What do you need in a web host?

So, you have decided that you need to get online. People want to get a website for many reasons these days, be it to start a business, move a existing business online or simply just put up a personal web page. But, all these reasons have two things in common, you have to know what you need and find a company that will provide it for you. With this broad overview, we will shed some light about discovering what your needs are, then how to locate a web hosting provider that will not only meet those needs, but in the long run grow with you.Your needs are essential in determining the kind of hosting provider you will choose. Web Hosting comes in many varied sizes, prices, options and flavors. The way to make the best choice is to shop for the features and services that you require, this way you only are paying for what you need.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

What kind of features will you have on your website?

Start by thinking about what kinds of functionality you will need. Will you have a database of any kind running? (Some of the applications that require a database are: guest books, shopping carts, forms and forums). If so, who will be programming and installing it? Most web hosting providers have pre-installed scripts and applications that they will let you use as well, but they may be too simple and not meet your needs.

Any application you use is written in a scripting language and often connects to a database. If you are using PHP and a mySQL or PostgreSQL database, then you should look for a UNIX host. Unix type hosts include Unix, FreeBSD, Linux and some others. If you are using ASP and a MSSQL database then you know you will need to locate a Windows hosting provider.

What will you traffic needs be in six to twelve months?

The type of site you have and features impact the answer to this question. Every image, page and access to a database utilize bandwidth. Web hosting providers these days provide anywhere from one Gigabyte of traffic up to thousands of gigs of bandwidth. Bandwidth costs money. If you exceed your bandwidth you will either have to pay for more or face being shut off.If you are running a personal web page this is not going to be a huge impact on your decision. But, if you are doing business on the web it most definitely will. One way to discover this is by looking at how popular the subject of your site is. Take a look at http://www.wordtracker.com and see how many searches are made on key terms in your industry or look at the Alexa rank of sites that are similar to what you will be building.With bandwidth more is always better. A hosting company that owns their data center usually has more control over their bandwidth available, but if you do not need it, why pay for it?

OK, so now I know some of what I need, now what?

Even with all the consolidation of hosting companies, there are still thousands of companies to choose from. Each one has different features to choose from and provides different levels of services, some you may have never even of heard of. After you have discovered WHY you need web hosting you will be able to sort through these companies just a little bit easier. So, here is some of the HOW.

Search Engines

Try looking through http://www.google.com , http://www.yahoo.com and http://www.overture.com . These search engines will provide you with search results based upon the feature you are looking for. Say you know you need a UNIX host that provides a Miva shopping cart. Visit the search engines and type in “UNIX Hosting Miva” and make a record sheet of your results. Search engines also have advertisements to the right and top of the results pages, look for consistency in the ads and this will tell you at least who some of the larger web hosting providers are. (even though larger is not always better)

Web Hosting Directories

Web Hosting directories are sites that focus almost exclusively on information about web hosting companies. You will be able to find reviews, articles, forums and usually a database to search on hosting company plans or look at web hosting showcases. Some of these directories are in it 100% for the money, and some are there to really help you make a decision about hosts. Either way there is a excellent source of data for researching what company will fit your needs. Search the plans, read the forums and visit the showcases. You will start to see a pattern emerge again on who the major players are in the industry. But, in the directories you will also find quite a few who are not huge, but provide exactly what you need with even better customer service. Finding a hosting directory is easy too. Again, visit the search engines and type in “Web Hosting Directory” of “Hosting Directory” and you will get many results. Visit the top 10 or so and you will find a few that really appeal to you. Not only will they help you finding a host but most directories link to other hosting directories as well.

So what questions should I ask a hosting provider I am considering?

Hopefully at this time you have made a spreadsheet of companies you are considering or some kind of record. Call or email each of these companies and ask them the same questions. Be sure to mention where you found them and record their answers along with how long it takes them to respond to you. Here are some questions to get you started:

Do you own your data center?
How many years in business?

Do you have some references?

Do I have a dedicated sales person?

How easy is it to upgrade or downgrade my service?

Do you have a money back guarantee?
Is there an uptime guarantee? Am I compensated for excessive downtime?
How frequently do you backup web sites and do you backup databases?
Do you offer redundant backbone connections? Or allow multiple DNS server entries?
What are the hours of technical support? Do your outsource support or have your own staff?
What happens if I exceed my bandwidth?
What pre-installed scripts do you provide for UNIX and Windows?
What will my costs be for more bandwidth?
Do you offer Unlimited Bandwidth and what does that exactly mean?
Can I move my website easily to a new host?

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