One morning, I opened the website of a company I worked for, and it was gone. Completely gone. There was nothing there but a profane salutation in Russian. The site had been built by employees in the IT department. They were no longer with the company. I called IT to see if we could restore the site. They didn’t even know where it was hosted.
After several hours of frantic emails and phone calls, we discovered that our site was hosted on one of those off-the-shelf, $9.99 per month retail hosting services and there was no backup.
To learn more about what web hosting is, how it works, and how web hosting can improve a site’s security and performance, get the Alaniz Guide to Web Hosting.
Do you know where your website is? This company didn’t and it paid a steep price. Web hosting was an afterthought. As it still is by many companies. It’s a commodity that is purchased based on price and convenience. This may be fine for some businesses. But if your website is your business, or if a website is your lead generation engine, there are six reasons you might consider investing in a premium hosting service.
1) Security and Monitoring
In an often-quoted study by Sophos Security found that 30,000 websites are hacked every day. Every day! That was in 2013, so it is likely much worse now. You might think, “why would a hacker be interested in my company’s site?” That’s what I thought. The reality is that hackers aren’t interested in your site. They’re interested in hacking. They set up sophisticated, automated search programs to find any vulnerability on any website and use that vulnerability to disrupt or destroy the website.
A premium hosting service will have strong firewalls and built-in server-side security to prevent attacks and security breaches. In addition to added layers of security and firewalls, it should have proactive security monitoring, scanning the site constantly to detect vulnerabilities and attacks. It should also have a list of disallowed plugins and notify you if anything suddenly becomes potentially vulnerable.
If there is an urgent threat or you don’t respond in time, it should be able to deactivate vulnerable plugins for you to protect your site. If the site is compromised or something goes wrong, someone will see it and fix it.
2) Better Performance for Better Business
Many premium web hosting services have developed proprietary caching technology to make sites load faster, as well as content delivery networks (CDN), large distributed systems of servers deployed in multiple data centers across the Internet, that serve your website content to users with high availability and speed.
This is critical to attracting and keeping visitors. It's also good for SEO and for business. Website load speed is known to be a critical factor in how Google ranks web pages.
Kissmetrics estimates that people abandon websites that take more than 2 seconds to load. According to webperformance.com, a one second delay in page loading cuts conversions by 7 percent, page views by 11 percent, and customer satisfaction by 11 percent. Paessler, using a CDN for website assets will likely slash asset load times by up to 50%. With these numbers, the cost of a premium hosting service could easily pay for itself.
3) One-click Backup and Restore
It’s critical that your site is backed up daily. It’s also critical that it is easy to restore it. Premium hosting services typically offer automated daily backups and save them for at least 30 days. Even better, some offer a “click to backup” feature that you can use to save things just before making updates or changes to the site; and a “click to restore” function if you need to revert to the saved backup.
Off-the-shelf hosting services and plugins offer backup and restore, but the restore process can be complex and time-consuming. Keep in mind that hacking isn’t the only reason sites go down. Internal mistakes can also break sites and you don’t want to spend hours figuring out what went wrong and how to fix it. You want to get the site back up now. The ability to bring your site back online within seconds can be a life-saver (or at least a sanity-saver).
4) Staging Servers for Safe Testing and Updates
A staging server is a godsend and worth the extra few dollars a month for premium hosting all by itself. A staging server gives you the ability to copy your site over to a separate server where you can do things like update plugins and themes, make site changes, and do development, testing it all in a safe offline environment. When you’re done you can push the changes live with a click.
5) Automatic CMS, Plugin and Theme Updates
One of the most common reasons websites go down is because of the failure to update the CMS, themes, and plugins. The challenge comes in part because each of these entities are organizationally separate and update on different schedules.
A premium hosting service can alert you of upcoming updates and automate the implementation to ensure that your theme and plugins are always in sync. Some can be configured to test the update and if it appears to pass without errors, deploy it. Themes and plugins can typically be configured in the same way. Some recommend performing major updates on a staging server to test the updates in a non-live setting.
6) Customer Service
This alone might be worth the price of a premium hosting service... the ability to quickly access a live person who will help you in the event of a problem. When the website where I worked was destroyed, we never did reach a live person from the hosting service.
This is especially the case when it comes to open source content management systems. If you’ve ever spent hours looking through user forums trying to find an answer to a question, you know what a tremendous time saver that live, professional support can be. Instead of relying on a network of good Samaritans for help, you can pick up the phone and get it done.
Where to Turn
If you’re currently hosting your business website with a bargain hosting provider, there are two ways to upgrade. You can usually buy the additional features from your current provider (most offer the services listed here as add-ons), or you can move your site to a premium hosting platform. There are pros and cons to both.
Often, a discount web hosting company offers services like CDN, caching, firewalls and threat prevention through third party products, which give you more bills to pay and vendors to monitor. Also, discount hosting services are really focused on bare-bones hosting, and when you start adding more features, especially on-demand support, the price can grow much higher than a premium hosting service.
Because delivering advanced performance and security is the entire focus of premium hosting services, they often do it better. The downside of premium hosting is moving. Moving anything is generally a bit of a hassle.
Worth a Few Dollars More?
Most companies don’t think about hosting until something goes terribly wrong. It’s then that you realize you’re often paying for a stripped down service with minimal security and performance features. As websites have become more integral to most business operations, downtime can quickly lead to lost revenue, unhappy customers, and a damaged brand. Premium web hosting service is an investment in business continuity and brand protection and, in most cases, doesn’t amount to a huge amount of money.
To learn more about what web hosting is, how it works, and how premium web hosting can improve a site’s security and performance, get the Alaniz Guide to Web Hosting.
Originally published Aug 3, 2016 1:30:00 PM, updated July 28 2017