A large number of our customers are people who have tried to host their websites with cheap hosting providers in the past, but ran into so many issues that they needed to find a more stable hosting provider with better service and thus ended up with us.
With that in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to share our thoughts on cheap hosting providers with our readers, so that they have all the information at hand to help them avoid the pitfalls of signing up with a cheap provider.
The quality of the level of support you are offered by a hosting company should be one of the main considerations when choosing a hosting provider.
Sooner or later, every website is bound to run into some sort of issue and choosing a hosting provider that provides great support can change that situation from a nightmare lasting days or weeks, into a minor headache that can take a single call to resolve.
How do cheap providers offer such cheap plans and provide quality support?
The easiest answer is, that ultimately they don’t.
Most (if not all) cheap hosting providers save money by using off-shore support departments, with first-level technicians who don’t actually know how to solve the issues that you’ve called them about; they nearly always read off of a script that helps solve only the most basic of issues.
It also means that if you run into an issue that needs a higher level of expertise, you will need to sit through the initial phone-call with the first-level technician (even if you already know that you will need a more highly skilled person to look into it).
Bear in mind that nearly all providers can provide basic support (e.g. what’s my password) but it can be the more difficult support issues that can end up dragging on and costing you money.
Low price provides little incentive for support
Another point to take into consideration is that because you are paying a very low fee for your account, how seriously will they take it if your website is offline?
Will you be able to contact them in a crisis and get them to resolve your issue? How quickly will they be to get your website back online?
That’s why it’s important that you make sure that the amount you are paying for your hosting account is enough to cover the support time you’ll need if you run into an issue.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to the price you are paying for your hosting account is:
How much of their hosting charge covers the support they can offer me?
For example: If you are paying $5 a month, that’s $60 a year total. That’s enough for one trained technician to help you for 15 minutes to 1 hour per year depending on their skill level (and that’s not even including how much of the charge covers the actual infrastructure costs incurred by the hosting company).
If you run into an issue with your website that’s quite complex, sometimes that can take a few hours to solve. Even if that only occurs once every year or once every two years, the amount that a cheap hosting provider charges you for your hosting account won’t be enough to cover the costs of a skilled technician looking into it.
That’s why cheaper hosting providers are often fairly strict about what is covered by their support agreement and what isn’t, so they can charge you extra if the issues you experience are outside of the very limited support that they offer with their plans.
When looking at the prices for hosting plans, you will need to make sure the price is credible.
Generally, most hosting offerings that are $10 p/m or less will spell trouble down the track and cost you more time and money in the long run.
An important factor that many people often fail to consider is how much it would cost them if their website went offline.
With many companies doing most of their business online (and more doing so every year), the costs of lost revenue and lost reputation from a website being offline can be quite severe. That’s why it’s important to consider the reliability of a hosting providers servers when choosing who to host your website with.
A useful measure here is to consider how much it would cost you to have your website down for a few hours or a day. You should make sure that you are paying at least that sort of figure to your hosting company and if it’s going to seriously impact your business, you should have a conversation with them about reliability before something goes wrong. What can often happen is that the cheap hosting chosen when the company is small becomes totally inappropriate over time as the company becomes larger.
Up-time guarantees and cheap hosting providers
Nearly all hosting providers provide some sort of up-time guarantee to their prospective clients to assure them their websites will remain online, but cheap hosting providers often don’t have them at all.
The industry standard is that hosting providers provide an up-time guarantee of between 99.5% to 99.8%, meaning that they guarantee an up-time of between 363 to 364 days of the year, that is, a few days of down-time per year is expected due to software/server updates.
Because most cheap hosting providers don’t provide them, that means that in most situations they are covered even if your websites are down for multiple days (sometimes up to a week) several times a year.
How much would it cost you if your websites were offline?
A useful thought exercise to find out how much your website being offline would affect your business is to calculate how much you make per day (or per hour) through your website, then think about how much lost revenue you would have after a day of your website being offline.
Now that doesn’t take into consideration the potential brand damage from people trying to go to your website and being unable to, but it does give you a rough starting figure to work off of and it does help highlight how important server reliability is when it comes to your website.
How much would it cost you if your websites were down for that long?
For any website security is key, but it is especially important for any website that will be handling sensitive client information.
If your website will be handling client information (such as an eCommerce website) then an infection/virus uploaded into your website can steal that information and be a nightmare both from a customer relations point of view and from a legal one.
But infections and viruses aren’t just a problem for sites that can have client information stolen; if a malicious third party gets access to an ordinary website, they can upload fake versions of well known websites (such as a fake online banking screen) and try to trick other people into entering login details into them.
What will happen if my website is infected?
If these are detected by Google or a security firm, your website will be blacklisted and automated warnings will pop up for anyone who tries to view your website. Your site may also infect your customers with viruses or popup virus alerts for anyone viewing it – something that is incredibly embarrassing.
Not only these, but most hosting providers will shut down your account immediately until you are able to get it resolved and have provided them with a list of actions you have taken to prevent it happening again in the future.
Depending on the severity of the infection (i.e. if confidential client information was stolen), sometimes even legal action can be taken to make sure you took all the reasonable steps you could have to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Note: If we detect an infected website/hosting account on our servers, we do disable the account if the infection is severe enough, but we also inform our clients about the issue and organise to get them disinfected as soon as possible. Disinfection is an extra service we offer to make the process as simple and as quick as possible. We also try to provide advice as to how the website was compromised in the first place, and also what steps can be taken to avoid it in the future.
That’s why you will want to host your website with a company that takes extra steps to secure your website against attacks against your website.
Most cheap hosting providers do have basic protections in place to prevent hacking attempts, but as their profit margins are smaller, they often won’t go the extra mile to secure your hosting account. We provide a virus scan log that you can easily check to make sure you are not infected.
What questions should I ask my hosting provider about security?
A few questions to ask are:
- What systems do they have in place to reduce the chances of your websites being infected?
- What are their processes surrounding accounts that have been detected as infected?
- How do they stop an infected website from hacking other sites on the server?
- Do they warn their clients and give them time to take action?
Whilst these days it is more a matter of when your website will be hacked rather than if (even on the most premium levels of hosting), choosing an hosting provider that takes extra steps to secure your website is an important step to reducing the overall likely-hood of it happening and saving you time and money.
That is also why it is important to choose a hosting provider that handles the situation in a reasonable manner and will help you when it does come to pass.
Note: One thing to note here is that a large part of your website’s overall security is in making sure all the software you use is up-to-date. If you use any website platform that offers inbuilt updates (such as WordPress, Joomla, etc), you will need to login every month or so and update the software to the latest available version. These updates often contain security modifications to protect you against different sort of attacks as they are discovered, which is always an ongoing process.
Overstated Offerings & Overselling
With a lot of cheap hosting providers, they will often offer large amounts of disk space with their hosting plans; some even appear to offer unlimited space!
Now as we know, disk space is in fact a limited resource and it costs money to host files. It won’t come as a surprise that most cheap providers include strict rules in their terms of service agreements as to what is able to be hosted. For example, many cheap providers exclude things such as backups of your account, video files, and even files that are over a certain size from being hosted on your account.
What this means in practice is that whilst they technically offer a large amount of disk space, that nearly all ways of actually using that large amount of space are against their terms of service and that they retain the right to close down your account if you violate them.
The reason that they go to these lengths to make sure you don’t use to much space is due to a practice within hosting companies called “over-selling” and specifically how cheap providers abuse this practice.
What is overselling?
Over-selling is the practice of fitting more hosting accounts on a single server than you would normally have the ability to fit if they all used their entire disk space quota or CPU time allotment, or I/O bandwidth – basically not budgeting fairly for expected server use over time.
For example, lets say that a hosting provider has a hosting account plan that has 30 GB of space available and a server that has 1 TB (Terabyte, approx 1000 GB) of space available in total. On that server they would be able to fit 33 clients in total, if they were accounting for the amount of space offered to their clients (1,000 GB / 30 GB).
But what hosting providers will do is try to fit more accounts onto that same server by determining what the average disk space usage is, then using that to determine how much space will actually be used on the server, and then using that as a guide for fitting more accounts on that server.
Is overselling normal?
With all hosting providers some level of overselling is expected, as it’s unlikely that all accounts on the server will use the full amount of disk space and it allows you to make each server more profitable, which in turn allows you to offer cheaper hosting to clients.
The practice is actually quite sensible as long as the hosting company leaves enough spare space so that if the average increases, it won’t cause any issues for clients or the server overall. Doing that also allows them to have enough fore-warning so that if the average disk usage does increase, they have enough time to add more disk space to the server as necessary.
The problem is with the level of overselling cheap hosting providers choose to set as their goal.
How do cheap hosting providers abuse overselling?
Whilst a more expensive hosting company might choose to oversell hosting plans by 40% (meaning that the average disk space usage by hosting accounts on the server would be 60% or under of the total disk space available to them), a cheaper hosting company will choose to over-sell by 80% or even more.
That means that cheap providers are able to fit 2 – 3 times the amount of clients on a server, but that also means that if their clients try to use more than the average, it’s no longer viable to host them profitably at the prices they offer. That’s why cheap hosting providers have such strict guidelines as to what can be hosted on their servers, as they need to make sure the average usage is below the threshold that they have set internally.
That’s why the disk space limits advertised by cheap hosting companies (whilst not outright lies, as they cover themselves through their Terms of Service agreements) are often misleading to potential clients who don’t have any knowledge about the hosting infrastructure world.
The other issue is CPU capacity, or the ability of the server to process fast enough to service all those sites. With cheap hosting providers it’s common for a hosting account to be very fast once it’s set up, as it’s on a server with many other unused accounts and the server is basically under-utilised. Over time, these new accounts start getting used and a year or so down the track the once blindingly-fast server can become so slow it becomes almost unusable at certain times of the day.
An increase in the amount of CPU usage over time is expected for any new hosting account with any provider, but because they try to fit as many accounts on a single server as technically feasible, a large problem arises due to the server being massively under-equipped to deal with the CPU requirements of those hosting accounts.
There are many factors to consider when comparing different potential hosting providers and price is one of them. So whilst a cheap hosting plan from a cheap hosting provider might look like a great selling point at first glance, in a lot of cases it should actually be seen as a red flag and a warning not to host your website with them.
This article isn’t definitively saying that using a cheap hosting provider is a worse choice than using a more expensive provider (as that’s something that you as the reader will need to determine for your own particular situation), but we did want to show you that cheap hosting providers necessarily have to cut corners in order to get their hosting prices as low as they are.
Whether it be through lack of security features, strict content controls, server reliability issues, or the quality of the support they offer; cheap hosting providers just can’t offer the same quality of service because of the prices they charge.
Have questions about anything mentioned here? Contact us by emailing our support team!