Web hosting comparison: shared hosting

Web hosting comparison: shared hosting

Shared web hosting corresponds to staying in a motel or hotel.  This article builds on the web hosting comparison article.  Shared hosting might have different names at different hosting companies, but a quick and easy way to know if your in this category is that the cost will generally range in price from FREE to $40.  This is the most common type of web hosting and is probably what you’re using if you’re hosting your own websites.  Despite the promises made by your web hosting company, there are some details that can help you know how to get the most out of shared hosting and when it might not be a good option.

What they tell you

Send any hosting company an email asking if their shared hosting plans will accommodate a large amount of traffic and you’ll probably get a response like this: “Yes, our hosting plan can easily accommodate that”.  I had one client ask the question “What happen’s when I end up on Oprah.  Will my website shutdown?”.  Of course they replied and said that it would work just fine, even if they were on Oprah and so they wen’t with that hosting company.  A few months later they were on a lesser TV show and got a big spike in traffic the server basically shutdown.  What about the Oprah promise?

It might seem at the surface that their answer is misleading or even dishonest, but I’m not convinced that all of them are intentionally misleading you.  The reason they answer so confidently that their hosting will accommodate those levels of traffic is that most people talk about traffic all day long, but don’t actually do what it takes to get the traffic.  It’s actually a pretty safe gamble on their part.

Typical resource limitations

Even if a hosting company promises unlimited everything, there are limitations.  Some of the typical limitations that come along with shared hosting include memory usage limits, how much of the computer’s processor (CPU) you can use and maximum number of concurrent requests.  Here’s an English translation:  You can have unlimited bandwidth, disk space, websites, etc. so long as no more than 25 people want a web page from you at any one moment and each page doesn’t need more than 1/4th of the CPU or X amount of memory.  If that sounds a little less than unlimited then you’re right, but again, it’s a safe gamble on their side.

And if it sounds cheap, it really isn’t.  The fact of the matter is that they probably have between 50 and 300 other people on that same server (motel).  Each site on that server needs some of the memory, some of the CPU, etc.  If one site consumed all of the resources, that wouldn’t be fair to the other people renting space there.  With shared hosting it’s important to understand that your site isn’t the only one on the server and the decisions they make about that server take into account everyone that hosts there.  Just think about what the management would do at motel 6 if you rented one room and invited a hundred people to a party there or to enjoy the pool with you.  Their not being rude, but you’re only paying for a small slice of the pie.  Don’t expect to eat the whole thing.

Traffic spike (yours or theirs)

The most common problem I find on shared hosting is that a site slows down due to one of two things.  It could be that one site on the server was not made very well and uses more resources than it should (like a gas guzzler car).  It could also be that one site on the server gets a big spike in traffic and starts consuming all the resources on that server.  It doesn’t matter if it’s your site that’s responsible or not.  No matter which site causes it, all of the sites on that server are affected because they’re all trying to use the same resources at the same time.

This is the reason for one of the most unfortunate occurrences in internet marketing.  Some diligent chap has been slaving away for years trying to get a break that will bring the traffic rolling in.  He finally gets slashdotted, or digged and what happens?  His server poops out, or his hosting company does the unthinkable and suspends the account.  AAAARRRRGGGHHH!  What a nightmare.

At the very moment that you finally get tens of thousands of visitors to your site your hosting company puts up a billboard saying “This account has been suspended”.  I do fault hosting companies for not being a little more savvy and having an alternate suspension message like “This site is currently unavailable because it got boat loads of traffic“.  At least that wouldn’t leave people to wonder if your site is shady and it might even add to social proof that your site is ‘cool’.  Oh, the dreaded account suspension for succeeding…

Good uses for shared hosting

But alas, you can’t really expect to rent a motel room then host a party for a thousand people, right?  There are some good uses for shared hosting and they include wordpress blogs and basic shopping carts.  Due to the large variety of plugins, themes and other options in just a blog, it’s very difficult to say how many visitors a site on shared hosting can accommodate.  It’s probably safe to say that a shared hosting account can handle a couple hundred to a couple thousand visits per day.  But remember that the proximity of one visit to another plays a big role.  With that in mind, you have to think about your site visitors surfing patterns.

How to get the most out of shared hosting

Some factors to consider when choosing a shared hosting company include the following:

  • How many cores their servers have
  • Number of accounts per server
  • Resource limitations

The number of cores (or CPUs) has an impact on how many visitors the site can handle at one time.  So if you’re on a server that has 8 cores then your site can (in theory at least) handle eight visitors at the same time.  Remember that this is like eight people showing up at the supermarket at the same time.  If there are eight check stands open, no one will have to wait.  The more cores the better (assuming the servers don’t have too many users).

This really turns out to be a bit of a crapshoot, since you might have the misfortune of ending up on a server with another high volume site.  Hopefully if you really do have a high volume site then you end up on a server with a bunch of people that don’t get much traffic at all.

What are my preferred shared hosting providers?

I currently host with two different providers.  Some of the reasons I host with them include

  • Fast response to support requests
  • Very few events that require support
  • Reliable, industry standard platform
  • Fast servers that aren’t oversold

For the reasons above I have shared hosting accounts with the following companies:

I’m very confident recommending them because I’ve had such a great experience with them.  The real trick with shared hosting is making sure it’s a fit in the first place.

When not to buy shared

Some reasons not to get shared hosting include:

  • Large traffic spikes in short amounts of time
  • Require custom programming and/or other atypical resources


If shared hosting isn’t a fit you can upgrade to a VPS, dedicated server or load balanced system.

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