To compare cheap hosting plans, make a shortlist and choose the best one, you need to understand their features. This page explains common terms you are likely to come across. It also highlights the better options to help you make the right choice.
What are Hosting Plans?
A ‘hosting plan’ is a specification that details the facilities and allowances available to customers who subscribe to an Internet hosting service. It specifies things like the amount of disk space that is available as part of a package.
Web hosts tend to present their services as a range of packages (or plans). You can subscribe to one or more of those packages and these are then associated with an account held with your host.
The cheapest hosting plans often have names like ‘Basic’, ‘Starter’ or ‘Economy’. They will have the lowest price but, they will also have lower allowances too.
At times, the cheapest options have so few features, they are unsuitable for hosting modern websites, which use databases and server-side scripting languages.
While pricing and a list of key features hosting plans tend to be displayed clearly, the information provided can be very brief. This can make it hard for buyers to appreciate what is on offer.
Review the terms in the glossary below to ensure that you fully understand the meaning of common terms AND to develop a better idea of our own needs. It is the second step to take towards picking the perfect plan.
Web Hosting Features, Glossary and Tips for Picking the Perfect Package
Note: this list is not exhaustive. It covers the most common terms you will come across. Expand the links with arrows to see tips about what the best options are.
If you run into other terms when reading descriptions of cheap hosting plans, and you are unsure what they mean, look for tooltips and nearby links. They usually lead to further information about what is on offer.
Price – The cost of the plan. Usually charged on a monthly basis.
Look out for asterisk (*) near pricing. These can lead to footnotes about important terms and conditions.
Very low ‘introductory offers’ wth much higher renewal rates are a common sales technique. Low-cost deals that cost $0.99 at sign up, can easily end up costing $6.99 a month. That may not be a bad thing, but, be sure to factor this extra cost into any price comparisons you make.
Number of websites – Describes how many websites you can host on your account. Some providers allow you to host more than one website on cheap hosting plans.
This feature can be good value for people who need to host multiple websites and those who can find others to share their costs with.
Domain name – The name you type into your web browser to view a particular website (e.g google.com)
Some web hosts offer free domain registration for the first year. This can seem like a good deal, but best practice is to buy domain names separately. And from a different provider.
A domain name is independent of where a website is hosted. If keep things separate, and decide to change host or domain name registrar, you can do so with less upheaval.
If you are tempted to sign up to an offer that includes a domain name, check what the renewal fee for the domain name will be. That cost may make the package more or less attractive when you make price comparisons later on.
Disk space – The amount of storage available on your account.
The amount of storage you need depends on the amount of data your website contains. Most websites consist of text (HTML, database and script files) and images primarily. The amount of space you need will vary, depending on the amount of data or the size of the files used.
A very small and simple website could need as little as 30MB of storage. However, the same site, when built with a content management system (CMS), such as WordPress, will need far more. A minimum of 1GB is recommended for WordPress.
If you know your site will grow in size, think about signing up for more storage from the outset. Especially, if you cannot see information about upgrading with the same host.
Storage is cheap, so this should only cost you a little extra per month to start with.
Pay attention to the type of disk offered too. A Solid State Drive (SSD) reads and writes files faster that older disk drive formats. It isn’t the whole story though, in terms of getting the best website speed. However, SSDs indicate that your web host has invested in quality hardware.
Number of databases – The numbers of relational databases that can be created.
MySql, MariaDB, PostgreSQL and Oracle are among the most popular brands of database system. They all allow you create, read, update and delete databases and the tables within them using structured query language (SQL).
Some hosts also limit the size of the databases that you can have. For cheap web hosting plans this limit tends to be around 1GB in size.
Bandwidth – The maximum amount of data transfer allowed per month. Usually expressed in gigabytes (GB).
To estimate the amount of bandwidth required, you should think about the size of your files and the number of visitors you expect per month.
Consider this simple example. You use an image as a logo. It appears on all pages of your website and it is 1MB in size. If you have 5000 unique visitors each month, then that will lead to 5000MB (or 5GB) of bandwidth usage from the logo alone.
Web hosts tend to provide tools that allow you to monitor how much data transfer has occured within your plan. Use them to keep an eye on bandwidth usage.
You can expect to be notified if you have exceed your limit but, it is not uncommon for service providers to suspend accounts which do so. That is not a good position to be in – because visitors will not be able to access your site!
Control Panel – A web-based interface provided by your service provider that allows you to manage your hosting plan using a web browser.
cPanel, Plesk and Webmin are three popular brands but providers may supply their own in-house tool. These tools aim to make it easier to use and manage the facilities in your account. Such as uploading files, setting up email addresses and creating databases.
SSL Certificate – Permits secure connections between Web servers and Web browsers.
When a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate is installed on a Web server, communication between the server and web browsers can be encrypted and take place using the HTTPS protocol (over port 443).
In practice, this mean you can use ‘https’ rather than ‘http’ to run your site. Which makes it safer to handle credit cards and transfer other user data, such passwords.
Web users are increasingly aware that a padlock icon, in the address bar of their web browser, indicates that a website is using SSL. And, they know this means any communication they have with the site cannot be snooped upon easily.
As concerns over online privacy increase, this requirement is becoming a standard that many users now expect. The good thing, is that although there are several types of certificate available, a basic level of encryption can be obtained for free – if your host supports Let’s Encrypt.
Support – Help available from your host.
Support from your web host can be provided in a number of ways: via phone, online chat, email or 24/7 via a ticket system. Not all hosts give you all of those options. So… you need to check if your preferred method is available before buying.
On a similar note, understand that most hosts provide support for the plan you have subscribed to rather than how to build and manage your website.
If you have problems with your site, and it is unrelated to the hosting plan, they are within their rights to advise you to seek help elsewhere.
Some hosts do provide expert help with specific platforms (such as WordPress). However, you should expect to pay more for this type of service AND you should know if it the type of support you need before signing up.
Extra help can sometimes be found via knowledgebases, wikis, forums and web searches. Try searching for your provider name and key words about your problem.
There are many more items that I could list here but, this article is only concerned with common features that you can expect to find on cheap hosting plans.
For fully featured packages, suitable for hosting small, but modern, database-driven websites, I would consider: Hostgator, Siteground, Bluehost and 1and1.
They all offer multiple versions of PHP and SSH access as standard. While these features aren’t strictly necessary for simple sites, they are highly likely to be useful as you become more experienced.
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