If you’re going to get a website, you definitely need a web hosting provider to host your website files.
But you may also be confused. How do you choose a good web hosting for your website? If you work with a good web designer, he or she will help you get things sorted out. These days, most web designers are more than happy to package your website design together with web hosting service.
Still, it would do you good to understand what web hosting is all about, even if your web designer makes life convenient for you.
What is A Web Host?
A web host or web hosting provider offers web hosting services. This means you are buying space in their server to upload and store your website files so that others can find your website when they need to.
All files associated with your website will be hosted or placed at a particular web host’s server. Once you type a web address (for example, www.redboxstudio.com) into a browser, your web files are retrieved and displayed to the public. This is essentially what a website is – a collection of web files that can be “called” or displayed to show the necessary information others need.
Web hosts offer web hosting services to both businesses and individuals for a yearly fee. When you pay a web host to host your website, you are paying for the server space that is allocated to you.
If you’re intending to get a website, you’ll need web hosting because you need a “place” to keep the web files that essentially makes your website.
However, not all web hosting are the same.You’ll notice that there are different prices for web hosting services – some are dirt cheap while others are priced at a premium. This is also why some people are forever griping about their web hosts when their website or email are inaccessible or “down” (hint: most likely they paid for the cheapest hosting in town!).
So what should you consider if you’re looking for a quality web hosting provider? Here are some criteria:
Quality is generally measured in “uptime.” It means your website should be accessible to visitors most, if not all the time. Theoretically, there should be no “downtime” – “downtime” means visitors cannot access your website.
That said, most quality web hosts usually promise 99.9% uptime.
However, don’t take the web host’s promise at face value.
A good way to check would be asking its customers or people who have hosted their websites with the web host. How do you do this? Sometimes, the web host would publish customer testimonials (complete with the customer’s web address). Surf to these customers’ websites and contact them to find out about the web host’s quality. Or you could ask friends who have websites. Ask them about the responsiveness of their web host when problems arise.
The paradox of web hosting is this: no one knows how well a web hosting works until it doesn’t work!
Sometimes, the true quality of a web host isn’t in the stuff they promise you; it’s how responsive/helpful/quick they are in troubleshooting or solving your issues when things go wrong.
Most web hosts compete with each other based on price. Again, the cheapest is not necessary the best. (And from what we’ve heard from people who’ve come to us after their web hosting goes belly up, the cheapest usually gives them the most problems!)
If the price is too cheap, there could be problems as the server may be overloaded with too many websites and data transfer could be slowed down.
If you do want peace of mind, here’s our advice: don’t assume the cheapest will do. Pay a little more to get better quality web hosting. More importantly, pay attention to reliability over price.
Some web hosts offer you a low price. And they also give you really bad (though prompt) customer service.
What does bad customer service service really mean? Getting back promptly with a lousy excuse doesn’t mean excellent customer service.
Some web hosting providers reply with emails that frustrate customers! Most tech people who do “support” aren’t really engaged in solving the issue for the customer – what they really do is that they often confuse the non-tech customer!
Besides being quick to respond, do consider also the logic of their response. The bottom line is, you need a web hosting provider with smart tech support to help you when it matters. Offering a dumb solution is no better than not offering a solution!
At its most basic, be sure you can get help when you need it most. Most web hosting providers offer 24/7 tech support via support ticket (it means you need to log in at their website and lodge a written call for help) or chat support.
Besides the three criteria to look into, features are also another important determiner when you are shopping for a web host.
First, disk space. Many customers would jump at the web host package with the most disk space for the least amount of money. Most web hosts give you anywhere from 20 MB to 100 MB of disk space. But disk space is relative to your needs. How much of disk space you need really depends on the size of your website and what you intend to do with it. (If you have custom programming or lots of images or products to show, your needs may be wholly different from someone who just wants a website to display basic information.)
If you have a regular website of about 10 normal web pages, 20 MB of disk space is more than enough. If you have plans to run an e-commerce website (where people can shop at your website), you’ll need about 50 MB to 60 MB of disk space. A good web host would be able to advise you according to your needs. Again, the key is: ask around. (And if you’re still confused, just leave it to your web designer.)
Second, look at the bandwidth offered. Bandwidth refers to the amount of data (or normally called data transfer) that can be sent from the web host’s server to other computers through a particular connection in a certain amount of time. The greater the bandwidth, the more information it can carry and the faster visitors to your website are able to access information.
To estimate how much bandwidth you will need, do an approximation of the number of visitors per month to your website, the average number of web pages viewed per visitor and the average web page size (including text and graphics).
Let’s say your website will attract 10,000 visitors per month and an average webpage is about 10 KB, with each visitor visiting 3 web pages of your website, then you will be transferring (10,000 x 10 KB x 3 pages) an average of 300,000 KB or 0.3 Gigabyte (GB) per month. So if the data transfer or bandwidth allocated to you is 2 Gigabyte (GB), it should be sufficient. Web hosts usually give you a pre-set amount of bandwidth. If you exceed the bandwidth allocated to you by your web host, it is normally chargeable.
The minimum of bandwidth you need is about 1 GB. But you will always come across some web hosts who promise unlimited bandwidth. Remember, there is no such thing as unlimited bandwidth.
Third, check the email account feature. Most web hosts provide you email accounts with POP3 access. POP3 email accounts are useful because they allow you to access your email remotely using email managing software like Outlook. (Update: These days, we advise clients to use email that they can carry with them on the go. Gmail is a good alternative to desk-based email software. When you have the Gmail app in your smartphone, you can check email anytime, anywhere.)
Also, ask the web host if they provide email forwarding. This is another helpful and common feature that allows you to create an email address without actually creating an account. Just say you have firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Emails from both accounts will be re-directed to one main account.
Finally, if all this boggle your mind, get your web designer to help you. He or she should know what’s available and what’s best for you.
This blog post first appeared as an article we wrote for a magazine in 2004. We’ve updated this to include a resource from our friends over at FirstSiteGuide. They’ve written a comprehensive resource on understanding web hosting services for small businesses. Do check out their free web hosting guide.
Note: Redbox Studio does not sell web hosting per se. What we do is provide dedicated web hosting to clients when we design their custom websites. We also manage and maintain their websites. We use dedicated web hosting for our clients because we want better security, fewer problems and more uptime. Plus we also have tech people on standby to solve problems intelligently (it’s like living in a gated community).
So if you’ve been having issues with your web hosting, find out if you’ve bought the cheapest web hosting option which is normally called a shared server (think of living in low-cost flats – everyone shares the same lifts. So if things break down, you’re affected too!). Cheap hosting isn’t always a good option especially if your business is important to you!