Web Hosting: A Beginners Guide

So you want to build a website(or have built one) and you need a web hosting account.

Where do you start? Well, what kind of website do you have? Is it dynamic (text is taken from a database) or a static site (HTML & CSS)?

If you're building a database driven website, say in Drupal or Wordpress then you are going to need very specific things in terms of requirements for your web hosting platform. Many hosts support Drupal and Wordpress and multiple types of databases, but do they do it well?

That's the part you need to find out. I'd love to give you some links, but it's a little more challenging than just Googling 'Web Hosting Reviews'. Why? Because so many websites now are built around referrals and search engine optimization that it is increasingly difficult to know what is an ad and what is a bonafide review site. If you are building your own static website that is intended as a brochure site and you aren't doing anything fancy, then chances are a cheap web hosting solution is just fine. I have heard good things about Blue Host (and if you sign up here, I make a few bucks! See! Referral happening right there!).

If you are rolling out something bigger with say eCommerce, thousands of users, registration and or scheduling software, and you are planning a huge online marketing campaign, well then, you will definitely need to bring up your hosting expectations to be inline with the rest of your business strategy.

You pay for bandwidth. All plans start with a level of allowed bandwidth. There are two types of bandwidth that you need to be aware of: disk space and traffic.

Disk space in web hosting refers to the size of your files stored on your server that are required to render you website and make it work. These would be your database, html files, image files(jpeg, png and gif), css files, scripting files such as JavaScript etc.

Traffic (or transfer) refers to web visitors on you website. When a visitor loads your site the are transferring data from your web hosting account onto their on computer. That takes bandwidth. If you have a photo of your Aunt Bea on your website and a viewer loads that page on their browser, they are moving that file from your web hosting account to their computer. So if 1,000 people visit that page and load that picture of Aunt Bea, then you need to think about if that file really needs to be 100megs or if it would be wiser(yes!) to optimize that image to be under 100kb. So be sure to see how much bandwidth is included in you hosting account. What about email? Do you only need 2 email accounts, or do you need a 1,000? You'll also want to look at what webmail options are available. Hastymail, SquirrelMail, Atmail, roundcube....there are many. Which one(s) come(s) installed on your web hosting account? If you aren't familiar with webmail options, Google them and see if you can try them online. It's not necessarily a deal breaker if your host doesn't have what you want because you can always set it up to forward to your Gmail account.

Another nice option on your web hosting wish list is the ability to login to your account and use a drag and drop file transfer system right in your browser without having to connect via an ftp program. This has saved my butt quite a few times.

So to sum up the things I look for in web hosting, and what you should ask yourself:
What are your database and scripting requirements for you website?
What are your bandwidth requirements? Is it easy to scale if you require more or less?
How many email accounts are included and what webmail options are there?
Is there a good control panel accessible from anywhere?

Extras to ask about:
What programming languages are supported and what versions? (eg, PHP 5)
How much is an extra gigabyte if I go over?
How long can I expect to wait for a support request?

Maybe you came here looking for an easy answer, well sorry if you didn't find here! The truth is that selecting the right web hosting for you is all about YOU figuring out what you need first. You can spend from $5 a month to $5000. You'll have to find one that's comfortable for you.

My one recommendation:
Take your time and look for one that is well respected by people who build websites and don't cheap out and get the lowest cost web hosting company; get the best you can afford for your budget. Who that is, only you can decide.