Back in 2005, I was a newbie. Most of the “IT stuff” I know now was beyond my comprehension back then. Those were the days when I had recently fallen in love with blogs. Travel blogs, fitness blogs, blog this, blog that; I was all over the place. It was then that I decided to start one of my very own. The decision was made, the excitement kicked in, all the prerequisites were taken care of. There were no apparent bottlenecks and I was all set: daily blog entries for 3 months… check! A basic website design in WordPress… check! A blogging pro who can help me out…. check! What else? What else there is to consider? A web hosting service? Now that’s where I started to cringe! Back in 2005, I had no clue how to choose a web hosting service; in fact I didn’t know that services like these existed in the first place. I was a good writer but an idiot when it came to web hosting!
Just a few days ago, I was reminiscing over these good old times and when I decided to write simple guide to web hosting for all those people who are facing a similar kind of dilemma I faced back then. It doesn’t matter what your intent is; whether you’re going to run your official website for selling woven mittens or you’re going to create a prank website to troll your friends, the basics for choosing a web host remain the same. First and foremost, what exactly is your budget? And if you don’t have one, I highly recommend you cough up a few bucks. Sure, there are many free web hosting services but then your website is at their disposal in terms of advertisements. This creates a two-fold problem. Firstly, your website design gets compromised (Nasty banners, pop-ups, frame codes) and secondly, you don’t get to have your own domain (you have to use a subdomain that the free web host provides you.
Now that we have decided to gregariously spare a few bucks for a web host, let’s move on to the next consideration: data transfer. This option really depends on how much traffic is expected on your website and you should choose the amount of bandwidth required accordingly. Don’t trust statements like “unlimited bandwidth” – there’s always a catch. Learn to read between the lines and choose a plan that caters to the expected traffic on your web site. For an approximate reference, if you don’t plan on keeping multimedia streams or software archives on your webpage, you’ll be good with 3 GB of bandwidth per month. But remember that your website will grow over time and always consider what type of “coverage” deal your web host offers.
Disk space is also very important and different from bandwidth (a fact I didn’t know back in 2005!), and your website is definitely going to need some. If your website isn’t going to have any heavy duty multimedia, my recommendation is to stay around the 50 MB mark. Surprised? Most web hosting services over-charge you with huge amounts of disk space which is practically useless unless you plan on uploading U2’s discography onto your website.
Alright, now it’s time to get down and dirty with the technical stuff. Usually people start off with basic web designs but later they have this epiphany of installing various PHP scripts and modifying their websites in all possible ways. Some commercial hosts don’t allow such sorcery! For this reason, it is always a good idea to check beforehand that the following are supported by your host.
Let’s review a few bare essentials:
Useful for incorporating scripts
This is necessary if you want to come up with fancy 404 error page messages e.g. “Whoopsie daises! This webpage doesn’t exist!”
Really important if you plan on using applications that require databases (surveys, polls, quizzes, etc)
This one is a program scheduler. Go for it if you plan on not sitting in front of the computer all day!
SSL (Secure Server)
High priority item if your website involves monetary transactions!
POP3, Mail Forwarding
These features are included in most paid packages but still make sure you check before signing up if you want a cool email@example.com. Moreover, ensure that you have mail forwarding and auto-responder service unless you want to respond to emails all day.
Quite basic, but still, it doesn’t hurt to double check.
Windows vs. Linux
Moving on to the topic of supported OS on the server – this is another thing you need to keep in mind. This becomes important if you’re planning on using ASP programs, in which case, Windows is the only OS that can rescue you. But otherwise, Linux is almost always the better option. Since you want maximum control of your web account, it is always essential to check what freedom is being offered in terms of control. Can you add/delete/edit email accounts along with passwords? Can you manage simple tasks yourself or do you have to contact the technical support for each elementary task?
This brings us to another important consideration: how good is their technical support? You don’t want to be stuck behind your work desk on a Saturday night, frantically cursing your host just because their technical support is only available on weekdays. Again, it all depends on what kind of website you plan to host. 24/7 is a captivating word, but don’t fall for it. Most web hosting services will merrily tell you that they have active support 24/7, but how is their response time? Do they have capable people for troubleshooting all-round the clock? Test them by sending in a few dummy problem emails. After all, you want tech savvy troubleshooters all round the clock that can deal with your problems.
Choosing a Payment Plan
Before choosing a payment plan, look at all the plans being offered. This is where we let our stringent selves roam free. Unless you’re sure about your host’s integrity, honesty, and reliability (heavy words in the tech world), don’t go for an annual/quarterly package. You’re better of sticking to the monthly one. Sure, the yearly and quarterly packages seem cheaper in the long run but they tie you down to your host and you’ll be out of luck if you decide to change hosts later on. On the other hand, if you do decide to go for an annual package, make sure you are confident in your choice and there is an anytime money back guarantee (not many hosts offer this).
Last but not least, always do your homework before choosing your host. Don’t go for a web host because they have a nice catch phrase or because their name sounds cool. A lot can go wrong if you hastily make your decision and go for the first web host you see. Remember to read legitimate reviews over the internet (stress on the word “legitimate”) and make sure your web host offers exactly what you require. Read reviews from various people from various websites so you don’t end up consulting biased reviews. Reading reviews can be tricky but remember to read between the lines. Is it an “overly-satisfied” customer on a shady website? Is it a highly scornful customer on another shady website? Once you’ve consulted all the reviews, it’s time to use your own brain and make a decision!