18 Important Web Hosting Features to Consider for Your Choice

Kyung Y.
Kyung Y.
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A web hosting provider is no different than manufacturers, service providers, or any other third-party service used to run your business. You'll have to cultivate a reliable relationship with them to ensure your business functions as desired. But what features should you look out for?

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Coming up with a decision requires careful consideration. To make your search easier, we have compiled a comprehensive list of features you should keep an eye on when selecting a web hosting service. After all, you want to find a provider you'll be happy with in the long run without having to switch after some time.

Let’s dive in.

1. Amount of Bandwidth

Every entrepreneur dreams of a website with thousands, if not millions, of visitors. But, what many don't consider is the amount of bandwidth required to sustain such a high-traffic website. Bandwidth is the measure of data that can be transferred from your website in a given time frame (mostly per month).

For example, let's say each visitor on your website downloads 2 MB of data. If you have 1000 visitors, 2 GB (2 MB x 1000) of bandwidth is required for that month. It's important to check the amount of bandwidth needed and offered by your hosting provider before signing up. Many offer "unlimited" bandwidth, while others may have a specific cap.

Those with a cap may charge extra for going beyond the allocated bandwidth. If that's the case, check how much additional bandwidth will cost and whether it's an amount you can comfortably afford. Note that the type of content on your website will heavily affect the bandwidth requirement. Videos and images require more data than pure text.

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Note: In addition to the bandwidth, a traffic limit is often specified, which either additionally limits your bandwidth or is used as a substitute for the bandwidth.

2. Security

With cybercrime on the rise, ensuring your website is secure is more important than ever. Web hosts offer an array of security features that can help protect your website from malicious activity.

Some must-have security features include secure socket layer (SSL) certificates, secure shell (SSH) access, and firewalls. These measures help protect your website from viruses, malware, and hackers. Some web hosting providers also offer dedicated IP addresses to prevent unauthorized access.

Bots and other automated programs can also crash your server through a process known as "Distributed Denial of Service" (DDoS) attacks. To protect your website from such activity, look for a hosting provider with DDoS protection and brute force detection capabilities.

3. Uptime and Reliability

Uptime refers to the amount of time your website is online and functioning correctly. In contrast, downtime is when your website is unavailable due to technical issues or maintenance. As you might have learned in our web hosting basics, your website's presence on the internet depends entirely on servers.

Should these servers fail, your website will be unavailable. If you share a server with other websites, thinly-stretched resources may lead to a slow loading speed. That's why selecting a web hosting provider with a good uptime and reliability track record is crucial.

The best providers generally have an uptime of at least 99.90% or more, meaning that your website will remain available most of the time, if not all the time. Companies sure of their uptime often offer a service level agreement (SLA), guaranteeing you will be compensated in the event of an unscheduled outage.

4. Storage

Every website needs a certain amount of disk space to store files, images, and other data.

If you plan on running an ecommerce store or any website with large media files (videos, audio recordings, etc.), choose a provider with generous amounts of disk space. Most web hosts offer between 1GB and hundreds of GBs of disk space, depending on the type of plan selected.

It will help if you also ensure no file types or sizes are restricted when selecting a hosting plan. Understand that all these files are physically stored on the web hosting provider's servers, and having too many or excessively large files will consume more disk space.

Also, consider the type of storage units. Solid State Drives (SSDs) are a great way to speed up your website, as they offer faster storage and access times than traditional hard drives. Look for a hosting provider that offers SSDs to maximize the performance of your website.

5. CDN

Today, website speed is a major factor in the user experience. Slow loading times can cost you customers and lead to lower search engine rankings. In fact, websites that take more than three seconds to load risk losing up to 53% of their visitors, according to Google.

Your search engine rankings will suffer as Google and other search engines take page loading speed into account when indexing websites.

To further ensure your website runs at optimal speed, look for a hosting provider that offers features such as a content delivery network (CDN). A CDN is a network of servers located at multiple data centers worldwide that help deliver content faster.

How a CDN Works To Improve Website Performance

CDNs cache content from the origin server onto distributed servers worldwide, enabling faster delivery to users based on their geographic location

But don't worry, if you don't have a CDN integrated, you can still connect your website to one like Cloudflare for free.

6. CMS Options

Most website owners use a Content Management System (CMS) such as WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal to manage their website content. Make sure that your preferred CMS is offered by your provider, because some only deliver WordPress in a managed environment. More flexible providers may allow you to do anything, so you could even create a custom app. But one person's joy is another person's pain, because as a beginner, you probably don't want to install WordPress manually. Therefore, make sure that 1-click installations are offered to quickly set up your CMS.

8. Customer Support

A big difference between hosting providers is the quality of customer support they offer. You should look for a provider that provides 24/7 technical support, preferably through multiple channels such as phone, email, and live chat.

Besides human or AI-based customer support, some hosting providers also offer self-help resources such as tutorials, FAQs, and user guides that you can use to troubleshoot common issues. The larger the community behind the hosting provider, the better your support options will be in terms of self-help resources.

9. Backups

Not backing up your website is a nightmare waiting to happen. It's important to have a reliable backup system in place in case something goes wrong. Technically, there's always a chance of losing data or breaking something due to hardware or software malfunctions.

If one of your changes breaks something or you get hacked, backups are the easiest way to restore a previous version of your site.

Look for hosting providers offering automatic backups and offsite storage so your website can be restored in an emergency. Ideally, you should also be able to back up individual files or databases as needed.

10. Managed Services

Do you dread the idea of having to maintain, update, and secure all the software running on your server? If so, you may want to consider a managed hosting plan. These plans generally include proactive monitoring and patching services so that your server is always up-to-date with the latest security updates.

Since most web hosting services are managed services anyway, this point is mainly for those interested in VPS and dedicated hosting, as these are most often offered without management.

Managed hosting plans also provide access to expert technicians who can provide guidance and assistance when you need it. This can be especially helpful if you don't have much experience with server administration.

Business owners should focus on running their businesses and not worry about server maintenance, so managed hosting plans can be an excellent option for them.

11. Migrations

Some people already have a website that they want to transfer to a new hosting provider. If this is the case, you'll want to find out if the provider offers free website migration services in case you’re not comfortable doing it yourself. That means transferring all your data from the old host to the new one, including databases, files, and other information. Many hosts offer this service for free.

12. Scalability

You never know when a marketing campaign goes viral, but you can prepare for a huge influx of traffic. It can quickly overwhelm your server if it's not equipped to handle a sudden load. That's why scalability is so important when choosing a hosting provider.

Looking for providers who offer cloud hosting can make this problem small, as scaling usually only takes one click. With cloud hosting, your website will be able to handle huge spikes in traffic without any disruption. Conversely, if you're stuck in a shared hosting plan, you're likely to experience downtimes, slow pages, and other issues when you get a lot of visitors at once.

Great cloud hosts like Cloudways are pay-as-you-go, which allows you to scale up your server resources as needed without any long-term commitments. That way, you can return to a lower tier if the traffic slows down.

13. Control Panel

The control panel is like the cockpit of your server. It's the main interface you'll use to manage all aspects of your hosting account. Popular control panels include cPanel, Plesk, and DirectAdmin.

These control panels come with a wide range of features that allow you to easily:

  • Configure your server settings
  • Create email accounts
  • Install applications
  • View website statistics

However, not all hosting providers use the same control panel. Some have a proprietary control panel that may be missing some features you need, while others may not offer a control panel at all. You'll need an intuitive control panel to properly manage your website. It should be easy to use and come with all the necessary features.

BlueHost cPanel

The cPanel Dashboard via Bluehost

You can consider free trials and demos of web hosting providers to see which one you get along with the most.

14. Email Hosting

In addition to web hosting, some providers also offer complementary email hosting. It allows you to create and manage email addresses that match your domain name to provide a professional way of communicating with customers, partners, and colleagues that free email accounts like @gmail or @yahoo can't match.

For instance, if your business domain is example.com, you can create email addresses like [email protected] or [email protected] rather than using an address from a free provider. This will help make your organization look more trustworthy to potential customers. Some web hosts offer unlimited email accounts, while others offer this option as an addon or not at all.

If the included email addresses are important to you, make sure they are available at the web host. Optionally, you can still host your email addresses somewhere else. The most popular solutions for this are business suites like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365.

Now, our last three points are a bit more technical, making them mostly relevant for developers and business owners that have a developer by their side.

15. Database Support

You might have heard of MySQL or Oracle databases. These work in the backend of your website to store information like usernames, passwords, and other data. Think of it as your website's virtual filing cabinet.

Many web hosts offer MySQL database support out of the box. If you need to use a different database, like Oracle, verify that your hosting provider supports it. Some providers offer only limited support for certain databases, while others don't offer any support at all.

16. Cron Jobs

As a business owner, you may need to complete specific tasks regularly. This could be anything from sending out data to performing nightly backups. Cron jobs allow you to do this without manually initiating the task each time. They automate the process, so you don't have to worry about it.

You'll find Cron jobs in your control panel. Depending on your hosting provider, you may just have to set up the job once, and it will run automatically every day, week, or month. However, some providers charge extra for Cron jobs, so read the fine print before signing up.

17. Programming Language Support

You might not be doing the coding in your business, so language support is an easy feature to overlook. PHP is the most widely-offered language, and most hosts will include it in their hosting plans. However, if you need support for languages like Python or Ruby on Rails, make sure your host can offer that. You don't want to be stuck with a plan that doesn't provide the infrastructure that you need.

18. Operating System

Finally, it's important to consider the operating system that your host uses. Linux and Windows are the two most popular operating systems, but not all providers offer both. Depending on their infrastructure, they may specialize in one or the other.

If you plan on deploying specific applications on your website, ensure they're compatible with the operating system supported by your hosting provider. Otherwise, you could run into compatibility issues down the road. Generally speaking, Linux is the more popular choice due to its open-source nature.

How to Find the Right Web Hosting Provider

That was a lot of information about things to consider when it comes to choosing a web host. Now that you know what features to look for, how do you narrow down your best options?

To make your choice easier and faster, we've put together a Finder Tool that will give you a personalized recommendation for a web hosting service after answering a few short questions. Try it out here.

If you want a general overview of the best web hosting providers, check out our Best Picks or compare providers that are on your shortlist.

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Software engineer with a weakness for collecting too much data. I live for web hosting and cloud computing. If I’m not online, I like to go fishing and create weird things with my 3D printer.