Cheap Web Hosting is Sufficient with New CDN Caching!

Welcome to a new world, where cheap, low-cost web hosting is sufficient for most sites. Sounds too good to be true? It’s not. Technology is changing the web hosting game in ways that are shaking up the industry.

Cheap Web Hosting – A Bad Idea?

For years, you may have heard that cheap web hosting is a bad idea. And with some justification! These servers are typically overcrowded, which means that your site doesn’t get the resources to breathe when it starts to grow. And even on smaller sites, neighboring accounts can suck up all the oxygen, making your site unresponsive.

But with and Cloudflare’s new technology that caches static webpages directly in the cloud, your low-cost hosting can now compete on speed with even the most powerful hosting plans. Here’s a screenshot of my low TTFB (Time to First Byte) response times thanks to cloud caching:

Cloud Caching Means Even Cheap Web Hosting is Sufficient for Low TTFB
Cloud Caching Means Even Cheap Web Hosting is Sufficient for Low TTFB

I’m betting that the industry is going to resist this quite strongly. This is no surprise, given how large the market is for expensive web hosting.

But the truth is that even before this, there were plenty of great sites on cheap web hosting that did just fine. For first-timers, low-cost hosting is the cheapest way to own a website. You should buy hosting that suits you – not the most expensive package.

CDN Full Site Caching Changes the Game

Traditionally, CDNs have only cached static files like JavaScript, images, CSS and fonts. They didn’t cache actual pages, because the way we construct sites today, there are no web page files. These pages are generated by the server on the fly, and sent as a response. For this reason, pages are classified as “dynamic”, as opposed to static. So while a CDN did a great job at retrieving supporting files from around the world, the actual webpage itself had to be served from the origin.

Since generating a webpage each time from scratch is resource-intensive, site owners used solutions like caching, which saved a copy of the dynamically generated page on the server so that it doesn’t have to be created again. Some web hosts offer server-based caching, which is even faster. It’s so good, that server-based caching makes cheap web hosting feasible all by itself.

What CDNs Are Doing Now

But so far, CDNs hadn’t gotten into the game of caching dynamic content. There were many reasons for this, including:

  1. The need for each POP to have a separate cache copy
  2. Inability to detect when a page changes, thereby purging the cache
  3. Slow cache propagation to all the POPs after each purge
  4. Storage issues with less frequently accessed content

I’ve been praying for an integrated solution for years. To my mind, nothing would be better than CDNs starting to serve infrequently changed dynamic content from their EDGE servers around the world. And a couple of weeks ago, Cloudflare did just that. Their new “Automatic Platform Optimization” or APO technology integrates with the backend to figure out when a page changes on the server, and automatically purges that content from the cache.

In the background, the team behind the amazing LiteSpeed web server has been trying something similar with their service. This service has tight integration with the backend, and even crawls your changed pages after updates to purge and “prime” the cache so that first time requests aren’t slow. If you’re running a LiteSpeed web server, they give you expanded storage too!

No Need to Buy Expensive Hosting

These developments hold massive implications for cheap web hosting plans. If you remove almost all the load from the server, you don’t have to invest in expensive plans anymore. And this trend of serving content from the cloud is only going to accelerate.

At least for most websites, that is. There are still sites that are so dynamic, it’s infeasible to serve them from cache. News pages with rapid updates are a good example of this. But the overwhelmingly large number of sites on the Internet are not like that. The server dynamically generates them, true. But they’re also largely static. Cloudflare has tried to address this problem using its “Railgun” technology, but it’s been very hit and miss in my experience. Not to mention that cheap hosting providers tend to not have Railgun integration, since it costs them money.

How Much Of my Site is Served from Cache?

I’ve been dogfooding cloud caching technology for a long time now. Here’s a screenshot of my cache analytics, showing how many of my requests Cloudflare has served over the past 24-hours:

Requests from the Origin with Cloudflare Caching Enabled
Requests from the Origin with Cloudflare Caching Enabled

You can see that Cloudflare has served well over half of the total requests to my server. And out of the requests that went to my origin, almost all of them were either “Miss” or “Expired”, which means that they are now cached and will henceforth be served by Cloudflare. Leaving those, there are now only a handful of requests that my origin server absolutely has to honor.

How Much to Spend on Cheap Web Hosting?

I’d say you can get started for around 3 bucks a month. Even lower if you sign up for a longer period – say like 3 years. My “go-to” hosting provider for cheap, reliable hosting is undoubtedly Hostgator. Unlike other web hosts, what you see is what you get, and they don’t have artificial limitations that force you to upgrade. Plus, they also have subsidiaries in other parts of the world like India and Africa. Here’s the complete Hostgator coupon code list, where you can find a deal that suits you.

Any lower than this, and you run the risk of really bad service – Hostinger comes to mind. I recommend Hostgator because it straddles the line between cheap and too cheap. If you’re looking for a long-term, low-cost bet, then they are the go-to web host. They’re good enough for first time web hosting as well.

When is Cheap Web Hosting NOT Worth it?

Despite the above, there are certain types of websites that will do terribly on cheap hosting plans. A prime example of this is e-commerce sites that have a strong dynamic component. If your content changes depending on the visitor, then you need to invest in a quality web host that can handle the load. So if you have shopping carts, transactions, calculations, and more, please stay away from cheap web hosts.

Cheap web hosting can be worth it if you know what you’re doing and willing to structure your website around it. Cloud caching will help, but it’s important that you understand its limitations. So it honestly depends on how well you know your typical use-case scenario.

Bottom Line: Cheap Web Hosting is Now Sufficient for Most

If your site is largely static, then cheap web hosting is a good idea, and worth buying. First time website owners in particular, should prefer cheap web hosting because it doesn’t commit them too much, and is sufficient for their needs. If you decide to go down this route, don’t forget to integrate both local and cloud-based caching solutions like the ones from Cloudflare and to squeeze as much juice out of it as possible.

But if your site is heavily dynamic, relies upon e-commerce, or fast-changing content, stay away from low-cost web hosting like the plague. It’s just not worth it.

About Bhagwad Park

I've been writing about web hosting and WordPress tutorials since 2008. I also create tutorials on Linux server administration, and have a ton of experience with web hosting products. Contact me via e-mail!

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