Shared Hosting Provider – Guide & Review

If you search for a good shared hosting provider, the “best choice” is not an easy to make. We all know that a hosting company that claims to offer unlimited of everything is on his way to offer slow and non-responsive servers very soon. As prices have fallen for VPS and cloud servers, more and more people are offering web hosting without having the necessary skills or resources to support their customers.

How to choose a shared hosting provider

  • Test the response time of the support department by sending them a few technical question. After the first response, ask a second set of questions. The response time for each request should be shorter than 24 hours, even at weekends if the web host claims to offer 24×7 support.
  • Find companies offering SSH access for your hosting account. While most of the hosting features can be handled via a control panel like DirectAdmin or cPanel, is the SSH access very useful for advanced tasks like rSync backups, CRON jobs, huge database imports, etc.
  • Ask them about file permissions when files are uploaded by your PHP based web application. More about this below  in the section “Before you install…”.
  • A web server is only so good as the network and the data-center were a web server is located. Look for redundancy in connectivity, power and storage. Most better hosting services will use load balancing and other optimization techniques.
  • These days many shared hosting companies offering hosting in the cloud, this is often a good thing, but many companies use “the cloud” only as a kind of marketing term. Compare the information about “the cloud” they offer, with the information from the well known cloud hosting providers.

  • Do they offer a dedicated IP address for your website? If you like use a SSL certificate in most of the cases, a dedicated IP address is required.
  • Most important: Don’t pay for a whole year in advance or they need to offer you a 100% money back guarantee!

After you’ve found a few promising companies, search Google for reviews. Don’t believe everything you read, there are some reviews which are not for 100% objective.

How-to recognize good hosting reviews

  • Search for “negative” reviews, it’s much harder to find them than positive reviews. Again, don’t believe everything you read. Quite often, former customers unfairly blame the shared hosting provider for something that was actually the customer’s mistake.
  • Check the date of a review, it’s possible that a good or bad company has optimized their services since the review was written.
  • You need to be careful if a review is only about “how great” a company is.
  • Most reviews are published on websites using WordPress or some other blog or forum software, check if there are comments and maybe you can ask your own questions, too.
  • Twitter is also a great source to learn about the quality of a shared hosting provider.

Before you install your website

Write access is required if you need to upload a file or for editing templates files using WordPress or another CMS to manage your website. On a poorly configured web  server you need to raise the file and directory permissions to give the application the required write access. This is a potential risk for your website or application. After you got the hosting account, check that files have at least 0644 and directories 0755 permissions after a file was uploaded to the server. Don’t go further if the permission values are higher don’t waste your time with that company.

Great shared hosting providers

The following two shared hosting companies are services I have used by myself. Webfaction is still the hosting provider where I host most of the websites I’m responsible for.

WebFaction – Smarter web hosting

Webfaction is maybe the best shared hosting provider I have ever used. They offer fast and secure web hosting with a lot of freedom for an affordable price. With WebFaction you get a shared hosting account with full SSH access to your Linux user account. Run long lasting scripts written in PHP, Django or Rails without extra costs. I host many WordPress websites with them and also some bigger web applications. You will get a hosting account that includes a specific amount of memory which is reserved just for you. Their professional shared hosting plans gives you features like a virtual private server, but without the need to manage a server on your own. Most of the features, like the number of databases and websites are unlimited. However, WebFaction will limit the number of sites you host based upon the memory allowance and usage. Their support is very helpful and answers my questions very fast. They offer a Wiki with a lot of documentation and the community offers a lot of information. Their control panel has great options for stuff like configuring websites, DNS and email accounts but you need to do also stuff using the Linux command line. If you’re looking for cPanel hosting, you need to look for something else.

MediaLayer Application Hosting

I’m a huge fan of the DirectAdmin and MediaLayer offers a unique and optimized hosting plan for this control panel. Their DirectAdmin servers are installed with Litespeed and they use Percona for MySQL database service. SSD storage is standard and the advanced setup will make all your websites very fast. The last time I used their services, my web hosting account was very very fast and stable. The response time for support was very short the support was also okay. You can get a hosting account in the USA, the Netherlands or Singapore. Like Webfaction they have no limit by the number of websites you can host, but the storage and bandwidth is limited. Their smallest plan costs $14.95 a month and comes with 2GB for storage and 40GB bandwidth. 2015-07-29 I’m very shocked to read that MediaLayer has closed their business after their CEO Gurpreet Virdi has passed away a month ago. Even if you can’t try their services anymore (their website went offline yesterday), I will keep this recommendation because they have provided such a great service in the past!