Finding a web hosting provider

Selecting and registering a domain name is a great first start, but without a place for it to live, it’s basically worthless. I need a hosting provider, a company that will provide a server where my web site lives, including its hardware, software and connectivity to the Internet. There are quite literally thousands and thousands of companies that provide this type of service, but how to choose? Fortunately there are a few ways to narrow down the choices.

Free hosting or paid hosting?

Choosing whether to pay for hosting is my first decision. Although it may seem counterintuitive, there are actually a number of free hosts. Many of them specialize in either web sites or blogs. They are limited in the type of software I can use to run my site. If I just need a few static web pages, or an out of the box blog, though, they can be great choice.

Of course as in real life, there is rarely a free lunch and free hosting is not without its caveats. As a rule, free hosting sites like GeoCities won’t let me use my own domain name, and as mentioned earlier, a big piece of branding is my domain name. They also place ads within my content, and receive the revenue from anyone that clicks on them. They put strict limits on the amount of visitors my site can receive within a fixed period of time, and will effectively turn off my site if I exceed them.

For my purposes, a free host isn’t an option. I want to be able to fully control the look and feel of my site, ensure its always available despite its popularity, and make sure the only ads that visitors click are ones that provide revenue to me.

Shared hosting or dedicated hosting?

My next decision is to decide whether or not I want to share a host with other people running different kinds of online businesses. As might be expected, sharing a host is much, much cheaper than the alternatives. With a good hosting company, a shared host can be a completely acceptable solution. Some companies put way too many users on their shared systems, though, causing performance to suffer for everyone.

On the other end of the spectrum is choosing a dedicated host. Buyer beware, this can be very expensive! Of course with high cost comes high performance, and you really do control the system. As long as you aren’t breaking the law, you can pretty much do whatever you want with one. Need to run some scripts that put a heavy load on the system, or send out lots and lots of emails to list of your subscribers? With a dedicated host, how you use it is up to you.

A middle variation that some companies offer is semi-dedicated hosting, where the total number of shared users is limited but you still don’t have exclusive use of the server. This can be a good middle ground for people whose web-based businesses are beginning to take off, and have outgrown their initial shared hosting plan.

For my purposes, a shared host is where I’ll start out, although I’ll make sure to go with a company that can upgrade me to a semi-dedicated or dedicated host should the need arise.

Finding the right web hosting provider

With a seemingly limitless number of choices, how do I decide upon a hosting provider? As with everyday life, a strong referral from a trusted source is a great method. Barring that, there are some other alternatives to narrow down the field.

A number of discussion boards or forums on the Internet focus on web hosting. My personal favorite is Web Hosting Talk. I don’t need to be a member to read the posts, and I can go straight to the forum discussing the exact type of hosting I’m interested in. After perusing a few pages of posts, a few names started popping out as worthy of further consideration.

Finally, the Better Business Bureau is as good online as offline. I went to their web site, searched for a few of the promising hosting providers, and looked for complaints. Any business of any size is bound to have a few dissatisfied customers, but a large number of complaints should be a red flag.

Pulling the trigger and purchasing a hosting account

In the end, after reading a number of reviews and checking up on several companies, I settled upon a shared plan with Host Gator. The purchase process was very straightforward, and took all of 5 minutes from start to finish. I had now completed two big steps: purchasing a domain name, and purchasing a hosting account.

The last step was to link my domain name to my hosting account. I went to GoDaddy, the company where I purchased my domain name, and filled out a short form changing my name servers to the ones assigned to my hosting account. Name servers control how a web browser knows how to find your web site. Once the name server changes were complete, my hosting account and my domain name were linked, and typing in www.esljobsworld.com landed on a generic Host Gator welcome page for new accounts. Mission accomplished!

Next, I’ll need to do a little competitive research to help determine the content and appearance of my new site.