine print before committing to a long-term plan to make sure that you understand the true cost.

Pay attention to these considerations as you shop around for a cheap hosting provider. The time you spend researching the options will pay off in the end with a hosting plan that supports your website’s requirements and provides the tools you need to build, grow and maintain your web presence.