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I get this question all the time when it’s time to consider hosting in a website design project:

Why should I pay more than $10 per month for website hosting when ACME Shared Host only charges $3 per month for unlimited storage?

When it comes to website hosting, there is generally a high amount of misunderstanding. To be fair, there is also a lot of misinformation and false advertising. Some shared hosting providers offer solutions for as little as $2.95/month for “unlimited” hosting. Is this too good to be true? Yes.

Firstly, this is deceitful and problematic advertising. “Deceitful” because if it were possible to offer unlimited storage and databases for $2.95/month why is Google still paying millions for their own infrastructure? “Problematic” because this generates an unrealistic expectation of consumer hosting evaluation.

Limitations to hosting environments are real – and that’s completely okay. To understand why let’s talk briefly think about how the internet works overall and where websites are stored at a super basic level:

  • The internet is many, many computers connected together.
  • Websites are stored on computers dedicated to serving websites (a server)
  • Computers that serve websites, just like your own PC, have real, physical resource limitations.

Cool – so now you know how the internet works.

Here are these resources (very simplified):

ResourceDescription
CPUSpeed of Calculations
RAMCapacity of Temporary Storage
DISKCapacity of Permanent Storage
NETWORKSpeed of Data Transfer.

If a single one of these resources is at capacity, a website will become slow, unresponsive or completely unavailable. When it comes to online transactions or searching for business contact information, downtime to a website can result in lost conversions and customers.

You think of a server or “host” as a digital manifestation of your physical business. There’s no such thing as “The Cloud”, only “computers somewhere else”. In fact, you could even compare the above technical resources to a Coffee Shop. They are pretty different things for sure.. but in many ways the same. Let’s see how these resources look like as if they represented a local Coffee Shop Store:

ResourceCoffee Shop Analogy
CPUProficiency of Staff
RAMNumber of Staff
DISKPoint-of-Sale Storage Capacity
NETWORKFloor Space of Store

Similarly to the resources of a computer, if a single one of these resources is not working correctly, the business will not operate. If there is plenty of staff rostered (RAM) but they lack training and profeciency (CPU), sales and customer satisfaction are likely to be very low.

If there are enough rostered staff (RAM) that all are profecient (CPU), but there is a massive queue outside the store moving very slowly (NETWORK), eventually, most customers will leave the line and try another store (lost conversions).

Your online business, just like a physical storefront, needs enough hosting resources to process transactions quickly and reliably and with the ability to serve many customers at the same time.

Why is Cheap/Shared Hosting A Bad Idea?

Using cheap and/or shared hosting means that you’re consuming the same computer resources as hundreds of other customers.

It would be like sharing our example Coffee Shop with 100+ other businesses all using the same staff, point-of-sale and floor space. What happens if another business sharing the space is the target of an armed robbery (online attack)? The Coffee Shop will also experience an interruption. If another business has an unexpected surge of new customers following an ad campaign, the Coffee Shop will experience difficulty in serving it’s own customers.

Let’s boil this down into 5 main reasons:

1. Not Scalable

This is really one of the biggest reasons you shouldn’t use shared hosting. While you are starting out with only a few customers and page views, this might suffice. As you grow, you will very quickly run into the limitations that are imposed by sharing resources with other customers. Especially for e-commerce sites where there is backend processing involved, you will require more server resources as you grow.

When you begin hitting the limits of the shared environment, there is no room to grow. If you invest a considerable amount of money into an ad campaign and it is successfully referring customers, this will more than likely exhaust the resources of the shared hosting environment resulting in lost conversions.

2. Bad IP Address Reputation

If you are using shared hosting, you are sharing an IP address with every other customer on the same server. If an internet service provider or university chooses to block another customer’s website with which you have the same IP, your website will also be blocked.

3. Low, Uncertain Security

It’s really uncertain as to how much effort a shared host has dedicated to securing their servers. Details of your customer transactions and payment information are stored unencrypted on the same server as other customers. If the server is not regularly updated and patched, your data is at risk of being compromised at any time.

4. Lack of Customisation

Shared hosting environments provide support for hosting static files, PHP (with limitations) and a MySQL database. If your online platform requires any modifications or special environment configuration, the solution will run sub-optimially or not at all.

5. Poor Support

Most shared hosting providers operate at a “high volume low return” business model. This means that there are many customers. Given that the monthly fee is so low, customers are expendable. If you ever experience a persistent issue or outage with your website it could be hours before receiving a  coherant response.

Conclusion

Using cheap or shared hosting is unreliable and non-optimal to a growing, thriving business. Your online presence, just like your physical storefront space, deserves a robust and flexible hosting environment to meet your needs now and well into the future.

With the right hosting environment, the number of customers you can reach and process at the same time is almost limitless and can be used as a competitive asset instead of an expense.

When selecting your hosting provider, be sure of the following:

  • Dedicated IP address
  • Guaranteed bandwidth
  • At least 1GB of RAM
  • Quality support

MJWebs offers a managed hosting solution if you prefer a “hands-off” and personalised service. If you prefer to manage the hosting side of things yourself (and if you’re using WordPress), I recommend WP-Engine or Cloudways.

Please Note: In this article, I am discussing my opinion on Shared Hosting, not Virtual Private Servers. a VPS is very different to a shared host because, despite sharing the underlying physical host, each customer is given guaranteed resources that are unaffected by others using the same host. We recommend VPS due to its ability to vertically scale when required.