If you run a Google search for web hosting or web hosts, you're going to be bombarded for information. There are thousands of web hosts on the market, all with exceptional deals and excellent marketing campaigns. So how do you choose a web host? Which web host is right for you?
Choosing a web host
Choosing which web host you want for your website is a big step. Before you even start comparing web hosting services, you should:
- Figure out what you want your site to do. Is it just an online presence? Do you want customers to contact you? Do you want people to be able to shop for products?
- Inventory your current site. Decide which pages and links you will need on the new site.
- Determine who can access what on your site. How many different users will you need? How many file transfer protocol accounts (FTP) will you need?
After you complete these steps, you should think about which hosting package you want and what features you will need.
When it comes to web hosting, there are two basic options: free and paid web hosting.
Free Web Hosting
Free web hosting is best for personal websites. A free web host is also great if you're just learning html, Perl, PHP, or some other coding language. If you break something, it's a learning experience—not thousands of dollars in lost revenue and data recovery fees.
You should think twice if you want to host a business website with a free host. A personal or practice site shouldn't generate (or even anticipate) exponential growth in visitors, but a business site should plan for growth. With a free web host, you have no guarantees of bandwidth, storage space, or content control. You may have to place unwanted ads or deal with popups as the host tries to generate revenue from your visitors. Paid hosting provides guarantees and flexibility. It also means you won't lose months of work.
Paid Web Hosting
Paid web hosting is much more versatile. On our site, we've organized the different categories of paid web hosts into three different categories: personal, business, and enterprise. We'll explain what each of those terms mean and delve into more detail.
Personal Web Hosting
Personal web hosting classifies the least expensive and least versatile web hosts. They offer minimal bandwidth and storage space, but they do provide stability, consistency, and a domain name for free.
The domain is really what you want with a personal web host. It will allow your website or blog to be easy to recognize, remember, and search. Our article on choosing a good domain name is a great reference. A bad domain name can hurt your site exposure even more than not having a domain.
Personal web hosting should probably load blogging technology like WordPress. You should read the fine print, though, before you sign up. When your blog explodes, you'll want to make sure you don't miss a beat.
Business Web Hosting
A step up from personal web hosting, business web hosting represents the middle ground of hosting services, perfect for small business.
Business web hosting will cost a little more, but will allow for professional web design. Additional bandwidth and storage space mean that your business can grow online
If you're planning on offering an online store, we recommend rigorously researching the web host's ecommerce options. Is shopping cart software included? Is an SSL certificate available for purchase? Does the host provide any additional security services?
Business web hosts should guarantee 99.5% of uptime, or better. They should also back up that guarantee with some kind of money-back or credit guarantee. Detailed statistics and a control panel are essential. For those times when you have a question, the customer service department should respond quickly and helpfully. (To be safe, you should test the prospective hosting company. Email them early in the morning on weekends and late at night.)
Business web hosts should also offer a variety of useful scripts and languages. They should allow you to play with your site without approving file transfers; ideally, they'll offer several easily-designated FTPs.
Enterprise Web Hosting
Enterprise web hosting is suitable for large web-based businesses. Enterprise-level web hosts are much more powerful than small business and traditional business hosting, but they do run at a more expensive price. They also require a decent investment from the buyer — usually you will need a systems admin to keep everything up and running.
For this investment, you get complete control over your website, in a variety of functions. A virtual private server (aka VPS server) uses multiple independent operating systems to create a portioned and separate server. (For other types of hosting, you are doing shared hosting – this means that you share a portion of the server with other clients. A dedicated server means that your website is the only site on the server. It's more expensive than a VPS server, but gives you the ability to control just about everything.
If a dedicated server is a large step for a company, then colocation hosting is like a trip to the moon. Instead of one server, colocation hosting provides a set of servers in a data center. The data center provides security, space, and physical maintenance. All the software and other information technology ground work must be put in for the company. Colocation service is really only for the web-based companies that have to put up with a lot of traffic.