How to choose the right website host and hosting plan

So, you want to start a website! You may even have registered a domain name. But, once you’ve chosen your name, what’s next? How do you choose the right website host and hosting plan for you?

Things to consider before making a choice

When choosing the right website builder/host for your blog/business you need to decide a number of factors.

  • the cost to create/host your website
  • will you want to advertise
  • do you intend to sell products
  • do you want/already have a custom domain
  • will you need a business email address
  • how many visitors might your website get
  • how much design control and customization you want/need?

The answers to these questions will help you narrow down your options.

FREE Website Builders

There are free platforms that you can use when you are starting out. These are great, but come with limitations. For example, the design customization options can be more limited, and you generally can’t use these sites to sell or advertise. You also need to consider the future of your website, and how easy it will be to transfer it to a paid plan if/when you decide to.

Free platforms include WordPress, Wix and Blogger.

Comparison between platforms

  • Hosted by WordPress
  • You cannot use a custom domain, so your URL will be yoursite.wordpress.com
  • Dozens of free themes available but design customization dependent on theme and can be limited
  • You cannot advertise or sell products
  • WordPress will add advertisements to your site
  • Easy to migrate to a paid plan or other website host
  • Hosted by Wix
  • You cannot use a custom domain, so your URL will be youraccount.wixsite.com/yoursite
  • Over 500 free themes available with extensive customization available
  • You cannot advertise or sell products
  • Wix will add advertisements to your site
  • Easy to migrate to a Wix paid plan but not to another website host
  • Hosted by Google
  • You can use a custom domain (which you pay for)
  • Many free themes available, can also upload free and paid third-party themes
  • You can advertise and sell products
  • Advertisements won’t be added to your site
  • Possible to migrate to another website host

*Note: Google also now offer Google Sites with a free Google account (for personal use) or a paid Google Workspace account (for business use).

Paid Platforms

Once you make the move to a paid option, you will be able to monetize your site. You will also have a greater ability to customize your site (fonts/colors/layouts etc.). There are two options when choosing a paid option: a website builder/host or a self-hosted plan.

A website builder/host is a more managed option, with most administrative tasks done for you (updates, security, back ups etc.). A self-hosted option requires more administration by you.

PAID: Website Builder/Hosts

Platforms include WordPress, Wix and Squarespace.

Both Wix and Squarespace provide you with a framework to build a site, with themes and styling options included. They also provide their own options for the likes of Analytics, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and E-Commerce. You must use their versions of these, which can sometimes limit your options – from both a design and a functionality perspective.

When we look at WordPress plans, hosted by WordPress, we really need to compare them to a self-hosted alternative to understand the pros and cons. For example, you will get some extra features with a WordPress Premium Plan, like taking payments and analytics. However, you cannot add bespoke functionality, and you have limited theme options and customizations.

A WordPress Business Plan is closer to a self-hosted experience (greater design flexibility and bespoke functionality via plugins), but without some of the added responsibilities that come with a self-hosted site.

Comparison between platforms

  • Custom domain free for the first year
  • Many free and paid themes available (access to premium themes from Business Plan and above)
  • Basic customization options vary by theme, plugins available for additional customization options (Business Plan and above)
  • You can advertise and sell products (full e-commerce Business plan and above)
  • Total storage allowance is limited (for the files, content and images, that make up your site)
  • Bandwidth is limited (the maximum data that can be transferred in a specified time)
  • Free SSL certificate provided (provides secure data transfer, e.g. contact information or credit card details)

Details of pricing plans can be found here: WordPress Pricing Plans

  • Custom domain free for the first year
  • Over 500 free themes available
  • Extensive options for customization available
  • You can advertise and sell products (Business Plans and above)
  • Total storage allowance is limited (for the files, content and images, that make up your site)
  • Bandwidth is limited (the maximum data that can be transferred in a specified time) for basic plans, unlimited on top-level plan
  • Free SSL certificate provided (provides secure data transfer, e.g. contact information or credit card details)

Details of pricing plans can be found here: Wix Pricing Plans

  • Custom domain free for the first year
  • Many themes available
  • Options for customization available, dependent on Plan, additional options may need coding skills
  • You can advertise and sell products (Business Plans and above)
  • Total storage allowance is unlimited (for the files, content and images, that make up your site)
  • Bandwidth is unlimited (the maximum data that can be transferred in a specified time) for basic plans, unlimited on top-level plan
  • Free SSL certificate provided (provides secure data transfer, e.g. contact information or credit card details)

Details of pricing plans can be found here: Squarespace Pricing Plans

These plans are all more expensive than a basic self-hosted option, partly because they manage some things for you that a self-hosted plan doesn’t.

If you are specifically looking to just create an online store, or you are an appointment based business (e.g. hairdresser), then Shopify and Square are also options to consider.

PAID: General Website Hosts (Self-hosted)

There are many other options for hosting companies. Most people will install WordPress with these hosts. Each hosting company will offer several levels of plan and a good starting point to compare hosting companies is HostingFacts.com.

Things to consider when comparing plans

  • Is the first year of domain registration free
  • Do they offer a free SSL certificate
  • Do they provide daily backups
  • What email options do they offer
  • What are the storage and bandwidth limits (if any)
  • Do they have good speed and uptime results
  • What are the customer service reviews like (this is really important!)

Most hosting companies will have introductory offers for new customers, but look for hidden costs! Company A may look cheaper than Company B, but Company A may charge extra for something you need (e.g. an SSL certificate), that Company B includes in their base cost.

Also, for most small businesses starting out, the smallest plan available is probably more than sufficient. You can always upgrade to a bigger plan in the future (for more storage and/or bandwidth).

Going self-hosted can seem overwhelming, as you become more responsible for the administration of your site. While your host will handle basic security, backups etc., you will need to manage and update your site regularly. It can be a far more cost-effective and flexible option though.

Final Thoughts

Each of the options we’ve discussed above has pros and cons. Your choice will come down to a number of factors: cost, functional requirements, customization requirements, level of comfort with technology etc.

For many people, WordPress ends up as the preferred choice as it gives the greatest design and functional flexibility. With a self-hosted plan, or a WordPress Business Plan, you have access to the WordPress Plugin repository. As WordPress is open-source, anyone can create a plugin to provide bespoke functionality (e.g. galleries, analytics, security, e-commerce, portfolios, design, calendars etc.). So, whatever it is you need for your site, it is more than likely that a plugin exists to do it!

Choose the right website host and hosting plan for you!

Everyone has different priorities, and time available to build and manage their website. There is no single right answer. For some creating a fully bespoke, branded website is most important. For others, ease and speed of set up and management win over design flexibility.

Understanding the options is very important, as making the wrong choice can result in extra costs and in some cases, starting again! We are available to discuss all of the options with you, and guide you through the criteria that are most relevant/important to your business, and to help you make the best choice for you.

Once you have decided which direction to take, you will need to choose your domain name/URL (e.g. yoursite.com) if you haven’t already, and buy/register it. You can read all about how to do that in our blog post, How to register a Domain and what to do next.

Then, you’re ready to start building your website! Check back for the next blog post in this series where we will look at how to design and structure your website.

If you would like help with any of this, just call or email and we’ll be happy to assist you! If you have specific questions, or if our terminology isn’t clear, please use our contact form to send us a message. Thank you!

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