I’m Guru Khalsa, and I work at YCB on a contract basis on a wide range of things. My work has given me a deep understanding of the technical environment that runs WordPress, as well as the behavior of users as they interact with your site.
Without mentioning specific hosts (that’s a different post) I’d like to give you a run-down of some of the key elements you should consider when choosing a hosting provider.
While you may appreciate the speed of a website, you probably don’t realize quite how important it is. Studies have consistently shown that users respond to speed- or rather, if your site isn’t fast, they leave. For example, Tests at Amazon revealed that every 100 ms increase in the load time of their site decreased sales by 1%. As another example, Google discovered that changing a 10-result page loading in 0.4 seconds into a 30-result page loading in 0.9 seconds decreased traffic and ad revenues by 20%. Clearly, speed has become an essential part of a web user’s experience.
Speed isn’t everything, though. The reliability of a site is crucial. Your website should always be up, and your e-mail should always work. Any good hosting provider should rarely have problems like this. And if they do, their support better help you fix it right away.
The importance of the support provided by a web host cannot be understated. Can you get on the phone with someone? What is their help documentation like? Your web host is only as good as the people behind it, and if those people won’t talk to you, you’re in trouble.
Another thing that needs to be mentioned is scalability. If your site gets popular, are you going to have to switch hosts? Some hosts are just not prepared for your site to become popular, so if you are expecting a large increase in traffic, it may be safer to go for a host that can accommodate that sudden popularity. I speak from experience when I say that it is incredibly unpleasant watching your site become crushed under the weight of its visitors.
Finally, although nearly every web host will run WordPress, some are much more helpful to developers than others. There are certain plugins or applications that require custom server settings, and your ability to use those applications depends on the server environment. You may want to run custom scripts in a different language than PHP, or you may need to change your Apache or MySQL settings. On some hosts, that’s impossible. On others, they’ll make it very easy.
Web hosts will give you many different statistics- everything from bandwidth to the number of subdomains they allow. Don’t worry about those statistics. For the most part, each of those numbers in some way affect the overall support, reliability, scalability, speed, or developer-friendliness of the hosting provider. Although they need to be taken into account, choosing a provider based on those numbers- even the price, within about 30% – is like buying a rain-jacket based on the thread-count of its inner lining.