Whether you already have a website or are just getting started, you want to make sure that you have the best possible web host for your needs. After all, your host is where your website will live, so do some comparative shopping since not all hosts are created equal.
What web hosts do
A web host will keep all the files for your website, including photos and graphics, text, and special scripts and applications, on their server computers. When a website visitor types in your domain name into their internet browser, your domain registrar will tell the browser to go to your web host for the files it needs to display your website. This is all done in the blink of an eye! While it sounds complicated, there’s very little you need to know about the process.
Web hosting companies keep their server computers connected to the internet constantly so that websites are always available. They should keep their servers updated with the latest technologies, protected from hackers, and in good working order. However, it should be noted that no web host is perfect. Servers, like any other technology, do crash from time to time. What’s important is how speedily a web host repairs the situation. It’s also wise to note that unless you pay a big fee for your own server (often called a “dedicated server”), your website will probably share a server with hundreds or thousands of other websites, so if one website on the server is insecure and allows hackers in or is so busy that it constantly drains server resources, all other websites on the same server are affected. This, too, is just something that comes along with the territory; however, a good web host will note these issues and address them before they become problematic.
When you sign up with a web host, your host should give you their required DNS (domain name system) server settings. You will need to set these DNS server settings with your domain name registrar so that it can point internet browsers to the right web host to find your website.
What to look for in web hosts
- Technical specifications. Different web hosts offer different kinds of hosting. Web designers and developers can use different kinds of programming languages to make your website work. It’s important to know what requirements your website needs and then find a web host that meets those needs.
- Disk space and data transfer (or bandwidth). Don’t worry; these aren’t complicated concepts. Disk space is simply how much space you have to store your website files, similar to hard drive space on your personal computer. Data transfer, or sometimes known as bandwidth, is how much “stuff” can be moved between your web host and someone’s personal computer each month. When someone visits your website, his or her computer is actually pulling text, photos, images, and little computer programs from your website’s server in order to display on her or his computer. This all adds up, and you are allocated a certain amount of this per month by your web host. If you go beyond that, your website shuts down until the next month. So while it’s important to make sure you have enough disk space and data transfer, know that most web hosts offer much more than you may need.
- Technical support. When, not if, your website’s server doesn’t work, how will technical support fix the problem? Is there a phone number, email address, or online ticket system to use to report the problem? Is support offered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year? Is working service guaranteed? These are all important questions to ask.
- Services. A web host can offer more than just a place to host your website files. If you want domain-specific email accounts (email accounts that use your domain name, such as
firstname.lastname@example.org), check to see if a web host offers this service, and if so, how many accounts it offers. Web hosts can also offer limited spam blocking for these email accounts, free applications, website statistics, parked domains (which allow several domain names to point to one website), and more.
- Price. Here’s probably one of the greatest variables of all. Monthly web hosting fees vary from $4.95 to over $300. It simply depends on the company you choose and the services you need. Most hosting in a shared environment, meaning that you share server space with other websites, is under $100 per month. If you want your own server, be prepared to shell out a hefty amount. But shared hosting prices vary greatly based on what you’re looking for. More disk space and data transfer typically costs more. More specialized services can also cost more as well. “Do-it-yourself” web hosts, ones where you have to set up your own email accounts and upload your own files, typically cost less than managed hosts, which take care of these items for you. Some web hosts also charge a set-up fee when you sign up; others do not.
Choosing a web host is simply a matter of knowing what you need and then weighing all your options and then selecting the best choice for your money.