This is a guest post from our partner Phil Ware at Allware Systems

You can pick up hosting from as little as £5 per month these days (indeed, you may have been offered free hosting), and plenty of people think that pricing is really the only consideration, treating web hosting as commodity where the price is all that matters. So, what is it that you’re actually paying for when you pay for hosting and why is it a bad idea to make a hosting decision based purely on price?

How does the cheap hosting business model work?

It’s worth taking a moment to understand how the cheap hosting business model works. Cheap hosting is cheap for a reason. Large hosting companies offer cheap (or even free) hosting for one reason only: to attract customers. Once they’ve got a large enough number of customers then their hope is that they can sell their business or be bought out.

There are a number of issues with this business model. The hosting provider wants to build its customer base as quickly as it can in the most efficient way possible, keeping costs low by investing as little as possible in technical infrastructure. Modern server computing is very good at processing and caching huge amounts of data. Cheap hosting providers will take full advantage of this massive computing capacity and cram as many customers on to their servers as they can.

What are the dangers of this business model?

The dangers of this are twofold. Firstly, as more and more sites are crammed onto the servers the performance begins to suffer – in short, your site runs more slowly. Secondly, as the servers hold ever increasing amounts of data it becomes impossible to back it up as part of a free or cheap service. This means that if something goes wrong, you could lose your website.

One of the problems here is lack of understanding. And to be fair, why should business owners need to understand the technology behind web hosting? They just want it to work so that they can get on and do their jobs. At the same time, cheap hosting providers do a very good job of marketing their products, creating the impression that hosting should only cost pennies, that paying anything more than that means you’re being ripped off.

IT support companies are often paid commission by large hosting suppliers

Small businesses often don’t deal with the hosting decision themselves. They may not even know where their site is hosted. If they outsource their IT to a specialist IT support company, then it may well be that they simply follow the IT company’s recommendation regarding where to host their website. And why shouldn’t they? It should be the job of IT support companies to offer a neutral standpoint and explain to the customer both the advantages and disadvantages of using cheap, large hosting providers.

Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Often such IT providers are on a commission to sell the services of these huge companies, so there’s a strong incentive to recommend them. Additionally, it’s a much harder sell to explain to a client why you think they should be paying more for their hosting when the client is well aware that hosting is available for less than £5 per month. Ultimately, the IT industry is flawed. Competition is being removed from the market and customers are being sent down a one-way track to mediocre service levels.

How important is your website to your business?

What it comes down to is this: your website is the face of your business. Think about what it means for your business if your website is down. Perhaps it’s no big deal if the site is down for a minute or two, but what about if it was down for an hour, or a day? What if you couldn’t send or receive any emails during that time? What would it mean for your business if you lost access to your site forever? What would it mean if your site was hacked and you completely lost control of it? If your customer data was compromised? Whilst the risk of some of these scenarios might be low, the consequences if they do happen can be extremely serious indeed.

Thinking about these questions will help you decide how critical your website hosting is. If you have a very small website that only contains a few pages, that doesn’t store any customer details and isn’t an important source of new customers for you (or a resource that your existing customers use) then perhaps it’s not such a big deal if your site goes down and a cheap hosting solution will be perfectly adequate for you. But if your site is critical to your business and the consequences of a problem are much more serious then you may need to be prepared to pay more for your hosting.

The risks of cheap hosting

In summary the risks of cheap hosting are as follows:-

  • Cheap hosting does not always include backups of your site so if there is a problem you may find that you cannot restore your site, or that responsibility for ensuring backups are taken lies with you.
  • Cheap hosting means that your site will almost certainly be on a large shared server, sharing resources with many other sites, meaning that it’s likely to run slowly.
  • Cheap hosting generally comes with either limited support  or no telephone support, so the best-case scenario is that you’re reliant on web chats and / or email support if there is a problem, or an engineer that doesn’t understand your problem. 

Why it’s sometimes better not to go for the cheapest hosting option

Paying more for your hosting means that you’re much more likely to benefit from secure and regular backups, meaning that your site can quickly be restored in the event of a problem. If your website is absolutely critical to your business then a higher end hosting company will arrange a proper disaster recovery strategy, perhaps involving mirroring your site on a second server. If there’s a problem, you’ll be able to speak to a human that understands the problem.

Spending a bit more also means you’ll probably also get a site that runs much more quickly, so you’ll be offering your site visitors a much better user experience. All else being equal, Google prioritises quicker sites over slower ones, so if your site runs quickly, you’re likely to find that your SEO improves.

Does that sort of service sound like it might be worth £25 a month rather than £5 per month? Similarly, is it worth paying £7 per month for a hosted mailbox rather than £3.80/month if it means you get proper antispam and antivirus protection with quarantine mailboxes, mailbox backups for 12 months and failover to a redundant site in the event of a data centre failure?

Only you can answer these questions for your business, but if the answer is yes then it’s really worth shopping around for your hosting and not simply deciding based on price. There are good hosting companies out there that can offer this level of service without ‘out of this world’ pricing. Don’t put your company’s data and reputation at risk, ask for alternatives.

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