When ‘unlimited’ web hosting has limits and what to look for instead
One of the first steps to building a website is finding a good, cheap web host. But there are hundreds of web hosting providers all competing for attention and, in this hyper-competitive world, many things are not what they seem. One of them is ‘unlimited web hosting’.
Let’s mock up a little scenario. Imagine you’ve never before hosted a website and I presented you with the following pricing plans, which would you choose?
Example 1: 10GB storage, 1GB bandwidth, 5 email accounts, 10 MySQL databases (£1.99 per month)
Example 2: Unlimited storage, unmetered bandwidth, unlimited email accounts, unlimited MySQL databases (£3.99 per month)
I’m betting you’d weigh up the cost difference and pay the extra £2 per month for unlimited hosting. Am I right?
But while ‘unlimited’ may seem like a good offer, it’s often not. Frustratingly, ‘unlimited’ has limits.
In this post, we’re going to look at what those limits are, whether they’re a deal-breaker for ‘unlimited’ offers and what you should look for instead.
What is unlimited web hosting?
Unlimited web hosting deals offer unlimited data storage and/or unlimited bandwidth. They might also offer unlimited email accounts and/or domains.
But a web host doesn’t have to offer all of the above to call their deal ‘unlimited’. So, the first thing you need to know about unlimited hosting is that unlimited deals aren’t directly comparable. One might offer unlimited data storage for a single website. Others might offer unlimited bandwidth for multiple domains but limit data storage.
It’s up to you to compare plans and find one that meets your needs. And since most people opt for unlimited to save time and energy comparing technical details across various deals, that’s less than ideal.
But that’s not all!
The second thing you need to know about unlimited web hosting is that there are limits – they’re just detailed in ‘fair usage’ policies rather than the headline offer. Which brings us to…
What are fair usage policies?
All web hosting plans come with fair usage policies. You should always reference these when you sign up to a deal, unlimited or not.
Your provider’s fair usage policy will detail what limits they impose on your account and what they can do if you overstep them. In most cases, they will throttle your website, take it down or charge you additional fees.
Let’s take a look at an example:
iPage’s User Agreement states:
“iPage expressly reserves the right to review every user account for excessive usage of CPU, bandwidth, disk space and other resources that may be a result of your violation of this Agreement or the Acceptable Use Policy. iPage may, in its sole discretion, terminate access to the Services, apply additional fees, or remove/delete User Content for those User accounts that are found to be in violation of iPage policies.”
Which means that iPage can stop hosting your website, charge you extra or remove/delete your content if you don’t stick to it’s fair usage policy. “Fair enough”, you might say! And it is… unless you buy an offer that’s sold as ‘unlimited’.
So, are unlimited plans worth it?
Pros and cons of unlimited web hosting
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of unlimited web hosting.
Pros of unlimited web hosting
- Unlimited hosting packages are relatively uncomplicated – there’s less jargon and fewer numbers to predict than when you purchase a limited plan
- Unlimited web hosting plans – even with fair usage limits – almost always offer enough for small websites and personal blogs
- Unlimited plans are a good option for people who run multiple sites as most come with unlimited (with caveats) domains
Cons of unlimited web hosting
- Unlimited hosting does have limits and, if you exceed them, your website can be throttled (deliberately slowed down) or suspended (taken offline)
- Unless you read the small print, you won’t know what the limits are
- Unlimited plans are usually more expensive and, if your website is small, you’ll end up paying more for things you don’t need and won’t use
- Cheap unlimited plans are not usually suitable for larger websites, medium-large businesses or eCommerce websites because the fair usage limits are too low
What is Unmetered Bandwidth?
While trawling through unlimited offers you might have come across another ambiguous term… ‘unmetered bandwidth’. In fact, some unmetered offers are said to be better than unlimited ones. So, what’s going on?
If a web host offers unmetered bandwidth it means you can use as much bandwidth as you like from a set amount, e.g. 1Gbps. Essentially, it means you’re not being charged for using extra bandwidth each month, but the bandwidth does have a limit.
In fact, if you dig deep, you’ll notice that the same rules apply to unmetered offers as unlimited – with hosts able to suspect your account or charge extra if you go over the limit.
How does a host know when you go over the limit if your account is ‘unmetered’? Nobody knows.
What To Look For Instead
Considering the above, you might be wondering how you’re ever meant to choose a good hosting deal for your website.
We don’t want to leave you in despair, so we’ll wrap up this post with a few ideas about what you should look for in a web host instead.
Ultimately, you’ll get the best deal if you look for plans with clearly defined and openly advertised limits. Let’s take SiteGround as an example…
SiteGround has three shared hosting plans, each with clear resources and limits for storage space and monthly visitors. SiteGround confirms that the monthly visitor numbers aren’t restrictions but guidelines meant to help you work out which plan is appropriate for your site. You may not understand bandwidth but you can easily find your monthly visitor volumes on your analytics.
SiteGround’s plans clearly define limits on storage space, with figures set at 10GB, 20GB, and 40GB. While SiteGround is often criticised for not offering more storage space or unlimited storage, the resources offered are very generous and often more than what unlimited plans offer when you account for fair usage.
According to SiteGround, you can host unlimited websites on their GrowBig and GoGeek plans, as long as other resource limitations are not exceeded. In reference to bandwidth, they offer unmetered bandwidth on each of their shared hosting plans.
If you take a look at SiteGround’s Acceptable Use Policy, you’ll notice they clearly outline what is and isn’t allowed on their shared hosting plans. Because they don’t offer unlimited storage or unlimited bandwidth, there aren’t any issues with exceeding resources, because you physically can’t.
We prefer web hosting providers that are up front about the resources their plans offer. SiteGround is a great example because they use a simple metric to explain complex technical terms like bandwidth that tend to put newbies off comparing deals and push them into unlimited offers.
Although unlimited hosting deals are tempting, don’t let yourself be fooled. Always check the small print and, if in doubt, opt for a web host that clearly defines their offer in their marketing materials. You shouldn’t have to dig into the Terms of Service to understand what you’re buying.
And, if you find comparing bandwidth confusing, use an online calculator to translate bandwidth figures into a metric you can understand like monthly visits.