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Shopping for Web Hosting? Read This Before You Check Out

Commentary: Pricing for web hosting plans can be confusing. Here's how to save some money.

Hand holding Stack of 100 dollar bills
James Martin/CNET

Finding the right web hosting service can be difficult because you have to consider what type of hosting plan you want, what features you'll need and more. Adding to that difficulty, the pricing models that web hosting services use are often confusing and difficult to understand.

We put together this list of things to look out for so you can choose the right web hosting service for your needs and your wallet.

Be prepared to pay for entire contracts upfront

Advertised prices are usually attached to lengthy contracts, and customers are expected to pay these contracts upfront. That means if you see a price listed at 50 cents a month, like Ionos' Business web hosting plan, you'll likely pay at least $6 today depending on the length of your contract.

Month-to-month contracts are available, but are rarely advertised since they are usually more expensive than yearly contracts. In most cases, month-to-month contracts are priced at the standard rate, which can be double the advertised rate or more.

Know what the standard rate is

GreenGeeks Pro plan

Some services show you the discounted price with the standard rate crossed out.

Screenshot by Zach McAuliffe/CNET

The first price you usually see for a web hosting service is the discounted rate. The GreenGeeks Pro shared hosting plan is advertised at $5 a month -- which really means you will pay at least $60 today since it's attached to a 12-month contract -- and underneath this advertised price you see the regular rate of $16 a month.

This standard rate is what you will be paying once your contract renews. It's easy to overlook, and many web hosting services don't prominently display this fact. And some web hosting services, like Hostgator, fail to mention the standard rate until you're at checkout.

Hostgator Hatchling, Baby and Business plans

Other services only display the discounted rate.

Screenshot by Zach McAuliffe/CNET

Before you check out, make sure you understand what you'll be paying once your contract renews. This saves you some shock and money in the long run.

Crunch some numbers to find the best discount

While comparing the prices of plans, you might be tempted to go with the largest discount you see. But keep in mind this discount is only applicable to the initial contract length. Usually, one-year contracts will have the highest discount attached to them. Longer contract lengths offer smaller -- but still substantial -- discounts that apply for longer periods of time. The longer contract could therefore save you money since the one-year contract reverts back to the standard rate sooner. It never hurts to do the math and double check which discount is actually the better deal.

Bluehost, for example, says the price attached to the 12-month contract for its Basic shared hosting plan is 70% off. This contract would cost you $35.40 for the year. That's roughly average for a year of shared hosting, and less than the cost of some services, like AccuWeb Hosting. However, business plans usually span three to five years, according to Nerdwallet, so one year of hosting isn't going to cut it if you're a business owner. 

Once your one-year contract ends, the price for Bluehost's Basic plan rises to the standard rate and will cost you about $120 a year. After three years -- one year with the discount and two years paying standard price -- you'll pay about $275 total. 

Compare that to a three-year contract with the Basic plan, advertised at 50% off. At first glance, you might think this is a worse deal because of the 20 percentage point difference in advertised savings. But this plan will cost you about $178 for the whole three years. In short, the plan that boasts a 70% discount will end up costing you about $100 more than the plan that's advertising 50% off over three years. Why? Because those discounts only represent a single year, rather than the long-term value of a contract. If you know you're only going to need one year of web hosting, the 70% off is a better deal, but if you plan on keeping your site up over time, you will save money in the long-run with the three-year contract, despite the lower discount.

Investigate guarantees

If a guarantee seems too good to be true, it's worth looking into -- and that goes for anything, not just web hosting. Sometimes web host guarantees are only for specific plans, contract lengths or for a limited time.

Mochahost's LifeTime Discount Guarantee, for example, is only applicable to about a third of the service's contract lengths. All other contract rates increase after renewal.

Mochahost plans that qualify for the LifeTime Discount Guarantee

Guarantees may not apply to every plan or contract length.

Screenshot by Zach McAuliffe/CNET

Scrutinize your cart before checkout

Some services try to sneak items into your cart before you check out. These items can include more security features, additional storage or even higher backup frequency. Most services, like Hostpapa, let you delete these items from your cart before you check out. But it's easy to miss the opportunity to delete them from your cart, so make sure you thoroughly read each page leading to checkout.

HostPapa added two items to this cart

The outlined items were automatically added before checkout, and it's not immediately clear how to remove them.

Screenshot by Zach McAuliffe/CNET
Scroll down this HostPapa page before checkout to see options to remove or add more add-ons

But scroll down the same page and you can see the options to remove these items.

Screenshot by Zach McAuliffe/CNET

However, some items added to your cart can't be deleted. Those items might include a one-time setup fee for some plans -- usually month-to-month plans -- or a charge for transferring your site from one service to another. That's an average cost of $300 to $400. It's good to shop around because not all services charge for these items.

'Unlimited' isn't really unlimited

While comparing services and plans, you might see the phrases "unlimited" or "unmetered" in relation to resources like storage and bandwidth. These phrases can usually be found attached to shared hosting plans, and since these plans are usually the least expensive, you might be tempted to purchase them. 

However, unlimited and unmetered in this context usually doesn't mean you can use all the resources you want. A2 Hosting, for example, writes that unlimited and unmetered applies only insofar as your resource usage doesn't exceed the needs of other customers with similar plans. Think of these resources as a pie. All customers get an equal piece, making these resources limited. 

Usually your service will contact you to let you know if you're getting close to your limit. Once you hit that limit, though, your site could be suspended, your service might automatically upgrade your plan and charge you for it, or you could be charged overage fees.

All of these items are things to consider and watch out for when shopping for a web hosting service. It's easy to see a cheap plan and think you're getting a good deal, but when you do some math and read the details, you might find a plan is actually more expensive than it appears.

For more on web hosting, checkout the best web hosting services of 2022, why you're probably spending more on web hosting than you need to be and what to know before starting your site.