I’m going to preface this entire post with a statement that may annoy my boss: I don’t care who you pick for a webhost, I care that you pick the right host for your needs. With that in mind, I won’t be naming hosts by name.
But explaining what that means is complicated and weird, so let’s go through the ‘entry level’ hosts and what all this means for you, but also for your clients. After all, part of helping people get set up on a new webhost means actually helping them figure out what they need, and getting it installed
What is an ‘Entry Level’ Host Anyway?
The basic definition here is the smallest, cheapest, least robust hosting you can possibly get.
In general, this is where we all start. We need inexpensive hosting because we don’t know how much the site we’re proposing to build is going to need. To be honest, I detest being asked to ‘spec’ something with regards to hosting. “How much do I need to run a community site for..” Couldn’t tell ya. In fact, really, no one can tell you. It’s like “How much gas do I need to drive from Chicago to Cleveland?” I did it on one tank in my car, but my cousin stops three times. It’s got to do with gas milage, engines, traffic, and weather (gas expands and contracts, etc etc).
So starting out entry level for most of us is just fine. In fact, I recommend it. They can run as low as $4 a month, though I tend to point out “You get what you pay for.” Otto once said “Look here, if you’re paying less than $300 a year to run a website, then why bother? How serious are you about your website anyway?”
Paying $50 a year for a website is the cost of about 12 lattes from an overpriced coffee house. It’s around five pounds of decent-to-good coffee beans. It’s just over one tank of gas for a larger car. If your website is your life, and not a hobby, this is too cheap. And yes, I work for a company who has low cost hosting. The hosting is not the only cost, though, so when I say “Spending $300 a year is reasonable.” I’m not just talking about the host. We’ll get to that in a second.
What am I paying for?
The basics. Space on a server with access to the internet. PHP, SQL, email, and some sort of ‘control panel.’ You’ll pay around $8-10 minimum for a host with cPanel or Plesk. Less if they made their own (or have a deal). You’ll also have limits, even if they say ‘Unlimited,’ and let’s talk about that for a moment.
Unlimited does not mean there are no rules, so put your shirt back on. In general, unlimited means “We’re not going to give you all sorts of nit-picky rules about how many images you can have, or how much CPU you can use, because those things are nigh impossible for you to understand. Instead, we’re going to make sure you don’t do things that will crash the server, and if you do, we’ll tell you.” So while there are no ‘limits’ there is ‘monitoring.’
Someone is going to say “Then there are limits!” and in a way, yes. But the trick is those limits change based on your neighbors. Allow me to explain with an analogy. When you’re in college, it’s okay to be noisy at weird hours at the frat house because the acceptable noise level is higher. When you’re living in an apartment in the city, though, suddenly you have neighbors who work the night shift, and you have to be quieter. Shared hosting, the cheap seats, are very much where you need to be quieter, respect your neighbor, and don’t do your laundry at 2am.
In addition, you’re paying for server and service support. Email not working? PHP needs upgrading? Those are things your host can, and should, do for you. Got a weird question like “Is httpd.conf set up with AllowOverride All or AllowOverride Options All?” A good host will have the answer! They’ll help you get to your error logs and maybe, maaaybe, if they’re not super busy, help you read them.
What am I not paying for?
Rock-solid Backups. Dear holy monkey socks, please make your own backups. I cannot stress this enough. Look, here’s the deal. No one cares about your data more than you do. Okay? So when you find out that some plugin you’re using doesn’t sanitize data, and Bobby Tables signs up for your site, you don’t feel like this schoolboard:
Why? Because if you have a backup taken every day, you can restore and only lose a little data! Then you can perhaps convince Mrs. Roberts to be so nice as to help you figure out what went wrong. But regardless, your data, the important stuff, is safe.
Also, you’re not paying your host’s support people for consultant level work, you’re paying them to keep your webserver up and running. That means if PHP, SQL, email and the like are working? Hey, your website sucking is actually not their problem. Now, most hosts are nice and will bail you out a little, but they won’t be coding your site, and surprisingly to many, if WordPress gets hacked, they won’t reinstall for you. There’s a line here. If your server is hacked, most hosts will fix it. If your webapp is hacked, often they will not. So some of your $300 a year may end up going to someone like Sucuri for a bail out ($89.99 a year? It’s worth it).
Finally you’re not paying them to have an opinion. This is weird to say, but I get a lot of emails at work asking me for my opinion on their site. “Does this look okay?” You know … I don’t know, and to a degree, I don’t care. You really don’t want my opinion on your penis appreciation website (not a joke), and that’s okay. You’re also not paying the host to make your design prettier. Again, not consultants.
But .. How do I know this is all right for me?
Entry level is barebones stuff. And that’s not bad, it’s just what it is. Be prepared for it, and one day you’ll outgrow it… but that’s another post. Entry level is right for you if you’re new, if you want to get started and play around, if you want to learn. It’s great for beginners, and unless you get that nastygram from your host telling you that you crashed the server (which yes, I have had happen to me), you’re fine on it for a long time!
Should you run your company’s entire business off shared hosting? No. This is the basics, and expect to run the basics on it, and little more.