How to find the best web hosting?

Every beginning webmaster faces a rather difficult decision – which webhosting company can be trusted? What should be factored into the decision? Should the main concern be the price, it’s capabilities or the extras that are offered?

Right now, most hosting companies are very similar. Depending on what your choices are, they have several different standard accounts with prices ranging from 1 to 20 per month. This price range will allow you to choose different amounts of data transfer, the number of databases you use, etc.

The basic questions one should ask?

What do I need this hosting for? Do I need it for a low maintenance WordPress blog or something much bigger? Do I plan on my site growing with time? Is saving a few quid each month worth the potential trouble in the future?

I will use my domain as an example. Null-zero.com hosts two WordPress blogs, one of which serves as a photography website filled with data. I have been using this domain for the last six years as a personal internet storage space for all of my content.

 cPanel, Web Hosting

Let’s examine this to see what we should pay attention to when choosing our Internet Service Provider (ISP):

Disk Space

Of course, the more that you have, the better; However, if all you want is a simple WordPress site, 5GB is more than adequate for your intention. Null-zero.com has a disk space totaling over 600MB. I would not recommend investing in anything with less than a 1GB capacity. For sites serving a large number of files, the best option would be having an unlimited amount.

Monthly Bandwidth

As I’ve referenced above – the more you have, the better. It is worth it to remember that a lot of companies offer unlimited bandwith at a great price. My domain example uses 2GB to transfer per month. 5GB would be the minimum for a small site. Portals which serve files should have always have an unlimited option

Add-on Domains, Parked Domains and Sub-Domains

In other words, how many domains will you be able to connect to your hosting account? Some people just need one domain, others five or more – it’s entirely dependent on what your needs are. In general, a lot of companies offer an unlimited amount of add-on domains and sub-domains.

Databases

Again – the more, the better. I think that a single database should be used to serve a single website. Of course, there are no obstacles with putting a few services on a single database, but it can be a bit messy. Messes in databases are not a very good thing. Many providers offer an unlimited number of databases. In the case of Null-zero.com, it has a limit of three databases, which are all used.

Programming Languages

The absolute minimum is either a PHP4 or a PHP5. Sometimes you may even need a Perl or Python. If you plan on doing something which uses RoR, then of course you would use Ruby and Rails. The general rule with this is again – the more, the better. If you choose to change your mind later, it can be almost impossible to have another language added.

FTP Access and FTP Users

Hosting must allow access to accounts via FTP protocol. In my opinion, you should be allowed to set up at least five different user accounts with different privelages. This is a great option if in the future you are in a situation where you will want to set up a temporary FTP account for a friend to exchange large amounts of files, etc. The maximum amount for my domain, Null-zero.com, is one hundred.

Email accounts

It is my belief that this option isn’t of stressing importance. For example, I’ve had my site for several years and have never needed to use the e-mail account feature. Even if I choose to do so, I would end up forwarding all of my e-mail into my main Google account. The typical problem with using this e-mail set-up is that they are more prone to spam, which is frustrating to work around. The access interfaces are also not very convenient. Whether or not this is an important feature for you, it is still important to check with your ISP, especially if they do not offer e-mail forwarding.

Control Panel

Most providers use cPanel to manage their hosting options (Feel free to test this here – http://cpanel.net/products/cpanelwhm/try-demo.html and choose the Domain Owner Panel). You can encounter their own solutions as well. I prefer to use Cpanel, which is the world standard as of yet. Keep in mind that it’s only a matter of taste. If your provider has it’s own control panel, you should pay attention to whether or not it offers a support system for databases through the phpMyAdmin section.

Support

This is a very important factor – it needs to be available 24/7, seven days a week. Companies typically provide support in three different versions, most often they are combined.

  • Live support – This means that you can chat with a technical support employee on the ISP web page allowing you to have solutions in a matter of minutes. This is the best option for someone who has some technical knowledge, as beginners may feel a bit intimidated with the use of technical jargon you’ll see used by tech guys in conversation.
  • Support tickets – The main disadvantage of this option is that the response time can take up to 24 hours when you typically would like a solution as fast as possible.
  • Toll-free numbers – In my opinion, this would be the worst option. Some problems that might occur simply cannot be solved or explained over the phone. Keep in mind that I have worked as an IT support employee. There can also potentially be a language barrier, especially if English isn’t your native language, vise versa.

If you are a beginner, find out whether or not they have a good knowledge base with tutorials and how-to videos – contacting technical support can be annoying every time you have a problem.

Web Builders, Templates, Pre-Configured Scripts

These are three things that I do not personally care for. I don’t use them. My domain use requires a need for PHP, Database and FTP.

Access via SSH (Secure SHell)

This is a very nice option to play with, although unnecessary when creating a website. If you have this option, I would recommend hosting with SSH.

Backups

It’s important to check with your ISP provider to see if this feature is part of your service agreement. It should be, but often it isn’t, especially if you are using Web Hosting. If backups are not a service, you should be doing them yourself. It’s also smart to keep your own copy of your website, just in case.

Additional Extras

Many companies will offer certain pre-paid advertisement packages through ads on Facebook, Google or Bing. These package deals will last for only a few days if configured properly, so use them wise. I would not advise advertising an unfinished website or even a site without much content.

Contract Time

Most providers require at least an annual contract, but I prefer a longer contract for two reasons:

  • A longer contract allows a cheaper price monthly. If you are trying to set up a blog, this would mean that it is a long-term commitments – my estimating being at least two years.
  • The time inbetween renewals is convenient – I do not like to spend time renewing contracts when I could be doing something else. A year passes too quickly and if you do forget to pay your bill, you could lose the domain.

This long-term approach also has drawbacks – if something isn’t as it should be, you’ll have to bite the bullet and survive through it until the end of your contract. Another option would be hosting somewhere new and moving your entire site.

Server Uptime

This sounds like an important thing, but I think mentioning it is almost pointless. Companies generally brag about their uptime, but theoretically this would mean that every day a server can be down for over fourteen minutes. I don’t think taking these statistics is necessary. They are only numbers.

 

Let’s say you’ve found the perfect provider with a great offer – WAIT! Do not jump so fast, I would suggest reading their reviews through Google first. A sample query would be “XXX hosting review” or “XXX hosting problems”. I would even suggest using words like scam or sucks in your query. Unleash your imagination – I bet you will find a lot of negative feedback. It’s worth it to read through experiences with a company if you are making a long-term commitment. I am almost sure that after your contract expires, you won’t want to move all of your databases to a new company unless there are serious problems with your ISP. With that said, it’s a great idea to check rates when renewing your contract as well. It’s happened to me once – after one great “promotional” year, my ISP increased in rates at an obscene level. It ended up being much higher than the market average.

Now it is time for some final considerations. As you can expect, webmasters fall into one of these categories below:

Beginner

This is typically somebody that would like to own a blog or someone that has heard one can make a lot of money blogging. They usually cannot wait to get started, letting everyone know about their personal life and what has happened with their cat recently. They expect a lot of traffic on their website so they choose the most expensive bundle. STOP! Not so fast! Give yourself some time, try blogging for awhile on a free server like WordPress. Free hosting sites do have their limitations, but they don’t typically cost anything which is great for beginners because there is a possibility that blogging won’t be your thing. Or, worst case scenario, nobody is interested in what you have to say. Why waste your money?

If you are 100% sure that you need your own piece of internet, think about configurations like the one listed below as a starter:

  • Three domains
  • 5GB disk space
  • 10GB monthly bandwidth
  • 3 MySQL databases
  • 3 FTP accounts
  • 25 email accounts
  • PHP4 + PHP5
  • cPanel

Intermediate

If you’ve had a few blogs, you know what to expect. You’ll have certain expectations and can set up one or more websites:

  • Unlimited Domain
  • 50 GB disk space
  • 100 GB bandwidth
  • 10 databases
  • 25 FTP accounts
  • PHP4 + PHP5
  • 25 or more e-mail accounts
  • cPanel

 Advanced

I don’t think you need any advice 😉

Final Words

That’s all for now. You should be aware of what to look for when choosing your ISP. I hope that you take what I’ve said into consideration and make the right decision making for a great relationship with your host provider. If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will gladly answer.
Regards

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