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A Guide to Choosing Web Host

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The Shelter For Your Site

Choosing a host can be a daunting task, because every other site you see, and every other advertisement in most popular design communities are all for hosting, and all with different hosting companies. Each one offers different features, and all for different prices.

To start, choosing a host is not something to be taken lightly. When you host your site on another companies servers, you expect your data to be protected. By protected we mean safe from everything - crashes, attacks, and oh yeah, the hosting company just vanishing one morning.

Tip 1: Your Needs

The first thing to consider when choosing a host is your needs. How many sites do you plan to host on this one plan? What amount of space and bandwidth will you need? You always want to give yourself a little bit more room to work with than a little less. For example, you plan on only writing a blog, so you settle for a meager 25MB. You soon find you posted images in every entry, and you’ve loaded the server up with extra things - and now you’re out of room.

First things first, create a list of what you’re looking for in terms of features. Try answering some of these questions:

  • Cpanel or Plesk? - Both offers there own pros and cons. Take a look around if you’ve never worked with either of them before, and decide what control panel you’d rather have.
  • How much storage space am I looking for? - Come up with a rough estimate on how much space your site(s) may need, and try adding 5 to 10 extra megs, just in case your estimation was short. In most cases, you can cut down that extra space for a few dollars off your monthly bill.
  • How much bandwidth will I need? - Is your site original or has the potential to become very popular? Or are you running a small site or portfolio? These factors can help determine how much bandwidth you’ll need to handle your traffic. Most of time, it’s better to start off small, and buy more bandwidth as your traffic increases, because all sites start off slow, and an excessive amount of bandwidth would in turn be wasted in the first few months of a new site.
  • What features do I need support for? - Are you going to need Mysql databases and php support? It’s important to know ahead of time what extra features and things you need in order for your site to operate. While most hosts offer mysql databases and php by default, some may not, and there may be other features you need, such as support for Ruby On Rails, which not all hosts have.

Tip 2: Price

The next thing to consider before narrowing down your host selections is price. First, you must know your budget and understand that, the more you need, the more you can expect to pay. Virtual Private Servers, Dedicated IP’s, Rollover Bandwidth - all usually come with a cost. The quality of the server also will play an impact on the price.

Today’s hosting market is competitively inexpensive. There was a time a few years ago that you would never find $7/Month hosting anywhere, and now, it’s hard not to find such prices. The hosting market has become increasing bigger by the day, forcing prices to be driven down, and to unbelievable lows. Evaluate your needs and the packages available by some hosts you may be interested in. Decide what package you’d like from a particular host, and jot down the monthly and yearly prices, and compare with a few other possible choices.

Also be aware of some costs which may appear hidden. Some hosting companies automatically bill you extra when you exceed your bandwidth or space, otherwise will simply disable your site until you either buy more space or bandwidth or until your next months cycle. Extra email address and databases may also come with extra fees, so make sure you know what the fees are for all of these, to avoid any unexpected charges.

Tip 3: Support

Another essential feature to any good hosting company is there support. You want a host who is as reliable as possible, and is there to help you quickly and easily when ever you run into trouble.

Everyone has experienced there horror stories with hosts not helping with problems, and experiencing excessive amounts of downtime with no way to control it.

Make sure you find a host who is committed to customer service and support. Find answers to these questions:

  • Help Desk / Ticket System - Does this host have a help desk to trouble ticket system so you can report problems via email or a web interface?
  • Phone Support? - Does this host offers a toll-free telephone number I can call if I run into critical and serious problems? If not, do they have some other equivalent immediate contact method?
  • Live Chat Support? - Does this host offer a live chat or email support, so you may contact them or talk to a person one on one to discuss problems?

Tip 4: Background Checks

This step is extremely important. These days, there are so many hosts out there, that if it’s your first time, you may fall victim to an irresponsible host, whose sole intention is to rip you off. Don’t assume that because a host may say they have a 99.9% up time guarantee and they can offer extremely competitive prices, that they are the real thing.

Don’t evaluate hosts by site design either - there’s such a thing as template monster.

A host with a nice looking site does not mean they are reliable and customer friendly. Any host, not matter what it’s actual reputation is, can have a nice looking site design, which may seem very inviting and reliable, but may be completely opposite. At the same time, poorly designed sites usually point to the same type of service. If a site looks out of date and messy, you can expect the same from the host.

“Yourfavoritehost” may not be the best bet to hold on to your valuable data. Look through some of the bigger name hosts first. Browsing around various web hosting related discussion boards can usually help you learn a lot about any host. Look for customer reviews. Also, explore the host’s site community if they have one, and check the statuses on support requests, etc, and see if customers are having many complaints.

Lay Out Your Choices

Now that you’ve evaluated some hosts, it’s time to choose one. Based on what features and support options you were looking for, the price you are willing to pay, and what host seemed to have the best reviews (or fewest complaints), narrow down your choices. Finally, compare your last two to three options, and choose what ever host you feel is capable of serving you in a reliable, and professional fashion.

Additional Things to Watch Out For

Recently, the “free hosting” craze has lead to the creation of “Post for Hosting” companies. Post for hosting requires you to meet a certain number of post requires in a certain amount of time to keep your hosting active. Post for hosting has a number of disadvantages. If you’re like me, you’re a member at so many forums, you can’t be bothered to remember to meet a certain post requirement in order to keep your site active. Many post for hosting companies will also delete your site entirely if you miss your quota.

This is not saying all post for hosting offers are unreliable. There are some who have great community and support, but be sure you know ahead of time how serious the company is. If they have a total of 5 users and 10 posts, you should leave right away. Don’t put your site(s) in the hands of such a new hosting company.

Well Known?

Another important thing to note, not all big name hosting companies actual have the best customer service. There are big-named companies who have had trouble with certain things. Be on the lookout for customer reviews and feedback, and be sure to get more than just one opinion - you don’t just want the “I was hosting full game downloads so they pulled my site because I broke the TOS; ”host hater’s review, and you don’t just the person earning money daily on referrals either. Be sure you get feedback on both sides of the spectrum, and compare for yourself.

Submitted by: AJ, Devlounge
Date: Wed May 31 2006


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