Choosing the Right Webhost

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Choosing the Right Webhost
Posted by Tiff (#1) on 6 April 2012, 9:39 PM EDT in Uncategorized
Note: The advice in my guide is based largely on my own experiences and doesn't reflect any sort of iron rules about picking a good web host! If you want to be certain about your decisions, you can always do your own research separately.

If you're looking to start a website, you're going to need hosting of some sort, so your site can appear on the internet for other people to see.

Luckily, there are all sorts of website hosts out there on the internet, including a variety of free ones and paid ones. Unfortunately, this also means you'll have to make a decision about which host you'll be using for your website.

Fortunately, this guide is here to help you. When picking the right host, there are a few things you should consider.

What kind of site are you making?

You may not necessarily have a perfect image of the site you're planning on making, but it's important to realize what capabilities you need to create the site you want, so you can choose a host that best meets your needs. For example, if you want to host your own Wordpress blog or vBulletin Board, you'll need a host that supports PHP and MySQL.

If your site is going to host a lot of high resolution images, you'll need a lot of server space. However, if your site is going to be mostly text-based files with a few images, you are very unlikely to need more than a few tens of megabytes of storage space.

In general, if you're figuring out your site as you go along, you can always change hosts to one that better suits your needs as your site evolves. However, having a clear image of what you do and do not need will help to save some hassle in the future.

Free Hosts

There are lots of free web hosts out there. And, in general, if you're just testing the waters of making a website, a free host will usually do the job.

However, each free host is different. Some put ads on your website while others are built primarily around tools to make your website for you, such as Wix.

In general, there are enough free host choices that you should generally be able to avoid having to choose one that places mandatory ads on your site. At the very least, I advise you to stay clear of any free host which puts highly obtrusive ads on your site, such as pop-ups or banner ads with sound.

Another thing to consider about free hosts is that since domain names are not free, your website's URL will be based on your host. That means that if you don't want to be, you may not want to go with if you have other options.

Of course, many free hosts do have support for hosting domain names as well if you want to buy your own domain name without paying for hosting, which isn't necessarily a bad idea as domain names are often much less expensive than hosting.

Another concern with free hosts is that if you go to a smaller or more obscure free web host, there is also the chance that they might have to shut down their business because they underestimated the costs or overestimated the profits. Be wary of free hosts that have recently started up and seem to offer almost as much as a paid host because while they'll likely get good reviews and be praised by all of their customers, they may not be destined to last.

Overall, free hosts are great if your website is fairly small, and you don't want to have to worry about paying a hosting bill on a regular basis.

Paid Hosts

If you've got a bit of a budget set aside for your website, you might be looking into paid hosting. There are lots of paid hosts out there, with prices ranging from as low $1 per month to over $100 per month.

To someone fairly new to the website-making world, it may be hard to tell the difference between different hosting plans. However, to start there are a few major types of paid hosting plans.

Shared Server Hosting

If you're buying a web hosting plan that's under $10 per a month, you're likely buying a shared server plan. These plans are usually the least expensive because they take multiple sites, sometimes a thousand or more sites, and put them on single servers.

While this does mean that overall your site would be slower than if you had a whole web server all to yourself, these plans are great for small to medium-sized sites that need more leg room or flexibility than free hosts offer.

However, on the flip side, it's not unheard of for people who use shared hosting plans to have their accounts suspended and, thus, have their websites temporarily taken down because they got a sudden spike in traffic one day.

Because many sites share a single server on a shared host, the performance of one site impacts the performance of others, so shared server hosts may prod you to keep your usage levels low for the health of all sites on the server.

One trend with shared hosts that you should be wary of is the advertisement of "Unlimited Bandwidth" and "Unlimited Space." You have to remember that you get what you pay for and $5 a month is not the price for truly unlimited space. Many times, hosts advertising unlimited have unspoken limits but market on the premise that, for the typical small personal or business site, their offerings are essentially unlimited.

Virtual Private Server and Dedicated Server Hosting

Virtual private server, or VPS, hosting is more expensive, typically averaging around $40-50 per month. Many webmasters choose to move to VPS hosting when their sites become too large for shared hosting.

Dedicated server hosting is hosting, gives you a whole server to use for just your website. Typically, dedicated server hosts start in the hundred dollar per month range and are for very big websites that receive lots of traffic or require lots of processing power.

One thing to note about dedicated server hosting is that you may have to do server administration tasks, such as running maintenance crons, on your own. Some providers do allow you to opt in to pay extra for server maintenance, however.

In general, VPS and dedicated hosting are not good options for new websites because of the high costs and technical knowledge required.

Service-Specific Hosts

If you're wanting to start a blog or forums, then there are many places designed specifically to host these sorts of sites. For example, Blogger, Wordpress, and Tumblr are all different free blog hosts.

The advantages of using these kinds of hosts is that they are normally completely free and handle the technical set up of the software for you. In addition, using a host like Blogger or Tumblr allows your site to be included in the host's network, which can make it easier to get recurring visitors. For example, if you run a Tumblr, other people who use Tumblr regularly can add you to their list of blogs they follow.

The main disadvantage of using these types of hosts is that you have less control over your site. You are limited in which parts of your site you can customize. While a lot of major service-specific hosts nowadays allow you to greatly modify the appearance and theme of your site, you are limited in that you must stick to the service being provided by the site and can't directly modify your site's files.

There's also a slight bit of a dogma against websites created using these kinds of hosts because there's a low barrier to entry, and it's easy for your site to be judged as "Just another Blogger blog" or "Just another Invisionfree forums" or whatever. However, the use of these hosts isn't something to be totally snarked at as many sites such as the Blogger-hosted humor blog Hyperbole and a Half manage to become very successful (enough so to generate self-sustaining ad revenue) on these platforms.

In general, they are a good choice if you already know you're planning on making a blog, a forums, or whatever, and you don't want to deal too much with the technical side of things or want to save money on hosting. The basic idea is that if you want to focus more on pushing out quality, interesting content moreso than focusing on the web development aspect of creating a website or you want to be part of a network that makes it easier to promote your site in the case of services like Tumblr, these hosts should be a consideration!
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