"Unlimited" Web Hosting: Which Brands Claim To Offer It?

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What is Unlimited Hosting?

What You Will Learn About Unlimited Hosting

Unlimited hosting is a term chucked around by the masses. Very few people actually know what's under the hood when recommending it to their friends or colleagues. In this article, you'll learn about the perks, advantages and most importantly the limitations of purchasing unlimited hosting.

Compare Unlimited Hosting

Many web hosting providers entice their potential customers with promises of "unlimited" features. What does this mean? Why are "unlimited" plans often the cheapest?

Unlimited Hosting Features

You've probably seen:

  • Unlimited domains
  • Unlimited email addresses
  • Unlimited storage
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Unlimited databases

With so much unlimitedness, its easy to wonder why anyone would choose a hosting plan that allows for only so many databases, or charges usage rates for bandwidth volume.

The first thing to consider is that there really isn't such a thing as "free."

Web Hosting Costs Providers Money

Web Server
Web server photo courtesy of Compudemano/Flickr

When you purchase hosting, you are paying for five things, even if they aren't itemized on your bill:

  1. Disk Space
  2. Processing Cycles
  3. Bandwidth
  4. Power Consumption
  5. Trained Staff

Disk Space

Space on an actual drive to store your website's data and more. Disk space is often a driving factor, although there are more important features to consider.

Processing Cycles

A delicate process of extracting useful information from a set of data. This cycling order extracts this information from raw data. It provides a view of how data travels and transforms.

Bandwidth

Simply put, the amount of data that can transfer between your site, the internet, and your users. Maximum bandwidth is a common perk.

Power Consumption

The hosting provider's cost to power the actual hardware for your resources. Well guessed, electricity isn't free for them either.

Trained Staff

In the best cases, you'll have access to professionally trained staff. These staffs expect to be paid a competitive wage for their knowledge and support.

Naturally, each one of these has a plethora of underlying expenses to whoever is providing your web hosting account: electricity, security, air conditioning, real estate, insurance, staff.

Paying For What You Don't Use, Or Paying Too Much

Web Server sketch
Web server sketch courtesy of Adam Wiggins/Flickr

The more disk space, CPU time, and bandwidth that you actually use in your web hosting account, the more it costs the hosting provider. Web hosts that offer unlimited use plans have already taken this into account with their pricing structure, averaging out the actual costs across all customers.

This means that if you are a relatively low-volume web host user, you may be paying for services that you aren't actually using.

Large Costs for Hosting Companies

Conversely, if you are a fairly high-volume user, running several large websites from a single unlimited-use shared hosting plan, you are costing the hosting company money.

Providers of "unlimited" hosting plans have a strong economic incentive to limit the amount of use each account generates, because every database query, every asset request, and every email costs them something. Those fractions of pennies really add up.

Find The Best Bandwidth Hosting For You

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iPage screenshot
iPage Essential Plan
Unlimited Unlimited
  • Support 4 stars
  • Features 4 stars
  • Uptime 4 stars
  • Value 4 stars
4 stars
435 user reviews
Usual price:
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$1.99/mo
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InMotion+Hosting screenshot
InMotion Hosting Business Launch plan
Unlimited Unlimited
  • Support 4 stars
  • Features 4 stars
  • Uptime 4 stars
  • Value 4 stars
4 stars
549 user reviews
Usual price:
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$3.99/mo
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A2+Hosting screenshot
A2 Hosting Lite plan
Unlimited Unlimited
  • Support 4.5 stars
  • Features 4.5 stars
  • Uptime 4.5 stars
  • Value 4.5 stars
4.5 stars
227 user reviews
Usual price:
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$3.92/mo
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HostPapa screenshot
HostPapa Business plan
Unlimited Unlimited
  • Support 4 stars
  • Features 4 stars
  • Uptime 4 stars
  • Value 4 stars
4 stars
373 user reviews
Usual price:
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$3.95/mo
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HostGator screenshot
HostGator Linux Hatchling plan
Unlimited Unlimited
  • Support 3 stars
  • Features 3.5 stars
  • Uptime 3.5 stars
  • Value 3 stars
3.5 stars
569 user reviews
Usual price:
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$2.75/mo
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Fat+Cow.com screenshot
Fat Cow.com FatCow Plan
Unlimited Unlimited
  • Support 2.5 stars
  • Features 3 stars
  • Uptime 3 stars
  • Value 2.5 stars
3 stars
142 user reviews
Usual price:
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$3.15/mo
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Yahoo%21+Web+Hosting screenshot
Yahoo! Web Hosting Premier plan
Unlimited Unlimited
  • Support 2.5 stars
  • Features 2.5 stars
  • Uptime 3 stars
  • Value 2.5 stars
2.5 stars
78 user reviews
Usual price:
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$7.49/mo
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HostMonster screenshot
HostMonster Pro plan
Unlimited Unlimited
  • Support 2 stars
  • Features 3 stars
  • Uptime 2.5 stars
  • Value 2.5 stars
2.5 stars
87 user reviews
Usual price:
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$14.95/mo
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GreenGeeks screenshot
GreenGeeks EcoSite Starter plan
Unlimited Unlimited
  • Support 4.5 stars
  • Features 4.5 stars
  • Uptime 4.5 stars
  • Value 4.5 stars
4.5 stars
348 user reviews
Usual price:
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$3.95/mo
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Web+Hosting+Hub screenshot
Web Hosting Hub Spark plan
Unlimited Unlimited
  • Support 4.5 stars
  • Features 4.5 stars
  • Uptime 4.5 stars
  • Value 4.5 stars
4.5 stars
159 user reviews
Usual price:
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$3.99/mo
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"Unlimited" Doesn't Really Mean Unlimited

Hostgator Unlimited Features
Hostgator offer unlimited bandwidth from just $2.75/mo.

Because of the cost-averaging pricing structure described above, most shared hosting providers take a number of different steps to specifically limit their unlimited plans.

Terms of Service limitations

Almost all unlimited hosting providers use Terms of Service (TOS) agreements to legally restrict what their hosting service can be used for.

One common limit on unlimited storage is a restriction on the types of data that can be stored. For example, a hosting company might specify that only files directly related to publicly accessible websites can be stored, disallowing personal file storage or site backups.

Restriction on Reselling

Another limit you may find in shared hosting and unlimited use plans is a restriction on reselling or subletting of use. This can affect small-time and freelance web developers who might want to host several clients' websites on a single shared hosting plan.

Mass email is also a common target of TOS agreements, with hosting companies specifying that you can not use their mail servers for high-volume email marketing.

Hidden Limits of Unlimited Hosting

Though all shared hosting providers deny the claims, there are many unverified reports of shared hosting providers throttling back speed and performance of higher volume sites in order to maintain their average costs and discourage overuse.

All Web Hosting Is Not Created Equal

Even if you are well within the "limits" of unlimited hosting, and don't need to do anything that would violate your TOS agreement, unlimited hosting is essentially a commodity service.

Reasons for Limitations

There are several reasons why the bandwidth and storage capacity is more expensive in premium web hosts. The primary being a lot of money and expertise going into optimizing the web hosting environment.

This includes high-quality hardware, proprietary server software, and multi-redundant backups. Further funds go towards a number of other enhancements needed by high-volume and mission-critical websites.

How to Overcome the Limitations of Unlimited Hosts

Cloudflare CDN
Cloudflare CDN can be used to store static assets externally.

If an unlimited use hosting provider is the best, or only, option for you at this time, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from running into their actual limitations.

  • Use a Content Delivery Network
  • Optimize Your Website
  • Third-Party Applications
  • Minimizing Clutter
  • Clever Plug-ins

(Note: These strategies are also helpful if you are paying for bandwidth and storage capacity. In fact, the way to make the best use of unlimited web hosting is to treat it as if you were paying for every bit.)

Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A CDN moves your static assets to optimized edge servers closer to your website's visitors. This is done to make your website load faster, but it also reduces the bandwidth and request load on your hosting account.

This is because assets are being delivered from the CDN's servers, not your own.

Optimize Your Website

Cleaner code, better SQL queries, minified CSS and JS files, right-sized images, and a number of other improvements to your website design can have a significant impact in reducing overall use.

Third Party Applications

Many website-related functions, such as blog comment systems and lead capture forms can be integrated at the browser level from third-party SaaS providers. For low volume use, many of these services are even free.

Minimizing Clutter

Whether we like to admit it or not, most of our websites are often cluttered. It often takes some time to realize, but a good old clean can make all the difference. This will benefit both space and speed.

Clever Plug-Ins

Selecting the right plug-ins will undoubtedly create a better user-experience for your visitors. These can be anywhere from caching to backups and security. Due to constantly strained resources, you can never be too careful.

What to Look for and Expect in Unlimited Hosting Packages

cPanel Demo
cPanel is a great control panel to have available with your hosting plan.

Beyond the unlimited bandwidth and free disk space, even shared hosting packages can offer a lot more. These features should influence which host you ultimately pick.

Cross-Selling opportunities

An interesting way that unlimited use hosting providers make additional profit from their hosting plans is by cross-selling products and services that fill in the gaps made by their limitations.

If you plan to do implement a CDN, a website optimizer, a third-party commenting system, or another similar "load reduction" technique, be sure to shop around and look at independent recommendations. There is a strong probability that the suggestions for these services coming from your hosting provider are sponsored.

The Basics

At the very least, your host account should come with an easy to use control panel, like cPanel. cPanel is by far the most common hosting control panel. If you get used to it, you'll have no problems switching to a new host if need be in the future.

Your control panel should have some sort of script installer. The Softaculous script installer is the most common, but there are others that are just as good. Don't worry too much as long as one is provided, as these installers make it easy to install a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla.

Those are the basics.

Extra Perks

Some hosts like to offer other extras that can add a lot of value to their plans. For example:

  • Free SSL certificate
  • Free domain name
  • SSD storage
  • Free email accounts

Free SSL Certificate

A free SSL certificate gives your site the "secure" green lock in the address bar for your visitors. Absolutely necessary if you collect any information from visitors.

Free Domain Name

A free domain name, like unlimited domain in general, has a catch. It's typically free for the first year, and then you have to pay to renew it.

SSD Storage

Standard storage makes use of HHDs. SSDs are built to be many times faster than HDDs for many operations that are related to hosting your website. In simple terms, they speed up your website.

Free Email Accounts

Many hosts offer free email, but you should check their terms, as with everything related to "unlimited" hosting. Some hosting plans will limit how many email accounts you can create. If you plan to make several, look for a host that will let you make as many as you'd like.

The Main Types of Unlimited Hosting

Siteground Reseller Hosting
Siteground offers a popular reseller plan.

Type Description Perks Cautions
Shared hosting Your site is shared with other users' sites. Supposedly unlimited resources, depending on the provider's relative limitations. Should the shared server be crowded with newbies, hosting 100s of meaningless sites, you are bound to experience resource limitations sooner or later.
Reseller Lets you sell web hosting services. Allows you to offer attractive sounding deals as a reseller hosting provider. cPanel is often also available for your reseller clients. Keeping your word with an attractive plan while on unlimited reseller hosting can land you in trouble. Remember, there is no such thing as an unlimited hard drive.

As mentioned, most unlimited offers are on shared hosting plans.

It's pretty rare to get unlimited hosting in any way on a VPS or dedicated server.

Unlimited Reseller Hosting

However, a reseller host will often offer a slightly different type of unlimited hosting. You'll be limited by disk space and bandwidth, but most reseller hosting plans let you have unlimited customers of your own.

Risk of Slow Sites

Obviously, you can run into the same issue. If you get too many clients who are using resources, there's not enough to go around and everyone's site(s) will be slowed down.

However, you do have a big benefit of being able to have unlimited customers. You get more freedom in choosing what offers to sell to potential customers in your own web host plan. You could even offer your own form of "unlimited hosting."

Who Should Use Unlimited Hosting - And Who Shouldn't

Shared hosting with unlimited use plans is a great option for personal blogs and websites that don't get a lot of traffic. They are also a good choice for small to medium sized non-tech organizations that need reliable, but not mission-critical, marketing and PR websites.

Internet-focused businesses, SaaS providers, media-heavy websites, and large companies should avoid unlimited use plans.

Pros and Cons of Unlimited Hosting

There are plenty of ups and downs to consider when considering hosting packages with "unlimited" resources. Let's differentiate between them.

Pros

There are some definite upsides of unlimited hosting.

  • It's simpler to choose a hosting package when you don't have to worry about technical specifications.
  • Unlimited offers are typically more than enough for most small, simple websites.

Cons

On the contrary, there are a few bits to be cautious of.

  • "Unlimited" isn't actually unlimited, and your website speed can be throttled if you exceed an unknown resource consumption.
  • Not suitable for large sites, storing large amounts of media, or sites with complex back-end logic that consume large amounts of resources.

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