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Web Hosting Guide

E-Commerce Web Hosting Guide


What is a web host? What is web hosting? Do I need a web host? What is web hosting all about? Web hosting jargon can be very confusing to those looking for their first web host. Here at Host Search, our mission is to de-mystify all aspects of web hosting so you can choose for yourself the best web host to meet your needs. We have 6 lessons here for you to start learning all about web hosts and we hosting. Read on…

Lesson One: What is Web Hosting?
Web hosting is the essentially the placement of your website onto the Internet through a server. Once your site is on a server, anyone with Internet access can look at your website - from anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day. In order to have your site hosted on the web, you need to have the following three things:

  • A website - a page or set of pages that is located under the same domain name. HostSearch.com is a website (but you knew that already!) A web page is a computer document written in a publishing language called HTML. When an Internet user types in your web address, your web server sends the content of your web page to that user.
  • A domain name - a unique text-based address used to locate a specific set of web pages. A domain name is made up of words and/or numbers plus a TLD (top level domain). The TLD for most businesses is ".com", such as www.hostsearch.com; non-profit organizations use ".org"; universities and educational sites use ".edu"; and sites involved with the U.S. government use ".gov". More TLDs are on the way, such as .biz, .pro, .name, .info, etc.
  • An account with a web hosting company, or a server of your own to host your website
A server is a computer that stores information that can be accessed through the network. Servers can also be used to store website information that can be accessed by any computer with a connection to the Internet - and a browser such as Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, the two most popular web browsers.

Web hosting is, in many ways, similar to renting property. There are plenty of companies that will rent you space on their web servers. The wide range of services start from free hosting on up to buying a server for your own personal use. It's possible to spend thousands of dollars a year on web hosting alone, though the average person or small business typically pays $10 - $40 a month, depending on how many features they need.

Lesson Two: Do I Need a Web Host?
If you are planning to establish an internet presence, whether it be in the form of a personal homepage or a full-service e-commerce catalogue, and do not own your own personal server, you will definitely need a web host. Finding a good web host, however, can be a rather difficult endeavor. That is where a site like HostSearch can help you, as our entire site is dedicated to helping you find the best hosting solution for your particular needs.

Choosing a host for your website should not be taken lightly. Once committed, it becomes a real headache to move elsewhere - not to mention the damage that can be done to your business if you make the wrong choice. This makes it very important to "get it right the first time." Find out as much as you can about your prospective host before making any decisions, and have a clear idea of the scope of your site, and the functions you wish to have prior to searching for your host. Doing the proper planning will help you a great deal in your selection of a host, and will save you the headache of trying to change hosts later.

Lesson Three: What type of web hosting package is suitable for me - free, shared, or dedicated?
Free is for fun. If you want to experiment with a site or put up a small, personal site for the fun of it, a free package will suffice.

Go "shared" if you are serious about doing some business or have a professional website that is much better off "standing on its own." Or if you simply prefer your own domain name and space.

Dedicated is for large, high-traffic sites, or for those with special needs such as e-commerce or security. They are also good for those folks for whom money is no object.

Lesson Four: What Features Should I Look For in a Web Host?
The more you know about what you need, the easier it will be to use HostSearch to find the right web host for you. For starters, you should determine the following:

  1. Do you want a virtual or dedicated server?
    Depending on your requirements, you may be better off investing with a dedicated server, as opposed to a virtual host. Dedicated servers are typically used for sites that need to handle a high level of traffic, need a higher degree of security, or sites that run their own customised software and applications rather than the standard ones supplied by the host. As a general rule, dedicated servers are ideal for larger sites, so if you are planning a small site virtual hosting should more than suffice.
    For more information on dedicated servers, check out our article: To Share or Not to Share? On Dedicated Servers.
  2. Are you a good match?
    Is your host's server, software and support services compatible with the skills and software that you (or your design team) are using? If, for instance, you are working in a Unix environment, then it makes little sense to choose an NT host.
    With all hosting plans, there will be some features that you need and some offered that you don't need. Be sure to focus on the essentials that are required to launch your website. You may want all the nice extras but will you use them? It's a good idea to choose a host that will allow you to expand and upgrade your plan as and when your website grows. If you want to start selling online, for example, an additional e-commerce option for an extra fee will be easier and quicker to implement than looking for and transferring to a new host.
  3. Are You Flexible and Can I Upgrade?
    You may not need a database solution now, perhaps, but you may need one in the future. Similarly, a shared hosting arrangement may be fine for you now, but what if your traffic levels explode, and you need your own server in a years' time? It is much easier to remain with one host than to change. So, when choosing a host, keep in mind your possible future needs, and whether the host will be able to accommodate them.

    Lesson Five: How Much Space and Bandwidth Will I Need?
    For a small site with not so much traffic, not so much. Your needs in this case can be met with 10 to 100 MB of disk space and 1 to 10 GB of data transfer per month. (Be aware that movie and sound files will eat up a lot of disk space and bandwidth.) If your web site is text-based, you needn't worry about this technical stuff - text takes almost no space at all - not even really big font sizes!

If you're planning to sell something online, look for a provider who can provide you with a commercial web solution such as Shopping Cart software or a secure online payment system. Choosing a large web space with a high bandwidth allowance is a good idea in this case. In this category, 50 MB of disk space or more is advisable. Bandwidth allowance really depends on how many visitors you're expecting and how well you promote your web site. For most sites, 5 to 30 GB should suffice.

Lesson Six: Choosing the Best Option
Setting up your own web server is not the best approach for an individual or a small business. You can rent space for your web site from a web hosting provider at a far lower cost. However, choosing just the right provider for your specific needs is not an easy job amidst all the hype on the Web today.

We have provided the information in this lesson to serve as a guideline to help you find the right home for your web site. First of all...


Ask yourself, "What do I need web space for?"

A. I just want some web space for my personal web pages.
If your answer falls into this category, you probably need just a small amount of web space and little bandwidth: 2 to 10 MB should be plenty for your needs; and a personal, unique domain name may not even be necessary. In fact, you can get web space FREE. A popular provider of free space is Geocities (www.geocities.com). However, because it's free, you may find out later that there are many limitations - it all depends how far you want to go...

B. I want to develop my web design skills. Maybe I will want to go beyond a personal homepage.
OK! Now that you think you want to go beyond the basics, you may find that a unique, personal domain name is necessary. It identifies you (or your business) and says what your site is all about, and also that you take doing business on the Web seriously!

You may also want to run a CGI (Custom Gateway Interface) script for a Visitor Counter or a Discussion Board. Your needs in this case can be met with 10 to 100 MB of disk space and 1 to 10 GB of data transfer per month. (Please note that movie and sound files will eat up a lot of disk space and bandwidth.) If your web site is text-based, you shouldn't worry about this stuff - text takes almost no space at all! Select a provider that supports CGI and other advanced features that you think you might use in the future. Better safe than sorry! And in this category, we're not talking big money!

C. I'm developing a commercial web site for a small business.
If you're developing a web site for a small business or organization, you should carefully evaluate the possibility of further expansion in the future. It will be a bit of a hassle if you discover later that you need a database for your web site, but your provider doesn't offer it.

If you're planning to sell a product (or products) online, look for a provider who can provide you with a commercial web solution such as Shopping Cart software or a secure online payment system. Choosing a large web space with a high bandwidth allowance is a good idea in this case.

In this category, 50 MB of disk space or more is advisable. Bandwidth allowance really depends on how many visitors you're expecting and how well you promote your web site. For most sites, 5 to 30 GB should suffice.

D. I want web space for my corporate web site.
If your answer falls into this category, you should be very careful when selecting a provider. Changing providers later will cost both time and money. The platform that your provider uses is very important: Unix, Windows NT, and Mac run different applications.

Try listing the features that you want now and what you foresee needing in the future. Disk space and traffic allowance depend on what you will have on your web site, and how many visitors will surf to it. In fact, you may need a dedicated server so that you can customize it to do whatever you want. Many companies listed here also offer a dedicated server. You should look for 500 MB of space or more, a transfer allowance over 10 GB, and full advanced features


Conduct a good survey...

A. Ask the potential provider about its customer support policies.
After opening an account with a web hosting provider, you will find that customer support is very important - often critical. To cover yourself from the start, take some time to look around at several providers' web sites to see what their support policies are. Email them with a few sample questions to check the speed and quality of their responses. Nothing guarantees that they will respond at the same speed and manner if you do become a customer, but this approach is quite accurate and telling about 80% of the time.

Most web hosting providers offer email support during business hours. Some of them provide telephone support. Some providers say that they provide 24 hour-support, 7 days a week. You should be cautious about such claims, because they may have someone to monitor the servers, but no one on hand to actually provide you with genuine customer support.

Look at a number of providers' web sites to see how they handle support. Many providers provide lists of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and support documents on their web sites.

B. Survey the reliability of a service.
Selecting a provider with many years of experience is a good decision. Look at the provider's web page for a list of its customers and check out some of their pages.

The simplest and most basic way to do a survey is by asking your friends who currently use a web hosting service or services who they recommend. You may also find that our Reviews Section is very helpful since it contains reviews from real customers of web hosting companies.

Nowadays, the web hosting market is full of resellers. Even well-known providers can be resellers of a large web hosting provider or wholesaler services. Sometimes, they are resellers of resellers. Choosing a reseller provider is not always a bad idea. The reseller may provide you with faster technical support for basic questions. They usually offer other services too, such as web design or web maintenance.

To investigate the reliability of providers, we recommend you check the contents of their web sites. Experienced providers should have a large web site containing several pages of services and support documents, plus their phone and fax numbers, as well as their physical address. And never forget, caveat emptor - let the buyer beware!

 
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