When starting out, it is easy to overlook some of the most important factors when selecting a web host while paying too much attention on great features which you may not need at the start. For example, most new webmasters judge a web host by the amount of disk space they offer. The thinking is generally, the more the better. There are many other factors to take into consideration. Each factor can be weighed up according to the features each specific web hosting company offers. Each company may also offer several different plans. The features from plan to plan may also differ.
Some deals may look good at first but if one feature that is important according to your needs is missing, then that deal may not be so good in your opinion. This does not cast a value judgment on any particular web host. The deal in and of itself may be good for me for example but not for you. So do your research and compare different companies and plans until you weigh up all the factors that are important to *your* needs.
What factors do I weigh up?
Tech Support – I don’t know about you, but I like the feeling of knowing that support is available when I need it. Test different companies before you sign up by sending them an email with a question or two. If they respond quickly, this is a good sign.
Uptime – The more uptime they guarantee, the better. 99% uptime is the minimum acceptable standard. I look for 99% plus guaranteed uptime.
Disk Space – Decide how much disk space you will require. A web page with one logo does not take up much web space at all. Calculate how big your web site is in relation to the disk space alloted.
Bandwidth – This factor is usually overlooked until the bandwidth limit is reached. If you go over your alloted bandwidth, you will get a hefty bill. If you are running a site with lots of downloads, or a site with lots of images such at a photo post site, your bandwidth will be a lot higher than a site with mainly text.
CGI Bin – This is now standard with good hosting companies. If you do not have access to your own CGI Bin, you cannot install scripts and programs.
Perl – If you do not have Perl, you cannot run Perl Programs. Many good scripts that you buy or get for free are written in Perl. In my opinion, it would be a limitation not to have the latest version of Perl installed.
SSL – If you intend to accept credit cards orders directly from your website, you will need Secure Socket Layer included in your plan. This is one of those easily overlooked features. You might sign up for a plan that looks attractive for whatever reason, then down the track, you might discover that you need this feature. If it is not included in your plan, you might be gob-smacked if the extra monthly charge is $10.00. To use this feature you need a merchant account. There is no need to make this a priority if you have no merchant account because you can use a third party credit card processor.
SSI – Server Side Includes are great if you want to spend minimal time updating your site. Here’s how it works. My site contains SSI’s. The left and right nav menus and the little search engine in the left nav menu are “included” with an SSI command in the master page template. If I need to update one of the nav links, there is no need to edit all the pages that contain the menus. I just edit one file which contains the menu HTML and upload it to my site. It’s awsome.
MySQL – What scripts are you going to run? Some programs require a MySQL database to run. I had this problem with a particular web host. They wanted to charge me $10.00 per month for a MySQL database. WOW. I just took out a new plan with another hosting company for under 10 bucks a month and 5 MySQL Databases are included in the price. Say no more.
PHP – Many new scripts and programs require PHP support. Again, this feature can be a $10 extra but most good hosts offer it standard. Imagine if you do not have PHP support but the latest new free Toplist, Blogging script or Shopping Cart requires PHP. Again, this feature is almost standard these days. CubeCart is an example of a free Shopping Cart Script that requires PHP and MySQL: http://www.cubecart.com/site/home/
Domain Name – What’s the point in buying web space if you cannot point your own domain name to the site? Some companies will help you register a domain name but you should compare prices and learn how to register your domain yourself. This way you are in control of your domain name if you ever change hosts.
FTP Access – Unlimited and unrestricted FTP access to your site is essential. You will need an FTP program to transfer files.
Control Panel – Not all control panels are the same. Some are easier to use than others. Some control panels the learning curve is steep while others are easy. If you select a plan where you cannot preview your control panel before you buy, you can always use the 30 day money back guarantee to get out if you are not happy. If they are not offering a working demo of the control panel, maybe they are not proud of it. In my experience, I have always been disappointed with the quality of the control panel when a demo was not available.
Statistics Program – A good stats program is handy if you want to keep an eye on how many visitors you are getting, where they are coming from, referrers, top entry and exit pages and so on. Some companies offer excellent stats programs as standard while others offer basic stats but you have to pay extra for advanced statistics. If you find a good hosting deal but the stats program is a bit basic, why not email the company and ask if they can install AWStats before you sign up. AWStats is an excellent FREE advanced statistics program: http://www.awstats.org