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Web hosting is like insurance: consider both cost & risk.As the owner of a web design and development firm in Portland, Maine, I frequently get asked about web hosting. “What is a good web host?” or “How much should I be paying for hosting my web site” are questions I hear a lot. Many of the web design or redesign estimates we prepare include hosting costs.

Here are some of the things I have discovered over the years about the costs (and risks) of choosing a web host.

1. Every reputable web hosts boasts a 99% up time.

That means that they promise that your site will be online and ready to be accessed by an internet connection at least 99% of the time.

Let’s do the math.

In a typical month there are 30 days, with 24 hours each day or 1440 minutes per day. So every month, if you site was up 100% of the time, it would be online 43,200 minutes. If you site is offline for just 1% of that time, it’s 432 minutes. That’s more than 7 hours!

If you’ve ever discovered that your site is down, and watched the minutes tick away, you know that 7 hours could feel like an eternity. And it could be multiple outages of an hour or two each time.

Intermittent outages are to be expected and can be based on benign things like server maintenance or bigger issues of hacking, server overload, etc. You’re probably not checking your site frequently enough to even notice the brief outages.

There are ways to have mirror sites, etc. but for most businesses, this is cost prohibitive. When you start to weigh the costs versus the risk, the standard 99% up time is sufficient.

2. Pay more for great support, not server space

We have designed and developed many web sites for all types of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-profit organizations. Nearly all of them are built in WordPress, and the functionality can range from just simple text-based pages to more robust article libraries, members-only areas, calendars, photo galleries and more. Most of them really don’t use a lot of server space, and their web traffic is fairly low so their transfer rate is also low.

Based on the data used and the functionality of their site, many of our client’s web sites could be hosted on the cheapest hosting packages.

But, with the cheapest hosting plans you often feel frustration and pain at some point. As talked about above, nearly every web site suffers a bit of downtime. Most of these are brief outages that the web host recognizes and resolves immediately. But when you need to reach out to your web host for technical support or other help, you’re much more likely to get better service if you’ve paid more money.

Think about it. Server space is a commodity and hosts reduce costs by packing tons of web sites onto one server (that’s what you get with cheap shared hosting). But trying to service all of those individual accounts? That takes real people.

Expect long wait times, non native speakers and not-so-helpful support when you pay next to nothing.

Looking at costs vs. risk, if you are dabbling with a new business or testing out a new startup or consulting idea, very low-cost web hosting may be sufficient. You may have more time than money on hand right now. But if you want responsive, helpful support, paying more is worthwhile. A day will probably come when you’re on an endless call with an unhelpful, hard-to-understand tech and you’ll be cursing your cheap hosting.

3. Every major web hosting company has lovers and haters

A lot of people will research and get reviews on web hosts. You may talk with professionals, colleagues or turn to Google for answers. Whenever you start to read too many reviews you’ll begin to notice that every host will have lovers and haters.

Like insurance, web hosting is something that we’d like to set up and then rely on it to be there when we need it, without a lot of fuss.

If you don’t notice any web site outages, and you have a basic site with no technical challenges, you are likely to be a big fan of your hosting company. Boy, it seems reliable! However, if you have experienced a problem, how quickly and nicely it got resolved with have a strong impact on whether you like it or not. (Refer back to point #2, great support is critical when there is a crisis.)

Therefore, there are no outright winners and losers among web hosts.

One notable thing we’ve found is that many hosting companies struggle as they grow. A great host, who gave reliable service and great tech support to a small number of clients, often seem to have trouble replicating that as they take on more customers. You have to hire and thoroughly train a lot of support people, which can be tough.

Pay based on risk

If you’ve ever purchased homeowners, auto or disability insurance, you know there are different types of coverage and the fees change accordingly. Some people want to minimize their monthly costs and choose a low cost solution and keep their fingers crossed nothing goes wrong. Other people feel more comfortable paying more, knowing they have better coverage. This can be as true with hosting as it is with insurance.

You may choose a cheap web hosting plan and experience no problems for years. Good for you, you’ve saved yourself a bundle.

Or, you may choose cheap hosting and then curse yourself when you spend endless, frustrating hours dealing with support. At what point is your time worth more?

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