In our series of posts for beginners on getting your business online, we last outlined the process of getting your domain name, but while doing that, you’ll notice that you’re also asked to select a hosting package.
Think of hosting like buying a plot of land on the Internet where you can put a house (or, really, website). You can get a limited amount of land cheap, a lot of land for more, and more secure land in a better location for even more. If you’re willing to put up with certain conditions (like advertising on your site), you can even find free land.
If you’re just getting started with a small site, you probably won’t need a robust or expensive package, but here are some things you should consider while making your selection:
1. Storage Space
Some hosts will offer you more storage space than you'll ever need even in their basic packages, while others will start with very limited packages and work their way up. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for how much storage space you'll want to buy, but just remember that webpages themselves don’t really take up any room (they’re like notepad documents in size); it’s your graphics and videos that you have to be thinking about.
If you don’t think you’ll have a lot, there’s no shame in starting small and adjusting your plan as needed. Just remember to give yourself room to expand over time and don't forget about one of the biggest space hogs, email.
Part of the cool thing about getting your own website is having an email address to go along with it that sets you apart from all the @yahoos and @gmails of the world. Once you own your own domain, you can pick something unique like firstname.lastname@example.org. So now is a good time to really think about how you currently use email.
Are you an email hoarder who’s got everything filed away from the great yesteryear of 2004 or do you wonder how anyone on Gmail could ever really use all 10 GB and counting of their allotted space? Knowing this ahead of time will allow you to account for your email box (or boxes if you have anyone else who will need email addresses) in the storage space you’re given. It’s also important because some hosting packages will limit you on how many unique email addresses you can have.
In some cases, hosts will make it easier on you by separating email from your general allotment by giving you X amount of space for email and X amount of space for your website and files, but you’ll still need a good idea of your requirements so you can choose accordingly. In any case, if you underestimate your email needs, you can always upgrade your package later.
Suggested Reading: How to Setup Your Email in Outlook
3. Up Time
It’s hard enough getting people to come to your site, so if someone does and the site is down because your host had a problem, that can be very frustrating.
Every host will tell you how great they are at never going down, but you should do some search-engine research on customer reviews for potential hosts to see if others’ experiences line up with their sales pitches. You’re not really looking for 100% (although 100% is always great), but you want to know that if a host goes down, it’s infrequent and quickly handled. It’s also nice to get compensated for it too, so look for a guarantee that outlines what the host will do if your site goes down.
Bigger companies that will see lots of traffic will want to select a package with a dedicated server (meaning, that while most web hosts put several different customers’ websites on one computer, yours would be hosted from its own machine, which is great because rather than sharing the computer's resources with other companies, your site would have them all to itself) to reduce down time risks and improve site speed, but that can be more expensive and will require some administrative knowledge.
Sharing a server with other businesses may seem like a compromise, but for a smaller company, the general public will never know the difference, you’ll save money and, at least if the computer goes down, your site is not the only one that goes down with it… so you’re not the only one calling them to fix the problem. In fact, if you didn’t even realize your site was down in the first place, a complete stranger whose site was also on your server may have been the guy to call in and get your host to fix the issue.
Still, it’s important to always be aware of your site's availability, so no matter what hosting plan you select, I suggest getting alerts from Site Up Time or Google’s Webmaster Tools that will regularly check your site and email or text message you when there’s a problem.
All the features in the world are great to have, but at the end of the day, you have to work within your budget. Luckily, it’s a very competitive market, so when you figure out the features and package you want, shop around.
When you’re ready to start, here are some reputable hosting sites (but there are many more, so don’t be afraid to search the web for others as you’re deciding): Google/Intuit: Get Your Business Online, Go Daddy, 1and1.com, BrainHost, Rackspace and SmallBusiness.Yahoo.com.
If you feel yourself getting lost in all the technical jargon these sites use, check out EarthLink Blog's glossary of hosting terms you should know for help.