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How to Pick a Good and Reliable Web Host

Aug 25, 2007
You don't need a Web host to develop and design a site. You can do it all from your personal computer. However, if you want to publish your site for the world to see, you need some Web server space. Fortunately, server space is abundant and inexpensive. This topic helps you sort through your options.

A Web host owns (or rents) the computer that serves the files of your Web site to your visitors, usually in exchange for a monthly fee. You don't have to cancel your current Internet account to hire a Web host. In fact, many Web hosts don't offer Internet service provider (ISP) service.

Those that do need to be local, or it isn't worth it for you. The great thing about your neighborhood ISP is that it's in your neighborhood, and it gives you a local dial-up number. You don't want to have to dial in to Albuquerque whenever you want to browse the Web (unless, of course, you live in Albuquerque).

There's a good chance you already have a Web host, even if you don't know it. Many standard Internet accounts come with a healthy amount of server space for personal Web pages. So, the first step in choosing a Web host is to contact your ISP. Find out how much server space comes with your account. If the answer is none, you might want to inform your customer service representative that many of their direct competitors offer this benefit to their subscribers for a lot less than you're currently paying.

I want to use my Web site for commercial purposes. Can I host my site on the personal Web space that comes with my Internet service?

Why would you want to? For one thing, your ISP usually assigns you a generic Web address, which doesn't make your business look very professional. For another, you don't need the typical lags in response time that you find on the servers of large ISPs. Plus, commercial sites are probably against your ISP's terms of service, and you don't need the hassle of them closing down your site along with your personal email account and Internet connection.

If you'd prefer not to use your personal server space for your site, just go to your favorite search engine, and look up Web hosting to begin your research. Don't be surprised if your results number in the millions.

There are many, many, many Web hosts out there. You can't possibly research them all. You need to narrow your optionsand fast. A good way to start is with the names that you recognize: Yahoo!, Earthlink, Netfirms, perhaps also your phone or cable company. If they don't have what you need or want, work your way down the list.

Every Web site is different, of course, and only you can make the choice about the right Web host for your particular site. That said, in general, here are a few qualities of good Web hosts:

1) Reasonable monthly charge. Shop around, and see what the competitors are offering. Expect to pay between $10 and $25 a month for a typical personal or small business site. Pay less, and your Web host probably makes up the difference by giving you terrible customer support or tacking advertisements onto your site. Pay more, and you're probably buying services and features that you don't need.

2) Domain name registration (preferably free). Many of the better Web hosts offer to register your Web site's domain name for you. Some even front you the yearly $35 registration service charge. Keep an eye out for these hosts. They're worth it, even if they tack on a setup charge (as long as it's less than $35).

3) Reasonable (or no) setup charge. Some Web hosts tack on a special, one-time service charge to set up your account. Others do not. Many perfectly reputable and reliable Web hosts charge setup fees. Many do not. Those that don't charge setup fees often make up their money elsewhere, so read the fine print. If you go for a fee-charging service, don't pay more than $35, or you're probably being soaked. And if you can catch a fee-charging Web host during one of its "fee waived" promotional periods, do it.

4) Upgrade plans. Your site is successful. It grows. You want your Web host to grow with you. Ideally, your host should offer several levels of service at reasonable price points. Start with the cheapest plan and work your way up.

5) Reliable customer service (preferably by phone). You need customer service. Period. And don't fall for the usual 24/7 customer-service sales pitch. Any fool with an email account can advertise 24/7 customer service. But is the fool actually reading the emailah, that's the rub. You want a toll-free phone number for customer support. If you don't have 24/7 access to a live human being by telephone, then you don't have 24/7 customer support. It's far better to go with a Web host who offers toll-free phone support during normal business hours than a host who offers 24/7 support by email.

6) Server space. Exactly how much server space do you need? You can figure this out pretty easily. Find out the combined file size of your Web site by examining the properties of its local root folder. If your site is 5 MB, then you need at least 5 MB of server space. Generally, you don't need huge amounts of server space, unless your site includes lots of heavy multimedia files, such as MP3s.

7) Bandwidth limits. Your Web host measures bandwidth, or the amount of data its computers push to the visitors of your site over a period of time. Typically, you get a monthly limit, and, if you exceed your cap, your host charges you extra. A good data-transfer baseline for a typical personal or small-business Web site is 1 GB. Roughly speaking, one gigabyte of data transfer equals 20,000 page viewsthat's one person viewing one page of your site 20,000 times, or 5,000 people viewing one page of your site four times, or 20,000 people viewing one page of your site one time. It's hard to know exactly how much bandwidth you need, so start low. If you exceed your limit regularly, consider upgrading your plan. Keep in mind: If you offer a total of 1 GB of MP3s on your site, you can exceed 1 GB of bandwidth very quickly.

8) POP3 email accounts. You may or may not want extra email accounts for your site. But if you want them, go for a Web host that provides them. Generally, you want POP3 email instead of Web-based email. POP3 email works with client software such as Microsoft Outlook and Eudora, which let you jump on the Internet quickly, download your mail, and answer it offline. Web-based email requires you to be online to write and receive messages. Many Web hosts count the amount of email that you send and receive over their servers as part of your overall transfer limit, so be sure to take this factor into account.

9) Streaming audio/video and other media. If you want to host streaming audio or video files on your site, or even if you want to display Flash animations and other common media types, your Web host needs to be set up to do this. You don't need special service to host Web images such as JPEG, GIF, and PNG.

10) FrontPage extensions. Heaven forbid, but if your Web site uses the stupid special effects that come with Microsoft FrontPage, you should find a Web host that doesn't offer FrontPage extensions. This way, the dumb things won't work, and the quality of your site will improve dramatically.

11) CGI, server-side scripting, and database access. If your site uses server-side technology to connect to a database, you need a Web host who is set up to do this. You don't have to worry about this level of service if your site sticks to the client side: HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. All the projects in this book are client-side only.

12) Site reports. You want a host that gives you access to the data that the Web server collects about the visitors to your site. You want to see where they're from, what browsers they're using, what pages they visit most often, and which sections of the site they seem to be missing. You don't want this information for evil purposes. You want it to help you improve your site. Definitely check into what kind of site reporting tools the host offers.

One feature that you definitely don't need is a shopping cart application, "free" or otherwise. Shopping carts that come with Web hosting plans are generic, overpriced, feature-poor, difficult to customize, and next to impossible to integrate into your site.

If you're serious about launching a Web-based retail storefront, you need to hire a programming team to develop a shopping cart application for you.
About the Author
Adrien Brody (http://crivz.com/host/) is a webmaster which specializes in providing website hosting solutions for businesses. If you're looking for web hosting with best support in the industry at the best possible price, take a look at http://crivz.com/host/
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