A web host is an internet service provider who has one or more servers on which you are permitted to upload files and have them viewed on the Internet. You need one because operating a web server that serves files to the Internet isn’t as simple as installing a program and running it. You will most likely have your own domain name and in order for that domain to be visible on the Internet it has to be properly configured on Domain Name Servers (DNS) which tell the rest of the Internet where your domain can be viewed. It’s like a massive telephone book except that instead of having peoples names and telephone numbers it has domain names and IP address numbers. If you plan on running any scripts such as blog scripts, address books etc, then the web hosting server has to provide support for that as well. I’m not going to go into all the technical details, but suffice to say that you should now be able to see that web hosting isn’t like running your Microsoft Word program. It requires technical knowledge and expertise in several Internet protocols and procedures.
Have you ever heard of TANSTAAFL? It stands for ‘There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch’. If you decide to place your web site on a free host then keep in mind that you don’t generally get any guarantees as far as performance goes and your website will probably be ’embellished’ with advertising that is placed there by the free host. Most free hosts make their money through the advertisements that are placed above, below or within your web site. That’s not a very professional look if you are trying to promote a business. It’s fine for hobby or personal sites, but how seriously would YOU take a business if you could see that they were hosted on a free web host?
Most guides will tell you to look for things like a minimum of 500MB of hard drive space, some random amount of bandwidth and blah, blah, blah! Let’s break it down to the basics though. There are basically two types of sites. Little ones and big ones. Yup, it’s that simple. Well, perhaps we should also say little ones that hope to be big ones some day. If you are just starting out then the chances are that your first site is going to be a little one. Let me define ‘little’. It’s a website run by an individual or a small business person who wants to sell a few bits and pieces, or put up a few affiliate links, offer advice etc. Most of my sites, I would class as ‘Little’ ones. Little, in hosting terms, can be a web site with several hundred pages, some videos and some downloads. Big, on the other hand, is a web site with thousands of pages, archives of old pages etc. Sites like CNN, Microsoft, Apple for example are BIG sites. If you plan on going that big then you need to be hiring your own IT professional to oversee your team of webmasters and designers!
Anyway, enough of that … the first thing I’m going to say is CPanel.
Every hosting account has some sort of control panel. Some are very good and some are very very bad. CPanel just happens to be one of the very good ones and is used by many of the largest internet hosting companies. Like anything it has a learning curve but the latest CPanel has a whole lot of videos to show you how to do things like add email addresses, password protect some of your content and do all of the things you might need to do with your hosting account. There are also many good guides and videos elsewhere on the Internet. Another advantage of using a hosting company that has CPanel is that if you ever need to change hosts then you will more than likely be able to change to another host that has CPanel and avoid the learning curve. On the other hand, if you use a host that has their own control panel then you are back at square one.
Bill Gates and some of his followers would tell you otherwise, but the reality is that there is much greater support for Unix based web hosts than Windows web hosts. Unix has been around a lot longer than Windows and has always been the primary operating system that Internet servers have been hosted on. Most of the Internet protocols such as TCP/IP were developed on Unix and Unix servers tend to be more stable than Windows servers. The only time you would want a Windows web host would be if you were going to upload a script that was written specifically for a Windows server.
So … we’ve learned that we are going to have a ‘Little’ web site and it should be hosted on a Unix web host with a CPanel control panel. You’re probably wondering about those other numbers and factors though. Unless you have lots of videos and files that you will be offering, 250MB should be more than enough disk space. The same goes for bandwidth … it’s relative to whatever you have on your web site. Web pages are small. Videos and some files are big. If your site is mainly web pages with pictures then 1GB (1000MB) of monthly bandwidth will be much more than you would ever need. Keep in mind that most hosts will allow you to upgrade, so if you outgrow your space or bandwidth allowance you can generally have that increased for a higher monthly fee.
Ask in online forums, ask your friends, and do a search on your favourite search engine for terms like ‘best web hosting’ and then use the combined results to assist in making your decision. Look for hosts that have a CPanel control panel and always aim for at least 250MB of space and 1000MB of bandwidth.