[Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Nina Litovsky, owner of Nina Interactive, LLC, a boutique firm specializing in website design for dentists and physicians. Nina did the redesign of this website and the from-scratch design of the forum in 2016 and does periodic work for me. I received no payment, discount or other compensation for this post. With the many businesses and side-hustles that readers of this blog have started or are considering starting, this topic should be helpful to you. Nina also wrote an article last year about actually building your website that can be found here.]
What Is Hosting?
Hosting is necessary for any website. By purchasing hosting, you are buying space on a server which allows your website files to be stored on that server and be accessible to your patients. Your hosting package includes necessary technical maintenance of your website server and files. Hosting is typically provided for a recurring monthly or yearly fee, so it’s an integral part of your ongoing website management. Therefore, it is important to choose your hosting wisely so that you get the best quality for the best price and avoid undesirable vendor lock-in.
Why is Hosting Choice Important?
Many practice owners do not give enough consideration to choosing their hosting provider. However, hosting choice can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of your website. Here are two main reasons you should make your hosting decisions carefully:
1. Website Speed
Your website speed depends on the quality of your website host. People don’t like to wait for slow loading websites. If a website loads slowly, it annoys visitors. Some visitors may even leave your website if they find it too slow to navigate. As a practice owner, you certainly want your website to load as quickly as possible. Website loading speed is also important for SEO. Hosting can make a significant difference in website speed. If you choose a hosting provider with high-quality servers, your website will load faster.
2. Protection and Maintenance
Your Website host performs all the routine technical maintenance to protect and maintain your website’s wellbeing. It is important to choose a hosting provider that takes a comprehensive approach to your website’s health by providing both preventive measures, such as regular software upgrades and protection against hacking attacks, and restorative measures, such as regular backups (saving a copy of your website regularly, so it can be restored in case your website breaks or is hacked).
Hosting with Your Web Designer is a Bad Idea
When you evaluate proposals from web design companies, you will find that many companies include monthly hosting as part of their service package. Instead, I recommend that you avoid hosting your site with your web design company. This is simply because you will then be fully dependent on your web designer and locked into their services.
Rather, I encourage you to purchase hosting from an independent third-party hosting provider and have your hosting account registered in your name. In this article, we will examine why third-party hosting is better for you than in-house hosting offered by a web design company.
The Benefits of Third-Party Hosting
1. Save money
When evaluating the overall cost of your website, it is always necessary to factor in monthly hosting fees. Most web design companies charge $70-$100/month for in-house hosting, and these monthly fees add up. Your accumulated costs will significantly exceed the initial market price of your website at some point. In other words, because of these high ongoing fees, the price of your website will end up significantly larger than you initially thought.
Most web design agencies buy hosting services from a third party supplier. They typically rent a server in their own name and then use it to host all of their client’s websites at a much higher cost to the client. You can safely eliminate the middleman and get the same – or better – plan from a third-party hosting provider for only $6-$20/month. This can significantly reduce the overall cost of your website and minimize your ongoing web maintenance overhead.
2. Better quality
Hosting quality is very important for your website’s dependability and performance. If you host with your web company, you don’t know the quality of the hosting they use. But when you decide to host with a third-party vendor, you have numerous options and can select the best provider based on quality, price, and customer reviews.
I understand that many practice owners do not have the time to sift through options, so please read below for my hosting recommendations.
3. Full control and complete flexibility
If you host your website with your web design company, you essentially give them the only set of keys to your website. They – not you – have full control over your website assets, which leaves you dependent on your web designers. You will have to scramble to recover your website if your company goes bankrupt or stops responding to your requests. Also, you will have to transfer your website – or, in some cases, build a new one – if you decide to switch web design companies.
Hosting your website with an independent provider saves you from these troubles. Your website can stay on the same hosting regardless of which web designer or marketing agency you choose to work with. Because hosting is registered in your name, you will always have access to and full control over your hosting account.
Build your Website on an Open-Source Platform, Not a Proprietary Platform
It is important to note that you cannot use an independent hosting provider if your website is built on a proprietary platform owned by your web design company (“platform” is software used to build and manage the website). When your website platform is proprietary, you will be locked into the hosting plan provided by your web design company. This plan is likely to be more expensive and restrictive than a third-party hosting alternative.
If you want to enjoy the flexibility and cost-efficiency of a third-party hosting provider, you will need to have your website built on an open-source platform. An open-source platform is publically available and not owned by any single company. WordPress is the best and most popular open-source platform and can be hosted by virtually any hosting provider. WordPress’ versatility, power, and ease of use make it the platform of choice for tens of millions of websites.
Some web design companies offer an all-inclusive package with features such as patient portals or online appointment schedulers integrated into the website platform. These perks may appear convenient, but they come with the downsides of a monolithic proprietary platform: dependence on a single provider and putting them in control of all your assets, potentially higher maintenance charges, and the inability to pick and choose service providers based on quality and your specific needs.
You Can Still Have Your Patient Portal and Appointment Scheduling Without the Proprietary Headaches
As an alternative, consider the open-architecture model of a WordPress website that offers a much greater cost efficiency, extensibility, and future improvability. Once you have your website built in WordPress, you can host it with a lower-cost third-party hosting provider. Marketing services and website improvements can be provided on an as-needed basis by your web design team at an hourly rate, or by several small firms or consultants specializing in different marketing fields. Features such as a patient portal or appointment scheduling can be provided and managed by services like LocalMed or ZocDoc and easily integrated into your WordPress website. Such an open-architecture model makes your website modular, extensible, diversified, and more stable. You can pick the best and lower cost providers for the hosting and components integrated into your website, rather than paying high monthly fees to your web design company to manage everything. This will also avoid locking you into a single company.
Frequently Asked Questions About Third-Party Hosting
1. Do I have to run my own server and manage hosting myself?
Absolutely not. For an average practice website, all you need to purchase is a “managed” hosting plan. Managed hosting is so named because the day-to-day management and maintenance of the servers and website software is handled by the hosting provider. Once you purchase the plan and your website is set up, you can sit back and let the hosting company take care of everyday server maintenance.
2. Who will handle ongoing updates to my website?
There are two types of ongoing updates: updates to the content of your website and updates to the platform and server on which your website is built.
All the necessary platform and server updates will be handled by your hosting provider under your managed hosting plan.
As for content updates, you or your staff will be able to easily update content if you have a WordPress website. If you need more advanced updates to the website design or functionality, you can call your web designer and hire them on an hourly basis. Remember, you do not have to pay your web design company monthly to retain them for support. Find a company that offers a-la-carte options and is available to help with on-demand requests. In many cases, it is more cost-effective to hire a web designer on an hourly basis for specific requests and improvements rather than paying high ongoing fees whether you need support that month or not.
3. What about ongoing marketing or SEO services?
Hosting and marketing are two different things and are considered separate services. If you want, you can still hire an agency to perform ongoing marketing services for your website, but this will always be on top of your ongoing hosting services. In this article, we are only discussing hosting.
4. So, I don’t need my web design company involved on an ongoing basis?
No. Unless you are paying for regularly-updated content or SEO updates to your site, there’s no need to pay your web design company to manage your website monthly. When you purchase a managed WordPress hosting plan, ongoing technical maintenance and software upgrades to your WordPress site will be provided by your third-party hosting provider at a fraction of the cost.
Occasionally, your website can benefit from new best practices and trends that emerge in the healthcare marketing industry. I recommend annual or semi-annual checkups so that your web design company can identify any issues or recommend improvements as well as implement specific improvements you need. However, there is no need for monthly payments to your web design company and their continuous involvement in maintaining the hosting for your site.
5. Who will help me if my website is down or hacked?
Many managed WordPress hosting plans include site security and other measures to protect against hacks and viruses. On the rare occasions when a site is hacked or down, the hosting provider typically takes swift measures to restore the site – especially if the problem affects other websites on their servers. Although no one is fully protected against downtime and hacker attacks, a solid website with reputable, high-quality hosting will rarely experience such a problem, and in most cases, the issue will be resolved quickly.
Most dependable, quality hosting providers – especially the ones I recommend below – have experienced, helpful, and easy-to-reach customer support who you can call if you have a technical issue with your website and receive help at no charge. Alternatively, you can call your web designer and have them call the hosting company to resolve the issue.
6. Are there any downsides to third-party hosting?
I don’t see any. In the case of a large corporation or a complicated website that needs special accommodations and unique configurations, it may be necessary to host in-house or with the site developers. But for a typical medical or dental website, it is usually more efficient and less expensive to host with a third party hosting provider and to maintain a long-term relationship with the web designer only for occasional on-demand work.
You Don't Have to Fend for Yourself!
Remember, you do not have to fend for yourself when it comes to the dark mysteries of website troubleshooting. Find a company that will not only design your website but also is available for on-demand requests at an affordable hourly rate. This way you will enjoy low monthly fees, high-quality service, and around-the-clock customer support from your hosting company, while also retaining the option of on-demand support from your web designer when needed. Again, if you have a quality website and good hosting to begin with, technical issues should be extremely rare.
Recommended Hosting Providers
So you have decided to use the WordPress platform for your practice website. Now, which hosting provider should you choose? You may have already heard of or used some well-known hosting vendors such as GoDaddy, Bluehost, or Hostgator. After careful research, testing, and years of experience with various hosting providers, we’ve narrowed down our recommendations to two companies.
We are not affiliated with any of the recommended hosting providers and do not receive any commission from them. Our recommendations are based entirely on merit. Also, note that all prices and listing of features are accurate at the time of writing and may change over time.
Top Recommendation: Siteground's GrowBig WordPress Hosting
Siteground's GrowBig Plan is optimal for an average practice website. The plan costs $5.95/month. After you renew, it will cost $14.95/month so you may want to sign up for a longer period to delay renewal and save more money.
To sign up, follow this link and click the “Get Started” button underneath the “GrowBig” box:
Why I Recommend GrowBig Hosting Plan:
1. Regular software updates
GrowBig hosting will automatically backup and upgrade your WordPress platform if there is a new WordPress version, along with any plugins installed on your website. That way you stay up to date with the latest WordPress security fixes and improvements.
2. Automatic daily backups
Your entire website will be automatically backed up and stored securely on a daily basis, so you don’t have to worry about losing your website. You have access to 30 backup copies of your website for each day of the past month. If something goes wrong, you or your web designer can download a backup copy and restore your site easily and quickly.
3. Fast speed
Siteground takes multiple steps (including CDN, caching, and other configurations) to accelerate your website and make it load faster. We have tested many client websites on Siteground hosting and have been quite happy with the loading speed.
4. Site security to mitigate hackers
Siteground uses several measures to protect your site and servers against viruses and hacker attacks.
5. Free email accounts
You can have unlimited free email accounts at your domain name, which is very convenient if you want to set up a professional email for your practice domain. However, it’s a good idea to keep your email and web hosting separate. As a better alternative to email provided by your web host, I recommend that you set up your professional email with G-Suite where you can get business email, useful apps, and storage for only $5/month per user.
6. Free SSL certificate
You will receive free and automated installation of SSL certificate which will renew automatically every year. SSL certificate (it’s when your website address starts with “https://”) provides encryption and authentication for your practice website and makes it more trustworthy in the eyes of both your patients and search engines. It can even have a positive effect on SEO.
7. 24/7 customer support
If you have an issue with your hosting, you or your web designer can contact the Siteground support team. They have phone, live chat, and ticket options for contacting Support. In our experience, their response has always been quick, helpful, and efficient.
8. Multiple websites
You can host multiple websites on a single hosting account at no extra charge. So if you want to build a personal blog or a website for your business venture in addition to your practice website, you can use the same hosting account to host multiple websites for the price of one.
9. Free migration from your previous host
You can request a free transfer of your website from your previous hosting company.
Another Recommendation: WP Engine Personal Hosting Plan
The Personal Plan costs $29/month, but if you choose the Annual Subscription option, you will get 2 months free. This will lower your price to about $24/month.
We used to recommend WP Engine more often until we discovered Siteground. Siteground is our first choice because it includes more features and is significantly cheaper, with the quality being almost as high as that of WP Engine. WP Engine is on the pricier side, but we’ve found that the speed of our client websites on WP Engine is slightly faster compared to Siteground. If you are willing to pay a higher price for a bit faster speed, WP Engine may be a good choice for you. However, we’ve only seen a small speed difference.
WP Engine Personal Plan includes most of the features offered by Siteground GrowBig Plan, except that it doesn’t include email and only includes hosting for one website per plan.
To sign up, follow this link and click “Host My Website” button inside the “Personal” box:
If you are currently in the process of building a new website or considering doing so, be sure to insist that your site is hosted with a reputable third-party hosting company in an account held in your own name.
What do you think? Have you Have you been considering hosting options for your site? Have you evaluated hosting with your web design company or do you use a third-party hosting provider? Comment below!