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Web Hosting Features: Your Essential Guide

Web Hosting Features: Your Essential Guide

Web hosting features lists are often so long that it’s hard to know what to focus on. Our detailed hosting reviews will help you with that, but the purpose of this particular article is to demystify some of the features you’ll commonly see advertised.

It’s important to emphasise that not everyone needs exactly the same set of features. If, for example, you are a beginner in the world of websites, guaranteed fast customer support may be more important to you than advanced email options. This guide will help you understand what’s most important for you, and help you make the right choices.

hosting_options

So, without further ado, let’s move onto a list of ten hosting features you’ll hear mentioned a lot – both on this website, and once you begin to explore your hosting options.

1. Unlimited disk space / bandwidth

A promise of unlimited disk space and bandwidth is a practically ubiquitous hosting feature nowadays, even at the bottom end of the really cheap hosting deals.

However, it’s important to be skeptical about what “unlimited” really means. A great many websites really don’t need that much bandwidth or disk space. Furthermore, how well your website performs depends just as much on the overall performance of the hosting solution and the amount of memory and processor resource available to it – and you won’t find that offered on an “unlimited” basis!

Alongside “unlimited” promises, you’ll often see recommendations on what kind of package to choose based on an anticipated level of traffic to your site. This goes to prove that “unlimited” has a distinctly limited meaning in the real world! No hosting company is going to let you establish the next Facebook and run it on the cheapest $5 per month hosting package!

On this basis, while it does make sense to look at how much disk space and bandwidth you get when considering hosting features, it’s equally important to read the small print AND check out our hosting reviews, where we test the actual performance of the hosting providers.

You can read more about what unlimited really means here.

2. Multiple websites / reseller options

Most hosting providers allow you to host multiple websites as part of some of their packages (often on all but the cheapest option).

Web hosting

Choosing a package allowing multiple websites is useful if you plan to set up several blogs or personal sites, and also allows you scope to try things out and host “staging” sites for works in progress.

However, we wouldn’t suggest setting up shop as a web designer and hosting dozens of client websites on the cheapest package you can find offering “multiple sites.” If this is your intention, a reseller package would be a better fit. As always read the small print!

3. Email support

Web hosting isn’t just about websites. You’ll also need email for your domain(s), so finding out what email options are on offer is an important priority when considering hosting features.

All hosting packages will offer some form of email support; Some may allow handy features such as the ability to easily forward domain email to Gmail. The options are quite involved, so for more on this, please check out my detailed guide to email options for your domain.

Mail Hosting Options

4. Backups

Once your website is established, there will (more than likely) come a time when you’ll want or need to restore a backup of your content. It may be as the result of a hacking attempt, or merely because you make a mistake when updating your site and need to “roll back.”

As such, when considering hosting features, it’s worth taking a look at what backup features are available. When doing so, it’s essential to consider that not all backups are equal! 

For example, if you’re using WordPress, WP Engine takes daily snapshots of your entire site, which are easy to restore. In addition, you can trigger a manual snapshot at any time. This makes perfect sense if you’re about to change something significant on your site and want a clear and easy means of regression if things don’t go to plan.

Contrast this with the perfunctory daily backups offered by some cheap hosting providers. They could get you out of trouble in a real emergency, but are no substitute for the kind of backups described above, or offered by third-party add-on solutions. This is why finding out exactly what backups take place is so important.

5. Uptime guarantees

Uptime guarantees are pretty commonplace across the web hosting industry, with most hosts offering some kind of 99.x% guarantee.

It’s important to remember that even a 99% guarantee allows for a site to be down for more than three days per year! As such, it’s better to look at a host’s historical uptime performance to get a true idea of what kind of reliability you can really expect. Most of the good hosting companies make this information available – find one that doesn’t and it may be worth asking them some questions!

Uptime guarantee

If your website is “mission critical,” another hosting feature you should look for that’s related to this is whether the uptime guarantee comes with some form of compensation arrangement and research the details.

It’s perhaps worth mentioning at this point that even the Amazons and Facebooks of this world experience occasional downtime, so you’re unlikely to enjoy 100% reliability. However, thorough research can help you get as close to that figure as possible.

6. One-click Installs

One-click installs are common with many hosting packages and can save a lot of time and effort.

One-click installs allow you to install frequently used Web platforms like WordPress and Joomla without getting your hands too dirty with the technicalities. They really help to bridge the gap if your technical expertise is currently at “beginner” level! For example, you can have a working WordPress install, ready for your WordPress theme and content within a matter of minutes.

7. SSL Certificates

SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificates add an extra layer of security to your website(s) by sending the content to users in an encrypted form. In recent times, it’s widely believed that Google looks more favorably on sites using SSL, and may even give them a boost in the search rankings.

Hosting features

The majority of web hosts offer SSL certificates, usually as a subscription-based paid add-on, but some also give you access to “shared” SSL certificates, essentially allowing yourself to obtain “SSL on a budget.” This is one of those hosting features that may not be essential to you, but is still undoubtedly a “nice to have.”

8. Migration Services

If you already have an existing website and want to move it to new hosting, then good migration services should be near the top of your desired list of hosting features if you’re not tech-savvy.

Forklifting a website from one place to another isn’t always simple, so if you think you’ll need some help with the technicalities, it makes sense to choose a host offering migration services. Site5 is one such provider with this on the feature list.

9. Security Protection

It’s a sad reality, but websites get hacked all the time – and the hackers don’t only target the big names. A hack to your website can result in anything from mere inconvenience to serious cost and embarrassment, so it makes sense to do all you can to minimize the chances of it happening.

In recent years, web hosting firms have stepped in with a wide range of security protection offerings to keep you safe from harm, including vulnerability scans and clean-up services – essentially almost an insurance policy for help if a hacker comes along and does damage.

Hacker

While some of these services are worth their weight in gold, it makes sense to (once again) read the small print and find out exactly what you get. Sometimes these security services are a chargeable extra that’s not worth the money. That said, if you do get hacked, you really do want to be with a host who will help you efficiently. And that leads me neatly onto the final point…

10. Customer Support: The Most ESSENTIAL of Hosting Features!

It may seem unjust that the existence of good customer support should be found on a list of hosting features. After all, easy access to help should surely be a given?

Well, actually it’s not that simple. Web hosting is a cheap service with lots of volume; so to cut costs, many providers run a skeleton support service and make it intentionally difficult to get timely support, or to talk to a real person.

This isn’t much help when your site goes down, so we place a lot of importance in customer support when we produce our hosting reviews. Providers who’ve particularly impressed us on this score include FastComet and A2.

Web Hosting Features: Conclusion

Hopefully this guide has made some of the web hosting terminology out there a little easier to understand. If you want further information, why not check out some more of our hosting guides.

IMAGE CREDITS: Wikipedia


Published on: April 15,2016.
Ben was a geek long before "geek chic," learning the ropes on BBC Micros, before moving on to Atari STs and IBM compatibles. He was "online" using a 1200bps modem before the Internet was even a thing. Now, after two decades in the industry, he writes about technology for various publications, operates a few websites of his own, and runs a bespoke IT consultancy based in London.

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