A Few Pointers On Choosing a Web Host

A fellow Zazzler recently posted to the Zazzle forums about how the site she’d had for years was, due to the actions/inactions of her host, no longer working for her. She wanted to know where she should host her site, was willing to pay a significant amount for hosting, but didn’t want to spend too much time learning new things. This led to several pages of discussion on the forum, a misfire based on what seemed outdated information, and—as far as I know—no real resolution.

The problem with getting hosting advice like this is that even a fantastic host will be ill-suited to some sites—and some users—and there’s enough subjectivity involved in a hosting decision that making a blanket recommendation is, generally, a bad idea.

There are a few conditionals which hold temporarily true, though, that can help you to decide, for yourself, which host might best suit your needs.

  1. If you aren’t technically inclined, and you lack the desire to learn, but are willing to pay, and would like to easily build a clean, beautiful, mobile-friendly site with SSL, check out Squarespace. They are a niche of their own: high-quality, easy-peasy site-building. You don’t need to know anything about PHP, CSS, or HTML. Squarespace support has always been both prompt and helpful, and they offer a 14-day free trial. (You don’t need a credit card to start that trial, either. It really is risk-free.) Two weeks is plenty of time to see what Squarespace can do for you, what you can do with it, and if those two things make for a good fit.
  2. If you aren’t technically inclined, but are willing to learn, NearlyFreeSpeech.net is a great host. With a basic NFS account, you will not get standard support. You can post and search the support forums, or look through the various articles posted to the site (including a detailed pair on setting up WordPress), but don’t expect to open a ticket when something goes wrong. Don’t expect NFS to solve the problem for you. (NearlyFreeSpeech offers accounts with more traditional support, but I haven’t used it, so I can’t speak to its quality.) Other things you shouldn’t expect at NearlyFreeSpeech include cPanel, file managers, and installers. But you can expect SSL (if you want it), SSH, SFTP, and WP-CLI. I’ve gotten real cozy with my Mac’s Terminal since hosting at NearlyFreeSpeech, and I’ve come to see the learning as part of the service. I’m pretty sure I’d miss that aspect if I were to move to a typical host. I recommend joining the free bandwidth beta if you go the NFS route, and getting yourself a quality SFTP app.1
  3. If you want your site built on WordPress, but not at WordPress.com, look for a host with WP-CLI installed. WordPress.org maintains a list of hosts with WP-CLI installed by default. That makes this bit of advice easy to follow! I know that some folks aren’t comfortable working from a command line–I wasn’t, either, initially–but WP-CLI is great for installing and maintaining a WordPress site. I don’t think I’d ever want to go back to working with WordPress without it.
  4. Your site should mobile-friendly and secure.  The former will probably be determined by platform, and by decisions (i.e., themes, templates, design) made within that platform, while the latter is more host-specific. Don’t host your site where it can’t be made mobile-friendly, by whatever means; and don’t host where you can’t install certificates, also by whatever means.
  5. Your site should be portable. If you’re coding it yourself, bravo! Do what you will! But if you’re working through any sort of other-built CMS2, you should be able to export content into a format which can then be imported to a different platform. If your posts will export to XML or TXT format, that’s great! It won’t necessarily make changing hosts/platforms easy, but it can make it a hella3 less painful than moving everything by hand.
  6. If you’re braver than I am, check out Digital Ocean. I’m curious about those “droplets”, but I don’t feel like I have the background to make a sound decision about hosting a site there.
  7. If you have the technology at hand, hop into a time machine, and jump back to that glorious time when TypePad was still owned by Six Apart, and Six Apart had yet to cross paths with Video Egg.
  8. If you don’t have the technology at hand, understand that #7 in this list is here to illustrate that time changes both technology and hosts, programming languages evolve, platforms become obsolete, companies are bought and sold, and that great hosting advice given today may be horrible advice tomorrow.

1. See more about my experiences with NearlyFreeSpeech here: MAC BACKUPS AND LOCAL WORDPRESS: A READING LIST and here: THESE AREN’T RESOLUTIONS.
2. Content Management System
3. As a non-native Californian, I feel obligated to start using this word.

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