No-nonsense guide to choosing your web host

by Paul on June 29, 2011

Try searching the internet with the term “web hosting” and you’ll receive hundreds of thousands of results. But what makes a web hosting company the right one for you? Why choose any particular service over another?

The answer is easy – web hosting is not about what they have to offer, it’s about what you need.

Word count: ~800; Time to read: 5~10 minutes;

But I don’t know what web hosting I need

If you’re not familiar with web hosting, check out our quick definition of what web hosting is here.

Before you can work out what you need, first take a moment to think about what you desire to have on the web. Consider the following questions:

  • What kind of website do you need? A blog, a photo gallery, a business site, e-commerce, news, social networking.
  • Do you need your own web hosting for this?
  • What particular requirements do you have:
    • a domain name;
    • lots of space for photos, or can you use other services such as flickr, smug-mug.
    • lots of users
    • email
    • hosting more than 1 domain
    • hosting sub-domains
    • databases
  • Are you expecting a lot of traffic initially?
  • Are you transferring your existing website to a new host because of performance issues?
  • Do you require technical expertise and advice from your host?

Even if you’re not familiar with all the points raised above, it’s good to be aware of them so that when you come to look at alternatives, they’ll be in the back of your mind.

I’ll cover some of the important points of consideration in the sections below.

The ‘Unlimited’ web hosting deception

Consider a moment your computer. It doesn’t have unlimited space, and your ISP doesn’t provide you with unlimited bandwidth on your internet line.

Why? Because the costs for such a set-up would be astronomical.

When you’re deciding on web hosting, you would do well to be cautious of vendors that tout “unlimited” disk space and bandwidth.

Why? Because they themselves don’t have unlimited space to give you.

Before you sign up for the deal of a lifetime, take a closer look in the fine print, either in the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) or the Terms of Service (TOS) agreement. See how exactly they define and restrict your “unlimited” space.

This same goes for hosts that offer very high disk space capacity for a few dollars a month. Anything over 100GB for less than $10/month should raise suspicions.

Shared web hosting or dedicated server hosting?

Nearly all low-cost web hosting services will be selling you shared web hosting.

The reason, again, is economics.

They have a server upon which they can host a certain number of websites. As long as all the sites aren’t busy all of the time, they can serve the web hosting for all of them on one machine with little noticeable performance hit.

It’s practical both economically and from a systems management stand point.

Advice:

  • Choose shared hosting if your website has low-medium demand, and isn’t business critical.
  • Dedicated hosting is for mission-critical services and high-volume e-commerce. There are others, but these would cover most operations.

Disk space, Bandwidth, Users, FTP, Databases!

Remember to avoid, or at least be cautious of, “unlimited” account. There are always limits!

All providers are different, but be careful of ordering more than you need if this is your first time. Most web hosting websites are busy with lots of numbers, statistics, quotas, and options that they’re coming out of your ears, but don’t let them confuse you.

Simply decide what you need and make sure they cover it for you.

Advice:

  • don’t be tempted to buy more than you need just because of their special offers
  • except for the very cheapest, you should expect to be provided with at least 3+ databases, 10~20+ users, multiple domain hosting/parking, 5+ subdomains, design templates, FTP users;
  • responsive support – drop them an email and see how long it takes them to respond.

What if you’re not very technical?

My personal opinion is that you need either a bit of time, or money, to invest when establishing a quality web presence. If you don’t have the time, you need to hire someone to do it for you. If you don’t have the money, then spend the time learning the basics – it’s really not that difficult once you give it a go.

There are some great easy-to-use platforms for developing website available. Take for example a WordPress blog – you can convert this into almost anything you need with plugins to do just about everything. All it requires is a little investment of your time to put together.

Advice:

  • compare the support options for each provider;
  • compare the tools provided to help you get a website online
  • decide how you’re going to approach the project – web host will provide technical assistance if things go wrong, but they wont do it for you. Consider hiring someone to put together the site you need.

Further reading around web hosting

If you would like to read more in-depth, you can check out the following pages for further web host explanations:

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