Selecting a web hosting provider is one of the most important tasks you will need to complete for your website or online business. This article will go over some of the main things to look at when choosing a provider. If you want a refresher on the common web hosting terms and definitions, you may find this post helpful. Finding the proverbial “top ten web hosting providers” is less important than taking your time to compare web hosts and see what each company has to offer. There is no one best hosting company, and the best web hosts are the ones that meet your specific needs and goals. Let’s get on with the checklist.
1. Select an application if needed, and examine the web hosting requirements (platform, database, disk space, etc). If you are running a static site you can skip this step. For example, if you are running Wordpress or Joomla, you will need MySql/PHP hosting. If are running a .NET application such as DotNetNuke, you will need .NET web hosting (Windows) hosting. Note that you may also need sql server hosting to go with your .NET hosting if you plan to use databases (which most web applications do).
2. Select a Linux or Windows platform. Usually this decision is based on the choice you made in step #1. If you aren’t using a specific application, then Linux hosting is the best hosting platform to start with as it has a large amount of features, is highly available, and relatively inexpensive. If you’d like to learn more about Linux vs. Windows hosting, this article can help.
3. Decide if you need shared hosting, Virtual Private Server hosting, or Dedicated hosting. Most people can easily start out with shared hosting an expand as their site and resource requirements expand. For more information about the differences among these types of hosting options, you can read this post.
4. Start looking for providers and examine and compare web hosting plans. Make a spreadsheet so you can compare web hosting providers. Once again, the requirements of your web application will help you sort out among the many web hosting plans that are out there. Take a look at what each plan is offering and at what price. Look at other options that may apply to you. Most hosting providers will provide more than enough bandwidth, storage space and email accounts for an entry-level site. You must do some planning ahead, however, to think about what your future needs may be. If you plan to one day add a shopping cart and have an eCommerce portion of your website, you may want to find a provider that allows SSL certificates and dedicated IPs (required for an SSL certificate).
I will often make a spreadsheet that lists the providers, as well as the offered resources with the plan prices and extra options. Note that most companies will offer more than one plan (e.g. bronze, silver, gold) so you may need to include more than one plan per host in your comparison. Having a spreadsheet will be very helpful in seeing the average price range for the hosting you require, and will also help you eliminate the providers with pricing that seems strangely low, and strangely high.
5. Test out the Web Hosting Control Panel and the webmail client. Most companies use a standard panel such as cPanel or Plesk, while other companies use their own custom control panels. Every reputable company offers a demo of their control panel, so spend some time playing with the demo before you sign-up so you can see if you like the look and feel of the interface. Also, even though you will probably be using a POP3 (or IMAP cilent) like Outlook or Thunderbird for your email, you may want to use Webmail (Hotmail and Gmail are examples of webmail-type interfaces) every so often, so it is important to also look at the Webmail interface to make sure you like it.
6. Read website hosting reviews, and take web hosting rankings with a grain of salt. Hosting reviews by individual people — actual users — are the most reliable way to find out about a provider. You will surely find a large array of comments about every host, and remember to try to see the “big picture”. If you are going to look at web hosting rankings, take the time to see who is doing the rankings, as rankings can sometimes be biased.
7. Test out their tech support and pre-sales support. Send out a request to the company asking a pre-sales question. If they don’t respond to you quickly for a pre-sales request, or you have a communication problem when trying to ask a pre-sales question, this doesn’t bode well for when you are a client and may have a problem that you need to be quickly resolved. You may even want to ask a general pre-sales type technical question to get an idea about the knowledge-level of the web hosting company’s staff, and about how long it takes your question to be answered.
8. Examine their contact information and refund policy, as well as the fine-print about overage and other charges. Make sure that they have a 14-day or 30-day return policy or trial period, and make sure the link “to cancel” is a functioning link. Also make sure that you can actually contact someone at the company easily (see #5).
Many web hosting companies will ofter you free domain registration, or a discounted purchase price for a domain. Buried in the fine print, however, is often a clause that states that if you discontinue your hosting, that you lose the rights to your domain, or that you will be charged an exorbitant price to “get your domain back”. Thus, even if you want to change your hosting provider, you are pretty much stuck because the domain is “stuck” to the hosting provider.
I ALWAYS recommend that you have different companies for registering your domain names and for providing your web hosting. So company #1 will be your domain registrar, and company #2 will be your web host.
10. Consider purchasing a test domain or two that you can use to try out web hosts. Usually there is a reason you are looking for web hosting — either your requirements have changed, you are looking for first time hosting, or your current provider isn’t meeting your needs or expectations. If you have some test domain names that you own, you can use these domains to test out a new web host BEFORE you move over one of your more important or critical domains. You don’t want to be in a position where you want to leave a web host, but you can’t because people depend on your website and expect to see content when they get there — especially on a new site. Consider paying with PayPal to give your credit-card information a little more security and to give you a little more purchase protection (though PayPal and purchase protection are debatable, and this subject is a topic for another day).
11. Stick with a Monthly plan until you’ve really had a good test run with the provider. I will usually go with a web hosting company for around 6 months before I will commit to a yearly plan. Because a monthly plan gives me the flexibility of quitting at any time (generally), I want the freedom to leave a web host if there services don’t meet my needs, or if their uptime or performance is poor.
Ok, so it was 11 Tips and not 10. But if you follow the steps on this list, you will hopefully wind up with a great web hosting provider. Remember that you may have to go through a bit of trial-and-error before you find the right host for you. I’m sure if you ask around, you will find that most people have a long list of hosting providers in their web-hosting past. So go ahead and research your needs and spend some time comparing providers. When you find the right provider, your effort will be rewarded.
To learn about Virtual Private Servers (VPS), visit our other site, VPSNovice.com