How Cheap Website Hosting Actually Costs You More

Cheap Website Hosting

When you are looking for a website provider, do not get lured in too quickly by offers for dirt cheap hosting packages.  

Looking for a website hosting provider really shouldn’t be too much different from looking for a brick and mortar location for your business, because effectively they are the same thing, the only difference is that one of them is digital and the other a physical location.   If your hotel had low water pressure, or your storefront kept losing power, your business would start to have problems, the same can be said for a website hosting environment that doesn’t provide what its tenant (your website) needs to operate.

Your website hosting is the environment that needs to store and process all of the code and delivers the resulting sites to your visitors and customers, so its extremely important to choose a hosting service that suits your requirements.  Cheap website hosting doesn’t usually offer that unless you have a very small, low traffic website.  

A poorly performing service can cause you to lose visitors your site, costing you in potential sales, conversions or subscribers.

The real pitfall to choosing many of the cheap website hosting providers is that you are going to end up hosted in an over-crowded, under-powered environment.  Many cheap hosting providers cram massive numbers of hosting accounts into what is known as shared hosting servers where the servers overall resource pool, could be shared by hundreds, even thousands of other sites. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that all shared hosting providers do this, there are plenty of them out there in the wide, wild world of web hosting who don’t overpopulate individual servers and leave a reasonable resource pool to be shared. 

Shared hosting explained in two paragraphs...

So the principle of shared hosting environments is pretty simple, its shared among multiple accounts/websites.  A shared hosting server would generally be one large virtual or physical server with a large storage capacity and resource allocation.  For example a Cloud Linux server with cPanel/WHM installed and a total storage amassing several terabytes and 64 CPU cores, 128GB of RAM.  This server could host a few hundred accounts/sites in a shared hosting environment using what are called LVE limits, where each account would be limited to using no more than for example 1 CPU core and 1GB of RAM at any time, and could have the maximum number of active processes limited.  Because of the unlikelihood that all of the accounts would be utilizing their resource limitation at the same time, the total resource allocation can be shared quite well without putting strain on the server.  Kind of like a large time share where everyone gets to use it, just not all at the same time.  

A lot of shared hosting providers however either cram way to many accounts into these servers, or offer limitations on the services that are incredibly low and often not reasonable unless your site really doesn’t get much traffic at all, and you are happy with it staying that way.  I have even seen a well known shared hosting provider limiting the maximum number of active processes as low as 10, and including idle email connections as part of that limit.  So if you had 2 email addresses and they were connected to 3 devices, there goes 6 of your processes, leaving 4 to run your site, which would really start to struggle once you had more visitors than you could count on one hand at a time in most cases.  The same provider was limiting CPU usage not to an amount of processing power, but to the amount of seconds per day you could use CPU, and that limit would cover maybe 1/3 or less of the time, so unless your site was idle most of the time, places like that wouldn’t be a suitable place to host.

Unless you are specifically getting a dedicated server with dedicated resources, you are on shared hosting.


Using *shiny* stuff to lure you...

Many of these hosting providers use other attractive things to try to lure you in such as dirt cheap fees, free trials, free SSL or automatic WordPress updates for example, but you’re already too far down the rabbit hole before you come across the true pitfalls of the service.

Dirt cheap package prices, it might sound good, but its usually not.  You will usually end up on an overpopulated and underpowered hosting service, with very little support from the hosting provider.  If something goes wrong you could end up with several days waiting on a support ticket reply, or several hours in queue for live chat for example, just to get a start on fixing your issue.  More expensive hosting services tend to offer better support and even their shared hosting environments are less populated and usually offer better resource allocations than their cheaper alternatives.

Free trials, are often there in the hopes that you will either forget to migrate elsewhere and cancel, or you really don’t want to go through the hassle of migrating your site again, because unless you really know what you are doing, migrations can be quite the hassle.

Free SSL, while its great and readily available on a lot of hosting services nowdays, free SSL services such as Lets Encrypt offer no warranty on their encryption products and there is no support for them either.  The services are generally automated by third party software on your hosts server and sometimes there are things can can stop the automated domain authentication processes required to renew certificates, such as security plugins or proxy services.  This type of thing would leave your site with a blaring security warning staring down your customers instead of your home page as often as once every 3 months.

Automatic WordPress updates, while they sound handy and they definitely can save you a lot of time keeping your site up to date, which is one of the most important things to do for your sites security, things don’t always go to plan with WordPress core, plugin and theme updates.  With plugin updates, there are often extra pieces that need to be actioned afterwards from within your admin dashboard, such as database table updates etc.  Sometimes plugins are not compatible with versions of other plugins, your theme or even WordPress core and your site can end up with a 500 error staring down your customers instead of their shopping cart.  Automatic updates rely on the authors of all of your themes and plugins regularly releasing updates to stay up to date with up to date security and coding standards, which is often just not the case.

Things to look out for and avoid.

  • Dirt Cheap Website Hosting

    Dirt cheap website hosting usually comes at the cost of being one of many inhabitants in an over-populated and under-powered shared hosting service. This can end up causing your site to have regular issues You really do get what you pay for when it comes to hosting. It really is best to fork out a little more to get the service and support that you need for your site to flourish.

  • Free Trials

    Free trials are aimed at you either forgetting to cancel before the renewal, or after going through the trouble of migrating your site to the service, don't want to go through it again just yet. You generally have to enter your payment details to start the trial, and it just becomes convenient to leave it going, especially because most of the places that offer free trials also offer the above mentioned "Dirt Cheap Website Hosting".

  • Unlimited Storage, Addon Domains, Subdomains etc

    There really is no such thing as unlimited. Even unlimited storage services have a physical limit, and there is usually a fairly tricky fine print policy that pretty much lets the hosting company decide what is unlimited for your service. Unlimited add-on domains, or unlimited sites on a service is pretty much saying "we dont care if your service has the capacity to run what you need unless you give us more money for more resources, because you wont know you need it until its too late to say no".

Things to be aware of.

  • Free SSL certificates

    Free SSL certificates are generally provisioned by automated scripts. There are lots of things that can go wrong with the domain validation process due to security plugins or proxy services restricting access to files needed for domain validation, which would leave you with a giant security warning staring down your customers once per month. Free SSL also offers no support or warranty for their encryption products, so use at your own risk. Premium SSL products don't cost that much and renew yearly, they generally include support with installation and activation as well as warranty on their encryption products.

  • Automated WordPress Updates

    They may sound convenient, and they really do save you time, but automated WordPress updates rely on third party developers keeping their stuff up to date and compatible with constantly evolving standards and updates released by WordPress and other developers. This runs the risk that a plugin may not be compatible with a newer version of something and could break aspects of your site, or stop it working all together. Updates should be done by a human and a backup of your sites files and database taken beforehand. This way if something goes wrong you can roll it back quickly and you know which update you were running when it happened.

Things to look out for and strongly consider.

  • Localised Servers & Support

    You want the servers to be physically located in a location close geographically to your customers. I don't mean this down to a suburb, but if you have an Australian target audience, then you want Australian hosting. Plus you want the support services to operate in hours suitable for your time zone. Even services that offer 24/7 ticket/email support will offer more services such as telephone or live chat support during business hours for their physical base. Cheap hosting services may often only provide email or forum support, with long delays on replies, extending resolution times for problems.

  • Clearly Defined Service Limitations

    Know exactly what you are getting for your money, cheap website hosting services often hide these limitations in the fine print you click to accept without reading 99% of the time. As I pointed out earlier, you really do get what you pay for when it comes to website hosting and development. If you aren't sure of the services limitation, reach out to them and ask. If they don't have the support capacity to get back to you about that, then that should also give you an indication of the support you will receive if you sign up. Ask specifically about entry process and total process limits, as well as CPU limits and physical memory.

  • Free Migrations

    Hosting providers that offer free migrations for new customers are willing to do the technical side of moving your website for you, which seeing how website migrations can be a complex task, is a sign they know what their support staff know the product they are supporting. It takes most of the complication out of migrating a website, saving you time and getting your site up on the new service faster, often with no down time. Cheap website hosting providers generally wont offer free migrations, and you will either have to undertake the process yourself, or pay someone to do it for you.

If you have a high traffic website, or need to process a lot of data, then you probably need a dedicated server to host your site.

If you have a website that has a lot of traffic, or performs a lot of complex operations such as managing large databases, then you almost certainly need a dedicated server to host your site, service or app.  

The hard truth is however that dedicated servers cost significantly more than their shared alternatives, but they provide dedicated resources, rather than the pooled resources explained earlier.   Additional and dedicated resources allow for faster processing of your data and conducting more complex operations.  These types of services are generally more flexible to modify the server configuration to tune to your specific needs too.

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