If you are engaging a web professional to help you, it might be best to ask them to recommend a web hosting provider as they will be most efficient working with a web hosting provider they are familiar with and which they know will be suitable for your project.
The main considerations when choosing an Australian Web Hosting Plan are suitability, reliability, support and cost.
- Comparing Hosting Plans
- Web Hosting Reliability
- Web Hosting Support
- Web Hosting Cost
Before you can work out what plan is suitable, you first need to work out what your requirements are.
For example, a static HTML5 "brochure" website generally requires less resources than a content management system like WordPress or Joomla which need PHP and a database to function.
WordPress users can find technical requirements at https://wordpress.org/about/requirements
Joomla users can find technical requirements at https://downloads.joomla.org/technical-requirements
Most beginners start out with shared hosting as this is the simplest and cheapest option. Other options may be more appropriate for larger, more complex websites or for websites with high traffic. See below for a description of shared hosting, virtual private server hosting, dedicated hosting and cloud hosting.
Shared hosting can be suitable for personal, small, medium and large websites and is generally the most affordable and popular Web Hosting solution.
With shared hosting, multiple websites are hosted on the same server. Security measures keep the accounts separate so that one account with malware should not affect other accounts.
Web hosting companies limit the number of accounts on each server to ensure there are adequate resources available and so that websites all load in a reasonable time.
For shared hosting to work well, the resources used by each account should be limited so that the resources are shared equally. Look for hosts using "CloudLinux" or similar that limit resource utilisation for each account, preventing accounts from hogging resources unfairly.
Shared hosting providers often limit the number of outgoing emails per hour to protect the reputation of the server. If the server is blacklisted for spamming because of the bad behaviour of one account, the reputation of all the accounts on the server can be affected.
The hosting provider is responsible for server updates and maintenance such as installing new PHP versions and security updates.
A disadvantage of shared hosting is that it can't be scaled easily or quickly but this is not usually an issue for many businesses and organisations.
Virtual Private Server
A virtual private server (VPS) usually costs more than shared hosting and is suitable for medium to large businesses or for clients that need more performance, security or control than shared hosting offers.
As with shared hosting, VPS accounts share a server but there are fewer accounts per server and dedicated resources (memory and CPU) are allocated to each account.
VPS accounts can have their own IP address so badly behaved accounts on the same server do not necessarily affect the reputation of other VPS accounts.
A VPS can be set up to scale as needed e.g. to cope with unexpected traffic spikes.
With VPS accounts, the client is usually responsible for operating system installation and maintenance so this is not a good option for beginners. For an additional fee, a managed VPS option may be available where the hosting provider installs and maintains the server software.
Dedicated hosting is generally a more expensive option than a VPS and is suitable for larger businesses that need full control over the server, who have high security requirements or who need the performance to handle high traffic websites.
Dedicated hosting provides each account with their own server so they have full access to all resources.
With dedicated hosting, the client is usually responsible for operating system installation and maintenance so this is not a good option for beginners. For an additional fee, a managed dedicated hosting option may be available where the hosting provider installs and maintains the server software.
Cloud hosting is a little bit like a VPS where an account is hosted on a virtual machine but cloud hosting uses a network of servers to host the account and can draw resources from the network.
With cloud hosting, multiple servers can act together to handle traffic spikes or high sustained loads.
Cloud hosting is very reliable because resources are drawn from a network of servers which can continue to work if one or more servers die.
Typically, clients only pay for the resources they use so cloud hosting can be very cost effective.
The disadvantage of cloud hosting is that it can be harder to set up although there are some cloud hosting providers that simplify the process for specific platforms such as WordPress and Joomla.
Comparing Hosting Plans
Once you are familiar with the different types of web hosting, you can start to think about what features are important to you.
If you're not sure what server resources (memory, CPU and monthly data) your website requires, choose a more affordable web hosting plan to start with as you can always upgrade if needed.
Unlimited Web Hosting Plans
Be wary of cheap unlimited hosting plans. Read the fine print such as the Terms and Conditions and Acceptable Use Policy and check for genuine reviews and complaints on relevant industry forums before purchasing.
In practice, most small to medium businesses do not need unlimited plans and paying for unlimited features may be a waste of money.
SSL certificates are important as they increase trust in your website (especially since web browsers now highlight non-SSL websites) and SSL certificates are a ranking factor with Google so sites with an SSL Certificate are likely to rank higher than otherwise.
Web Hosting including Email
Most shared web hosting plans include a basic email service which is usually sufficient for small to medium businesses. Check the Terms and Conditions / Acceptable Use Policy for restrictions such as a maximum mailbox size or a total email disk space limit. Note that emails stored on the server count towards the total storage limit with most shared web hosting plans. Most shared web hosting plans limit the number of emails that can be sent from the account per hour which may be an issue if you are sending bulk email or similar from your website to a membership list or list of clients.
Add-on Domains / Websites
Best practice is one website per hosting account so malware on one website can't infect another website. Hosting more than one website on one account might make sense for financial or other reasons such as having a development and production version of the same website.
If you have several websites, consider a multihosting or reseller plan.
Web Hosting Databases
You will need a database for WordPress, Joomla and many other web applications. You can sometimes install multiple applications to the same database by using different prefixes for the database tables.
Web Hosting Control Panel
There are a variety of shared web hosting control panels but cPanel is the industry standard. Web hosting accounts with cPanel are easy to transfer to another hosting provider that uses cPanel (including the website, databases and email accounts etc) and many web hosting providers in Australia will transfer your web hosting account from a competitor for free.
Server Side Cache
Server side cache e.g. LiteSpeed Cache can significantly improve the load speed of website pages.
Server side cache is often restricted to intermediate or advanced shared web hosting plans although some web hosting providers (e.g. Net Virtue and VentraIP) now include this on all their web hosting plans.
Upselling / Unbundling Web Hosting Features
A strategy used by less ethical web hosting providers is attracting customers with low entry level web hosting plans and then aggressively upselling security, SEO and other services during checkout. Many of these services are useless, some are worse than useless and most are not needed at all.
Similarly, essential features (e.g. a free SSL certificate) are sometimes unbundled from web hosting plans and then charged separately so that the final price is much higher than comparable web hosting plans elsewhere that include these essential features.
Web hosting providers engaging in these types of practices are not recommended on this website.
Some web hosting providers have better security than others with (for example) firewalls that are regularly updated to protect against the latest exploits and to defend against denial of service attacks.
Good web hosting providers will enable you to switch between PHP versions in cPanel or similar.
Some web hosting providers offer hosting for specific applications such as WordPress or Joomla and are worth considering as support staff are often better trained and qualified to deal with support requests for the specific application or support requests can be escalated to an appropriate specialist.
Web Hosting Server Location
To avoid latency and higher web page load times, choose a web hosting provider with servers as close to your target audience as possible.
In practice, choosing a web hosting provider with servers anywhere in Australia should be fine when you are targeting Australian website visitors.
You could also host your website overseas and use a content delivery network such as CloudFlare or similar to reduce latency but I recommend keeping your web hosting configuration as simple as possible and supporting the local economy where possible. CloudFlare and perhaps other content delivery networks don't necessarily support Australia especially well and your website may end up loading slower for Australian website visitors after enabling a CDN.
Web Hosting Reliability
Service Level Agreements
Most web hosting companies publish an uptime target or guarantee such as 99.5% or 99.9%.
In practice, this may not be an onerous commitment for web hosting companies as 99.5% uptime allows 3.6 hours of unscheduled outages per month and 99.9% allows for 43.2 minutes of unscheduled outages per month. Terms and conditions often exclude scheduled maintenance from their SLA commitments.
Even when web hosting companies fail to meet the uptime target for the month, penalties are minimal and often rely on the client raising and proving a claim.
For example, the penalty might be to refund the hosting charge for the month which on a typical shared web hosting Plan might be $10 or similar. This is poor compensation of you are running a busy e-commerce website that has been down for a whole day.
Rather than dwelling on the promised uptime percentage, a better idea of actual reliability can be gained by checking industry forums such as the Whirlpool Web Hosting Forum and the Web Hosting Talk Forums for recent submissions about the particular web hosting company you are considering.
Web Hosting Company Ownership, History and Reputation
Ideally choose an established web hosting company with a good track record and one that is unlikely to be bought up and gutted by a less ethical larger web hosting company.
Privately owned web hosting companies are presumably in a better position to avoid being bought than publicly traded companies.
Web Hosting Support
The level and quality of support required will depend on the type of website.
For example, an occasional outage on a personal portfolio website might be inconvenient but an e-commerce website outage costing a business thousands of dollars per day in lost revenue might be a disaster.
Web Hosting Cost
Price is not necessarily a reliable guide to web hosting quality. Some of the smaller, newer and more affordable web hosting companies have better infrastructure, products, services and support than larger established web hosting companies.
Many web hosting providers offer introductory pricing to attract new customers but the pricing reverts to the standard rate on renewal. Look for hosting providers where you can purchase multiple years in advance at the discounted rate to get the best deal.
Remember that paying a little extra for a better quality web hosting provider often makes economic sense when even one incident per year handled poorly by support staff can cost you more than what you thought you had saved.