Guidelines for Choosing a Web Hosting Service
You now have your web site built and are now confused as to all the
choices you have in order to find a home for your site - a "host"
to store the computer files that contain all the information on your sit,
and keep that information connected to the Internet. It will live on a
computer called a server. A server is typically a personal computer or
a larger computer with a fast processor and a good size hard drive. The
server is specifically configured to contain your Web site and deliver
pages to visitors' browsers when called upon.
Companies specializing in web hosting abound, and enable even the smallest
business to gain an online presence quickly and inexpensively.
It is good to make a right choice the first time, because if you have
to move to another hosting service, it will cost you time and you may
lose some of your valued customers due to the downtime setting up with
another hosting company. You may also have to pay set up and hosting fees
for a new account.
ISP (Internet Service Provider)
An ISP provides connections to the Internet via dial up accounts or
high speed dedicated lines such as a DSL line (Digital Subscriber Line).
Some ISPs will host your Web site as well. Other companies do not provide
Internet access but will host your site. Do not confuse the two. You do
not have to have your ISP host your site.
Here are some basic guidelines to consider when choosing a Web Hosting
Speed and reliability of the servers and hardware
- Make sure they have a high-speed connection (preferably
T3 or higher) to the Internet.
- Effective Bandwidth Management - opt for unlimited bandwidth
for your site.
- Backup Systems - Do they store back-up copies of your site
files on other machines that are ready to kick in the minute your
main server fails - if it ever does.
Space and flexibility for room for growth
How much space do you expect to eventually want for your web site?
Planing ahead can save you lots of money later. If you expect to grow,
look for a place that offers sites of 100 MB or more. Some services
offer 500 MB sites for less money than others that offer only 30 MB.
In the future you may need a database solution then your host must
be able to accommodate the changes.
Make sure they offer 24x7x365 support-24 hours/day, seven days a
week and 365 days per year with real people on the phone to help you
without cost. You can test them by emailing them a question or phoning
them and see how long their response takes and how helpful it is.
You might also want to ask for:
- Any BIG current customers that are hosting with that service.
- Opinions of existing customers - ask for any testimonies of existing
customers to get feedback from them concerning reliability and support.
- Stability - you do not want your hosting service to go out of
business (like what happened to many of the free hosts) and leave
you stranded. Check how many years they have been in business.
Some of the basic features of a hosting service should include:
Domain name registration.
Space - at least 20MB of allocated space - for your site
Unlimited bandwidth - to upload files, traffic to your
Free Technical Support.
POP3 E-Mail Accounts - they should offer at least 3 email
POP accounts so you can start to create departmental email like
Email Auto-responders - these are programs that will automatically
answer certain inquiries and email from your customers. Ask the
hosting company if they support them and will provide them to
you. Sometimes they will charge you for them.
Email Aliases - allows you to create a number of different
email addresses that will deliver mail to the same root email
FTP Access (File Transfer Protocol) - This is the protocol
used on the Internet for sending files. You must be able to manage
and modify your site with no limit to the number of site updates
or to the times of access via FTP transfer.
FrontPage Support - if your site is created by FrontPage,
look for hosting companies that offer FrontPage extensions so
you can edit the site online using the program.
Own CGI-Bin Access (Common Gateway Interface) - This is
a method by which servers receive, process and transmit data.
The result is sent to the user's browser. CGI is cross-platform,
cross-browser compatible which means it is accepted just about
everywhere on the Internet. The CGI program resides on your Web
host's server and there is virtually no limit to the functions
that can be in a CGI program. A common use of CGI is to take the
data that your visitor has entered into a form, process it, and
then send it to you. An example of this is a newsletter request.
The host must allow you to run your own custom CGI scripts.
Server Side Includes (SSI) - can be used to dynamically
insert information such as local time, date or file information.
Database support - such as access, MySQL, Oracle (depending
on the type of databases you want on your site).
Web Statistics - in order to monitor the traffic to your
Secure Server - You should process online credit card
transactions through a secure server so the credit card numbers
are encrypted. Request SSL. SSL is a Netscape invention and is
a secure technology protecting the use of credit cards online.
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a protocol for managing the security
of a message transmission on the Internet using a program layer
between HTTP and TCP layers.
Shopping Cart Software - To enable eCommerce on your site
you will need some type of method for processing orders online.
Most large hosting companies offer a basic solution for this.
Order processing - Do they provide you with free access to a secure
server for order processing?
Online Web Site Manager - This will help to make changes
to your site, maintain your site, account information and emails.
Search engine submissions.
Types of Hosting Services
Free sites are for people whose sites are small and do not expect
- It's free. Often the free Web hosting is bundled together with
your basic monthly fee from your ISP.
- For small non business sites
- You have to design the site yourself
- No usage of domain names
- Little or no flexibility when it comes to using software you to
collect orders and payments, and to gather information about your
- No guarantees about the quality of hosting service
- No or Limited technical support when you run into problems
- Unreliability of servers, software
- Limited web space, technical support
- Host may shut down due without notice
For online businesses, free services like this are worth exactly
what you pay for them. NEVER host an ecommerce web site with a free
hosting service. These services are highly unreliable and could care
less if your site goes down. Their main concern is with their advertisers.
As long as their ads are up and running, for the most part, they could
care less about you or your site.
In addition, sites hosted with free services look very unprofessional.
If you've taken the time to get your own web site designed and your
own domain name, why would you risk your success and host with a free
service? It's just not worth it.
Virtual Hosting: (also known as domain or shared hosting)
This is the most popular and cost effective form of hosting.
- Low cost
- Great for the average business sites
- Good technical support
- Multiple sites on server
- Sometimes slow updates
Limited security and control due to the large number of sites on
- Use your own domain name (www.yoursite.com)
What can you expect to pay?
Depending on what you want your site to look like, expect to pay
($5 - $50/month) for a small web hosting package of 20-50MB of allocated
space for your site. This will be enough for up to 100 pages with
a few graphics on each page. That's money well spent!
- Look for hidden costs when comparing price.
- Do they expect you to pay for a long term in advance to get a
good price? Choose one that doesn't bait you with a low price that's
only available if you make a long-term commitment.
- Will they handle the registration of your domain for free?
- If you're transferring an existing domain, will they submit the
domain change to InterNIC for free?
When selecting a web host, you must look at the entire picture prior
to making your decision. You may find a host that charges $5.00 - $15.00
a month to host your site, however, their technical support may be poor,
or your web site may be slow or down a lot.
If you follow these basic guidelines, you will have a reliable, efficient
and satisfying hosting service that will contribute to the success of
your business for many years to come. Choosing an excellent service to
host your web site doesn't have to require luck. Knowing what to look
for makes selection simple.
If you would like any help choosing a web hosting company, or would like
a recommendation on one, please contact Sue