Choosing a company with whom to host your site is like looking for a place to live. You should carefully research your prospective host companies, comparing what they are offering you for your ‘rent’. The lowest price shouldn’t always be the determining factor.
There are a few companies that will offer free hosting, but many of these will require you to place ads on your website, as this is how they support their hosting costs. Free hosting is probably limited, too, in what you are offered, either in terms of space, email addresses, and self-determination. Because they are reliant on advertising revenue to survive, companies offering free hosting tend not to last for very long. This really isn’t a good option for a business website.
Most commercial hosting companies will offer shared hosting broken out into different plans, usually related to the size of the disk space available, bandwidth allocation, number of email addresses, etc. Some will even bundle domain registration with the hosting packages.
When websites first started and were mostly made up of a few text files and a few small photos, disk space wasn’t so much of an issue. Now websites are usually powered by Content Management Systems (CMS), use large images for slide shows or catalogues, and possess all sorts of helper programs to provide movement, animation, and pizzazz. But that means they require more disk space, so be conscious of what you are being offered in relation to what your needs are.
Another statistic that will be offered in your package will be bandwidth allotment. This relates to people visiting your website. If you are hoping to host a site that is going to be very popular with thousands of hits in a day, then you want a package that will allow for this with a decent bandwidth allotment. Bandwidth allotment needs will also be related to what you are offering on your website. For example, a website made up of text and images will require less than one that contains a lot of videos or music.
When researching hosting companies, you want to pay particular attention to these aspects:
- Reliability: You want to check what the “down-time” record is, that is, how often, if at all, the hosting machines go down and equally importantly, how quickly they come back up when and if they do
- Support: How quickly and how easily is it to get support when you have a problem or a question
- Backup: While you should always be capable of backing up your own website, does your hosting company also provide backup services
- Autonomy: You want to be given as much control over your website as possible, so you want a company that will offer you FTP access 24 hours a day and a simple-to-navigate control panel for configuring and maintaining your hosting
- Longevity: Has the prospective company been around long enough that you feel confident they will probably be around for a while yet to come?
- Security: This is a feature that is growing in importance very rapidly. Hacking and the damage it can cause is very real and almost every week we see a news article about companies like Sony being hacked. So look for a hosting company that is very proactive in its security and monitoring.
In addition to offering you space and access to your website, you also want to know what else is being offered in your hosting environment:
- Databases (MySQL)
- Scripting software (PHP, crontab)
- SSL (secure server)
- Email (autoresponders, POP3, mail forwarding)
- Antivirus/Antispam Services
- Malware monitoring strategy
Don’t be afraid to ask any questions whose answers aren’t readily presented by your prospective hosting company. You want your website experience to be as smooth and hassle-free as possible and you want to look for a company with a reliable record who will be looking out for your website in a way you aren’t capable of.