You need to understand web hosting features before you compare cheap hosting plans, make a shortlist and choose the best one.
This page explains common terms you are likely to come across. It also highlights the better options to help you make the right choice.
Use this page as a checklist if you are following the 5 steps to choosing the right web host from my buyer’s guide. Make a note of the features you need and how much you need. So you can compare web hosting later on.
Glossary of Terms Related to Web Hosting Plans
- Number of websites
- Domain name
- Disk space
- Number of databases
- Control Panel
- SSL certificate
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.
Out of all the web hosting features on this page, being able to host multiple websites can be the source of greatest value for money. Especially if you need to host multiple websites or if you can find others to share your 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.
If you keep things separate, and decide to change host or domain name registrar, you can do so with less upheaval.
In the event that 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 on offer.
This is one of the most important web hosting features to pay attention to. Especially if you are interested in getting the cheapest deal possible. All to often website owners learn this too late and they end up having to pay more for an upgrade of go though the hassle of moving host.
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 occurred 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.
As a result, the best hosts have SSL as standard in their lists of web hosting features.
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 knowledge-bases, 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.