Choosing a web hosting package can be a bit of a headache so here’s a bunch of criteria to consider when making your decision: the location, Windows or Linux, shared or dedicated, free web host, blogging platform, and research.
Many Europeans are tempted to get a web host in the USA where you can get some pretty good deals but as someone who’s had web hosting both abroad and in my own country, I can advise you to go with a web host located in your country. The customer experience you’ll get is much better, especially as their working hours will be daytime for you so you can raise an issue in the morning and have it solved within a few hours, instead of waiting for them to get in the office.
Linux or Windows?
Linux servers are always cheaper so if cost is an issue, go with Linux. Apache (Linux) servers often come with php and MySQL pre-installed, which will give you a pretty powerful set of tools should you develop your website into something bigger requiring the use of a database. The advantage of going with a Linux server is that such add-ons are actually free to install so the hosting company will often provide them as default, or at most charge you a very low set up fee, but you don’t have to worry about software charges. If cost isn’t such an issue, my advice would still be to go with Linux because more than two thirds of servers are actually Linux (so you can find more online support for them) unless you specifically know how to use Windows tools such as ASP and do not want to learn a new language (php).
Shared or dedicated server?
If it’s your first foray into web hosting and you’re not quite sure how to create a website or how to promote it, a cheaper shared server is probably the best option. If however, you have a pretty good idea of what you’re doing, you’ve got a marketing campaign to drive traffic to your website or you have plans for several other websites, a dedicated server acting as an host for your high profile website or acting as a shared hosting hub for all your websites is the solution.
Research your web host
Before signing on with a web hosting company, research them. Type in their name and go through the first couple of pages of results on Google to see what problems people have had with them – and more importantly, how those problems were resolved. The nature of the business is that all servers will go offline from time to time but the way a web host deals with this is of the utmost importance: basics you should be looking for are an online helpdesk with a ticketing system as well as a phone number if things really get wrong.
When possible, get your domain name from your web host. I know, I know, you might save a few dollars by going somewhere else but then you’ll have to figure out how to direct it to the right server, which could be your first hurdle in setting up your website. Unless you know what you’re doing, choose the easy route and get them from the same company. Even if you get them on seperate occasions, a click of the mouse should be enough to direct the domain name to your server, as opposed to tracking down the DNS numbers and so on.
Why not a free host?
Whether to pay for web hosting or not is a choice based on your needs in terms of server. If you’re planning on using any kind of server-side technology, such as URL redirect, php, MySQL, then you’ll need a web host. If however, you’re putting a bunch of pages together for your family to view, a simple html website hosted on the free web space provided by your internet service provider should be enough (that’s what my cousin is doing and it’s working pretty well).
I just want a blog
There are really 2 sides to every website: design and content. If you’re happy to use an off-the-shelf design tool and just want to focus on your content, then you can use the free blogging tools made available by many companies, from MySpace to Blogger. If you want to start off with an off-the-shelf design tool but want to customise it, then it is worth getting your own server and install a content manager software such as Wordpress or Joomla. This way, you can set up your website quickly but you will be able to modify the look as you learn how to tweak the templates and perhaps even make your own. And of course, if you want to design your website from scratch, like I’ve done here, you will want your own server.
Not all web hosts are equal and there is no ‘best’ one. A web host suitable for a big corporate website might be hugely expensive for your blogging website, and vice versa, a web hosting package that might be a good deal for a low traffic website will not be the best deal for your new web 2.0 company. Websites often include in their footers who provide their web hosting so look for websites in your country similar in size and shape to what you want to do and start off your research by checking out the companies that provide their web hosting.