When you’re just testing the waters with your first website as a hobby, you may rely on the recommendations of a few of your friend with sites of their own, or go with your ISP’s free services.
But when you’re looking to share your expertise with others and establish a business and profit-oriented presence on the Internet, you need to push past your worries and current knowledge, and look for a professional web hosting service, one with certain features and services.
You don’t have to worry about the technicalese and terminology, you just have to have what these terms describe. Know what you need, comparison-shop and do the research as part of the search process.
What should you look for?
Reliability and Speed
This is non-negotiable. A good bet would be a service with its own equipment and built-in redundancy in the infrastructure: high-speed connections to multiple Internet backbones, backup power generators and backup systems in place.
Most hosting companies will include their high-speed connections and system set-up as part of their service’s selling points, as well as guarantee 99% or better up-time of your web site. You can compare selling points to see what best fits your website needs.
Be aware that many hosting services are operated by resellers, which is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, especially if the mother company provides solid, knowledgeable support to the resold services.
Also, take note that business longevity is a good indicator of reliability. Try to look for web hosts which have been around for three years or more, especially those who have won awards. If the ones you find offer trial periods, go for it and see how it works for you in real-time.
Operating Systems (OS)
If you use a particular software for your website or business that is OS specific, you need to know if the webhost’s OS is compatible. For example, JEM is not supported on Windows-based web hosting accounts. It requires Unix, Linux, or Apple-based web hosting.
Does the web host use a regularly updated, standard operating system configuration? If it doesn’t, you may have trouble getting newer scripts to work. On Linux servers, look for Red Hat, Mandrake, Debian, SuSE, Slackware and CentOS. You can visit www.kernel.org to find out what the latest stable version of Linux is. On Windows servers, look for recent Windows OS with all patches kept current. If the web host doesn’t publish this information, email or call them to find out.
Language and Database Support
The web host you want should support the key programming languages and databases that are used by newer scripts, and should keep these updated as well. On Linux you should look for PHP and Perl, at the least. For a database, look for MySQL. You should be allowed at least one database. You should also have your own CGI Bin. On Windows systems, look for MS Access at the least and MS SQL Server for power and speed. If you want to use the Microsoft.NET framework, your hosting will need to support that.
Check their support system. The very minimum support they should offer is email support. Better hosting services provide 24/7 email, a ticket system and live telephone support. Actually try their support and see if they respond quickly enough for your needs and if their support staff is helpful and knowledgeable.
Many inexpensive hosting services do not provide FTP access. You will need FTP access if you plan to upload a lot of material to your website, or if you need to install scripts on it. Also check that you can change permissions on your files via FTP or through SSH.
How many email accounts does the service provide with an account? What kind (foe example, POP email)? Are forwarders and email aliases possible? Look for web -mail access as well. The better the service, the more options they will provide for email.
User Control Panel
Look for a comprehensive user control panel that allows you to manage your hosting account. The better control panels also provide automatic script installers like Fantastico or Elefante. Cpanel, Ensim and HSphere and Plesk are all well-known and well supported. There are many more control panels than these and they are good too, but you should probably check them more thoroughly and take a look at their demo system if they have one.
You should be able to host at least one domain name. The better hosting companies will generally allow you five or more domain names. There should be no restrictions on sub-domains.
Does your hosting service include a statistics program so you can monitor your website traffic? This is vitally important in terms of information-gathering and website statistics analysis. How would you know how many visitors you get, or where they visit the most on your website? Without a reliable way of gathering the numbers, you won’t have anything to work with when it comes to tracking your visitors or measuring how well your site is doing.
The absolute minimum is 50 MB, but with today’s advances in technology, you should be paying very low prices for that little disk space.
And two more tips:
The main difference between the basic and expensive plans of any hosting service is the amount of bandwidth allowed per month. To figure how much bandwidth you need, multiply your visits per day times page views per visit, times average page size, times 30 days.
Example: 100 visits per day, 5 page views per visit, with a page size of 45 kb: 100 X 5 X 45 KB X 30 = 675,000 KB = 675 MB.
If you plan to run a shopping cart or secure payments or data transfers on your website, you need to make sure that the hosting service supports SSL.
Some additional notes:
- Typical prices for professional-level hosting range from under $10 to almost $50 per month for a reasonable amount of disk space and bandwidth on shared hosting. Below that you are asking for trouble because they probably do not make enough money to adequately support their equipment, systems or you.
- Windows servers are usually more expensive than Linux servers because the Windows operating systems are not open source. The hosting company has to pay for using them.
- When you are comparing plans, keep in mind that you are getting a better deal at $25 per month for eight domain names than $10 per month for one.
- When you are looking for hosting don’t be afraid to ask questions. Good hosting services have no problem directing you to helpful information or answering your questions in a way that you can understand.
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