If you are considering building your own website, you are going to need to find someone to host your website on a web server. You can find free web hosts, but be aware that you will most likely have pop-ups and advertisements on your website, and if you want to avoid these, and additionally have total control of your website, and pick your own domain name, you are going to have to pay.
There are many factors that go into decided what commercial web host provider to choose, so we have compiled a list of ways to help you decide how to pick the right one for you:
A web host should be reliable and should be able to guarantee its up-time, which means the time that it is functional. Find a commercial web host with a minimum uptime of 99%. This percentage is actually considered to be on the low side. The optimal uptime guarantee should be 99.5% or higher, and the host should offer a refund or discount if the time that it is functional falls below the number it guarantees. But it is important to note that guarantees are difficult to enforce from the buyer’s end so be sure to read reviews on the web host you select. If you want a reliable website, you need a reliable web host.
2. Data Transfer (also known as Traffic or Bandwidth)
Data transfer refers to the amount of bytes that are transferred from your site to visitors when they browse your site. The web host has to pay for the bandwidth, and if your website consumes a lot of it, it will cost you. Even if a host advertises “unlimited bandwidth”, be sure to look into the details on how much traffic the package you are purchasing allows. It may be important to avoid web hosts that advertise offering unlimited bandwidth because that in itself is a lie.
Additionally, do not be tempted by promises of huge amounts of bandwidth because the chances are that your website will not be able to use that amount due to other limits, such as resource limits. So save your money and be reasonable in predicting bandwidth consumption. In general, most sites that do not provide video or music on their site tend to use less than 3 GB of bandwidth per month. If, over time, your traffic requirements grow, as your site grows in popularity, you can check your contract for when you exceed your data transfer limit, and whether you can increase the amount you get in your contract. Try to avoid websites that expect you to prepay for overages, because it is difficult to foresee when your site will exceed its bandwidth and by how much.
3. Disk Space
Similarly to the story about bandwidth, be cautious of the “unlimited disk space” schemes that some web hosters may throw at you. Most new websites that do not host videos or music need less than twenty megabytes of web space, so even if you are given 100 GB, know that you may not use all of that space. Therefore, you should not let that be a deciding factor when comparing with other hosts.
4. Technical Support
You should make sure that the server you choose has technical support available at all hours of the day or night (aka 24/7). Just because a host says that they offer support around the clock does not mean that they necessarily do. You should test them by sending an email at midnight and on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. Test how long it takes them to respond and whether their responses are technically competent and helpful. You do not want to sign up to a host whose customer support is made up of telesales people who do not actually know how to fix problems.
5. PHP, SSI, FTP, .htaccess, MySQL, crontabs, SSH and Perl
If you are paying for a web hosting service, you must make sure to have every single one of these.
Some commercial hosts do not allow the installation of PHP or Perl scripts without their approval, so these are not hosts you want to select because that would mean waiting for their approval before implementing a feature on your site. Find a host that will allow you these without the need for approval. The ability to create or modify “.htaccess” files is also necessary if you want to customize your error pages or to protect your site in various ways (like if you want a password-protected directory or to prevent bandwidth theft). SSH access is useful for things like testing certain programs, maintaining databases, etc. MySQL is necessary if you want to run a blog or a content management system. Crontabs are a program scheduler that lets you run programs at certain times of the day (for example, once a day). These are all important features and you want to ensure they are provided.
6. Secure Server
You are going to want to set up SSL, a secure server, if you are planning on selling any sort of goods or services via you webpage. You can see this on other websites if you see that their web address begins with “https://” instead of “http://”. The set up of a secure server will usually take additional charges or a higher priced package, but you just want to make sure that this is an available option before you settle with a host. If you plan on collecting credit card payments in any form, you are definitely going to need this feature in the package. If you are going to rely on a payment gateway (which is a third party company, such as PayPal, that collects credit card payments on your behalf), and are not planning on collecting any private information, then you may not necessarily need this feature.
7. Mail Forwarding, Autoresponders, POP3, and Email
If you have your own site, you are going to want an email address with your domain, such as email@example.com. You should make sure that your web hoster will allow you to set up whatever email you want on your domain, and that the email account has all the features you want.
8. Control Panel
A control panel is basically the ability to manage different aspects of your web account by yourself. Typically, at the very minimum, it should allow you to do things such as add, delete, and manage your email addresses, and change passwords for your account. If you have to go through customer support every time you need to change a password, that is too much of a hassle and you should look for a better host. Note that the Control Panel has different names by different hosts.
9. Web Server and Operating System
Most people want to sign up for a web host that offers a Unix-based system (e.g. FreeBSD, OpenBSD, or Linux), and is running the Apache web server. Most web-based software already assumes that your site is running on this system so you are more likely to be compatible with programs. The only time you will want to use a Windows server is if you are running a program that is specific to Windows, like ASP scripts. But even then, you may be better off looking for equivalents in the Unix-based system.
It is important to note that you often get what you pay for, although it is not necessarily true that the most expensive hosts are the best. Shared hosting, where there are many sites on a single server, is cheaper and will cost around $8 to $12 a month. Dedicated servers, that mean that your site would be the only one on the server, can rise up to over $75 a month.
Some hosting providers will let you pay an annual payment at a cheaper rate than if you were to pay monthly. If you are beginning working with a new web host, it may be recommended to start by paying monthly to ensure that the company you chose as a host is reliable and honest. If you pay monthly, you can change host providers more quickly once you figure out that a host does not meet your requirement. Once you are sure that you are pleased with your web host provider, then you can consider changing your payment plan to the discounted annual one.
Once you have reviewed a host and made sure that they fit your needs, include the features you want, and are at a price you are willing and able to pay, then you can purchase a package from the one you like! Remember to consider all of these factors when deciding on your web host because it can really affect your website.