Should you choose the cheapest hosting for your website? Well, the simple answer is (for the most part) no. We’ve all been there when choosing a web host. At some point in our WordPress lives we’ve all asked ourselves the same questions (specifically while choosing a web host) – can I work with this host? Can I make do with this host? Is cheap web hosting really worth it?
Your web host, quite literally, is the home to your WordPress site. And as your site’s traffic grows, you will likely need to upgrade your plan or hosting company. But it’s not not just traffic to be considered. Your choice should be governed by a multitude of factors. This can and should include average uptime of the host, quality of service including performance, speed and supported software, technical skills of the support, and of course the cost.
Don’t Let Cost be the Deciding Factor
Almost all beginners ask the same question when choosing a web host:
How much is thing going to cost?
I’ve done it and I’m pretty sure you’ve done it too! Once you dive into the wonderful world of WordPress, you’ll gradually come to realize that cost of a web host, although a governing factor of human logic, isn’t the most important one.
Why? The reason is simple. As you learn more about WordPress, you’ll find that there are many web hosting factors to consider. Such as automatic core updates, DDoS protection, managed hosting, integrated CDN, and a host of others that come into play, once you enter the big league.
While it’s certainly important to stick to your budget, don’t just pick the cheapest host and get started. This right here is one of those wrong (but necessary) turns in life that most of us ponder upon later. But hey, we learn from our mistakes, right?
The Problem with Cheap Web Hosts
If you’ve somehow miraculously landed on this article while researching your new web host then you’re in luck! To put it quite simply, it’s best to avoid cheap web hosts (you’ll see why shortly).
Most of the factors discussed in the following paragraphs are related to one another. It’s more of chain reaction. One deficit leads to another problem. If you think about it from a business perspective – basic profit and loss equations – you’ll find that the reasons are quite obvious. Let’s get started.
1. Severe Resource Limitations
Cheap web hosts will usually use poor or used servers and/or cramp as many users as possible into those servers. This is especially true of “free” or “$1” hosting plans. As a result, the amount of resources shared between each user is severely reduced.
For example, consider a server with 8 GB of RAM. If we stuff in 100 people in that server, each person will get roughly 80 MB of RAM. (8 x 1000 / 100). That’s pretty decent. Increase that number and you’ll start having problems. What problems you ask?
- Low PHP Memory Limit: For starters, there’s the painstakingly low PHP memory limit. We’ve established that WordPress runs on PHP, right? With the low PHP memory limit, WordPress’ hands are tied. When you install a new theme or run a resource intensive plugin (for example a scheduled cloud backup), WordPress will fail and you’ll face the white screen of death.
- Overloaded Database: In all probability you’ll be limited to a single database instance (that means only one WordPress installation), and the database server is going to be severely overloaded. As a result, generating query results (i.e. the latency) is going to take a while, which will degrade site performance.
What Do Limited Server Resources Mean for You?
Ultimately limited resources will lead to a slow website. It’ll be near impossible to speed up your site or improve your time to first byte. In addition, overcrowded servers will lead to outages. When too many sites are competing for the same limited resources a server it will go down, making your site inaccessible to visitors for an unknown amount of time.
2. The Hard Drive Conundrum
Server hard disks are usually more expensive than their desktop counterparts. This is because of their improved reliability, faster performance, and greater average life. Any hard disk is a degradable resource and thus has a mean life. This means that after the specified lifetime, the probability of failure of the hard disk significantly increases along with the performance degrading below acceptable levels. In short, once the specified lifetime of the hard disk is over – it should be discarded.
But that isn’t the case with cheap webhosts. They’ll continue to use those downtrodden hard disks (or even desktop grade hard disks). And it’s highly unlikely that they’ll ever make hardware upgrades a priority.
What is the Problem with Failing Hard Drives?
When a hard drive has reached its end of life it will fail, taking with it all of your site data! This results in corrupted or completely missing files. Meaning your site will be at best broken, or at worst completely down.
If you’ve maintained your own site backups you might be able to get things up and running again in a timely manner. But if you were hoping to use your host’s backups, these could be gone too. And to make matters worse, you may end up having to rely on the host’s support to try and restore your site (which can be trying if at all possible, as we’ll talk a bit later).
3. Limited or No Backups
In most cases new users are unaware of the importance of WordPress backups. New users often rely on built-in or automatic features to maintain their WordPress site. Which means the responsibility of backups is quite often left to the web host.
Every good host like WPEngine will take regular backups of your website and retain them up to 30 days. Continuing with WPEngine as an example, backups are automatically taken on a daily basis. This are encrypted and downloaded over HTTPS for security. And they include your site database as well as your uploads for a fairly complete backup.
While budget web hosting options like Bluehost and Siteground include simple site backups as a standard feature, the chances of a free or dirt cheap web host taking regular backups are pretty slim. Even if they do, there’s going to be unacceptable size limitations and short backup retainment periods (if at all). As a bonus, they might even charge you for restoring a backup!
What Happens if You Don’t Have a Backup?
You should always, always, always have a recent and complete backup of your website. This is a key point of any general site maintenance or security checklist for a reason. If your site goes down for any reason (server issues, plugin conflicts, hacked theme or something else) a backup ensures you can put your site back to the way it was. If you haven’t been taking backups and your web host hasn’t either you’ll be pretty much out of luck, and that’s not where you want to be.
4. Inexperienced Support
First of all, response to a ticket is going to be slow. You and who knows how many other people are all likely running into similar issues and submitting tickets. To make it worse, there might not even be a proper support software. I’ve seen “free” hosting sites that rely on a contact email.
If you manage to cross these two hurdles, here’s the next big one – support might not be able to help you with even fairly simple hosting issues. If you’re trying to get help increasing the PHP memory limit for yoru site (one way to fix the white screen of death), the support team may not be able or willing to help. I don’t think complicated issues even come into question.
How Do You Get Help?
You probably don’t, at least not from your web host. There’s not a whole lot of incentive for a cheap or free hosting company to invest time or money into answering your questions. You’re pretty much on your own. If you can’t Google or Reddit your way to a solution you may end up having to hire someone to help (which ultimately may be a wasted investment if the source of your issues is simply bad hosting).
5. Unskilled Technicians = Longer Downtimes
Backend technicians are people who maintain the servers – everything from connecting the wires to installing OS upgrades and security. Skilled server admins are very expensive – a concept cheap hosts like to avoid like the plague.
Downtimes, however, are a necessary part of shared hosting business. The best of the lot have advanced software to circumvent its effect. But with cheap webhosts, you’ll encounter inadequate and sub-par server resources – like the hard disk issue we discussed earlier. Couple that with inexperienced technicians, and you’re in for frequent and prolonged downtimes.
Why is Downtime Bad?
Downtime is exactly what it sounds like – time where your website is down. Meaning it’s nonfunctioning and completely in accessible to site visitors. So you’re losing out on traffic, leads and sales. While a small amount of planned downtime (for server maintenance or upgrades), large spans will deter readers and can negatively affect your SEO.
6. Poor Security
WordPress Security is one aspect which is sadly undermined by novices. But that should not excuse the hosting company. They’re supposed to be the experienced ones, right? Cheap web hosts have really poor security countermeasures. Basic firewalls, lack of malware protection and almost zero protection against DDoS attacks leave your site vulnerable to a host of attacks.
The Malware Issue
A prominent example would be malicious code injection. Hackers can quickly find security loopholes in the database and quietly slip in malicious code – a process known as MySQL injection. As a result, without you knowing it, your site becomes a malware infected domain. Google flags your domain as a malware distribution point, and your SEO rankings go down the drain.
Single Point of Failure
If the server is using a single database server with no backups, a single malware attack can lead to infect all database instances in the server. This means, all the sites hosted in that database server is affected (every single one)! As a result, if someone else’s domain is attacked, you might also suffer the consequences.
How Can You Protect Your WordPress Site?
You can’t protect your server, so that will leave you vulnerable as mentioned above. However no matter what hosting you’re using you can take a few steps to secure your site.
Fortunately, you’re using WordPress which has a lot of built in security mechanisms. Just having a simple website security checklist that you follow you can greatly improve your site’s safety. This includes keeping core WordPress up to date (along with themes and plugins), taking site backups, using SSL, adding limited login attempts or 2 factor authentication and more.
If you have a lot riding on your website, you may also consider installing a dedicated security plugin like iThemes Security Pro and JetPack Backups for an added layer of protection. There are tons of great WordPress security plugins to choose from, with a number being completely free, so you don’t have to break the bank to shield your site.
7. Frequent Overuse Notices
Sometimes there are going to be traffic spikes in your website. For example, if your link is retweeted by someone famous, or it gets popular on Reddit. Any normal shared host is going to log that as a resource overuse and recommend (or insist) you scale up your plan.
But let’s not consider that. Cheap webhosts limit your resources in such a way that even a minor boost in traffic will fetch you an overuse notice. Repeat this a couple of times, and you run the risk that they might even block your account and withhold your data until you pay a heave fine!
This leads into our next issue…
8. Hidden Costs
Cheap or “free” hosting may sound cost effective at first, however there are . When a company charges for products or services that should be free, we categorize them as hidden costs. Cheap webhosts are filled with such twists. They might charge you for:
- Restoring backups
- Domain transfer (a very big amount)
- Raising an escalated support ticket
- Resource overuse incidents
There was this one time where I gave into my greed and bought a cheap one dollar VPS. I thought, why not try it out? As expected, nothing worked. At the end of the day, I had to raise a support ticket only to learn that they had billed me $5 for said support ticket. And this was simply to open a ticket, let alone for them to actually respond to it!
What is the Real Cost of Cheap Hosting?
You simply can’t take the list price of cheap hosting at face value. Almost nothing in life is actually free, there’s usually fine print and hosting is just the same. When you signup for a “free” or $1 per month hosting plan look at the terms for hidden costs. Is this promotional pricing that will increase after the first year? Do backups cost extra? Is support a premium feature? Can you even monetize your website, or does the host insert their own network ads? In the end a cheap host can actually end up costing you more.
Conclusion: Don’t Choose Cheap Hosting
Cheap webhosts spell nothing but disaster. We must be extra cautions while selecting a web host that meets our needs. And before you start trying to argue, keep in mind that there is a huge difference between a cheap web host and an affordable one.
There are plenty of affordable web hosting options for WordPress sites such as SiteGround, Cloudways or BlueHost which all offer ample features and can help keep your website safe. These hosts all offer budget friendly plans, but you get what you pay for. You may need to upgrade your plan at some point for added resources, but all in all you’ll still have decent hosting.
However, if your budget allows, choosing a managed WordPress hosting plan from WPEngine or Kinsta is best. Managed hosting means you have less to worry about, and by going with an experienced and reputable company in the WordPress industry you can be certain you’ll have a great support team to reach out to (should you ever need to).
You can learn more about some of the best WordPress hosting options in our guide. Once you’ve outgrown your shared host, you can move on to more powerful options like managed WordPress hosting.
So do you have a shared hosting story? We’d love to know what your experience has been. Also if you have any tips for hosts to avoid or ones to pick, please share your option with our other readers below!