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How Much Web Hosting Bandwidth Do I Need?

By: SmallBizClub


When evaluating hosting providers it is common for small business owners to wonder why some companies offer unlimited data transfer—also called unlimited bandwidth—and why others place a cap on it. Horror stories of website operators being cut off increase the pressure on marketing departments to include unlimited data transfer as part of their service.

Marketing departments love “unlimited.”

Marketing departments use unlimited data transfer as a customer lure because it works. Unlimited sounds generous, doesn’t it? It’s friendly, like “open bar” or “all you can eat.” But unlimited data plans only work in one situation.

Internet data moves around the world via a backbone of fiber optic cables that have been placed in the ground and oceans or by space-borne satellite relay. This infrastructure costs money to deploy and the backbone providers recoup their investment and make a profit by charging for the data that traverses it.

When a customer signs up for a web hosting plan we are not sure how much data transfer that customer will use and neither are they. It’s a variable that depends on the number of site visitors, the content, and a host of technical considerations.

One thing we do know is that a really good way to go out of business is to sell your service at a fixed price while having significant variables in your cost structure. So the challenge for web hosts who want to pitch unlimited data transfer is how to do so with minimal risk.

You can have it, if you don’t use it.

Insurance companies long ago figured out that million dollar term life insurance coverage could be sold for a few dollars per month. They just had to sell the policies to a demographic that was statistically not going to die.

Commodity web hosting companies that provide inexpensive, shared hosting do the same thing. They know the light-use customer demographic doesn’t use significant amounts of data transfer. There is little risk to promoting unlimited data transfer and it simplifies the hosting company’s value proposition. It’s a no-brainer to offer it to this light-use market.

The trouble is, this can set an expectation in the minds of small businesses and the web developers who look after them as the company grows into more substantial hosting requirements.

Website visitors instead of data transfer?

Some web hosting services allocate a certain number of website visitors per plan. Shifting focus to the number of visitors has two advantages: it enables a hosting company to use unlimited data transfer for marketing purposes and it is a tangible thing. Everyone understands what it means to have 20,000 website visitors per day or month.

The customer risk with this approach lies in how a visitor is defined. Recording visits from unique IP addresses is the usual method. Google alone may visit a website many times per day from several different IP addresses, each of which counts a visit.

Worse, botnets—groups of hacked computers often numbering in the thousands—routinely visit websites to try and hack in via brute force attacks (repeatedly trying different passwords).

Each bot has a unique IP address and without countermeasures these attacks could gobble a significant portion of the customer’s monthly visitor allotment.

In addition to the generous definition of a web site visitor is the fact that the number of visitors is a factor in how data transfer is calculated.

Look for clarity.

Businesses with mission-critical websites understand that data transfer is a variable. Web hosts that cater to them have data transfer allotments, for example, 500 gigabytes (GB) per month.

Be sure your web host has a clear policy detailing what will happen should the data transfer allotment be surpassed.

Business friendly web hosts will permit data transfer overages. It’s common to assess a nominal fee for the excess, much like the data overage plans offered by cell phone companies. Be sure to read this policy, which is usually found in the FAQs or in the Terms and Conditions.

Consider the information in following table to help you determine how much web hosting data transfer you need. The figures are based on August 2014 data obtained from various sources reporting about 5 pageviews by the average site visitor and each page requiring 1.7 megabytes of data transfer.

As you can see, for the typical small or medium business there is no need to fear a web hosting plan that doesn’t offer unlimited data transfer.

Site Visitors and the Required Data Transfer

Monthly Visitors Required Data Transfer
10,000 85 GB
30,000 250 GB
50,000 425 GB
100,000 850 GB
1 million 9,000 GB (9 Terabytes)
Author: Dave Goodwin is the founder of growinge.com, a business web hosting company, and the host of The Growing Entrepreneur iTunes podcast. Connect with Dave on Twitter @davegoodwinge.
Published: September 11, 2014

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