Finding your first host can be intimidating. Although hosting will seem simple once you’ve been around awhile, at first it’s all very opaque. Part of the problem is simply that there’s a lot of misinformation out there. There are hundreds of hosting providers, and all of them are trying to convince you that they’re the right choice for you. Often, they do this by advertising features and services you don’t really need. Other times they do it by advertising features and services that aren’t really features and services at all, but simply part of hosting; like a gluten-free sticker on an apple, they’re trying to make their product seem better by highlighting a feature which intrinsic to all such products.
Despite this, it’s not too awfully hard to differentiate the good from the bad in this regard. It’s more just about deciding what you really need.
The Big Players
The big players, like GoDaddy or WordPress.com, tend to be a bit pricier, and what they give you in return is great customer support, extensive documentation, 24/7 handholding, and infinite attempts to upsell you on services you don’t need.
As long as you make the conscious choice to just say, “No!” to GoDaddy help/sales reps (they’re essentially one in the same) you’re going to be fine. This is also true of other major hosting providers.
The Cheap Players
On the other of the spectrum are hosting providers like NearlyFreeSpeech, who offer low end, pay-for-play, services. There’s not much in the way of help, but if you’re comfortable in your ability to figure out the nitty gritty, or have friends who can help you out, they make a great option for those operating on limited budgets. Once your traffic picks up, though, you might actually save money going with a larger service.
The Ones Who Let You Do Stuff
The most important thing when choosing a hosting service is finding one who will allow you enough control over your site to get things done. Whatever option you choose, you’re going to want to make sure your hosting provider has a few things going for them.
FTP Access and SSH Access
If you don’t know what FTP and SSH are, suffice to say they’re the go-between services by which your computer can talk directly to your server (and thereby your website) without going through the public-facing side of the site.
This is going to be very important to either you or the person helping you with your website at some point. For many sites, this access is the only way to fix a major goof on the backend of the site, and not having this access means you’ll have to wait for the customer service team of the hosting provider to fix it. Not ideal.
You’ll want to check and make sure that your hosting provider has a reputation for keeping their servers up and online practically 24/7. With all the options out there, there’s essentially no reason to accept a service with an uptime less than 99%.
Once you’ve put together your top 3-5 choices, take a little time to research them, and find out what other customers are saying about their experience with the company.
The Good News is You Can Change Your Mind
It’s not impossible to switch away from a host who’s not being helpful, but it’s not a trivial task for someone new to this end of technology, and it’s better to just not need to.
If it does become necessary, don’t stress out. The really good news is that your hosting provider knows this, too, and it gives them an incentive to provide decent help and service.