I wrote last week about choosing a fitting domain name. But that’s not the only thing that potential web designers and developers have to focus on–in fact, equal in importance to a good domain name is a good web host. Without a well-run server, your domain name will point to nowhere.
What is a Web Host?
Simply put, a web host is either:
- a company who has empty server storage space that they “rent” out to people;
- a fellow web designer/developer who “rents” out his or her extra server space to other small-time designer/developers
(Whichever method of hosting you prefer, being hosted with a good friend or being hosted by a big company, it’s firstly important to remember that most hosts do not provide domain names. You will likely need to buy your domain name separately.)
What Makes a Web Host Good?
In searching for hosting, it’s important to evaluate each hosting company/person in terms of these qualifications:
- Storage space
- Number of domains allowed per hosting account
- Media restrictions
- Bandwidth allowances
- Special features:
- Current customer satisfaction
- Average uptime/downtime
How much storage space can you get for your money? You should look for the most space you can find that fits within your hosting budget. Some companies charge a surprising amount for the same amount of space that others are willing to charge less for, so comparison shopping really matters here.
For instance, if you can only afford to pay 5 bucks a month for hosting, find hosts who offer space for 5 bucks or under, and then comparison-shop between them further to look for better deals on other aspects of each hosting plan.
Number of Domains Allowed per Hosting Account
How many domains can you link to your account if you buy from this particular host? For people who like to separate out their web design work into many domains, this makes a difference. Some hosts will only let their cheapest-plan hostees link one domain to their hosting account, whereas others will allow you to link 3 or 4, or even unlimited domains to various folders on your hosting account.
Whatever you choose, be sure you read all the fine print and understand what you’re buying before you click to pay anything!
While those types of restrictive hosts may have died off now that the Internet has become so media-driven, you still want to make sure your prospective host allows you to do all you want/need to do with your site. You don’t want to end up breaking a rule you didn’t take time to read or didn’t know was there.
How much traffic can this hosting server support per month? Make sure you find out how much bandwidth you’re buying. This is almost more important than getting enough storage space–It’s a drag to have a great content-laden site for half a month, only to have a “Bandwidth Overage” sign up for the rest of the month blocking all that awesome content.
Does this host have the capability to run things like MySQL databases, PHP, Ruby on Rails, email accounts, etc.? Check to see what kinds of application support you’ll be getting. Some hosts have MySQL support and some don’t, for instance, and you’ll need that if you want to make a WordPress blog, a fanlisting, or anything that needs a database.
Some hosts have the ability to install scripts like WordPress, forum software, and the like for you, if you’re like me and can’t make head or tail of most web programming languages. (That’s actually how I got this WordPress blog to work–I tried installing it myself and failed miserably, then found that my host’s cPanel had a happy little feature called “Fantastico,” which installed WP for me seamlessly and quickly.)
Whatever special functionality you want in a host, make sure you check through the documentation of each host you’re evaluating to see what they offer.
All the storage space, bandwidth, and special features in the world won’t compensate for your host taking the servers down all the time for maintenance. Before you pay for anything, check the server status of your potential host over the course of a week and see how many times servers are down versus how much time servers are up. This can give you a more accurate perception of the service you can expect with them.
Also, you can get a good read on a host’s server status by talking to real people who are hosted with them. That leads me to my last point…
Current Customer Satisfaction
Before you decide on a host, talk to people who are hosted with them, preferably those who have been with the hosting company/person for a fairly long time. They can give you a more realistic picture of the hosting provider’s service, features, storage space, bandwidth, etc., than any advertisement ever can. From other webdesigners/developers like yourself, you can learn what you need to finally decide on a host for yourself.
Other Pointers for Picking a Host
- Don’t buy more storage space or features than you need–you can always upgrade later if you want. Do make sure to get as much bandwidth as you can for your money, however; you want to make sure your site will stay up and running constantly!
- If you’re evaluating a hosting provider company, check their support and community forums. If the support forums have not been updated in a while and have very few people posting on it, then the company might not be doing so well and may provide lackluster service. If, however, the forums are lively and very up-to-date, then the company likely has a large customer base and is working to support them.
- Be honest with yourself about what services you want, how much storage space you’ll need, etc. I bought about 2 GB of storage space back in 2004 for withinmyworld.org, even though at the time I was only running one site–I knew that I wanted to expand my repertoire later on. However, if I’d only wanted to focus on one site for a while, I might have gone with less storage space.
Where to Find Good Web Hosting
Aside from checking CNet Reviews of Web Hosting Services, here are links to several hosting companies and people who are nice enough to host others:
Highly Recommended by Many Fellow Webdesigners/Developers
Well-Regarded in the Webdesign Community
Awesome Webdesigners/Developers Who Host
Other Worthwhile Hosts