7 Basic Features Every Good Web Host Should Offer

Image of Server Room

You know the old adage about pizza and sex that “even when they’re bad they’re good”? Malarkey.

Pizza can be bad for all kinds of reasons: it’s not hot enough, the pieces are too small, it doesn’t come on time. Heck, maybe it just plain ol’ tastes terrible.

Sex, too, can be bad if it’s not hot enough, if … well, you get the idea.

You know what else is just plain bad when it’s bad? Web hosting.

Slow load times, repeatedly hacked files, 24-hour support response times … we’ve all had a bad hosting experience.

The difference between web hosting and pizza or sex, of course, is that no one claims that bad hosting is still good. Everyone loathes bad website hosting.

So what makes web hosting good?

Consider the seven features below, which any serious site owner should view as essential for his or her website’s home.

1. Speed

Rich Eisen is a broadcaster for the NFL Network. One of his bits is running the 40-yard dash at the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Why does he do this? Because the juxtaposition of a doughy, 40-something man running with fit 20-something prospects is funny.


Credit: SBNation.com

You know what’s not funny? When your website is the glacial Eisen and your competitors are the dynamic dashers.

Among the enormous benefits your site will experience by having load times consistently under 1.5 seconds:

Oh, and you won’t put $2.5 million in annual sales at risk (relatively speaking).

This is why choosing a host with a server configuration specifically tuned to your content management system combined with a smart caching strategy is imperative. You need to have a strong core.

Seriously. Because otherwise, the guy running backward might even beat you.


Credit: SBNation.com

2. Security

Since we’re on the subject of the NFL Combine, one more quick example.

Back in 2009, Darrius Heyward-Bey bolted a 4.25 second time in the 40-yard dash. It’s the third fastest 40 time in the history of the Combine.

Yet despite Heyward-Bey’s incredible speed, he has amassed a disappointing total of 2,071 receiving yards during his NFL career.

But why? Speed — in football, as online — is everything … right?

Not so fast, my friend.

Heyward-Bey has failed to live up to his lofty draft position because he can’t catch. And a wide receiver who cannot secure the ball in his hands cannot advance it down the field, thus rendering his speed irrelevant.

The same goes for your site.

If your website cannot secure your content, then the content you create is irrelevant.

If you are constantly being hacked, brute-forced, injected, or worse, your website is as good as a dropped football rolling around on the grass: incomplete, irrelevant, and possibly even dangerous to those who go near it.

You need a host that has proven it will keep you safe during zero-day emergencies that you aren’t even aware are occurring. You need a host with daily processes sophisticated enough that it doesn’t need to burst into panicked action when so many others do.

And most importantly, you need a host that will take responsibility for constantly cleaning and re-securing your site if something happens to slip through.

Swift and secure. Your website needs to be both.

Make sure any hosting provider you consider can show you how it will deliver each component to your site.

3. Support

While your site needs to load in an eye blink, and your mind should be at peace with your site’s safety, these should not be considered features as much as they are prerequisites.

So your host’s job is far from done simply because you are running the same race as your most astute competitors.

Your host also needs to have your back.

That means 24/7 support every single day of the year (yes, including holidays) from full-time company employees who are experts in your chosen CMS and, of course, their own hosting stack.

Intermittent, outsourced support can work for some products, but not for hosting serious websites.

Your site is, at a minimum, something you invest time in and enjoy. At a maximum, your site and its content are literally your livelihood. Choose a host that understands and respects this because the people that work there have lived it.

4. Support (continued)

This understanding and respect will truly show itself when trouble emerges.

Your website is going to go down. It’s inevitable. Plugins clash. Updates bork. An unexpected link drives thousands of concurrent users to your basic plan server all at once.

You need a host that provides a simple messaging system for emergency tickets and that guarantees — in writing — that it will respond in a super-timely manner when such emergencies arise.

How serious are we about emergency tickets at Synthesis? As an example, I am mainly just responsible for pre-sales tickets … yet even I get an alert on my phone, 24/7/365, within five seconds of a Website Down ticket being submitted.

We don’t mess around when it comes to uptime. Whoever is hosting your website better not either.

But this next-level, italicized version of Support shouldn’t just come after the fact. Your hosts needs to be preemptive as well, so that disasters never even come to pass (or that they self-correct before you even know it about).

Furthermore, your host needs to insulate you from catastrophe. In the online world, this means data loss or corruption.

Choose a host that follows smart backup best practices (like, for instance, storing backups in a separate place from the live site files), and that can restore your site in a timely manner.

Do they give you easy, free access to these backups so you can easily keep copies for yourself as well? Even better.

5. Monitoring

It’s a necessary comfort to know that your host has your back, but the smartest site owners leave nothing to chance and shine light in any dark places they can. This is where uptime monitoring comes in.

There are plenty of uptime monitoring services out there, so a host providing it is far from a necessary feature.

But our goal here is to separate good hosting from bad hosting. So what does it say about those hosts that do provide it?

We think it says that a host is confident in its offering and obsessive about delivering customer value when it goes so far as to provide free uptime monitoring via a tool it developed itself.

It’s a matter of respect. You need a host that respects you and your site.

6. Research

A web host can also show you and your hosting dollar respect by constantly researching new, relevant features that might make your work more convenient and your success more likely … and then adding those that actually do.

How about the ability to help you speak your readers’ language … right from the comfort of your dashboard? That’ll help you get more from your CMS, don’t you think?

When we introduced the “New Synthesis,” that is exactly what we wanted to do for WordPress users.

We had a tool, Scribe, that we knew would powerfully complement the daily efforts of many of our customers by helping them identify the topics their target audience cares about and the exact language their audience uses and responds to when discussing and searching.

So without raising prices, we just started including it as a value-add on all Synthesis sites.

What is your web host doing to help you maximize your hosting dollar? If you can’t answer that question, the answer is probably … not enough.

7. Optimization

Optimization is the ultimate goal, by definition. You want your website to be as “fully perfect, functional, or effective” as possible.

A good host will share that goal with you, and partner with you to make it — as much as is possible — a reality.

Whether it be providing tools that help you optimize your site’s content development strategy, or a general setup and mindset that help you optimize your monthly hosting spend, a good host wants the best for you and your site.

That means thinking big picture enough to provide tools for free that it might otherwise charge for including.

That means caring enough to take time and provide data-driven advice that will help improve performance.

That means, even, not taking your money if there is an alternative better suited to the specific configurations and idiosyncrasies of your site. (Dear hosting providers, it’s okay to admit this!)

The takeaway …

The takeaway from this article is a simple one: bad hosting is bad, good hosting is good, and the seven components described above separate one from the other.

Learn the difference, and choose your host accordingly.

Synthesis provides superior managed WordPress hosting.

Superior hosting that enhances and protects your site.

Superior hosting that equals more revenue and less hassle for you.

Superior hosting that emancipates you from technical drudgery so you have more time and resources to pursue what’s really really important to you.

You know, like pizza and sex. Just make sure they’re good. Like your hosting …

About the author

Jerod Morris


Jerod Morris is the Director of Content for Copyblogger Media. Get more from him on Twitter, , or at JerodMorris.com.

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Comments

  1. To be fair, that man running backwards next to Eisen is Deion Sanders in a wig. Sanders is one of the fastest Defensive Backs to ever play the game, and even at his current age is probably faster than most adults.

    Backpedaling as fast as a wide receiver could run forward is sort of a required skill for a quality cornerback.

    • Are you sure that’s Deion? I’m so used to seeing him in snazzy suits … I didn’t think he’d ever be caught on camera in anything else!

      And I will take exception re: backpedaling. A corner will never be able to backpedal as fast as a wide receiver, not at the NFL level. This is why corners have to either a) provide a 5-7 yard cushion at the line or b) bump the receiver and then eventually swivel their hips to turn and run with the receiver (hence why hip fluidity is such a huge trait scouts look for in DBs). The backpedaling simply buys them a second or two to read the play.

      Either way, the point is that you never want your web hosting to be akin to Rich Eisen running a 40. On that, I don’t think anyone would disagree! ;-)

      • I actually watched this live during the combine. It’s Deion in a giant afro wig because NFL Network had him doing this bit where he re-enters the draft as “Leon Sandcastle”

        And true, no DB is ever going to run down the field backwards as fast as a quality WR, but they do need to backpedal at speed for a bit off the line. The Bengals are trying to convert Onterio McCalebb from Running Back to Corner this camp, and one of the knocks on him is that he’s never had to backpedal and it’s a difficult transition.

        Don’t get me started on football on Copyblogger, I can hijack this entire comments thread. :)

        But yes, we agree the point is relevant, but the example given might have been unfair :)

        • Haha, Leon Sandcastle … that’s great! Converting from RB to corner is tough. The skills that make a great RB are quick feet (especially in the hole) and vision, even more than speed. Corners need to have those fluid hips and quick feet too, when it comes time to break. Will be interesting to see if they can make that transition. The fact that some guys can do that, at a level as high as the NFL, is a testament to what incredible athletes they are.

          And yes, we probably could hijack this thread! My dad is an NFL scout, so I could talk about this stuff all day. :-)

  2. I need a website to have an ecommerce function, as I sell products, I can’t see anything relating to this, but maybe I’m looking in the wrong place, or its an extra function?? Help please. Thank you

    • Ellen, if you are selling products then you definitely want an ecommerce function on your site. But that does not necessarily need to come from the host–certainly it is not “essential.” If you are running WordPress, then there are many excellent programs and plugins that can help you with ecommerce. And your host can probably recommend ones that work the best with their particular configs.

  3. I recently went through hosting woes with company that was considered to be one of the best hosts. Ironically, it was recommended specifically for its stability and uptime as well as easy integration to WordPress. Super slow load speeds and constant server issues have me looking elsewhere.

    Synthesis, i’ve got my eye on you :)

  4. Hi Jerod,

    I think you are right on the money regarding hosting. It’s such a vitally important component of your online business, yet so many marketers buy cheap, crappy hosting packages. In the early days of my business I employed many cheapo hosting programs. Each new program brought more disappointment. Very frustrating indeed.

    I highly recommend internet marketers use a credible hosting service a service that understands what online marketers really want and need.

    I currently have a hosting contract but I will be looking seriously at your service to help me grow my business.

    Take care.

    Rick

    • Absolutely Rick. You get what you pay for … and when it comes hosting, hopefully you keep on getting more and more for the same price. That’s our objective.

  5. The guy running backwards had a headstart!

    Just saying lol.

  6. Synthesis is great but it is the hosting of a professional choice. While my website does not get a lot of visitors I am still happy with my shared hosting which is great from uptime point of view (99.97% says my hosting provider), support (although I have not had any problems, just contacted them a couple of time to educate me a bit on hosting things) and the speed point of view. Pingdom has just given me 1.36 sec time full download of my front page (Pingdon says “Your website is faster than 83% of all tested websites”).
    And it is an non-expensive at all – more than 8 times cheaper than the starter plan of Synthesis.

    I think that when my website gains more popularity I will think of choosing between VPS and Synthesis.

    Jerod, can you please outline the advantages of Synthesis hosting compared to managed VPS from other hosting providers of the same price?

    • Michael, I agree with you that premium hosting is not for everyone. If your site can service your business interests and your readers at $7/month, stay where you are. But at the point where your performance lags on a server config not optimized for WordPress, or support is lacking, or growth potential is tapped out, then the additional monthly expense becomes worthwhile and ROI can be realized.

      The best way to compare Synthesis to other providers in the managed WP hosting space is to:

      See what our managed hosting offers …

      http://websynthesis.com/features/

      http://websynthesis.com/managed-wordpress-hosting/

      …and compare it to what the “other guys” offer:

      http://websynthesis.com/wordpress-hosting-compared/

      • Jerod, thank you for the links. They are good starting points to get introduced with Synthesis.
        I think I will look closely at Synthesis features and respectful users experience reviews when right time comes for my website. For now my $3.2/mo host is good enough. Anyway, I absolutely agree with you that it is matter of ROI when you choosing a right hosting; and even a higher price may appear to be much more cheaper solution after all.

    • Michael, great comment. I would add that you don’t want to think about hosting after it crashes under the load of traffic. While most of us will grow sites slowly and steadily, there comes a time when you write a killer post for a big guest blog or some hot shot tweets your content and you get a ton of traffic, but your site buckles … and those are wasted first impressions. Also, getting on board with professional hosting before you hit it big is sort of like saying, “Now I have to make this work.” Consider it an act of burning the boats.

  7. Love all the football comparisons! There are just not enough sports analogies in blogging these days.

    Finding a host that meets all those requirements and does not break the bank can be tricky for sure. I have learned all too often that with web hosting, much like everything else, you get what you pay for!

    Chris

  8. So I’m thinking we need to do a 40 yard dash in Denver … ;)

  9. This post was hard to read, blame it on my HDHD but I was distracted by the gif’s.

  10. This is a very good post with lots of great information. I wish I had come across it when I was new, and needed help finding a host ! I have had to switch and that too was a huge pain. My biggest problem with hosts is the service, the ones I have had act like I SHOULD KNOW all of what they do. :/ I dont, that is why they are in tech support and not me haha.

  11. I think you are right that support is important — 24 hour support is not common for smaller hosts and we’ve worked with hosts that don’t even have phone support—ARG! I think its also important to consider up-time and ease of use of the control panel (for new email setup or wordpress installs). Not all hosts are created equal that is for sure.

  12. Ha, this post couldn’t be more descriptive about what I see in the web hosting world every day. Cheaper isn’t better in this field.

  13. Stewart Anderson :

    Two things:

    1. My favorite thing about the Synthesis website is the fact that they acknowledge that different variations of WordPress sites (Buddypress, forum sites, membership sites, etc.) have different needs, and they provide some information on it. Too many WordPress hosts keep you in the dark on their hosting environment setup/capabilities until after you’re a customer.

    2. My rule of thumb for hosting that I share with everyone who asks me for advice – the focus of your search for hosting should not be on what happens with your website 98% of the time (when everything is running smoothly, hopefully), it’s on what happens during that other 2%. This is where the differences between hosting options come to the fore. The best get you back up and running quickly, and the cheap options leave you panicking.

  14. Jerrod, Thanks for creating this blog. You always do a really great job at explaining things so even I can understand them (that says a lot!).

    Just want to reach out and express my gratitude.

    Scott

  15. Hey Jarrod, I am a musician of 30 years. Your blog has helped me formulate a better more meaningful message for my students and prospective clients. I Just want to thank you for providing this free info. I had spoke to a few copywriters before and they were reluctant to tell me anything unless I shelled out hard dosh.

    Again, your site rocks!

    I’ll be coming here often now…for good

    Stu