The CMO’s Guide to Choosing a Web Host
By: Josh Thompson
October 19, 2015 | Web Design & Development
As a partner at Oodle, our development department lead and a 14-year veteran in digital, I have had the opportunity to work with and research every hosting option under the sun.
If you’re a CMO or marketing professional, it’s important to choose the right hosting for your website – in fact, the effectiveness of your digital marketing might depend on it.
WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS?
In reality, there are dozens of options to choose from, but for the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on the four most popular and high-level solutions.
This is the most economical option, but also the one that may be the most painful when needing support, in terms of long wait times or if support is unable to perform your request because it affects other uses on the server. In this environment, you are “sharing” hosting resources and containers with other people on one server, which also makes it a slightly more vulnerable choice.
_ Solution For: _ Simple, Low-traffic Marketing Sites
_ Example Hosts: _ GoDaddy, Bluehost, HostGator, 1&1, Dreamhost
All physical resources on this server, such as the processor, memory, storage, etc., are strictly “dedicated” to you and cannot be used or shared by anyone else. Typically you are required to complete the server configuration to match your project’s needs. This means it could not only be an expensive monthly option, but also require you to work with a server administrator to configure the server for you. These servers also may not scale easily, as you often need to take them offline to upgrade any resources.
_ Solution For: _ High-risk Websites (as for a large brand where sharing anything is not an option)
_ Example Hosts: _ Rackspace, Liquid Web, Media Temple
VIRTUAL PRIVATE SERVER (VPS)
These are like dedicated servers but much easier to scale – they normally come pre-configured and offer a certain level of support. VPS is a notch up from shared hosting solutions as you are given a certain “share” of the resource allocation on a network of resources. For example, you may start out with a fixed amount of memory and processing power dedicated to your project. To upgrade, you have minimal downtime while your hosting provider simply reallocates resources on your server instead of having to do a physical upgrade as you would on a dedicated server.
_ Solution For: _ High-traffic Marketing Sites, Multiple Brands on a Single Server, Low- to Mid-traffic Web Applications
_ Example Hosts: _ Liquid Web, Media Temple, Bluehost
APPLICATION SPECIFIC SERVERS
Typically if you select this option, you are laser focused on what you are trying to build and exactly how it will scale. It is somewhat specialized, whereas the other choices are one-size-fits-all. There are a few options when choosing this type of server, and it depends on the application. For example, if you’re hosting a node.js application, you may choose a company like Modulus; if you’re hosting a Rails application, the better choice might be Heroku; if building a PHP application, then Amazon Web Services (AWS). This type of server/configuration was built for application developers who care about flexibility, scale and features that are precisely tailored to their projects.
_ Solution For: _ Low to High-traffic Web Applications
_ Example Hosts: _ Amazon Web Services, Modulus, Heroku
WHAT FACTORS SHOULD I CONSIDER?
Expected monthly costs for a hosting company:
- Shared Hosting: $10 – $30 / month
- Dedicated Server: $200 – $600 / month
- Virtual Private Server: $60 – $300 / month
- Application Specific Server: $30 – $1,000+ / month
When budgeting for hosting, don’t just consider the monthly cost. Also always consider:
- Will I save money on development time because my agency/development company prefers to work with a specific host?
- What is the impact on the selected solution when it’s time to scale? Will it cost the company money to scale up or down?
- Will the selected solution come with managed support, or will a server administrator need to be hired to configure and maintain the server?
This is by far one of the most critical components in choosing the right host. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of shared hosting providers to choose from, along with dozens of VPS and dedicated server providers. If the hosting provider is not being helpful, or you are suffering through long wait times, you may be paying your agency $150 an hour to wait on the phone until the next representative can assist them. Even worse, your agency representative waits for an hour and the support person on the other end has no idea what you’re talking about, or they come back and declare the issue is out of their scope and are unable to assist. That means you are now paying your agency or development company hourly to solve a problem they have no expertise with.
Talk to your hosting provider before purchasing, ask what kind of response times they have, and what is or is not covered in their maintenance agreement.
As you grow, you need a provider that can scale with you, whether with a web application, a marketing site or the number of brands you now control. It is important to choose an option that can grow with you – it is often a painful, expensive and risky process to continue to migrate applications or websites from one web host to another. Try to choose a solution up front that meets the project and budget needs, but also has the capacity to evolve with minimal disruption.
LISTEN TO YOUR AGENCY
Trust your agency – you hired them for a reason. If you feel they are giving you poor advice, then working with them may have been a poor choice in the first place. When an agency recommends a solution, it probably means they have dealt with the quirks and nuances that apply to their own processes and with projects similar to yours. If your agency is distracted with working with an unfamiliar host, chances are your project may be falling behind or going over budget. Remember my earlier reference to that hour-long phone call with technical support?
It’s ok to ask your agency what decision-making processes they went through when selecting the hosting provider for your project. Additionally, now that you’ve made it through this entire article, I hope you feel empowered enough to follow along in the conversation with your agency and your peers – and feel confident you can make the right choice for your organization.