Just from the ads and marketing copy, you might think all Web-hosting providers are created equal and that price is the only differentiator. But that is not the case, because despite nearly identical marketing claims, hosting companies vary greatly on many fronts and sales gimmicks are the order of the day.
"One gimmick to watch for is 'unlimited' Web hosting. A lot of companies offer it, but it doesn't really exist," warned Kevin Ohashi, founder of Review Signal, a consumer review website that specializes in Web-hosting reviews and uses what people say on social media about companies as the source of its reviews.
"It's a marketing gimmick. It sounds nice, but unless you are planning to upload an enormous amount of content, such as large videos and high quality photo galleries, you are unlikely to use more than a few megabytes," said Ohashi.
For a frame of reference, Ohashi refers to Wordpress. It's the most popular website software, and yet it's just about 5MB. "That doesn't mean companies offering these plans are bad; they are likely to span the quality spectrum like any other type of company," he said.
What They Didn't Say About Their Great Hosting Plan
Another common gimmick is to present hosting plans in ways that sound good, but they don't measure up in practice.
"I've seen hosting companies that provide unlimited bandwidth and disk space for their shared hosting plans at super cheap prices, and from my experience people are easily hooked on these seemingly cool deals," said Lam Woon Cherk, owner of a small Web design firm called PanoRazzi.
"But once you deploy the site, you find that it's slow and sometimes goes down; because most hosting companies provide 'unlimited bandwidth and storage' by sacrificing speed and reliability," Cherk said. "They host as many websites as they can on their server to offset the cost."
Unfortunately small businesses usually don't find this out until after the launch. Case in point: Smitsy, an online site showcasing and selling artwork directly from emerging artists.
"When we built our prototype, we were concerned about controlling costs and did researched different providers," explained Alex Joa, founder of Smitsy. "It was difficult to compare as reviews for all providers seem to be 4 to 5 out of a possible 5 with little differentiation. We chose a provider based mainly on cost."
While the site ran smoothly at first, they ran into problems after opening the site for beta testing. "We quickly saw issues with speed -- pages took 5-7 seconds to load," Joa continued. "We did all we could to optimize the site but still had slow page loads.
Based on a recommendation from developers he knew, Joa tried another provider. "The same page that took 5-7 seconds to load on our original site took less than 1 second, about 800 ms -- not the best but a vast improvement," he said. "Since we changed providers, our bounce rates have decreased by more than 10 percent."
Look beyond the hosting companies' oft-touted service claims, such as good up times and ample storage, and find out what your expected page load speeds will be. Speed does matter in everything from page loads to analytics and email. Ask developers and other users for their experiences with page upload and other speeds before you sign with the hosting company.
"The moral of the story is to choose a company that offers good speed and reliability, because you normally won't need unlimited bandwidth and storage," said Cherk. "And when you do, you need a more powerful, dedicated server – maybe even your own server room."