How to pick a web host
Your selection of an appropriate and reliable web hosting service provider is an important step in coming online, especially if you are launching a business website. Hosts not only make your site available to others, but they also offer services related to managing these servers and its software, support, bandwidth, speed and so on.
Free web hosting comes with a cost
Bandwidth allowance (sometimes loosely referred to as "traffic" or "data transfer") is the number of bytes required to transfer your site to all of your visitors when they browse your content. Does the hosting provide enough space for your needs? To give you a rough idea of the typical traffic requirements of a website, most new sites that don't provide video or music on their site use less than 3 gigabytes of bandwidth per month. If you anticipate quick future expansion or your needs include sound, video, etc., then consider the extra space offered by a paid hosting provider.
If you’re thinking about going for a free host, think first about the size of your site and how many visitors you expect on a daily basis. Many free web hosts impose daily or monthly limits on the amount of traffic your website can use. If your content includes lots of images or videos that attract over the “agreed” amount of visitors (traffic) per day/ week/ month, the host is within its rights to disable your website for breach of contract - or send you a bill.
Another consideration before using free hosting providers is that they frequently impose a maximum size on the files you upload. If you wish to distribute software or high-resolution imagery, a paid host offers you the ability to load the larger file sizes you’ll need.
Many, but not all free hosts impose advertising on your website to cover the costs of providing your site with free web space. Most people are put off by commercial banners and pop-ups. Sites littered with adverts are generally considered low quality and even spammy, which is an immediate put-off. To be on the safe side, check the fine print to see if adverts are expected in exchange for free hosting before you sign-up.
Look out for is whether a host gives your site room to grow. Most new sites start on shared hosting which is pretty powerful these days. However, as you expect a website to grow over the years, you might need to consider a more powerful server (virtual private or dedicated for example). Check the host has suitable plans to upgrade to and that the process is as straightforward as possible.
Why pay for web hosting?
Reliability is extremely important for both free and paid services, but you should only expect any real reliability with a paid hosting plan. It’s likely that you’ll want your website to operate 24/7, and you’ll only get that from a web host with reliable servers and stable network connections. Before you decide on a host, check out its uptime history. You can read reviews and check their advertised uptime guarantees.
A site that is hard to reach or frequently down loses visitors, customers, and can hit revenue hard. If someone finds your site and tries to access it only to find that it’s unavailable, they won't hesitate to go to a competitor site. Slow access is also very frustrating for dedicated visitors (and for you also, when you upload new content).
Read and understand any limitations placed on the bandwidth you use and select an appropriate plan. If your site is going to incorporate video, audio, or other elements that require a higher level of bandwidth, you want a plan that matches your needs.
PHP, .htaccess, SSH, MySQL, FTP etc
If you need to install PHP or Perl - make sure you can do this without needing your host's approval. If not you will have to wait for their say so before you can implement a feature on your site.
Assuming you want to do things like customizing your error pages (the messages displayed when visitors land on an extinct page on your site), protect your site from bandwidth theft and hotlinking, etc. and to password-protect your folders, you'll need the ability to create or modify ".htaccess" files.
SSH access is useful for maintaining databases such as MySQL and when you want to run a blog or a content management system.
FTP is a popular method to transfer web pages and other files from a local computer onto a web hosts computer (servers) so that it can be viewed by anyone worldwide. Some hosts only don’t allow you to design and upload your own pages. Instead, they ask that your pages are designed and uploaded using their online site builder. Unless you are an absolute beginner and plan a pretty trivial site, make sure you have FTP access or the ability to upload your pages by email or browser at the very least.
The purpose of a control panel is to allow you to manage various aspects of your websites hosting account yourself. You should expect a control panel from a commercial host so you can perform everyday maintenance tasks without having to wait for technical support to make simple changes. A ‘cPanel’ provides a simple dashboard to manage email addresses, account passwords and basic server configurations. It can be time-consuming to go through a technical support operator or be obliged to pay an additional fee each time you want to perform simple admin tasks.
Multiple Domains Hosting
It’s common to own more than one domain, they’re cheap these days, and it’s hard to resist owning a few. In this case, you need to accommodate extra domains with extra hosting space. To simplify the hosting process, it’s possible to host more than one domain from a single account. Each separate website hosted on the same account is called an add-on domain. Most shared hosting providers allow addon domains. It’s advisable to check in advance how they charge for it.
With web hosting as with everything, you often get what you pay for. If you have a basic website not expecting a large amount of traffic, expect to pay between $10 to $150 per year for shared hosting. Higher capacity hosting plans can start at $150 and go up from there.
Most commercial hosts offer the flexibility to choose how you want to pay with monthly and annual payment plans; the latter gives you a cheaper rate. Once you're reassured they offer a reliable service, you can switch to the cheaper annual payments, or switch hosts quickly if they don't meet your expectations.
Finally, let’s discuss renewals. If you’re satisfied with the price of a package, check the price for renewals. It’s a norm in the industry to offer low signup prices but charge much higher amounts on renewals. Unless you are ok with switching between hosts every few years, renewals prices are unavoidable.
If you want to host email accounts alongside your website, check that your host allows you to set up the email addresses you want on your domain - before signup. It looks a bit shabby to have a random email address not associated with your domain: How much more professional does email@example.com sound over firstname.lastname@example.org?
In the case that emails are provided, it’s not a big deal. There are other ways to get your hands on an email account at your own domain name.
Things can go wrong at the most inconvenient of times so best check your host has 24/7/ 365 professional support. You’ll want someone there to throw you a lifeline when you press the S.O.S button and to know the person picking on the other end is technically equipped with the knowledge to help you, there and then. To get a feel for this, read online reviews with accounts of real customer experiences.
There will be times when you have a non-urgent query. You might want to solve it in your own time while getting a better handle on your server settings. Does the host have a knowledge base or FAQs to browse to help advance your understanding? Whether you prefer to chat over the phone or rather have comprehensive documentation at hand to solve problems yourself - check they are available.