Before having a website built for you, one of the main decisions you’ll make will be choosing a hosting provider, and to be honest, it can be a bleedin’ minefield.
If you take just one thing away from this article, experience has shown me that when it comes to hosting providers, it’s an instance where you get what you pay for, and very cheap hosting can end up costing you more. Not just financially either.
So What Are My Options?
When it comes to hosting, there are many things to consider, and I’m not going to attempt to cover every facet, though I will certainly give you plenty of information, and certainly enough to allow you to make an informed decision. Let’s start by having a broader look at the possible options.
I thought I’d include what may seem a surprising entry. Such options will not let you host a website, but will give you an email associated with your domain name. So if for whatever reason you decide you don’t need a site, you can still have a custom email address. Less relevant now however, as there’s really no excuse not to have a web presence. Find out why a web presence is so important.
MOST SUITABLE FOR…
- Personal blogs
- Hobby related websites
- Personal blogs
- Freelancer websites
- Small business websites
- Local online magazines
- Local organisations
- Larger business sites
- Sites which deliver lots of data
- Sites which receive lots of traffic
Yes, such a thing does exist, and it does sound great, but there certain things to consider as free hosting will have many constraints to it. Such constraints may not being able to have a unique domain name. i.e. having to use a subdomain such as yourwebsiteaddress.wordpress.com. This isn’t the only issue though; such setups are highly limited in what they offer, may serve their own adverts on your site, and not let you export your site should the free hosting no longer fulfil your needs.
Also, it doesn’t look professional, though it can be useful to have one setup as a business blog to help drive traffic to your website.
MOST SUITABLE FOR…
Shared hosting is usually an extremely cost-effective way of getting a website hosted. The cost of this type of hosting does vary greatly, depending on the features and reliability that you need.
Shared hosting means that the server on which your site is placed contains many other websites, all stored alongside each other. This means that a site which uses a large amount of bandwidth can have a negative effect on the performance of your site. This is most usually a problem where in order to try and make more money, the hosting provider starts to cram far too many sites on the same server, with an increasing number of sites fighting over very limited resources. However, there are some very good shared-hosting options around, and this is probably where you’ll start, and as the technology becomes cheaper, shared-hosting is often able to contend with a reasonable amount of demand without impairing performance.
MOST SUITABLE FOR…
For most people, this would be complete overkill. Dedicated hosting means that you get a web server that is dedicated to your site only. No fighting for resources here, your website will have complete reign over the resources of your server.
Great for when you need performance and can’t accept anything less than the absolute best, but dedicated hosting is expensive. Also, it means that a greater understanding of technology, or the resources to hire someone who does.
MOST SUITABLE FOR…
But that’s not all. Broadly speaking, dedicated hosting comes in several flavours.
DEDICATED HOSTING- Whereby you hire a dedicated server which belongs to your hosting provider. This is the most common.
CO-LOCATED – This type of hosting is one where you buy your own server and pay a hosting company to house it at their premises, where the location will be more suited to the job. This gives you the ultimate in flexibility, but you’re going to pay a premium for any management or trouble-shooting.
SELF-HOSTED – Similar to Co-Located, but housed at your premises. Again it’s highly flexible, and of course you have immediate physical access, but you’re going to need to have highly skilled staff in-house, or at least to hand. Getting your own server up and running isn’t actually as difficult as you’d expect. But when you start to consider security and debugging, it can turn nightmarish.
Things To Consider And Decisions To Make
WINDOWS OR LINUX SERVER?
Linux – is the short answer. Though in some instances Windows may be more suitable, particularly if you’re having a site built with a proprietary Microsoft piece of software such as ASP (MS’s version of PHP, the server-side scripting language which is used in the development of dynamic websites.) If you’re unsure of which is best, your developer or chosen hosting provider can help you. In most instances, picking Linux will be the best option.
SIZE OF PIPELINE
This is how the hosting computer is connected to the internet. The greater the pipeline, the faster data can be uploaded / downloaded, therefore the faster your site can deliver its content. Pipelines are typically T1 or T3 at the moment. T3 being the faster of the two.
CLIENTS PER MACHINE
This ties in nicely with my comment about the pitfalls of very cheap hosting where some companies spread their resources too thinly. Try to find out if the provider has their own guidelines in place regarding limiting the number of clients per machine.
Cheaper providers may not include the use of an email associated with your domain, while other companies will let you create as many as you need. Check that email addresses are included in the price.
How much space you have available on the server dictates how much data you can store on there, and so suggests what the upper size limit of your site will be. Some providers offer very small packages while some will offer unlimited space. Consider the type of material you’ll be making available on your site, and that you’ll have room to grow.
DEPENDENCE / TIE-INS
If your provider isn’t working out for you, can you leave (and migrate your site) easily? Many offer a trial period, but it’s not unknown to get ‘Money-back anytime’ guarantees. Of course, by committing to longer periods, you can usually get discounts.
These are required for dynamic sites as the database is where all your content etc. is stored. Enquire as to how many databases are included in your plan, and that at least one is included in your plan. Some companies will consider these as premium add-ons.
RELIABILITY / SPEED OF ACCESS
This is very important. The servers need to be reliable (that is not crashing frequently) and need to be capable of delivering a good speed. Of course this also depends on the type of content your serving, but if a simple site is taking more than a couple of seconds to load then there may be issues.
The bandwidth refers to the amount of data that is made by the requests to your server. Both data to and from the server. The higher your traffic (the more visitors to your site) the more this is going to be. For simple sites, a couple of Gigabytes should be enough, but check the limits and also what the penalties are for exceeding it.
MULTIPLE DOMAINS AND SUBDOMAINS
Domains are unique address that lead to websites, while subdomains are just what they sound like, sub domains of the main one. (E.g. blog.domain.co.uk) Typically, subdomains are free to add, whereas new domains will need to be paid for. However, if you’re looking to host multiple sites, check that your account will allow multiple domains to be hosted as part of the same package.
CONTROL PANEL / CPANEL
This is the area which gives you control over the management of your hosting and related services. Some providers use their own control panel, but many use cPanel, an excellent web hosting control panel. Ask your provider about what they use.
This is a major issue for many people, and I’ve run into providers with very good support, and some with absolutely dire support. Unfortunately, there seems to be more bad support out there than good. Can you reach your provider by phone? How long do they take to respond to emails? If your site has gone down, you don’t want to be spending days trying to get hold of someone.
Do Your Research
Once you’ve got a short-list of some providers who offer all that you need, start to search for some reviews online. Just head over to Google and search (Hosting Company) reviews. This will help you weed out any providers which seem to have good deals, but suffer from extremely poor service. Don’t go on price alone.