Modern specialized hosting offers users automatic software updates, daily backups, one-click restore of those backups, and additional security focused around the specific CMS (like WordPress or Drupal) the hosting supports. Services like WP Engine, Pantheon, or Flywheel also offer realtime chat support, setting them further apart from their discount counterparts that usually offer slow-response ticket system or outsourced phone support.
All of this is available for between $20 and $30 a month in most cases, which may seem like a lot compared to $10 discount hosting, but that discount comes at a steep cost.
Essentially, discount hosting is like buying your child a goldfish—you’re setting yourself up for tragedy and heartache. That’s because your discount hosting is bound to result in one of three things:
- Site breach because of out-of-date, vulnerable software
- This could mean defacement of your site, causing embarrassment
- This could also mean data theft, alienating your customers
- Data loss because of a software update gone wrong or user error
- Software slowly becoming incompatible with un-updated server software
Site breaches are more common than you might think and don’t require your site to be an explicit target. That’s because most website attacks are carried out by automated bots, programs that scour the web looking for outdated sites running software with known vulnerabilities. These bots some deface website for lulz, fill them with spam links to sell fake Louis Vuitton handbags, or steal customer data, often to spam them. None of these are great realities for your business to face, especially when these problems can happen anytime, including when you need your website to be collecting leads, displaying your work, taking donations, or otherwise serving a vital business function.
Data loss is very common for modern websites that have no backups and can happen for a wide variety of reasons. One of the most common is a simple user error. With so many people in an organization editing websites that employ modern content management systems like WordPress or Drupal, pages and posts can find themselves deleted by mistake. Though these systems employ trashcans or some other metaphor that prevents immediate and irreparable deletion, we find that clients somehow find a way to delete data permanently all the same. Having some way of rolling back deletes outside of the system, provides an additional layer of insurance.
Software updates can also cause data loss when an error happens during the update process. This is why we back up our clients’ sites before we apply any patch or update and always test after an update is applied. This is just a good common-sense procedure but is unavailable with discount hosts that offer no backup process.
The most common problem is software slowly aging underneath your updated CMS. Websites run on layers, or “stacks,” of software, each supporting the next layer. Websites running Drupal or WordPress, for example, rely on Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP or a variation of those basic layers to support the CMS. Discount hosts don’t keep these layers updated for you, which means that after as little as a month has passed, your site is running on outdated software. When major version changes occur, such as the recent switchover from PHP 5.6 to PHP 7.2, websites running on older underlying software break down.
So you have to ask yourself if discount hosting is really worth it. Is it worth all this trouble? Is it worth allowing your website to be vulnerable to attack, running without a backup, or slowly becoming more and more out-of-date?
If you cannot justify spending an additional $250 a year to prevent these outcomes, then you either have to readjust the way to calculate the return on investment (ROI) your website provides, or you should consider shutting down your site.
If your website is capturing leads or sales, processing donations, generating media attention that lead to sales or donations, or creating some other quantifiable benefit, then it’s simply a matter of whether or not it creates more than $240 worth of value. Given that low, low figure, the answer to this is usually a no-brainer.
But if you do have a hobby site, or you’re starting a fledgling business that really needs to pinch every penny, you’re best off using an all-in-one hosted services like Squarespace or WordPress.com. These services are usually priced pretty similarly to discount hosting but don’t have any of the disadvantages of having to maintain a server. They are essentially like premium, platform-specific hosts but are even more integrated. Their primary disadvantage is that they offer a one-size-fits-all solution that can’t be customized or can only be customized in limited, superficial ways, but that’s probably an acceptable trade-off when you’re just starting out.
TLDR: leave discount, self-managed hosting to nerds who can maintain their own machines. You need something that is maintained for you. At a $240 annual premium over the discount offerings, these services simply offer too good a value to be turned down. If your website generates any value at all for your business, it’s worth it to have the peace-of-mind and avoid the interruptions that come with leaving your website vulnerable.