A few years ago, choosing a company to host your website was an exercise in frustration and confusion. But now, with so many web hosting companies competing for your business, you’re assured of finding more than one company that will meet your needs. Your biggest problem will be choosing among the candidate companies. With free web hosting and packages starting at $1.95 per month, the money you spend getting your website up and running can go much further than it could a few years ago.
You’ll need to do some research on web hosting companies first. While most companies offer generous bandwidth, disk space, and email accounts, variables such as cost and availability of technical support increase in importance. Here are some ways to begin your search for the perfect web host.
First, determine what you need. You probably wouldn’t walk into a shoe store and say, “I need shoes.” You’d give some specifics, like your shoe size, what type of shoes you want, how much you’re willing to pay. The situation with buying website hosting is similar. Are you a one-person shop, or do you have a dozen employees? Will you be selling things on your site, or is it purely informational? Will visitors to your site download large files? How many visitors do you expect or hope to have on a given day?
There’s nothing wrong with asking someone you know who runs a website how they went about it. In fact, it’s an opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes. But there are also plenty of resources online. The home pages of web hosting providers should give you some ideas, and there are user forums where you can read and learn some real world experiences with various hosting companies. If you are able to join these forums, it’s OK to ask questions, such as, “I see you chose Company X for your web host. Do you think they would work well for my site? My site will offer downloads of video training materials, and I’ll need quite a bit of bandwidth.” The user forums are where people tend to tell it like it is.
Speaking of bandwidth, while that and disk space are important considerations, you should know that most hosting providers will offer sufficient resources unless you will have a bandwidth hogging application, or a 10,000 visitors per day. It is important, however, to make sure that you will be able to upgrade your service if your business outgrows its original website. The answer is almost always “yes,” but it’s a good idea to make sure.
If you plan to have extra features, like extensive photo storage, database support, or other add-ons, ask up front if your hosting package will accommodate these things.
One thing that you should never consider as an “extra” is live tech support by email, live chat, and phone. Web hosting companies are coming around to the fact that there are no “regular business hours” for online businesses, and that their clients want to talk to an actual human regardless of time or day. Again, don’t take it for granted; make sure upfront that you’re getting true 24/7/365 support services.
Many clients enjoy having a web based control panel. This will allow you to add or modify email accounts, tweak your site’s configuration, and do basic file editing. These control panels often are graphical user interfaces that make it easy for you to make changes to your site without having to know HTML.
Round the clock FTP (file transfer protocol) access is another very handy thing to have. This will allow you to make changes to your site no matter what time it is. Web based email is another near necessity in today’s business environment. This will allow you and your employees to check their email anywhere – not just from their own computer.
Beyond these basics, here are some other questions to answer before signing on with a hosting company.
Will you share a server or will your site have one dedicated to it alone? For most businesses, shared hosting works fine. But larger businesses may need to flexibility and control that comes with having an entire server devoted to their website. Fortunately, shared hosting can now be quite generous with disk space and bandwidth, and security measures between websites hosted on the same server minimize the chances of technical problems. And shared hosting costs much less than dedicated hosting.
Does your hosting provider have e-commerce capabilities? Many come with ready-to-use shopping cart programs and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protection for online credit card transactions. These features allow you to configure your retail site quickly and with minimal costs.
Some hosting companies provide other goodies, like blog software, content management, and picture galleries. Fantastico is the name of a package of software that contains over 40 free programs that are easy to install from your site’s control panel.
While price is still important in determining which webhost you choose, tech support and a good reputation are more important factors. You need to get your site up and running, and you need to be able to grow on the web as your business takes off.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.