There are thousands of discount WordPress hosting services. For a mere $4 or 5 dollars a month, these places offer to host your website.
These shared hosting providers can provide good value, for some use cases. They are great for DIYers with a site that won’t see too many visitors and doesn’t need high performance.
But what’s the catch?
They also have some serious drawbacks that you should be aware of.
First, a quick overview of how they work. In order to be profitable, these providers host hundreds or thousands of sites on one web server.
This works OK for low-traffic websites, but if all these sites saw a large spike in traffic, it would quickly overload the server.
In order to prevent this from happening, if your site gets a lot of traffic, it will be cut off. It is spelled out, clear as mud, in the massive end user license agreement that nobody ever reads.
In other words:
”…if your site gets a lot of traffic, it will be cut off.”
Imagine you get an influx of new visitors thanks to some favourable media coverage of your business. Great news! But your hosting provider just pulled the plug on your website, you can’t reach the company and you have zero recourse. You aren’t even entitled to a measly $5 refund.
Now every potential new customer is greeted with an error and a blank page. The odds of these people trying again later are slim to none, you have lost them.
This is a major drawback. It is not a problem until it is, at which point it is too late. So, if you are hoping that your website becomes popular, it is best to avoid shared hosting providers from the start.
Wait, there’s more!
The other major issue is performance. There are many ways to measure performance, but in this case I’m referring to the time it takes for the page to load for your user.
As a rule, your website should be served from a web server that is located as close as possible to your users. Shared hosting providers typically only operate in one region, and odds are it isn’t very close to you. This can have a dramatic effect on the load times of a page.
Here is a concrete example:
I had a client that used a shared hosting provider. Their server was located in Texas, around 5000km from their clients. A single round trip took about 400ms, or 0.4 seconds. That doesn’t sound too bad, at first. But it takes multiple round trips for a website to fully load, which translates to full seconds that your user’s web browser is just waiting.
By hosting their website on a server in a nearby data centre, I was able to reduce the round trip time to about 30ms, or 0.03 seconds. This, coupled with other optimizations I made to the web server, resulted in the page load time dropping nearly 10x from 2-3 seconds to well under a second.
If your website needs to load quickly and be reliable, I would avoid discount shared hosting providers like the plague. That being said, for ultra-low-volume hobby projects they can be perfectly fine.