Before you start the quest, please note that there are many hosting providers out there. To be honest with you then we think that there is even too many of them. This is why it is almost impossible to find the ideal one. What you can do however, is fish out the worst ones and select the webhost that is most appropriate for your specialized needs. To help you out, we have devoted considerable time to gather all the essential information regarding web hosting services and made up the following list of important factors to consider before making any decisions.
1. First of all make sure what you wish to do with your future website. Are you just planning to have it for personal and private purposes or do you have a goal to target a large audience with loads of content and offered material? This is in fact one of the most important questions to ask yourself before starting to look for a web host. Webmasters planning to upload a lot of files and sharing these with many visitors through their website will need a lot more disk space and bandwidth compared to those who just want to write about their hobby in a simple textual form. This is why you must not rush and think constructively!
2. Web space and bandwidth (data transfer). One of the first important things to check when assessing a hosting provider is the size of the disk space that is included in the hosting plan. This can play a big role if you want to host large files (for example videos) online. Base your calculations on the fact that you will most likely want to upload text pages, images, perhaps a couple of videos, other media and downloadable files such as executable tools or programs. As a very rough estimate, a standard site that wants to include all of the listed above will require approximately 20-30GB of online disc space. Hence look for a hosting provider that offers at least that capacity or (preferably) even more.
The same concept applies to bandwidth. This term could be defined as the throughput of data bytes that is transferred from your website to the visitor's browser (or directly to a computer if a file is downloaded). It might be best to describe it with a simple example: When someone lands on your web page, the internet browser such as Firefox will download the material from your server to display it on the screen. So if your site, apart from standard text, also has pictures and animations, the total size will increase respectively and hence take more bandwidth. For this reason you should always check the amount of bandwidth which providers offer in their plans. As a rough estimate, a webpage just starting up might only take about 3-5GB of data being transferred to the visitor a month. A developed website withincreased popularity an content can increase this amount to 3000GB a month. Hence try to estimate what would be the most optimal data transfer range for your project and make a decision respectively.
There are also many webhosts out there offering you unlimited web space and bandwidth. What they don't tell you however is that there is also a sub-point in their Terms and Conditions saying something like the word "unlimited" actually means that you can use a total of 2-3% of the whole shared server size and data transfer. If you happen to go over it then they might cancel your service or charge you extra. Hence it is very imporant to ask the provider to describe what the term "unlimited" means in their hosting plans. We are not saying that you should not go for an unlimited offer, but just be sure to understand the actual meaning before paying money for their services.
3. Reliability (uptime) and Technical Support. Always try to go for a hosting provider that offers at least 99% guaranteed uptime. Server uptime is essentially the percentage of time that your server (website) will be live and available for access. If the thing goes down then no one will be able to access your website and neither will you be able so log into your virtual disc to upload or download files. Hosting companies can perform maintenance on their hardware and hence periodically switch the servers off. For websites with high traffic this could mean thousands of dollars lost revenue. Hence we recommend signing up with a host that offers at least 99.5% or even higher guaranteed uptime.
Before making a final decision and signing up with a website host you will most likely have many questions to ask about their services and in the future need technical assistance from their support team. This is why you should always look for a web host that offers customer support 7 days a week on a 24 hours a day basis. This should likewise include public holidays. Some hosts also have a live chat support which is also very useful, especially when you are just signing up or have a very quick question to resolve. But be careful! Sometimes an advertised 24/7 customer support may not always be true. Make sure to try it out by contacting them at a Saturday midnight. This way you will know for sure whether you are going to hear a sleepy sales lady's voice on the phone or just an automated "Support OFF-Line" message". A professional hosting provider will have a Support Forum, a "Ticket" type e-mail support, Live chat and Phone support.
4. Access to your server via cPanel or FTP. As soon as you have purchased a web hosting service you will immediately want to access your account and start exploring it, this is especially true if you have already created the website pages and want to upload them online very fast. Well from where we see it, you should have the freedom to access your web space through the 2 most common methods: a special Control Panel and/or directly by using an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program such as FileZilla. Your web host should provide login details for both! If they don't even have cPanel installed for their clients then you might want to think twice before signing up with that particular provider.
After you have completed the registration process you should immediately receive a welcome email from the hosting company with all of your login details attached. You should be provided with the following most essential details regarding your new hosting account:
- The web address (i.e. domain name) of your new website
- Account login details. Including your Username and Password
- The FTP address for the files on your server
- Name servers (e.g. NS1.WEBDNS.COM) there should be 2 of these
- Your personal email server
Make sure to keep all this info safe and easily ready for access. It might be a good idea to also make a hard copy backup in case you loose the email from the web host.
5. What type of server will you be provided? The most common operating platform offered by hosting companies is based on the more stable and feature-rich Linux platform. Apache servers run by Unix systems will allow you more easily to configure and manage several features of your account, such as managing error pages, denying access from certain IP's and protecting your content. Because Linux driven servers are most widely used, you can also find a lot of tutorials and guidelines on their operating principles and tweaks.
However, if your main requirement is to use and operate ASP programs on your server then you might be better off by finding a web host that runs on a Windows server. Although, for beginners we would definitely recommend signing up for a Linux based server simple because of it's simplicity and user friendliness.
Resellers, are those providers that buy a lot of web space from a bigger web host and then sell it to you. The main disadvantage with buying hosting from a reseller is that you might not get the best (fastest reply rate) feedback and help with any server related problems you might incur. This is simply because they would need to contact the primary web host and then wait for a reply before getting back to you. For someone in the need of a fast and professional technical support this might not be the best option. However, as a general rule, resellers usually offer a cheaper service and it is quite good for the average user. Make sure to research both the primary web host and the reselling company before making a final decision.
6. Personal email accounts. This is something you will definitely want to have and hence something to check when signing up. A web host should provide you with email@example.com email accounts for you to create and personalize. Typically this is very easily done through cPanel by using the "Email Accounts" function. What you will also need to check is whether the web host allows you to modify various email settings such as autoresponding and routing incoming emails. Likewise, you must check whether your email account with the hosting provider could be configured for use in your email software such as MS Outlook.
7. Can you Host Multiple domains? This is something very important for those of you who want to have one web server serving several domains. So essentially you have a dedicated IP address, associated with your web space but different domain names. For example if you want to have a website about computers and one about traveling, both managed under one hosting account (web server) then you need to make sure that the provider has enabled this feature. In most cases this will be a given and you should not have any problemstransferring one or more extra domains to your account. You will need to know how to perform the transfer though. This is done either by changing the name server addresses or through some other method like using the EPP code.
8. Dedicated IP address. Every domain name has it's own IP address which is used to identify the server where your website could be found. For example, if you enter 126.96.36.199 in your browser, you will land at Yahoo's home page. Now, if you sign up with a web host that offers shared hosting then your server will share the IP with hundreds or even thousands of other websites. I.e. you don't have a personal designated IP address. This is the reason why you must make sure to ask the web host whether their service is shared and can you eventually upgrade your account to have a personal Dedicated IP address. Be prepared to be charged for this service though.
Some of the benefits to having a dedicated IP are:
- Ability to enable SSL Certificates for webmasters interested in eCommerce
- Eliminate the negative outcomes which other websites sharing your IP might cause by getting blocked or censored by search engines or even specific countries
- You can view your domain address by typing in the IP. This is useful when your website becomes inaccessible for example during periods of domain name propagation
So, if the amount for having a dedicated IP is not insanely big then we can certainly recommend getting one.
9. What others say? Probably one of the best ways to find out whether a web host is any good or not is to ask other webmasters who already have or had account with them. Find a web forum dedicated we website hosting or just search Google by "ABC hosting reviews/opinions/rating". You will probbably notice that there is lots of information and personal opinions shared amongs website owners. Web Hositng Talk (http://www.webhostingtalk.com/) is most definitely one of the prime places to check out. Just register an account with them and post your questions. However, be careful with post replies from hosting company agents who will pursuade you that they provide the best service. Try to find someone who is not biased to any particular web host.
10. Price and payment plans. This might seem pretty obvious for most of you, however, you have no idea how easy it is to overpay for web hosting. There are infinite ways how you can be tricked out of your money without even realising it. Most prices which are advertisied in bright colors and having a "big sale now" tag attached, could in fact be lowered by a lot! Check for special coupon codes or other discount advantages distributed from other related websites. Sometimes you can get as much as 50% off the original advertised price. Type in "ABC hosting discount" into Google and see what comes up.
However, even if you get a massive decrease for the basic hosting service, then you might realise that you also need to buy domain privacy for an additional annual price. The same applies for having advanced mail functions, SLL Certificates, Dedicated IP's etc. Without realising it your original rather cheap price for having a shared server will grow to something similar to a price people pay for virtual private servers. That's why you need to be extra careful before deciding which company to pay for their hosting services.