After many days of frustration, WebTechGadgetry is finally back online. To those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, we were recently the victim of a data wipe-out. Here are some tips to help you avoid a bad web host, and our own experience with unreliable hosting.

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Tell-tale Signs of a Bad Host

Research is key to finding a good web hosting company, and not falling prey to the budget hosts that skimp on security and other important features. If you think you’ve found a good host, Google it, and see if you can find reviews from unbiased webmasters. A lot of sales people from hosting companies post on hosting forums. As much as these people will often make it clear that they do in fact work for the company whose products they are selling, there remains a bias. A lot of positive reviews is a good sign, stay away from those that have a particularly low score.

Features

Web hosts differ wildly in the features they offer. The features available will often depend on the package – with more money come more features. Almost all modern hosts will come with PHP support, MySQL databases and FTP access. However, not all hosting is created equal. Here are a few of the things to look out for:

  • Support for PHP 7 (almost twice as fast as PHP 5).
  • LetsEncrypt integration.
  • cPanel access.
  • WordPress optimisation (if you use WordPress).
  • Speedy support.
  • Great uptime.
  • Easy to use control panel.
  • Free site migrations.
  • Frequent site backups.
  • Site malware scanning.

If some of the above features don’t mean much to you, you needn’t worry. Many sites use PHP to power their content. PHP 7 is the latest version and offers performance twice as fast as its predecessor. A faster loading site reduces bounce rates and improves search engine rankings. Twenty-four seven support is crucial when running a website, having any extended period of outage could negatively affect your SEO and bottomline.

If research isn’t your strong point, we know web hosts are boring, we recommend HostGator. They offer all the features above with great support and an industry standard uptime. Use this link to get 20% off your first year of hosting.

Perhaps the most important feature of all is having frequent site backups. If a server does fail, it’s vital that a backup can be restored as soon as possible. We learnt this the hard way, more on this below.

Our experience

Yes, it happened to us. We forgot to keep backups. Backing up data may seem an obvious thing to do, and was perhaps a bit of a schoolboy error on our part. However, we were under the illusion that our host, 123-Reg, were keeping backups of our data. Nor did we ever expect our data to be deleted in a routine server maintenance procedure.

Fortunately, we were one of the lucky few to have all our data recovered, others were less fortunate. Many small businesses had their entire online presence wiped out. Because of this we thought it best look for hosting elsewhere. We started with Digital Ocean, which is very good for what it is but in the end, it required constant management and tinkering to make sure everything was running as fast and reliably as possible.

Where we Are Hosted Now

Finally, we settled on the “Grow Big” shared hosting package from SiteGround. With this comes support for PHP 7, a three-stage caching plugin that includes a static file cache, a dynamic cache and memcached, and 25,000 visitors per month. SiteGround are also on the cutting edge of the latest hardware technologies, utilising SSD storage for all their hosting services, NGINX and HTTP/2. They have even integrated LetsEncrypt support by default, something not available on more budget hosts.

So far we have been very impressed with performance and the speed at which we could migrate. For the less technically able SiteGround do offer a free, yet speedy migration service from your current provider.

Conclusion

The lesson we took away from all this is to always keep frequent backups of our sites, and to do your research. Keeping backups ensures that if your web host does somehow purge all your data from their servers, which we now know can happen. You can rest assured that you’ll be able to quickly and effortlessly get back online.

For those that are looking to get up and running with a successful WordPress blog and want to avoid some of the pitfalls that can come from cheap hosting, take a look at our how to start a blog article. Otherwise, let us know of any of your experiences with bad hosting in the comments below.