Some brief points about choosing a web host for my students today .
What should you look for when choosing a web host?
Artists and designer have lightly different needs to regular commercial web hosting solutions.
Free web hosting
There are loads of free web hosts which impose advertising on your website. Either banner advertising or popup adverts raise revenue to cover their costs.
Hosting on a free site downgrades your site and your work.
Amount of web space
Does the package you are looking at have enough space for your needs? Can you expand your site? So think of that now.
How big is your site? What space do you need?
Check and see if there are there upgrade packages are available.
File type and size limitations
Also make sure there is no maximum size on the files you upload. I have also seen hosts in the past restrict the file types you can upload to HTML and GIF/JPG files. This is obviously no good if you have used flash, want to load music files and video. Cross them off your list if restrictions like this apply as they are not providing a true hosting service.
Data Transfer Traffic/Bandwidth allotment
Data transfer (sometimes referred to as “traffic” or “bandwidth”) is the amount of bytes transferred from your site to visitors when they browse your site. Look at your bandwidth allotment. 2-3 GB traffic allowance per month is usually adequate for new site just starting out.
Don’t believe web hosts that advertises “unlimited bandwidth” usually the bandwidth allotment is hidden in the fine print and if your site uses a lot of it, you will suddenly receive a bill for having “exceeded” the “unlimited bandwidth”. (Not nice when its not in the budget)
Reliability and speed of access
You need a host that will house your site on reliable servers as a site that is frequently down will lose visitors. Slow access is equally frustrating. It is false economy to make a decision based on price alone. Cheap hosting often comes at the expense of server reliability and performance. Not only should the web host be reliable and fast, it should guarantee its uptime (the time when it is functional). Look for a minimum uptime of 99% or 99.5%.
Look for a host who can provide a regular, daily back up of your data
Good hosts will have back up systems in place to guard against network or power failure. The last thing you want is to lose your data or to have your web-site go down for a long period. Find out if they have more than one connection to the internet, in case one of their connections goes down.
Email, Autoresponders, POP3, Mail Forwarding
Email addresses at your own domain, like firstname.lastname@example.org, is something most people want. Does the host provide this? Can you set an email address to automatically reply to the sender with a preset message should you be away (called an autoresponder)? Can it be automatically forwarded to your current email address? Can you access it via a web browser if need be?
A Control Panel
A control panel will allow you to manage different aspects of your web account yourself such as setting up an autoresponder. Smaller hosting firms often require that you contact their support staff to this type of task. A control panel allows you to do it yourself as the need arises.
Does its technical support function 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (often abbreviated 24/7), all year around? Just because a host advertises 24/7 support does not necessarily mean is is so. Test them out by emailing at midnight and on Saturday nights, Sunday mornings, in their local time. See how long they take to respond.
FTP, PHP, MySQL Perl CGI-BIN access, SSL, .htaccess
Some hosts do not allow you to install PHP or CGI scripts without their approval. Since this means you have to wait around for them to do it this is not good service.
PHP and MySQL: WordPress which is run by using PHP and MySQL.
“.htaccess” is needed if you are to customise your error pages or to protect your site against bandwidth theft and hotlinking, etc
You will need FTP access if the hosting providers only allow you to design your page with their online builder rule them out.
SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption: You will definitely need SSL if you plan to have a shopping cart
Subdomains and virtual hosting
This is for those who are thinking of selling web space or having multiple domains or subdomains hosted on one account. This could be an advantage to a group of artists who want a common site with individual sites and domains for each artist like a virtual artists co-operative. Look to see if the host can provide this, and how much extra that they charge as you never know what direction your creative life may take you in.
Initially you will be looking for a shared server not a dedicated hosting service.
Usually you can register your domain name with your webhost. You can always move it afterwards if you shift web hosts. Choosing a domain name is tricky too. Domain name tools is a round up of tutorials and tools on the subject
Look at the Monthly/Quarterly/Annual Payment Plans. My advice is that to begin with pay monthly until you are sure of their reliability. When you have found a host that you are happy with take advantage of the discounted annual plans.
Set up costs
There are plenty of good hosting companies that have no set up costs. Don’t be taken in by those that do.
Money Back Guarantee
Many providers offer a 30-Day money back guarantee so that you can try their service risk free. Look for this option so you don’t get stuck with a service that doesn’t suit your needs.
Do Some Research
Check out reviews of various sites like the CNET Most popular hosts
The Web Hosting Show has done a piece on Secret Taboo Topics in the Web Hosting
Blogflux has published a good Webhosting FAQ
Vistainter.com publishes a huge number of hosting company reviews