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Web Hosting Selection Criteria

You are ready to launch your website and are now faced with 2 important questions:

  • Which hosting company should I go for?
  • Which hosting plan is right for my website?

This article describes the most important criteria that you must consider while selecting the right hosting plan and the right hosting service provider.

There are several hosting companies in the market, and each has numerous types of hosting and plans to offer. There is no single plan suitable for all types of websites or web applications. Several aspects have to be considered before finalizing a specific hosting plan so that you get what is just right for your needs and your cost of hosting is at an optimal level. My recommendations in this article are mostly relevant for those who are looking to host a normal website consisting of a few pages or a blog website that has decent traffic. For hosting web applications such as an e-commerce store, an erp system or an online gaming software, the host and hosting plan selection criteria will be slightly different. Although the fundamentals are the same as discussed here.

While zeroing in on a hosting plan, these are the questions you must ask:

  • How much disk space do I get?
  • What is my bandwidth limit?
  • How much max CPU & memory resource I am allocated and for what duration can my programs use these resources at any run instance?
  • Do I get control panel and FTP access?
  • Do I get email accounts?
  • How many email accounts do I get?
  • Do I get to run my scripts?
  • What free software I get with my account?
  • How will my files and data get backed up?
  • How will my site be protected from attacks?

Your choice of a web host and the right hosting plan will depend upon the following factors.

1. Disk Storage Type & Space

Traditionally, hosting companies have HDDs installed on their servers. Since HDD drives are mechanical drives, disk read-write on them is slower. Nowadays, web servers come installed with SSD drives as SSDs are becoming cheaper and they also consume less power. Disk read-write on an SSD is many times faster. Hence, it is advisable to opt for a web host who offers SSD and not HDD.

How much disk space do I need?

If you have built a static website without using any CMS (content management software) such as WordPress, your web files will be much cleaner and smaller in size. Further, if your website pages include minimal images, and no audio or video, and if you have optimized your image sizes, your disk space requirement will reduce considerably. Typically, a wordpress site or any other CMS along with relevant plugins and associated database files would require around 1GB of disk space just for the base installation. As you add content, viz. text, images, audio, video, the space required will increase. If you engaged a web developer to build your website, they will give you an estimate of the amount of disk space your website requires. If not, here are the main factors to keep in mind while estimating your space requirement.

  1. The total size of files and folders that your website requires without any content.
  2. If your site includes a database, examine the kind of data that you intend to store in the database tables. Some of your DB tables will grow with time. Plan for the first 3 years and prepare an approximate estimate of the amount of data you expect to store in those 3 years from the launch of your website.
  3. How many pages of content you intend to have in the initial 3 years. Does your content include lots of images? Do you have audio/video content?
  4. How many email accounts you require and how much storage you require for each email account. If you intend to setup an email client such as outlook or thunderbird on your computer and download all emails arriving on your hosting server, you will require lesser space for emails.
  5. Also keep some cushion for storing log files and statistics files which grow with time.

A 5-10 GB disk space is usually sufficient for a small website with less than 100 pages and a reasonable number of images (but no audio or video files), a reasonable number of downloadables in the form of pdf or excel files, and 1-5 email accounts.

You may be fine with a 20-30 GB disk space for a database-driven website, particularly an e-commerce store that stores product data (including high resolution images), customer records, sales orders, and invoice data. These figures assume that you do not need to store many videos on the server, that your emails are usually light with few or no attachments, and that you intend to install an email client on your own computer to download all emails.

For a blog or personal website, you can consider uploading your videos on YouTube and embedding them on your website. This way, you do not incur any disk space or bandwidth charges when the videos are rendered. They consume YouTube's space and bandwidth.

You will find some web hosts that offer unlimited disk space plans. Please understand that there is no such thing as unlimited. Such plans usually come with fine-printed terms of service which state that your account cannot create more than 100,000 inodes. Some web hosts impose restrictions such as you cannot use the disk space for storage purposes - meaning you can only store active web pages and associated images and other files. You cannot use the space for storing backups or dead files. There are also restrictions (with a shared hosting plan) that you cannot use more than a certain amount of disk space for storing emails. You must read their terms of service for such clauses - in fact, my honest advice is to avoid such unlimited plans.

Ways to keep your disk space usage in control

After your website is launched, it is advisable to keep a watch on your content pages and keep them always light so that they not only optimize your space usage but also load fast. Remove all files related to pages that are no longer active. Also carry out the following tasks periodically (once every 4 months would suffice) to free up disk space:

  • Check your database tables and clean them up to remove not-required records. There could be some tables that record audit data and logs to provide you with information about user activities. Such tables quickly grow in size. You will be better off if you delete all old records, which you may not refer to again.
  • Delete old log files and temporary files.
  • Delete old statistics files.
  • Download old emails into a local email client or delete them if you do not need to keep them for future reference.
  • Optimize your images. Review your images and remove any that you don’t need anymore. Furthermore, use an image compression tool (such as Imagify) to compress your image files.
  • If your website uses wordpress or any such CMS, remove plugins and themes that you are no longer using. There may be some plugins that you installed thinking you needed them but later discovered were not very useful - remove them. Your website developer might have unnecessarily loaded up too many plugins in order to impress you with too many features, most of which would be undesirable. These should be reviewed and removed. As a good practice, you should avoid using too many plugins as they make your website sluggish.
  • Delete any old backups. For security reasons, you should NEVER keep website backups on your web server. If you have configured automatic backup to store backups on your web-server, you will need to login to your website control panel or connect via FTP more frequently to find the backup folder download all backup files to your local computer. Your own computer is the best place to store all your backups.

Here is a quick guide on the type of website vs. typical storage requirements.

Website TypeStorage RequiredType of Hosting Plan
Simple 5-10 page website with 1-2 email accounts1 GBShared Hosting
Blog or Personal website - database driven, 1-5 email accounts5-10 GBShared Hosting
Business website - database driven, few short videos, up to 10 email accounts20 GBShared Hosting
E-commerce website - having less than 50 products20 GBShared Hosting
Large e-commerce website - having 100s of products, high resolution product photos, few videos50 GBMay require a VPS or Cloud. However, if your traffic is not much, a shared hosting plan would also serve the purpose
News & digital publication website - require frequent posting of audio & video> 100 GBPreferably VPS or Dedicated Server or Cloud, depending upon traffic volume
Music, video, and gaming website - lots of audio/video files directly streamed from your web server> 250 GBDedicated Server or preferably Cloud
Operations management software or ERP system - with multiple users simultaneously working> 200 GBDedicated Server or preferably Cloud

2. Bandwidth

If you expect a high volume of traffic and you have a large number of web pages that use excessive graphics, you will need substantial bandwidth allocation for your website. The amount of bandwidth you would require would depend broadly on the following 3 factors:

  1. The number of pages your website has.
  2. The size of each web page. This will vary considerably depending primarily upon the number of images and other multimedia objects (audio & video) that the page contains.
  3. The number of hits you expect at your website in the initial couple of years. This would depend largely on what promotion plans you have envisaged and a practical estimate of what results the promotions will yield in terms of traffic.

You may need to check if any particular web page on your website contains very heavy data. Also, check whether your website contains heavy graphics, animations, audio, videos, heavy downloads, and other things that need large bandwidth. Multimedia files are quite huge in size, and their transmission over the internet consumes a lot of bandwidth. You will also need large bandwidth if you are targeting, and are successful in getting, a great amount of web traffic to your website. It would be wise to review your website content and try to reduce the number of embedded graphics and multimedia objects so as to keep your bandwidth requirement low in the first place. Besides, people do not like to wait for a page to download. So, heavy graphics that take time to download would tend to drive away site visitors.

After you have roughly estimated your required bandwidth, you can look for a hosting plan that will provide you with the desired bandwidth. Typically, during the initial few months after launch, 5-10 GB/month bandwidth would suffice for most average websites (that do not have videos). You will find a lot of relatively inexpensive hosting plans that provide for unlimited bandwidth. It is a good idea to opt for such a plan, if you can afford it, as your bandwidth usage will not be metered. However, you should be aware that shared hosting service provides you limited access to other resources such as CPU time and memory usage. Hence, you should not expect a truly unlimited bandwidth when you are opting for a shared hosting plan. When your website gains traffic over a period of time, you will eventually need to move to a semi-dedicated or a dedicated hosting service where you are provided with a fixed known quantum of CPU and memory resources.

When selecting a hosting plan with a limited bandwidth, you would also need to find out what upgrade options are available should you exceed your allocated bandwidth, and how quickly your web host can apply the upgrade. Your web host should also provide you with a facility in the hosting control panel where you can see how much bandwidth you are consuming. If you are planning a product launch and are expecting bursts of increased web traffic, you must prepare for this by having the right amount of bandwidth allocation.

3. Speed

The speed at which a website downloads is very important. When potential customers have to wait for content and images to download, it irritates them and they tend to move away. Also, your search engine rank is negatively affected as search engines penalize websites that are slow to download.

First, you should design your web pages to be efficient and light in size so that they can download faster even over a slow internet connection. Remember, not all website visitors are connected through a high-speed connection. Next, look for a web host who can provide you space on a server that is not heavily loaded and is connected to the internet through Gigabit lines. You can visit some of the websites hosted on your chosen web host's servers to get a first hand feel of download speed. Visit these sites at different hours to check performance during peak and off-peak hours and also during the weekend.

4. Server Uptime & Reliability

Quality hosts ensure good uptime and availability, and you can rely on their servers. Server uptime is measured as a percentage. Typically, an uptime of 99.9% is decent and acceptable. What does this mean?

This means that the server will be down only 0.1% of the time in a year. Here is the formula to determine how this downtime translates in hours:

1 year= 365 days/year X 24 hours/day X 60 minutes/hour
= 525,600 minutes
Total duration for which server will be down over a year= 525,600 X 0.1%
= 525.6 minutes
= 21.9 hours

This roughly averages to a 1-2 minute down time every day, which is fairly acceptable. Although, in reality you may occasionally encounter a 4-5 hours downtime at a stretch, and can expect 4-5 such downtimes over a period of 1 year.

No one can claim 100% uptime which is completely impractical. Check the uptime guarantee offered by your web host. If a server is able to achieve a 99.9% uptime it can be considered reliable.

A bad host can cost you dearly in terms of your website downtime. Poorly maintained or poorly configured servers can frequently crash, either due to a hardware failure or a software instability. Low cost hosts often rent servers in low quality data centers, which means not only low quality server hardware but also low quality cabling, routers, and other infrastructure. This can lead to frequent hardware failures and, god forbid, if your hard disk fails and the web host does not have a backup mechanism in place, you could be in deep trouble. The damage to you can be far more in terms of loss of customer trust and eventual loss of business.

5. Backup Policy

Servers go down and websites crash. Your web hosting service has to provide some guarantee of reliability. If you lose all your files and customer data, your business will suffer. Selecting a hosting service that has a weekly backup policy and provides a backup restoration service would be advisable. Web hosts also provide a facility in their control panel to enable you to carry out backups yourself as well. It is wise to take periodic backups on your own computer as well.

Any good web host will make their backup policy publicly available on their website. You must read it carefully as it will give you an idea about their backup policy and will also tell you whether they backup only the website files and databases or also backup the emails stored in email accounts. Most providers do not normally backup email accounts. Here is a typical backup policy that your web host should provide.

6. Price & Reputation

It is common sense that You get what you pay for. If you are paying too little, do not expect a good service. Stay away from free hosting services. While there are several free hosting providers on the internet, a free service is not indeed free due to various reasons:

  • You have little control over your hosting space.
  • There is no assurance of quality and reliability. Free hosts may often crash and create error situations, and you may not get quick response to support issues.
  • To cover their costs, free hosts typically embed their own advertisements in your website pages. This can be disastrous for your reputation. Don't be surprised if you find your competitor's ads on your web pages.

It definitely pays to opt for a paid hosting service. You can demand quality service and quick support. Again, opting for very cheap providers could be as risky as opting for free services. So, beware. Carry out your own research about the reputation of the hosting company before placing an order. It may be hard to tell which service provider is more experienced and what their service reputation is. So, you may need to spend considerable time reviewing their website to be able to apply your judgment more precisely. Read their terms & conditions carefully to understand what restrictions are imposed on resources, emails, type of content, etc. Hosting companies that have a strict policy have more stable servers and give you more peace of mind. Ask your friends if they have experience with a good or bad service provider.

Do not be hesitant to pay a bit more for a reputable service. Remember - quality service and support come at a price. However, watch out for hidden costs or extras. Some web hosts charge additional money as setup fees and have other hidden costs.


Stay away from cheap hosting providers. Opting for a cheap hosting service would prove disastrous and eventually expensive. It is not worth saving a few dollars when your business reputation is at stake. Frequent server outages result in lost business opportunities and bad reputation, eventually driving away customers. This is the price you pay when you opt for a cheap hosting service.

7. Choose the right Plan

You can reduce your hosting cost to a great extent by choosing the right plan. Evaluate your needs carefully and opt for a plan that closely meets your needs, slightly on the upper end. Remember that most hosts have quick upgrade options, and you can always upgrade to the next higher plan the moment your resource requirements increase, as your website gains traffic with time. Costs go up when increased bandwidth and server space are needed. If you have just launched your website, it will not immediately attract traffic and hence you would be better off choosing a lower plan. By understanding what your website's needs are in terms of capacity, support, and security, you will have a good understanding of what web hosting package to select. Go for a web host that can accommodate your business as it grows.

Evaluate your requirement of number of email accounts carefully. If you are on a tight budget, work out a configuration where you do not need to buy too many email accounts. Furthermore, make sure that your web host provides POP access to their mail server so that you can configure your local email client such as Outlook or Thunderbird, and download all your emails in your own computer. This will substantially reduce your hosting space requirement and hence the price. Be wise - reduce your hosting cost by selecting the right plan and not by selecting a cheap web host.

Get your web applications developed on LAMP platform, which requires Linux server. Linux hosting costs less than windows hosting, hence avoiding windows specific scripts will help reduce your hosting cost.

Now-a-days, an unlimited disk space and unlimited bandwidth plan is provided by most web hosts at affordable price. You can opt for such a plan if it is within your budget. I personally recommend that when you launch a new website, opt for a budget plan with 1 GB disk space and 5-10 GB monthly bandwidth. Here is the budget hosting plan I recommend - check for the budget plan on the page. You can quickly upgrade anytime you feel the need to.

Here are some of the other features that you should look for when selecting a web host and the right hosting plan. These features are quite essential for managing your website and therefore desirable.

  • Control Panel: Go for a plan that provides one of the popular control panels such as cPanel (on linux platform) or Plesk (on windows platform). These are widely used control panels and provide enough interfaces to enable you to manage your website with ease. Many much needed activities can be managed without requiring technical skills, such as - creating email accounts, setting up email forwarders, configuring spam control, creating databases, creating sub-domains, activating cacheing, enabling virus scanner, taking backups, looking up website statistics, etc.
  • FTP Access: FTP access is a must. Being able to connect to your web server via ftp can make it quite easy for you to upload your website files and replace them with updated files from time to time.
  • WordPress Installer: If you intend to build your website using wordpress, your hosting plan must provide for wordpress auto-installer, otherwise it will require technical expertise to setup wordpress on your web server. Note that wordpress requires PHP & MySQL, so these must also be provided in your hosting plan and must be of the latest version.
  • IP Address: When you purchase a shared hosting plan, your website is assigned an IP Address that is shared by multiple websites of other customers running on the same server. If you ever need to have a dedicated IP for your website domain, your web host should be able to provide it. A dedicated IP may be needed if you are running a website that must use a paid SSL certificate.
  • Free SSL: The days are gone when you could host your website without SSL and access it via http://. Now, it is mandatory for every website to be SSL enabled and accessible via https://, else web browsers will throw a warning when people access your website. Go for a web host who includes a free SSL in their hosting plan. Free SSL certificates get installed even on a shared IP. You will save a lot of money by not needing to separately buy a dedicate IP and SSL certificate.

8. Security

Hosting your website on a secure server is very important. Check what security systems and anti-virus software are installed by your web host. Web servers are frequently subjected to attack by hackers. Good web hosts implement policies and closely monitor their servers to prevent such attacks. Also, emails often carry viruses that may harm the server. Hence it is imperative that a good anti-virus software is installed on the web host's server that can protect it from virus attacks.


Good and quick technical support is very important to keep your website up and running with minimal issues. Check that the web host that you choose are technically sound and respond to emails quickly. Also, check that they provide 24x7 support. Watch out for various ways of contacting them such as email, phone no. and live chat.

I hope this article will be helpful to you and make it easy for you when deciding on a web host and the right hosting plan for your website(s). I would also urge you to read the article on Types of Hosting Service.

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About the Author
Rajeev Kumar
CEO, Computer Solutions
Jamshedpur, India

Rajeev Kumar is the primary author of How2Lab. He is a B.Tech. from IIT Kanpur with several years of experience in IT education and Software development. He has taught a wide spectrum of people including fresh young talents, students of premier engineering colleges & management institutes, and IT professionals.

Rajeev has founded Computer Solutions & Web Services Worldwide. He has hands-on experience of building variety of websites and business applications, that include - SaaS based erp & e-commerce systems, and cloud deployed operations management software for health-care, manufacturing and other industries.

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