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Choosing A Web Host

Web Hosting Information: Choosing A Web HostFinding a webhost can be an exhausting task. There are literally thousands of web hosts throughout the world. It is simply not realistic to expect that you will look at all of them. And really, you don’t have to. Chances are you will be able to find a web host after looking at some of the more popular players in the industry. All you need is the information on what to look for in a host so you can make the right decision as to which host and hosting plan is the best for what you will be doing.

The first thing to consider before you set out to choose a web host is what type of website or websites you will create. What are your needs and goals for the website(s) you are working on? Different types of websites require different features in a hosting plan. If you need specific things to look for in a web host based on the type of website you will have, check out the related pages in our Web Hosting Feature Matrix. If you are new to hosting, we recommend you finish this tutorial before visiting the features pages.

Of course, the type of website you will run is not the only factor in determining which type of web host you’ll want to use. There are other specifics that should be considered.

Monthly Bandwidth

Monthly BandwidthMonthly bandwidth means the amount of data transfer to and from your website within a given month. Every time a visitor looks at one of your web pages, bandwidth is used. For example, let’s say you have a 10 GB bandwidth limit and a one page website where the page is 200 KB. Your page can be viewed 50,000 times before you reach your bandwidth limit. Obviously, most websites have more than one page with varying page sizes, videos, downloads and scripts.

The correct bandwidth allotment is essential to a successful website because it determines how many visitors, or hits, your website can support. If you have a collection of 5 MB videos, every time someone views one of them, you will have used 5 MB of your bandwidth allowance. The same is true when someone downloads a file from your site. Scripts like contact forms, message boards, blogs and shopping carts also use bandwidth. Some web hosting providers charge fees if you exceed your allotted bandwidth. Others simply shut down your site until the next month unless you upgrade to a larger account. Be sure to look at this feature first when choosing a web host.

Many hosting companies offer unlimited bandwidth as part of their shared hosting plans. This is a great place to start out because it gives you room to test your site and expand. Even though the bandwidth is advertised as unlimited, other limits are placed on server usage. This has the effect of limiting bandwidth to manageable levels for a shared server without setting a cap on the bandwidth directly. Therefore, your website can eventually outgrow shared hosting.

Different hosts have different methods of limiting server use so its resources are evenly divided between all of the hosting accounts on that server. However, shared hosting accounts still give you the basic flexibility you need to begin on the web. This allows your traffic (number of page views) to increase and decrease naturally as your website grows and helps you avoid sporadic shutdowns during high-traffic periods.

Storage Capacity

Hosting StorageStorage capacity is the amount of hard drive space on the host computer (the server) allotted to you in your hosting plan. This is where your web pages, media files, scripts and other content reside. To determine how much space you require, you need to decide what types of web pages will be on your site and how many (roughly) there will be.

Pages that are mainly text and have a moderate amount of style graphics (header, menu, buttons, logo, etc. but not high resolution photos) are around 20 – 30 KB in size. Pages with a lot of photos or an abundance of style graphics can range from 50 – 250 KB or more. Videos can range from 1 MB to 50 MB depending on their length, quality and format. Downloads also count toward storage. If you have a collection of files that you will offer or sell to your visitors, you must have a hosting plan with enough storage to accommodate them. The same is true if you will be running applications on your website like blogs, forums, shopping carts, content management systems or image galleries.

An average website usually requires around 10 MB of storage. This is generally enough to support the basic format of a site online. However, since photos, audio, video, downloads and interactive features or scripts tend to take up more space, you need to consider that when deciding how much storage space you will need. Don’t forget to also take into account your future growth so you have some breathing room.

When looking for disk space, try to get as much as possible for your money. Even if you think your site won’t use even close to that, it’s good to have it as a backup. This way, you can expand your website in the future without worrying about running out of space. Like bandwidth, many shared hosting plans claim to provide unlimited storage. While nothing is truly unlimited, the unlimited plans are a good place to start because they allow you to grow. Also, unlimited hosts count on the fact that most websites will use 10 MB of space or less, with a handful of accounts that need more storage space.

Web Site Control

website controlAs a Webmaster, it’s very important to be able to have as much control as possible over the operation of your site. Regardless of the web hosting company you choose, the ability to manipulate your site and make changes or adaptations when needed is essential. cPanel is an excellent choice when it comes to web hosting control panels, and it is also the most common control panel. cPanel is found on Linux (CentOS, RedHat, Fedora, etc.) and FreeBSD hosting platforms. Since Linux hosting is the most common platform, a cPanel host is easy to find.

cPanel allows you to log into your hosting account and make changes quickly and easily. It gives you control over your web email accounts, autoresponders and SPAM filters. This is also where you can add domains and subdomains, domain forwarding or parking and view your site statistics. The cPanel interface also provides the functionality to back up your site, enable hotlink protection, create password protected directories, install scripts like blogs and shopping carts, manage your MySQL databases, upload and manage your website files and control many other more advanced hosting features.

If you will be using a Windows-based hosting account, cPanel will not be offered. One of the more common control panels on a Windows hosting account is called Plesk. It provides similar functions as cPanel, but with a different interface.

Server Speed

Server SpeedSpeed is another very important issue when it comes to web hosting services. You want your visitors to be able to see the website almost immediately. A good server will provide this without any problems. Lost time is lost business, so speed is a key ingredient a good webhost must provide. Speed is not a characteristic that will be advertised by any webhost. They will claim your pages will load fast, but in reality, this is very hard to predict. Every site is different and there are a large number of factors that affect the speed at which a website loads.

The most common way to determine how fast a website will load is to read reviews. It is helpful to see what professional reviewers and users have to say about their actual experience with a particular webhost. While reading user reviews, however, keep in mind that most people are only motivated to write a review when they have a negative experience with a product. So, a safe rule of thumb for user reviews is to assume that for every negative review, there are 10 or more positive reviews that other customers never got around to writing because they were too busy enjoying their hosting service.

You can also visit websites that are hosted by that webhost to see how they load for you. Some webhosts have a rotating list of featured sites you can visit. Almost all webhosts provide “hosted by xyz” buttons for their customers. You can search for that to find sites hosted by that company. Remember to take the age and speed of your computer into account – larger, more graphic or video-intensive sites will take longer to load on a slow computer. You can also ping a website to get a better idea of how fast it’s moving. When you ping a website, information is sent to the webhost’s server and reflected back. The resulting number is the speed (or how much time it takes) for the data to reach the server and come back to you. Some pinging programs can also calculate one way time as well.

Customer Support

Customer SupportMake sure the web hosting company you choose has experienced, helpful support staff that are easily accessible when you need to make contact. Be sure you can call someone and get a real, live person if you need help or have questions. Otherwise, you could get left in the dark without any help if something goes wrong. Again, reviews are a good place to find this information from a customer’s perspective. Most hosts will tell you the support they provide right on their features or main page. Since this is a major selling point for web hosting, good companies will support their sales page with great customer service.

Technical support is essential. Look into the types of technical support that are provided, as well as how accessible it is. If you run into an issue with your site at two o’clock in the morning, will someone be available to call that can help you get it up and running again? What level of support is provided? Will they answer questions from someone new to web hosting? If you call and only get vague answers, or if the response is, “sorry, I can’t help you with that,” then you’re not getting the support you are paying for. Find this out in advance so you know how to get the help you may need.

Quality hosting providers will offer live phone and chat support along with a support ticket system that has a quick response time. The top web hosts offer 24/7/365 phone, chat and trouble ticket support.

Security & Data Center

Web Host Data CenterOne thing customers, especially those new to web hosting, often don’t consider is the hardware and facilities that make their hosting possible. While you certainly don’t need to be a hosting expert, it’s important to recognize what constitutes a good web host with modern facilities and equipment.

The facility where all of the servers are located is called a data center. This data center should have 24/7 monitoring by live people to ensure everything is functioning properly. It should also have back-up power systems, both UPS’s for the servers and a generator for the building. Since computer hardware needs to be kept cool and in low humidity, the data center should have the necessary HVAC systems and backup systems in case the primary HVAC system fails. State-of-the-art fire suppression systems are also a must.

Where the computer equipment is concerned, the web host must have modern servers that are regularly maintained and updated or upgraded. Since you want your website to function quickly and be reliable, newer servers and network equipment is essential. You also want to be sure the data center has a high-bandwidth Internet backbone connection – that is, a number of fiber lines that link directly to major Internet providers and major Internet data lines (think of it as the river, which can handle much more water compared to your bathroom sink).

Card AccessSecurity is the other part of the data center that you should check. One aspect is physical security. Are the servers locked in their racks? Are the server rooms and the facility itself secured with keycard, pass code and possibly biometrics like fingerprint identification? Data security is also important. What do they do to prevent hacking or intrusion at the server level? Is all server access password protected? How do they deal with security issues?

You can even contact them to find out things like how to know if unauthorized users attempt to access their server or internal websites. Come up with some scenarios that you feel might be a threat to security, and then ask the provider what they would do in that situation, or how they would go about preventing it from happening. Getting an insider’s look at how the hosting service provides security is a good way to tell how they will deal with potential problems. It also speaks volumes about how advanced they are, and what they have to offer their clients and customers.

Thankfully, most of what is mentioned above is becoming widely considered industry standard, so it’s easy to find a host that meets the criteria outlined above. Many will have this information on their “About Us” or “Facilities” pages. Always check. Just because it’s good practice doesn’t mean every hosting company manages their data centers this way. All of these things are extremely important factors that a lot of newbies don’t think about when looking for a web hosting provider, but they can mean the difference between a smoothly working website and one that “crashes” often or has security issues.

Software & Script Support

PHP PythonWhen creating your website, you may use scripts and open-source or custom applications. These encompass things like blogs, shopping carts, chat, banner rotators, content management systems, photo galleries, merchant accounts, site searches and databases. If you are going to use any of these, the host you select must support the languages they are written in. The most common languages and applications are PHP, MySQL for databases, Perl or CGI scripts with Server Side Includes (SSI), Flash and JavaScript. Others include Python, Ruby/Ruby on Rails® FastCGI, ffmpeg, Cron Jobs, Curl Modules, ASP/ASP.NET (Windows only) and ColdFusion (Windows only).

Most advanced web designers use scripting when creating their site. Also, most of the free applications like WordPress, PHPBB, Joomla and Drupal use MySQL databases. Be sure your web hosting provider does not have script or database limitations and is able to process the scripting languages you need. Most web hosts are able to process PHP, CGI, SSI’s, MySQL, Perl and Flash because they are so common.

The script library can also be an immensely helpful tool. The most popular is Fantastico. It is often bundled in cPanel hosting accounts. It includes 1-click installation of a huge number of popular applications. This includes blogs, content management systems, surveys, photo galleries, message boards (forums), chat programs, customer support programs, FAQ’s, email forms, shopping carts and many more. If you are going to use any of these types of applications, a script library should be included in the hosting plan you choose. The alternative is to find or purchase the applications individually and install and configure them yourself. Luckily, since the Fantastico script library is commonly included, you will have an easy time finding a host that offers it.

Server Operating System

Linux vs. WindowsWhen selecting the operating system on which to host your websites, compatibility is the key. Know in advance the types of scripts and applications you will be running on your website. The most popular web hosting operating system is Linux (in a number of its many variants). Linux hosting relies on the LAMP platform, which stands for Linux, Apache web server, MySQL and PHP (or Perl or Python). All of the popular web applications (blogs like WordPress, shopping carts like osCommerce and forums like PHPBB) will run on this platform. Hosting on the Linux or LAMP platform is often less expensive than other platforms while offering all of the flexibility and speed you need to run your websites.

The other choice is Windows Server, which is typically more expensive than Linux hosting. Windows webhosts often run Windows Server 2003 or 2008 and use the Plesk or vDeck control panels for account and website administration. With a Windows hosting account, you still have the ability to run PHP, Perl, Python, CGI scripts and databases. However, many of the popular free open-source applications, like the ones mentioned above, are written for and tested on the Linux LAMP platform. While these may run on a Windows server, there may be unforeseen compatibility issues. While this is something a good host should help you resolve, most people can avoid the hassle by using Linux hosting.

The only reason to use a Windows host is if you plan to use or are already using Windows-specific languages. These include ASP / ASP.NET, .NET, Windows Streaming Media, Microsoft Access, Microsoft SQL (MSSQL) and Microsoft ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) / DSN (Database Source Name). Adobe ColdFusion is also often supported primarily on Windows hosting accounts. These are simply alternative Windows-specific ways to accomplish the same things that can be done with PHP, MySQL, AJAX and CGI scripts. If you are not familiar with the Windows scripting languages or do not use them, you don’t need a Windows host.

Number of Domains

multiple domain hostingAnother important factor to consider when deciding on a web hosting plan or company is the number of domains that you will be allowed to have. For example, if you have a business site and a personal site and want to host them on the same account, you’ll need to make sure the hosting provider allows multiple domain names. The same is true if you have multiple blogs or are an Internet marketer with various landing pages, affiliate pages and product pages. The other purpose for multiple domains is brand, name and reputation protection. If you own “”, you may also want to own “” and “”. This way, nobody else can piggyback on your brand or confuse your potential visitors or customers by masquerading their site as yours.

Webhosts often also call multiple domains add-on domains. Always be sure to check on whether the host allows independent email addresses for each add-on domain. If you have two or more separate sites, you want to be able to send and receive email from each site, not just your primary domain (the one you use when you open your hosting account). All of the hosts we have reviewed on allow multiple domains with independent email.

On a related subject, you should choose and register your domains before you sign up for hosting. A domain name is necessary when you open a hosting account. The signup form allows you to enter whatever domain you choose. You don’t want to enter a domain you don’t own yet only to find out later that it’s taken.

You can register a domain and sign up for hosting at the same time if the host you choose also includes one or more domain names with the account. If it’s not included in the hosting price, don’t purchase your domain name from your web host. It will be more expensive and not have as many features. We recommend Namecheap for domain registration. Their prices are low and you get a bunch of extras including WhoisGuard, which protects your personal information from spammers and scammers.

When setting up multiple domains on a single account, keep in mind your storage and bandwidth allowances. You will need to allocate parts of those allowances to each of your domains (websites). For example, if you have 1000 MB of space and 5 domains, you can opt to designate 200 MB of space to each or split them up based on traffic, content or other factors.

Email Features

email featuresA professional website has emails that fit their domain (for example, looks much more professional than if he works for Apple). Look into how many domain based email accounts you are allowed. If you have a staff of several people, you want to be sure that you can provide each of them with an individual email address that goes with your domain or website. The same is true if you need different contact points (such as a support email address for customers and an owner’s email address for business communications).

Find out how many autoresponders are included in your account. An autoresponder email is just what it sounds like; it’s an email address that automatically sends a response to an incoming email. You have probably experienced auto-response email when you bought something online and immediately got a thank you email from the company. Email forwarding is also important. This basically allows you to set up a dummy email address that people can use to contact you or your business. However, instead of having its own inbox, it automatically forwards the emails sent to that address to a different address.

Email format options are also very important. Standard email is called POP3 (Post Office Protocol version 3). This is the protocol used by Outlook or other desktop-based email applications. When the webhost lists the number of POP3 accounts, they are talking about normal email (webmail). With these accounts, you can send and receive email from any of your accounts using your personal desktop email program (e.g. Outlook / Outlook Express, Eudora, Thunderbird, Mac Email). There is also the IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) which is used often as well, especially on mobile devices. Be sure that the email accounts come with SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), which is how emails are sent over the Internet.

FTP Accounts

ftpFTP, or file transfer protocol, is another factor to consider when looking for a web host. You use FTP to transfer files and information via the Internet. Your FTP accounts allow you to easily transfer files, like web pages, to and from your websites. You want the capability to have an individual FTP account for each website you operate.

To use FTP, simply log into your webhost account with an FTP program and begin uploading files. Your login information is emailed to you when you sign up for a hosting plan and typically uses as the login and a password you specify when you open your hosting account. If you use Dreamweaver, Expression Web or another web page editor that is able to automatically upload pages to your website, it uses FTP to accomplish that function.

If you need an FTP program, we recommend Filezilla. FileZilla is open source software distributed free of charge under the terms of the GNU General Public License. Click here to download Filezilla Client (the page will open in a new window or tab).

Hosting / Server Type

The type of web hosting plan and server you choose depends on the type of websites you will manage and the amount of traffic you expect on those websites. For server types the 4 most common choices are shared hosting, reseller hosting, virtual private server or VPS hosting and dedicated server hosting. They offer increasing storage space, bandwidth, control and flexibility as you go from shared to dedicated.

Shared Hosting

Shared HostingWith shared hosting, a server is divided up for use by a number of independent hosting accounts. These accounts are not connected to each other. Other webmasters with accounts on the same server cannot view or access your control panel or login information. Since many accounts exist on each server, sharing its storage, bandwidth and processing capabilities, each account must have an allowance for each.

Shared hosting is inexpensive and perfect for personal websites, blogs with low to moderate traffic and small businesses with sites that don’t get much traffic. Its low cost also makes shared hosting the ideal place to start for people beginning an Internet marketing or ecommerce business. If your business is successful you will eventually need to upgrade, but this starting point allows you to keep costs down while you build your business and still get the features you need to run a great website.

High quality shared hosting plans typically include all of the software and script support, email support, multiple domains, FTP accounts, control panel, server security and data center facilities discussed so far. Prices range from around $5.00 per month up to around $20 per month. Many shared hosting plans will offer unlimited storage and bandwidth. This does not seem to agree with the statements above. The fact is that there is no such thing as unlimited. Hosts understand that most websites require very little storage space and don’t get that much traffic. Therefore, they don’t use that much bandwidth or server resources. There are other ways companies limit shared hosting plans with unlimited storage and bandwidth, however they vary from host to host.

This does not mean shared hosting is bad, only that is a starting point from which you can build your Internet business or personal websites. Just like a shop may start off in a small unit in the center of town and grow to fill a warehouse, your websites will likely start in a small unit (shared hosting) and hopefully grow to fill a whole warehouse (dedicated server).

Reseller Hosting

Reseller Hosting ProfitsReseller hosting is the next step above shared. These plans will often have a fixed storage and bandwidth limit. They will also come with the resources you need to become your own web hosting company or offer hosting to clients as part of your overall services. Those resources include a web host manager that allows you to set up accounts for your customers or clients, a billing platform, a domain reseller account so you can sell domain names and possibly a merchant account so you can accept credit card payments. You have the ability to set up hosting packages for your customers and give yourself accounts with individual control panels. You pay the hosting company a flat monthly rate for reseller hosting and any money you make beyond that is yours to keep.

This type of hosting offers all of the features of a shared hosting account. All of the software, email, multiple domain and FTP support is there and you also pass those benefits to your hosting customers. Technical support for resellers is typically a little better than shared as well. Though with a good hosting company, there should be no difference (they should both be exceptional). Since you set up the accounts in your new shared hosting company, you handle the first level technical support. This typically includes basic configuration issues and questions. Depending on your reseller hosting provider, they may handle phone support. They also always handle server related issues and other complex problems your customers may face. However, you, as the business owner, are often the one who must pass your customer’s problem on to your hosting provider to get it resolved.

Virtual Private Server Hosting (VPS Hosting)

VPS HostingVPS hosting is the third step. This type of hosting uses a more powerful server with significantly fewer accounts than a shared plan. VPS hosting uses a technology called virtualization. This basically means that the server is partitioned and each account has its own instance of the operating system. From a user’s perspective, your perspective, you have your own server and therefore more control over the server-level operation of your web hosting. The great part about this is that the server can still be managed by the hosting company, meaning if you just want to work on your websites, you don’t have to worry about server management or more advanced administrative tasks.

VPS hosting comes with all of the features mentioned before, as well as dedicated IP addresses and other advanced features. VPS plans have a fixed bandwidth and storage allotment. You can also use them to resell hosting if you choose. A VPS provides more storage, bandwidth and speed (remember back to the sharing of resources discussed in the shared hosting section) than shared or reseller hosting. If your site has grown, gets a high volume of traffic or contains a lot of video content, VPS is likely the way to go. If you are coming from a shared plan, a VPS is typically the next step.

Dedicated Server Hosting

Dedicated Server HostingDedicated server hosting gives you control of your own server.There are no other hosting accounts on it, just yours. In fact, hosting companies often provision a new server just for you. This allows you to select the hardware, operating system, bandwidth, storage space and application software and support, multimedia support and overall server configuration. You also get full root access, security controls and reseller tools. In short, a dedicated server gives you complete control.

The main advantage to having a dedicated server is that it provides much more memory and bandwidth. You can grow your websites and increase your traffic without worrying about it being too much volume for the server.

Though there are bandwidth and storage limits with dedicated server hosting, they are extremely high. If you can touch them, congratulations, your site is probably doing extremely well! On other types of hosting accounts, when you reach your limit, your site goes down. With dedicated server hosting, you can expand as needed.

Dedicated server hosting typically falls into two categories, unmanaged and managed. With unmanaged dedicated server hosting, the hosting company houses your server in their data center and maintains the hardware. Everything else is yours to manage. That means installing software, configuring the server, troubleshooting software issues, maintaining your server-side software and performing all of the overall server administration tasks. Unless you really know what you’re doing, we don’t recommend unmanaged hosting. Many of these tasks and any unforeseen problems and software issues that come up can be daunting to fix for those who are not experienced administrators or IT professionals. Additionally, taking the time to do all of these things takes time away from running your website or business.

Managed dedicated server hosting is the way to go for most of us. This means the hosting company takes care of all the server administration, server security, software installation, software updating and troubleshooting tasks. What you get is more time to build and manage your web sites or web business while enjoying all of the freedom and benefits dedicated server hosting has to offer.

Value, Pricing & Contracts

Value, Priding, ContractsWhen signing up for web hosting, find out if you have to sign a contract for a specified amount of time or if you can pay month to month. Different companies have different policies, so be aware of this before you sign up. You don’t want to get locked into something if it doesn’t turn out to be the plan you want.

Also, make sure you’re getting the most for your money. While price is important, the quality of service and the capability of the web hosting provider’s servers is also important. After all, a hosting service may be cheap, but if it doesn’t offer the features you need to run your website, it is useless to you.

Look into other factors such as whether there are penalty fees if you cancel an account, setup fees for new accounts, maintenance or usage fees that might appear to be hidden, add-on features and overage charges. Some hosts will allow you to purchase extra storage and/or bandwidth if you are close to your limit. Others may simply deactivate your website until the following month or until you lower your storage footprint.

Be sure that your website information and content are private and that they remain your property, regardless of the web hosting service that you choose. This information is in their Terms of Service. Read through it and their Privacy Policy before signing up with any host.

Price Is Not Everything

You Get What You Pay ForMany hosts will advertise a low price, like $3.95/month hosting. Almost all of the time, you will only get that rate if you sign up for 2 or more years. The longer your commitment at sign up, the lower the monthly price. However, the drawback is that you are responsible for the entire amount up front, at the beginning of the term. That $3.95/month hosting that is advertised may really be $9.99/month plus a $30 setup fee if you want to pay month to month. Still, from a business perspective, $10-$15 per month is really good considering what it would cost in rent and maintenance if you were starting a business in a strip mall.

While you obviously want to save as much money as possible with your web hosting plan, remember that price does not always dictate the level of service you will receive. For example, if you find an unlimited plan for $14.95 per month, it may offer everything you need and more. If you find another plan that costs $240 per year, it might not have all of the features and customer service provided by the less expensive plan. In other words, price does not always determine the quality of the services you will get either. The point is, compare, compare, compare.

Stay away from free hosting. It is almost always advertisement driven, meaning there will be third-party ads on or over your website. You also get very little control, limited features and the websites tend to be slow. If you are putting up a quick site to share pictures with grandma, free hosting is fine. If you are writing a serious blog under your own domain or doing any kind of business online, free hosting will not work for you. The third party ads look unprofessional, not to mention their terms of service often prohibit you from using their free hosting for your own profit (they don’t want anything to compete with their ads after all).

Putting It All Together – Choosing A Web Host

Choosing A WebhostNow that you are armed with this essential web hosting information, make a checklist of all the features you need before deciding on a web host. This gives you the opportunity to easily compare hosting providers and multiple hosting plans that would otherwise be very difficult to compare. Every host is different; there is no such thing as a “standard” hosting plan. Making a checklist allows you to avoid confusion and conduct a comparison on your terms, based on your needs.

If you want to simplify the process of finding a web host, use our
HostSelector™ tool. It asks you a few easy questions and instantly shows you which host and plan will likely be the best fit for your needs.

For more information on which features are important for different types of web sites, take a look at the

Web Hosting Feature Matrix.

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