Choosing a web host

Your web site will become your public face to the world 24/7. You may choose to design your web site yourself, or you may pay a web developer to build it for you, but at the end of the day, you will need to have it hosted somewhere. Choosing the right hosting provider can be as important as the design of the web site itself. Because no two web sites are the same, it pays to shop around to get the right deal for your site.

Myths

I have a broadband connection, so I'll save money and host the site myself.

This is usually a reall bad idea. Commercial web hosting companies have multiple redundant connections to the internet, backup power in case of a power cut, and dedicated servers that do nothing but serve web sites. They also keep their systems up to date against the latest security threats. If you don't know a lot about configuring servers, firewalls and so on, you shouldn't even start to think about this option. Most domestic and even small business broadband connections have a single point of failure, and ADSL is not 100% reliable, and the whole point of a web site is for it to be available when you're not, so self hosting is not really an option for most people. 

XXX offers free web hosting. Why should I pay?

There's no such thing as a free lunch, and most 'free' hosting packages have limitations. Many insert intrusive advertising on your site, which looks very unprofessional, and may even promote competitors. Whatever the case, you have no control. Secondly many free hosting plans such as the personal web space provided by many ISPs bundled with broadband has severe restritions on what sort of functionality is available.  You will almost certainly NOT be able to run a shopping basket or blog on one of these hosting plans. Speaking of blogs, you can get free blogs with minimal advertising, but a blog is just that, and you are limited to the functionality provided by the blog service. If you need flexibility and a variety of services, get your own hosting plan.

 Planning

First up, decide what your web site is going to do. Have a look through this check list.

  • Do you need to upload a lot of photos or video content?
  • Do you need to database driven content like a shopping cart?
    • If so, what database system?
  • Do you need to secure access to accept credit card payments?
  • Where do you expect most of your site visitors to come from?
    • How many are local how many international?
  • Do you intend to have facilities such as discussion boards, blogs etc, that visitors can contribute to?
  • Do you intend to eventually have more than one web site?

Every feature you add to your web site requires space, and the more visitors your site gets, the more performance the server where it is hosted will require. If you have user generated content such as discussion boards, you will need a reliable backup system.  If on the other hand, you only have static content, ie your site is a 'brochure' site, it won't be hard to reload your content if anything goes wrong.

How much space? 

It is possible to set up an attractive looking 'brochure' web site of up to around ten pages of content with only 10MB of space, however this won't leave much room for expansion.

Typically a good starting point for sites with interactive content like a shopping cart or discussion forum, should be around 100MB

If you will have a lot of photos or video, then you should look at a larger hosting plan maybe of around 1-2GB.

In addition to how much space, you need to look at how much traffic you're allocated. A small site that is very popular can potentially generate more traffic than a large site. A well designed site will minimise the amount of traffic each visitor generates, but every visit generates traffic, and don't forget that when search engines index your site, they generate traffic too. 

Quality vs Quantity

Some hosting providers make offers that appear to be too good to be true, and usually they are. Beware of any hosting provider who offers 'unlimited space' or 'unlimited traffic'. It costs them something for their servers and traffic, and if they offer such deals, it probably means they are cutting corners somewhere in terms of support, or by putting too many web sites together on the same server. It can be a good idea to look around for user reviews to see how other people found a particular hosting provider. It can be time well spent.

Price

I've deliberately left price to last. Obivously price is important, but a low price for a poor service will actually cost you more in the long run. In NZ dollars, you can have a small brochure site for just a few dollars a month, while if you need to run a large site with lots of downloads, you may need to pay several hundred dollars a month. Most medium sized sites should fall within the range of about $15-50 NZ dollars plus GST per month. Some hosting providers only offer annual payments, while others offer monthly or annual payments, but frequently offer a discount if you pay annually. For more expensive plans, a monthly account will be easier on your cashflow.

 

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