Definition of Unlimited Web Hosting – What to look out for

According to Webster’s dictionary, the word unlimited means:

lacking any controls: unrestricted
boundless, infinite
not bounded by exceptions

But unfortunately, to many hosting providers, the word unlimited actually means:

  • a whole lot less than you think
  • as much as it can until it becomes a problem for them
  • sharing the resources of a three year old server between a thousand sites; incapable of handling serious load.

For most website owners on the Internet today, these two different ways to interpret what unlimited is, won’t ever become a problem. However, if you vaguely aspire of gradually building a successful website with thousands of website visitors, there is when this could become a problem.

Success can take you by surprise! What if someday one of your posts ‘goes viral’?

Most would agree that you get what you pay for, but when everywhere you look talks about cheap hosting and free this, and unlimited that, it is fairly easy to convince yourself to go with a low cost provider. Most of these companies do a great job of providing affordable hosting, and they do a good enough job for most sites, right up until the first content piece really hits it big.

I’m talking about making it on social media, a fantastic special offer that drives users wild or getting some national mention on the media. The next thing you know, your site visit counter looks like a spinning odometer, your site’s response time starts to get erratic, then slow, then suddenly stops completely. A moment later and refreshing your browser reveals… a 500 error, or worse, an account suspended page. In both cases, what you have discovered is that your low cost provider has low costs for a reason, and you just exceeded your thresholds. Now you know why they were so cheap.

One of the blogs I manage for a client, (hosted on a cheap and cheerful hosting company) recently had an article make it into the Facebook newsfeed of many users. While the initial surge in traffic was exciting and extremely gratifying, it quickly degenerated into a disaster. The provider, (Bluehost) suspended the account. Apparently they don’t have a copy of Webster’s dictionary.

This not only impacted the blog in question, but others operating under the same shared plan. Apparently the bandwidth consumption was so high that the hosting provider could not handle the load, the surge was affecting other customers, and they opted to disable the account to ride out the storm. When contacted about the suspension, they allegedly refused to reinstate the account until the viral post fell off, which of course killed the buzz and caused several other sites to be down.

Don’t let this happen to you. There are several things you should consider when setting up a blog that will help you to avoid this situation, and ride out the wave of a viral hit with ease.

  1. Read the Terms of Service
    Unlimited means something different in marketing language than it does in English. See what your plan actually offers, and what happens when your site exceeds the limits of your plan. Some hosting providers have built-in allowances for occasional surges in traffic, while others may let you roll over your account to the next billing cycle.
  2. Read the SLA (Service-Level Agreement)
    Should something go wrong, what is the provider’s SLA and how do they address issues? Disabling your site until the traffic stream falls off is an arbitrary reaction more in line with a child’s tantrum than a professional hosting company.
  3. Determine how many sites are on a host
    I have seen as many as 2000 sites on a single host before. Any one of those could go viral, and impact your site the same way your viral success could impact theirs.
  4. Consider your images
    Downloading images can consume the majority of bandwidth associated with a post. Use the smallest image size possible, saving files to the required resolution rather than simply resizing them in the HTML. Consider hosting your images with a dedicated media hosting company to reduce the traffic consumed by your blog.
  5. Three words… caching, caching, caching
    If you use WordPress, or any other content management system, implement a caching plugin to reduce the CPU load on your host and increase the load speed for your pages.
  6. Watch your ‘extra stuff’
    Plugins, analytics, and ads can all impact your site’s load time. Even if your site is wicked fast, a slow ad server or plugin that pulls content from another host could make your page painfully slow to load during peak times. In the event of a post ‘going viral’ be prepared to disable plugins and widgets to slim down your page and improve load times.

Basically at this point, you need to make sure you have Success Proof Hosting!

Once one of your posts has ‘gone viral’ the likelihood of another doing this increases dramatically. There are several things you may want to look into in addition to what is above.

  1. Dedicated hosting
    Whether that means a dedicated server per blog, or per account, one reason many hosting providers will throttle your success is because it can impact all of the other one thousand sites on the server hosting your blog. Dedicated hosting is much more expensive, but ensures that your success won’t cause issues for others.
  2. Virtual Private Server hosting
    VPS is a nice compromise between a dedicated host, and a free for all. With a guaranteed percentage of system resources, and with the possibility to upgrade quickly, you know you will get a share of the pie and not be left with only the crumbs.
  3. Burstable bandwidth
    Look for providers that offer a steady bandwidth minimum with burstable peaks. You won’t be paying a premium every month, but your blog can weather the storm of another viral post with ease.
  4. Multiple hosts
    While this will greatly increase your admin overhead, using several inexpensive hosts across different providers, and using DNS round robin can be cheaper, and more resilient, than one large-scale hosting plan. It also reduces the likelihood that a hosting provider issue could take your site down.

Surviving online success is a badge of honour on the Internet. Not surviving is a close second, since both mean you had a post ‘hit it big.’ The difference between winning the gold, and taking home the silver, can be as easy as choosing the right host, making some prudent decisions with your setup, and reacting quickly when the storm begins.