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How to pick a Web host

Filed in: Web, Thu, Jul 1 2004 14:19 PT

I’ve been asked to follow up on what Web host I chose, how, and why. So here is all I know about picking a host.

I had been using Hostway for the last few years. They gave me 200MB of storage and 6GB of transfer each month for $19.95. Which isn’t too bad, but it isn’t great, either. I decided to shop around, since service offerings have changed over the last few years. (For people thinking about Hostway, I have no problem recommending them; they were just a little too costly.)

There are roughly six Web hosts for every man, woman and child on Earth, so it’s important to determine what kind of features you’re looking for:

  • Do you want Windows, Linux, or some other Unix server?
  • Do you need PHP, ASP, Perl, JSP, and/or Java servlets for your site?
  • Do you need mailing lists or Web board functionality?
  • Do you need a streaming media server?
  • Do you need MySQL or some other database?
  • Do you need more than 10 email addresses?
  • Do you prefer an IMAP server over the standard POP for incoming email?
  • Do you need FTP and/or SSH access?
  • How much storage and bandwidth do you need?
  • Do you plan on hosting more than one domain?
  • Do you want subdomains?
  • Do you need a dedicated, static IP, or can you share an IP?
  • Do you plan on reselling hosting services?

With answers to these questions in mind, it’s time to look for services. The WebHostingTalk board has a Web hosting offers forum, which produces dozens of new deals daily. (They also have a reseller hosting offers forum.)

From that list, I picked 24hostingnow for their offer of 1GB of storage and 50GB of monthly data transfer for an unbelievable $60 per year. Some of the bundled tools include bulletin board software, site-wide search, chat rooms, and cheesy stuff like guestbooks and Java clocks.

The WebHostingTalk forum will have enough names and numbers to make one’s head spin. Taking into account your answers to the above questions, it is then time to see which, if any, of the three or four best options will meet your needs. Here’s what I suggest for due diligence:

Look at the fine print

Watch out for setup fees or contracts. Lots of folks will set your site up for free. Do the math. Make sure you’re deriving the right about of value for what you’re getting.

Check for a money-back guarantee

Sometimes it’s a week, sometimes it’s a month, but if it’s not there at all, keep looking. It’s enough of a pain to move your domain around without wasting your money in the process.

Expect common features

A lot of Web hosts are turnkey deals: they come with administration tools pre-installed for the hosts, and administration tools pre-installed for the domain owners. (If you set up a reseller account, you get access to both.)

24hostingnow uses perhaps the most common system, cPanel, which is a front end to all kinds of configuration, management and log analysis tools. See what is available, and how many of the pre-installed features the host gives you as part of the package, rather than tacking on added fees.

See how to contact them

I run a blog, and not much else. So for the money, having a phone connection to my Web host doesn’t matter much. 24hostingnow only has an email support line, though they do seem to have a decent turnaround for me. Other customers may be more hands-on, and want a phone number to call. Check the contact information first.

Read up on their data center and connection

If they’re not talking about how they’re connected to the Net, they’re probably not too proud of it. 24hostingnow reported lots of details, including their uptime commitment, their backbone connections, the specs on their servers, and so on. Other providers I looked at showed off live status and load on their servers to show it’s not just talk.

Try to find out how many of you they’re trying to cram on one server. It doesn’t matter that they’re on an OC-192 connection straight to the backbone if they only operate one Pentium-133 server with 3000 accounts on it.

See if they suck

This is generally good advice for any business relationship you’re entering. Google them. Find out what people think of them. If, after a few pages, you don’t see a life-long sworn enemy of the given host, or mentions of lawsuits or other complaints, you may be in the clear. If, on the other hand, there is a domain named (hosting company), take that as a sign you may have difficulty.

If you’re sold already, and you’re going to sign up with 24hostingnow, leave a comment so I can get a referral kickback. (Emails are hidden if you supply a URL.) But before you do that, do your own homework. There are plenty of places where you can get a good deal.

Besides, I’m already paid up for the year anyway. 🙂

2 responses to “How to pick a Web host”

  1. Harry says:

    Good stuff, Matt. One I looked at recently was Surpass Hosting. They and 24hosting have similar plans, similar reviews, similar prices, similar tinge of sketchiness. Slight differences in admin tools and storage. Aside from that, the biggest difference seems to be that Surpass hired a copyeditor, whereas 24hosting…well.

    If I end up at 24hosting, I’ll put in a good word for you.

  2. Kathleen Anderson says:

    Hi Matt:
    Another question important to a lot of folks – Do you need support for FrontPage server extensions, including support for subwebs?

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