Once you’ve created a website, you’ll need a way to get it online, as well as some facilities with which to create and manage your content.
There are a lot of companies out there, promising 99% uptime, unlimited resources, and knowledgeable support. This guide will help you decide which type of hosting package best suits your needs.
What Is A Web Hosting Service?
A web hosting service supplies the space where your website files are stored, manages the traffic to your site, and provides extra services like firewall protection, technical assistance, email services, domain name registration, and website building tools.
Your Site Needs…
You won’t get the right web host unless you know what you need. Consider:
- What kind of website are you building?
- What kind of web traffic (numbers of visitors) do you expect?
- Do you need Windows applications or other specialist software?
Make a plan, and try to project what might happen over the next year.
Do I Have To Pay?
Not necessarily. There are free or very cheap web hosts available. If you’re just starting out, or putting up a personal website, these might be appropriate.
Almost all of the freebies and cheapies publish advertising on your web pages to help cover the costs of providing free storage space and associated services. Some hosts will use a banner, others a pop-up window whenever a page loads, while still more just stick an advertising frame on your site.
Free web hosts without forced advertising aren’t necessarily ideal. With no ad revenue to support them, such establishments often go out of business.
If you use a free service you’ll have to think small. They offer limited amounts of web space – typically 5 to 10GB. This may be enough, depending on how many pages you have, the pictures your pages use, and whether you need sound files, video clips, etc.
Some free hosts impose a maximum size on each file, or restrict the types of files you can upload. Most impose limits on the amount of traffic your website can use per day or month.
If you can afford it at all, you’re probably better off with a paid service.
Compare a number of hosting providers within your budget and technical requirements. Look them up on Google, other search engines, social media, orspecialized hosting directories. See if they’re reliable, if they answer tech queries quickly, and meet the uptime numbers promised. Check their customer feedback to gauge the levels of service.
Price shouldn’t be the deciding factor. A very cheap hosting company may not provide all the features you need – and it’s the features that count.
Just the Ticket?
Your web host must provide 24/7 technical support and assistance. That means holidays and weekends, too. Queries should be answered within 1-2 hours. Test them by emailing at Christmas or on a Sunday.
Phone support lines are always busy, so the best option is a ticketing system, where you fill out an online form with the technical details necessary to have your question answered within an hour or less.
Email – Bags?
On your own website, you’ll probably want an email address with your own domain, like email@example.com.
Web mail capabilities should be available via POP3, SMTP, and IMAP. Autoresponders should allow you to automatically reply to correspondents with a pre-set message. And email forwarding should automatically forward any message you specify from one email account to another.
Your host may provide free tools to modify your website, such as blogs, galleries, and forums. For dynamic websites, look for MySQL, which is needed to run a blog or a content management system (CMS).
PHP or Perl scripts will let you set up counters, search engines, forms, polls, and mailing lists. And the Cron scheduler lets you run programs at certain times of day.
No FTP, No Comment
File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is used to transfer web pages and other files from your computer to the web host’s computer.
For free hosting services, the ability to upload your pages by email or browser is the very least you should accept.
If you’re paying for hosting, FTP is a must.
Options To Sell
If you want to sell stuff online, you’ll need an e-commerce website with shopping cart and SSL (Secure Socket Layer – a security protocol) facilities. You’ll need an SSL certificate to collect credit card information on your site. Alternatively, payments can be processed through a third party like PayPal.
E-commerce usually involves a higher priced package or additional charges.
Take the Helm
A Control Panel is required to let you perform routine site maintenance: uploading files, changing your account passwords, adding/deleting email accounts, etc.
CPanel and Plesk are the industry standards here.
Nuts & Bolts
You’ll probably want to opt for a web host offering a Unix-based system (like Linux, FreeBSD or OpenBSD), and running the Apache Web Server. Most web-based software will assume that your site is on these platforms.
Room to Grow?
The “unlimited bandwidth” offered by many commercial hosts usually has limits of some kind specified elsewhere (the small print). The same holds for “unlimited disk space”.
As your site becomes more popular, you may need to pay for additional capacity. Check to see if charges are made according to actual usage, or if you’re expected to pre-pay for potential excesses.
There aren’t any perfect web hosting companies. The trick is to find a balance between price, reliability and features.