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Affordable and inexpensive web hosting - How to choose a web hosting plan

This article is meant as a guide for those looking for a affordable or inexpensive web hosting - for a personal web site or even a medium-sized business. For the past 7 years, I've used a few cheap web hosting plans and fortunately I've had pretty good experiences. But there are factors that need to be considered before you actually settle on a particular inexpensive or affordable web hosting package. You'll hear about the best web hosting services from a lot of sources, but the most important thing is to look at the features lists and pick the one most suitable for you.

You can register a domain name with a domain name registration company and have your web site hosted by a different company, but you may also register your domain name and host your site with the same web hosting company for convenience - some web hosting companies even provide free domain names or cheap domain names.

If domain name registration is done at a different site, then you'll have go to your domain name control panel to point your domain to the hosting company (by editing the nameserver). Register your domain name and web hosting with the same company if you do not want to go through the trouble of managing one site using two different systems.

Features of web hosting services that need to be considered

  1. Storage space is the amount of hard disk space allocated for you to store your web's files. Most of the affordable and best rated web hosting companies now offer up to a few hundred gigabytes of storage. It's ridiculously high - almost all users of shared hosting plans do not need this type of space. I've even run a dynamic database driven site with 10MB space. If you really use all that gigabytes of space you'll have a hard time managing your files anyway.
  2. Data transfer per month or bandwidth is the allowed amount of data transfered to or from your web site. Even sending and receiving of emails are counted towards the quota. Most of the inexpensive and best rated web hosting companies offer between hundreds to a couple of thousand Gigabytes. More than enough if you are running a personal or medium sized business, even a corporate site - depending on the design and applications on the site.
  3. Uptime is quite a standard spec among web hosting companies. Look for 99.5% uptime or higher.
  4. Support - Nothing less than 24/7 support.
  5. Platform - If you want affordable web hosting, reliable and fast web server - look for the inexpensive Unix based(Linux etc) shared web hosting plans with at least PHP and MySQL support. Well, most of the affordable web hosting companies offer these features, not just the best rated web hosting companies.
  6. Free software - A collection of ready to install application scripts included with web hosting plans. There are blog, e-commerce, forum and other scripts offered (Like Wordpress, OS Commerce, PhpBB etc). Not really a big deal, I've never used any of the included scripts, they are available for free from the official sites anyway - you'll even get instructions, documentation or tutorials from the official sites. Normally, I'll just download whatever scripts I need from the official sites and install on the web server. An inexpensive web hosting plan with the most free scripts included does not have to be the best cheap web hosting plan.
  7. Control panel is needed to manage your account conveniently. You can use it to manage email accounts, FTP accounts, web files, database, view your web statistics and more. The more popular control panels are CPanel and Plesk. Control panel is a standard feature for probably all affordable or inexpensive web hosting plans.
  8. Email (and FTP) features are quite standard nowadays - like IMAP, POP3, SMTP support. The major difference is the number of accounts allowed. But usually they will be more than enough - if you are going to use more than what is allocated, you shouldn't even consider inexpensive shared web hosting in the first place.
  9. Sub-domains are actually folders on your web but can be accessed in a different way like http://subdomain.yourdomain.com. You may want to use subdomain to separate your site into different sections. Again, even if some cheap web hosting plans support many or even unlimited sub-domains, normally a few will be enough.
  10. Add-on domains are also essentially folders but accessed by web visitors using a different domain address. You can use this feature to run different web sites with different domains names - using only ONE hosting account, therefore saving on the already cheap web hosting fee.

    For example, if you registered your hosting using http://www.yourdomain.com, you can set up another domain http://www.yourdomain2.com within the same hosting account (Note: You need to pay for the new domain name). Inside your hosting account, the second domain or add-on domain will be managed as a folder - http://www.yourdomain.com/yourdomain2, but to outsiders, when they access http://www.yourdomain2.com, they will not know it's actually an add-on domain. Normally, even if you need to use this feature, you don't need many add-on domains.

Beware of these in your search for the best web hosting services

  1. Beware of the word Unlimited - No such thing. Especially UNLIMITED bandwidth or storage space. Data transfer or bandwidth costs money and the web hosting companies need to pay their upstream providers for the bandwidth that you use. For a personal site, 1~5GB per month is enough. And web hosting companies are offering up to 3000GB for the inexpensive and affordable hosting plans, so you're quite safe.
  2. Processor load and memory(RAM) usage - For most users, the amount of disk space and bandwidth are more than enough but processor load and memory limits are almost never mentioned yet are the real limiting factors for web hosting providers. Try to read the terms or policies to see whether they are mentioned, if not, ask the web hosting provider.

    The affordable and inexpensive web hosting plans are 'shared hosting' plans - a few hundred sites are located within a computer and any one site using excessive amount of processor power or memory will affect other sites. So it's not possible for web hosting companies to not limit these resources especially for the cheap web hosting plans, even the expensive plans have limits. If you plan to run resource intensive database driven applications like forum or content management system (like Drupal), you better ask first, especially if you expect 50 or more users using your site at the same time, else, you'd be in for a surprise when you receive a warning from your web hosting provider.

  3. Money back guarantee is normally only for the hosting service. Setup/processing fee may be deducted and any domain name registration fee will normally not be refunded as well.
  4. Beware of new and non established web hosting companies and also resellers. Resellers noarmally do not have their own web servers - they just purchase the storage and bandwidth from major web hosting companies for resell.
Here's a list of reputable and popular web hosting companies offering affordable or inexpensive web hosting plans, all offering more features than you'll probably need(for personal or business web sites). Only some of the more important specs are listed.
Company Price Setup Free domain Storage Transfer per mth PHP MySQL Frontpage Extension 24/7 support
HostGator $6.95/mth $0.00 No 50 GB 200 GB Yes Unlimited Yes Yes
BlueHost $6.95/mth $0.00 Yes 300 GB 3000 GB Yes 50 Yes Yes
Lunarpages $6.95/mth* $0.00 Yes 350 GB 3500 GB Yes Unlimited Yes Yes
HostRocket $4.95/mth $29.95 No 100 GB Unlimited Yes 10 Yes Yes
Netfirms $4.95/mth $0.00 No 10 GB 500 GB Yes 1 Yes Yes
AN Hosting $6.95/mth $0.00 Yes 250 GB 2500 GB Yes Unlimited Yes Yes
HostMonster $5.95/mth $0.00 Yes 300 GB 3000 GB Yes 100 Yes Yes
PowWeb $5.77/mth
($7.77 2nd year onwards)
$0.00 Yes 300 GB 3000 GB Yes 75 Yes Yes
IXHosting $3.95/mth $0.00 Yes 300 GB 3000 GB Yes No Yes Yes
Dot5Hosting $5.95/mth $0.00 Yes 300 GB 3000 GB Yes Unlimited Yes Yes
*Price based on 2 years plan. Others based on 1 year.

Use the above details only as a rough guide. To get the most current details, please visit the respective web sites. Price differences may be caused by the different specs of many other features, visit them to see the full features and specs. If you are unsure about the pricing or other features, just ask the web hosting company.