Choosing a Host: Introduction
Choosing a webhost for your new site sometimes feels like a hopeless task. You search and search, browse pages and pages of hosting reviews, think you’ve found a good one, but oops, there’s a review saying they are the worst host ever, so you move on. It’s tiring.
Our first suggestion is to take all hosting reviews with a grain of salt. Many of these reviews are paid reviews, not true testimonials from actual customers. So that glowing review you saw of Host X might not actually be the case.
There is no such thing as a perfect host. They are all going to have some problems here and there. The true test of a host is how they handle these problems. How is their support? Do they get back to you quickly? Are they helpful in solving the problem? A host that is quick to respond, and helpful in resolving the problems is a host you want to hang on to.
Ask Yourself: What Do You Need?
The first step in choosing a host is assessing your needs. You need to consider what you’ll be doing with the website before you decide where to host it. A blogsite is going to have different needs than an ecommerce site, for example. When you know what your basic requirements are, you can then begin to explore the hosting possibilities that fit those requirements.
Bandwidth: The amount of data that can be transferred between your website and the rest of the internet. The larger the bandwidth, the more traffic your site can handle. A host offering 50GB of bandwidth lets you transfer 50 gigabytes of data per month. Things that count against your bandwidth include people visiting your webpages and viewing your images, database queries, files downloaded from your site, and emails sent to and from your web server. If you go over your allotted monthly bandwidth, your host will either disable your site (bad host), or charge you overage fees for the extra transfer (better host). The best hosts will warn you well before you reach your bandwidth limit so you can assess your needs and upgrade your hosting plan if necessary.
Disk Space: The amount of ‘stuff’ actually stored on your web server. This includes all your websites files, pages, and images. If you plan on having a very image-heavy blog, for example, you are going to need more disk space than someone who won’t have nearly as many images.
Server: The physical box that holds your site’s information. Yes, it’s an actual box somewhere (think a giant external hard drive) that stores your site’s files and facilitates the delivery of your website to the world. Technically, any computer connected to the internet can be a server. By purchasing web hosting, you are essentially renting “space” on this server to store your website’s files.
Domain Name/URL: The name of the website that is entered into the browser to access a website (for example, www.purrdesign.com). A lot like your car’s license plate, you must register your domain name and pay an annual fee to keep it registered in your name and continue to use it.
IP Address: The numerical version of a website address/domain name, a unique identifier akin to a telephone number for a computer or device. The IP address is used by machines to refer to each other when sending information through the Internet, it describes the source and the destination of such information. IP addresses, in order to be more human-friendly, are converted to easy-to-remember domain names. Instead of having to remember an insainly complicated number to visit a website, we can simply enter the domain name instead. You IP address will be given to you by your host. Depending on your chosen plan and needs, your IP will either be dedicated (it’s yours and only yours), or shared (other sites on the same server share the same IP address). If you require the use of an SSL certificate, you must have a dedicated IP address.
Database/MySQL Database: Think of a database as a powerful Excel file stored on your webserver, made up of a series of tables and cells that contain related information. If your site is built on a database-driven system (both wordpress and ckgold are mysql-based), a database stores all the content associated with your site, from your blog posts to your product information.
FTP: File Transfer Protocol is a way to exchange files over the internet. When you sign up for hosting, you’ll be given FTP access to your webserver. Through FTP, you’ll be able to upload and download images and files to and from your website. You will need an FTP client to do so. Our favorite is Fetch (MacOSX/$25), but you can find plenty of free clients as well (try CyberDuck for MacOSX, or SmartFTP for Windows).
SSL: Secure Sockets Layer. An SSL Certificate is what lets you shop online without having to worry about someone stealing your credit card information. SSL is a protocol designed to enable applications to transmit information back and forth securely. It’s what makes a website show the little lock icon to indicate that your personal data is safe.
Shared Hosting: Think of a hosting company as a city. Each building in the city is a server that stores website files. Shared hosting is like an apartment building, where you have a bit of space within a larger space. In other words, you share the server with many other people. For most sites, this is the best option, as it is affordable and the landlord takes care of much of the maintenance for you. If your site takes off and you are getting hundreds of thousands of visitors (we can hope, right?) you may outgrow your shared hosting account and need to upgrade to a ‘single family home’ where you have a server all to yourself (vps/dedicated hosting).
Unix/Linux vs. Windows
Many hosts offer two different hosting ‘platforms’ for you to choose from. Unix/Linux and Windows. Do not confuse Windows hosting with the Windows operating system – they are not the same thing. A website hosted on a Unix/Linux plan will work perfectly fine on any PC, and a website hosted on a Windows plan will work just fine when viewed on a Mac.
Unless you require any type of ASP/.NET based software, you’re much better off going with a Unix/Linux hosting plan. Unix/Linux hosting tends to be more secure, more affordable, and more reliable overall. Everything we do, including our ecommerce, content management, and blogging systems, require Unix/Linux hosting.
Some things to look for:
24/7 Support: If your site goes down in the middle of the night, you want to be sure you can get in touch with someone, stat! Many hosts may not offer 24/7 phone support, but as long as they’re accessible via email that’s typically a good solution. A good host will respond promptly to all support requests, no matter how small. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with the support before purchasing your hosting and see how prompt they are to respond.
Control Panel: Your control panel is where you manage every aspect of your site, from email to SSL certificates, to visitor statistics. You want to be sure it’s a good one. Look for HSphere or Cpanel control panels. Even better, if they offer a demo of their control panel check it out for yourself. Make sure you’ll be able to do what you need to easily and without much hassle.
Money Back Guarantee: Yes, it’s a sales pitch, but hosts that offer a money back guarantee (for 30-days or otherwise) will ensure your money can be recovered should the host not work out. It happens. The host might look good up front, but once we start poking around and setting things up for your brand new site, there may be a feature they don’t support and are unable to fix. Having a backup escape plan is always a good idea.
SSL Support: If you want to sell anything through your website, and accept any method of payment other than PayPal Standard (in other words, credit cards) you will need an SSL certificate to be able to securely accept this information. And you want to make sure your host will support that. Will they support 3rd party SSL certificates or do you have to purchase your certificate through them? Ask about additional costs, such as fees for a unique IP addresses. Can you install an SSL certificate yourself, or do they need to install it for you (and how much will they charge to do so). All things to keep in mind before you make any commitments.
Add-on/Additional Domains: Many hosts will let you host multiple domain names on the same account. This is always a good feature if you ever see yourself having multiple websites (a personal blog, maybe? or a second business website?) Being able to host multiple sites on one hosting account will save you money, as you won’t have to pay anything more than the domain registration to host another website.
Hosting is Always Limited.
There is no such thing as unlimited space. Be wary of hosts offering this. Also be very wary of hosting reviews sites. Every host will have a few unhappy customers, and chances are those are the people who will be the most vocal. Many reviews sites are also padded with paid/biased reviews, so that glowing review might actually be from an employee of the hosting company, for example. Unless you want to make your head spin, I’d avoid hosting reviews sites altogether.
Registering Your Domain Name
The big question here is should you register your domain with your host or someone else? Without hesitation I will tell you never to register your domain name and host your website at the same place. The reason for this is you want a quick escape route. If (god forbid) your host fails big time, your site is down, and you need to get out quick to avoid losing valuable business, you can. Changing hosts is as easy as moving data from one server to the other, and then ‘pointing’ your domain name to the new host. This ‘pointing’ of the domain, also known as changing your nameservers, is done through the domain registrar. If your registrar is a different company than the host that dropped the ball, it’s no problem. Your site will be back up within a matter of hours. However, if you had your domain registered with the same shoddy hosting company that crashed your site, you’d need to transfer the domain elsewhere as well, a process that can take 3-5 days or longer. I don’t think I need to tell you why having your site down for a few hours is better than close to a week.
Use a domain registrar (such as GoDaddy, NameCheap.com, or Hover.com). Register it there and keep it there for all eternity. Some registrars also sell other services, and they will try to sell you the kitchen sink in the process, so hold on to your wallet and don’t let them convince you to purchase any of their add-ons… things like private and ‘enhanced’ registration are unnecessary.
This* – Good starter host. Great support and very reasonable prices make ThisWebHost a good choice for your new site. Best for small blogs and low-traffic sites.
Liquid Web – As your blog grows, so will your hosting needs. You may reach a point where shared hosting is no longer suitable. LiquidWeb has great support and affordable managed VPS plans for higher-traffic blogs and websites. Their shared hosting plans are great too for blogs just starting out, leaving you plenty of room to grow.
WiredTree – A great host for blogs who may have outgrown their shared hosting plan. Their managed VPS plans are comparable to LiquidWeb’s in price and services, but we love that they offer a LightSpeed server add-on that makes for a very efficient environment for a wordpress blog.