When you are planning a website, one of your first steps may be to shop for a web host. This is a very important choice, because a web host is where your website will “live” and it will affect your website’s speed, security, and reliability.
Essentially, a web host is someone you pay to store the files that make up your website and allows them to be accessible on the internet when someone types in your web address. Usually, they charge for this service monthly, but sometimes you can get discounts for paying a year or multiple years at a time.
When it comes to picking a web host, your two main choices boil down to shared hosting vs. VPS hosting. Let’s discuss!
What is shared hosting?
Shared hosting means that your website lives on the same server as a number of other websites (hundreds of others, if not thousands), and they share resources like bandwidth and processing power with your website. It’s very much like your website lives in one unit of an apartment building.
Advantages of shared hosting
- Beginner friendly
Shared hosting is typically designed for site owners to get up and running with little technical expertise, and it is very affordable. Entry level shared hosting is typically advertised at $10-15 per month (some offer introductory prices for half that). Hosting companies like to throw around terms like “unlimited everything” and “99% uptime,” and as a result, these inexpensive plans are by far the most popular option for those just starting out with a website for their business.
I’m using scare quotes around the marketing-speak about “unlimited” bandwidth, storage, CPU time, etc because they can’t really give you totally unlimited resources, obviously. If your site really takes off, you’ll start to have issues with your website being very slow, or throttled resources that result in website errors.
Drawbacks of shared hosting
There are four main drawbacks to shared hosting, and I’ll discuss each in turn below:
- Not reliable– downtime
- Potential security risks
- Inadequate support
With shared hosting being like apartment living, sometimes you can be adversely affected by noisy neighbors. If another site that shares resources with yours– your “neighbor” in the server that your site is hosted on– sees a spike in their resource usage, this may affect your website’s reliability. A visitor to your site may see an error message instead of your site, or it may take a very long time for your web page(s) to load.
If your business is at scale, and absolutely depends on your customers being able to access your website (for example, ecommerce) reliability is a factor you’ll want to prioritize.
Tip: If you have a website on a shared hosting plan… are you curious what other websites are hosted on your same server? Check with this free tool.
Another drawback involves security. If your web host is not on their game security-wise, it’s possible for one insecure site on a shared host to infect other sites living on the same server, and it’s not always easy to detect that your site is infected by malware.
Even when your site is optimized and secure, shared hosting can be pretty slow. If your visitors are mostly directly visiting your website in order to specifically learn about your business, they may be more patient.
However, if you’re in a competitive market, visitors may be quick to hit the back button if the site takes longer than 1-2 seconds to fully load.
Tip: Check how long your site takes to load with this free tool.
The biggest drawback is the dismal support that shared hosting is famous for. The human factor is the most expensive part of web hosting, so big web hosting companies often have support staff that are spread pretty thin (especially the popular ones!).
These companies have a life cycle that inevitably leads to bad support:
- A small company may start out with great support. They have fewer customers, so everybody gets a big piece of the pie.
- As the company gets more popular, support staff gets spread thinner and thinner between all their customers.
- At the peak of their popularity– when their reputation is still good– a huge, faceless web hosting conglomerate like EIG acquires them and begins to eat out their substance.
- Customers begin to notice that support takes longer and is of poor quality, and nasty tricks get played like making it harder to cancel or confusing customers into paying for things they don’t need.
- Repeat as needed until all the good hosts are acquired 🙁
Don’t get me wrong, even at a huge company customer support is not going to be terrible 100% of the time. But in my line of work I necessarily have a larger data set to work with than the average small business owner. And I’ve dealt with a lot of incompetent, hostile, or disinterested support staff (not to mention the many stories from colleagues about the poor support their clients receive).
I think the issue is that fundamentally, they’re not invested in your website actually working. So if your website has an issue that can’t be quickly solved, even when you pay for “managed” hosting, they’ll tell you to hire a developer.
You might think the only other option is paying to have a server all to yourself. For very high volume ecommerce or other huge scale requirements, running your own server might be the way to go– but that would be extremely rare for small businesses. Running your own server(s) can be prohibitively expensive, and unnecessary, because there’s a happy medium in cloud VPS hosting.
What is VPS hosting?
VPS stands for virtual private server. As the word “virtual” implies, this means that what you’re paying for isn’t an entire, physical server– it’s a partition of a physical server that runs as if it’s an entirely separate computer. So while individual accounts share the same physical hardware as others, each account is fundamentally separate in a way that shared hosting is not.
If shared hosting is like living in an apartment, a VPS is like a condominium, or maybe like the penthouse apartment. You’re not the building owner (like if you owned the physical server), but you’re separated from your neighbors.
Setting aside the condo metaphor, there’s an important note I want to address.
There’s two different types of customers that might be interested in VPS hosting:
- Non-technical business owners looking to upgrade their web hosting
- Server admins who run their own web hosting
For this discussion, I’m telling you about what the pros and cons of VPS hosting are for you as a non-technical business owner. That means that you’ll need someone to actually run the server for you. That “someone” is mostly what makes VPS hosting more expensive, not the hardware so much. Because just like your PC, it requires updates, maintenance, and tuning to keep your website up and running 24/7.
Advantages of VPS hosting
Even though you are sharing space on the same physical machines, you are able to get much better performance with a VPS vs shared hosting. You have full access to the resources that you pay for. Security issues on other accounts will not affect you. And while it’s pricier than entry-level shared hosting, it’s much less expensive than running your own physical server.
If you’ve outgrown your shared hosting plan, hosting your website on a Virtual Private Server (VPS) could be the way to go. This is a virtual hosting environment that gives you the control and security of your own dedicated server, at a much more manageable monthly cost.
VPS hosting can be completely tailored to your needs. Shared hosting comes with cookie-cutter setups that work for the majority of sites, but you might pay for tools you never use. But when you have full control, you’re only paying for what you need.
Drawbacks of VPS hosting
As mentioned earlier, VPS hosting is more expensive. That extra cost covers both the additional resources that you get, plus the time and effort required to configure your server and keep it secure, up-to-date, and running well.
Another drawback is that if you’re purchasing your VPS hosting from the same giant web hosting companies that give terrible support to their shared-hosting customers, you might be going from the frying pan into the fire. Maybe not as bad, because it’s a more custom service, but the incentive to over-subscribe their plans and spread staff too thin is still there.
Isn’t there a better way?
There is a better way. For your website to be fully supported requires a bridge between your hosting and your website needs. You don’t want to be in limbo, not knowing whether your web host or your web developer can solve your problem. I’m a server admin, so I run my own servers and directly support my clients.
For my clients, I provide managed WordPress hosting using DigitalOcean’s cloud computing.
Some of my clients are on their own, dedicated VPS account– so they have dedicated resources.
Some clients have smaller resource needs, so their websites share space with others on the same VPS. This actually means they get the best of both worlds: the cost benefits of shared hosting, without the drawbacks I mentioned above. Since I hand-select all the websites that are on the VPS, they don’t have to worry about sharing space with a badly-behaved neighbor.
Your hosting plan can be totally customized to your needs, and can grow with your business. I provide a high-speed, secure, hands-on managed environment for your website. All my website packages include a free trial so you can see the difference firsthand. If you’re in need of hosting for your website, you can read more about my support plans here, which have hosting bundled in.
Bottom line: Shared hosting is an inexpensive and popular way to get online, but can be slow, unreliable and insecure. If your website is critical to your business, and you need to scale to large amounts of traffic (popular blogs, ad campaigns, high volume eCommerce) you are better off investing a little more per month in a VPS hosting plan. This could be with me, or if you are looking to DIY, many hosting companies that offer shared hosting have VPS plans as well.