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Well, you`ve come to the right place. HostSearch takes special pride in not only providing its users with all the latest information on hundreds of Web Hosts, but also educating visitors through its articles on how to go about making the best, most informed decision possible. The key to this is to know your needs and requirements, and then find one Web Host from the crowd out there that is going to be a good partner to you in your online endeavors.
The good news is that if you go through this process carefully and wisely, you can find a good host that will give you value for money, be reliable and efficient, and assist you with your questions and problems along the way. The Web Hosting industry is incredibly competitive today, and they know that users are becoming increasingly sophisticated, so they have no choice but to provide their clients with better and better service, or else risk losing them to any one of the waiting pack of others.
The best way to proceed, then, is to make a list of what you require. This will most likely include the following: platform, speed, accessibility, reliability, support and service, and of course, price. I`m going to discuss some of most important features below for you, and explain briefly why they should be major factors in making your decision.
Type of Website
What type of website do you have? This is the most basic question and will determine which general direction you should go when choosing a Web Host. Is it a personal site or a business site? Do you just want to put a couple fun pages online for friends and family, or are you hoping to make a business out of it? Try to predict what may happen to your site in the future. How much will it grow, and how much more in the way of features may I need later that I do not need now?
There is no "one size fits all" package in Web Hosting. You must decide what you really need and compare Web Hosts to find out which one can give you the best deal on these. For example, do you really need the latest version of Perl, PHP Support, a large number of POP accounts, access to a secure server or to MySQL?
The value of quality support may be worth more to you, or whether or not your host will provide you with a free shopping cart. It is important to get your requirements clear so that when you compare hosts you are comparing apples with apples, like with like.
Free or Paid
If it is personal and just for fun, there are many Free Hosting options available for you, with a few small catches. (See our article on Getting Something for Nothing.) You will most likely have to display some banner advertising on your page in exchange for this service.
If your site is business-related, then you should by all means find a good commercial, Web Host. You should also have your own domain name and IP number, which a good Web Host will assist you with. (We have a number of articles on HostSearch describing this process in further detail.) Free accounts are not for anyone even half serious about doing business on the Web, believe me. Not when you can get a perfectly acceptable commercial host for as little as $10 / month. You get the idea.
If your site is indeed intended for serious business, you need to ask yourself and note down a few more important points, such as: Will I need e-commerce services and capability? Should I find a Web Host that offers a Shopping Cart and can help me setup a Merchant Account? Do I need the ability to run CGI scripts? How much space will I need and how much am I willing to pay to get the best service necessary to fulfill these requirements?
The cost of Web Hosting ranges anywhere from totally free to thousands of dollars a month for a dedicated server. However, the vast majority of people fall into the category of needing an account that will run in the ballpark of $10 to $50 per month, depending on the features you need and the options available on the particular package you choose.
Many perfectly fine packages for small businesses now run between $15 - $25 per month. Some people say that there are three types of Web Hosts: free hosts, cheap hosts and good hosts - and there is more than a grain of truth in this. However, that said, there is very good value to be had for basic services and shopping around will pay off for you.
Whatever the cost, check if there is a money back guarantee and what their refund policies are; whether there is a requirement to sign up for a minimum period; and if your package is scalable, meaning that upgrades will not be a problem or burden for you when the time comes.
Platform: Unix or NT?
This is not really a question of which platform is better or worse, despite what purists or geeks may say. The choice depends on what kind of website you have and what you need to be served. If you`re putting up a basic site with standard HTML, without any server side scripting or database support, this isn`t really an issue. Either one will do.
Whether you need to be hosted on a Unix or NT server depends largely on what you plan to do with your site. For most people just starting out, a Unix server is fine; but if you plan to use databases or ASP on your site, then you should go with NT hosting.
Space & Traffic
Space and traffic are often the basis for many Web Hosts rates, whether or not this has any basis in reality. I say this because the majority of sites require only a few megabytes (MBs) of space and the amount of traffic they will receive is rarely an issue. But there you go - hosts need some way to leverage prices and some users are impressed with the big numbers.
If you have a basic site that is not several hundred pages in size, and is not going to be visited by thousands of people a day, I would not even worry about these elements. However, do be aware of the Web Hosts` fees and penalties for exceeding basic allocations, just in case, especially if you happen to be using a lot of Flash or Multimedia files on your site.
This is an often underrated feature of Web Hosting Packages, since emails are essentially the lifeblood of an online business. Be sure that your package contains enough emails and aliases for your business, preferably an unlimited number of both. This is one way hosts make their money, that is, by charging a few dollars for each additional account once you realize you need more than say, 5 accounts. Needless to say, this can add up quickly, especially for larger companies.
Be careful from the start and choose a package that meets your needs. This will probably be the reason I end up moving Web Hosts next time, which is very frustrating given my overall satisfaction with the rest of their services. A good case in point for you, another hard lesson learned by me.
If you are using Microsoft FrontPage, switch to Macromedia Dreamweaver. If you don`t have time to switch right now, be sure the Web Host you choose offers FrontPage extensions for you to use.
One of the most frequent, and justified, complaints that many people have with their Web Host is lack of customer and technical support.
Many Web Hosts offer both email and phone support while others are available only via email. In most cases, email support is fine, but you should be wary if a potential Web Host has no telephone number available in case of an emergency, or in the event you need to speak with someone directly.
Response times to support questions vary widely from Host to Host. Some may take only a few minutes to get back to you while others take days or longer. It is important to find out what type of support any potential Web Host offers. Ask around. References are always a good way to judge a host`s performance. And send a test email asking them unresolved questions you may still have. (See our article on Emailing a Prospective Host.)
If at all possible, only choose a host that provides prompt and knowledgeable customer service. A competent host should offer 24/7 toll-free technical support provided by experienced, professionally trained technicians.
Further Factors & Considerations
Most web host companies offer their clients statistics packages of varying stripes. Some of these are acceptable, while others are pretty worthless, depending on your needs. Wusage, for example, falls into the latter category as far as meaningful stats are concerned.
Uptime is important. Many companies will say they`re up 99.9% of the time when the reality may be quite different. If it is a few points less than this, your site may be down more than you expect or know. Look into this as much as possible and again, check with as many references as possible to find out their experiences.
If you plan to take any kind of orders over the Internet, find out if your prospective Web Host offers SSL (Secure Socket Layer). If the server isn`t secure, most people will not buy anything from you!
Buy What You NEED, Upgrade Later
Despite your desire to have many special features, bells and whistles, it is far wiser to select a Web hosting solution that more directly corresponds with your immediate business needs. Only purchase hosting services that your site requires to provide your specific content. There is no point in signing up for an all-inclusive account with a hosting company if you won`t be using most of their services.
However, do make sure that your hosting solution is scalable, and that you will be able to easily upgrade as your site grows in complexity. Check this out with prospective hosts before signing up.
A Little Research Goes a Long Way
Set aside a good block of time to invest in choosing the right Web Host for your site. It will be time well-spent. Read a few of our other articles on choosing Web Hosts, especially our Top Ten Tips. Check out different forums and newsgroups, Hosting Directories and review sites. Contact a few references. Look at the blacklists.
In the end, choosing the right Web Host really depends on your individual needs. Subsequently, what may constitute the perfect Web Host for one person may not meet the needs of another. It is up to you to decide, through a combination of logic, research skills, and a dash of intuition. With a bit of luck thrown in for good measure, you may even find a lifelong match - believe it or not, it can and does happen!