There are thousands upon thousands of web hosting companies out there. It can be overwhelming to sort through them all to find out who has the best price for what you need. A lot of times with web hosting the saying “you get what you pay for” is very true.
“…but I just found a host that says they offer unlimited bandwidth and unlimited disk space for $15 per month! What’s the catch?”
For a lot of websites an unlimited plan is just fine, especially if your site has little traffic and not a lot of database access needed to display the pages. A simple WordPress site or even a small company site would be no problem. A lot of times under these circumstances a cheap unlimited plan is just fine as long as you aren’t expecting very much growth and page load time is not a concern. These companies can offer “unlimited” everything because there IS a catch. If you start using a lot of their server resources, space or bandwidth they will pull the plug, plain and simple. As soon as you go over a comfortable amount of space or usage then chances are your site will go offline. Again, this is not a problem for a small site, but what if you wanted to host Magento on an unlimited plan?
The short answer is yes you can, the long answer is no you shouldn’t.
Magento has some very specific requirements to function properly. The fact that it is working “properly” doesn’t mean that it’s running efficiently or quickly. Speed is a very important consideration when dealing with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is the lifeblood of a lot of storefronts online. With SEO you get the traffic from people using search engines like Google who are looking specifically for what you are selling. When these web surfers arrive at your website, how long do you think they’ll wait before moving on? Eight seconds. If your page doesn’t load in eight seconds then it is widely accepted that a majority of people go back to the search results to find someone else.
When you have an unlimited plan you are sharing the server with hundreds, possibly thousands of other clients. This translates into slow loading times since requests being sent to the server have to wait in line to be served, where a fast server will dispatch requests quickly so there is no waiting. Your page could be very small in size but still take a long time to load on a slow server. Magento is a robust and highly customizable platform that is built to be fast but you have to put it on a fast server to realize its full potential.
Magento takes up a fairly large amount of resources on a server due to the complexity of the code and database. Even with caching enabled, the smallest Magento site is still at the mercy of the server that is running it. When shoppers come to your storefront the home page should load very fast. On an over-utilized server the loads times are always slower. When selecting a hosting company be sure they don’t have your website on a server with hundreds of others. There really is no way to know if this is the case or not. Usually the only recourse you have is to ask and to search the web for reviews or comments about the company you are considering.
I have found that the best practice is to see if the company that designed your site also provides hosting services. The company that develops your online presence is going to want it to load quickly since they will most likely use it as an example to get more customers. Everyone wins in that situation because you can be sure your site won’t just get stowed away on some overcrowded server and the company that designed your site will be able to proudly display it in their portfolio. Most design companies are willing to allow hosting somewhere else under the condition that they are not responsible for load times or other issues that can happen on a server not in their control.
When you are ready to design your Magento store be sure to keep speed in mind! Use a company that allows your site to grow as-needed. Don’t forget to ask your designer if they can also host the site for you. Most times it will not be as cheap as a shared server but the benefits to your traffic and overall customer experience over time will make the server pay for itself.