Lesson 16: Choosing a Website Hosting Service
An Introduction to Website Hosting
To make your website accessible on the world wide web, you need to place it on a web server, which theoretically can be any computer (including your PC) with an internet connection and the right configuration. But very few people actually use their own PCs as web servers. It´s just too much work to maintain a web server and in order to make your website well accessible, you´d need a very fast internet connection and also keep your computer connected to the internet around the clock.
So it´s much easier and comfortable to rent server space from a webhost, a company which has a big datacenter with hundreds or thousands of web servers, an ultra-fast internet connection and professional staff to maintain the servers. Webhosting is a pretty big business, so there are thousands of companies and resellers of hosting services worldwide and it´s tough to find the service that meets your needs and fits your budget while providing a good quality website hosting.
Therefore, this lesson explains the most important features you need to look for when you search for the right webhost and gives you two easy ways to find out if a certain hosting service deserves your business.
Free Website Hosting
Of course, there are some hosting services that offer you to host your website for free. If you have only a small personal website, then a free webhost would be quite a good choice if you can´t afford to invest a few dollars. Most free webhosts will give you anything between 10 to 100 MB storage and a monthly datatransfer (aka bandwidth) of about 1 GB, which should be enough for a few hundreds of webpages and a couple of images.
In exchange for the free hosting service, you need to accept some kind of advertisement to be displayed on your webpages. In most cases, the hosting company will include either a banner advertisement right on the top of all your webpages or a pop-up advertisement. Both types of advertisements are not only annoying to your visitors but you also have no control at all over the content of the advertisement displayed on your webpages.
Other free webhosts will tell you that they won´t place banners or pop-ups on your webpages. Instead, they will insert some kind of classified ads into your webpages. These are less annoying and usually more profitable for the hosting company, too. So before you think of signing up with a free webhosting service, let me ask you a question:
Wouldn´t it be better YOU get all the money from the ads ?
With few visitors per day to your website you can easily earn back more than the monthly hosting fee you pay for an affordable quality webhost (I´ll show you how in a lesson that you are about to receive by e-mail in a few days). Therefore, and because of the big lack of features, I would not even host a personal website on a free webhost.
If you are planning to sell any kind of product through your website - don´t even think about a free host - it will only hurt your credibility.
Just in case you want to test the waters with a free host, two quite popular ones are 50Megs.com and Ocatch.com. Be aware that they also offer "upgrades", but their paid plans lack of many important features.
Important Hosting Features & Affordable Website Hosting
A quality webhost doesn´t have to be expensive. Today, you can get a full-featured professional hosting service for anything between 6 and 15 $ per month. The price differences depend not only on the amount of disk space and monthly datatransfer (bandwidth) offered by the webhost but also on certain additional hosting features and the availability of technical support.
Space and Bandwidth - How much is enough ?
Well, this depends on your website, of course. How many webpages, images and other media files you have and how much other data ( access logs, contact lists, product databases, backups ) will be stored on your hosting account. Your webpages alone will probably take the least amount of space. With an average file size of about 15 kB, you could store well over 3000 webpages at a 50 MB server space. Much more space is often taken up by images, databases, downloadable products that contain video or audio and database backups.
The amount of datatransfer depends on how many visitors you receive to your website and how big the downloaded files are. Every time someone visits one of your webpages, the webpage itself and the images in it are downloaded to the visitor´s browser. So let´s do a simplyfied calculation:
Assuming the average webpage has a file size of 15 kB and all the images (logo, buttons, banners) together have a total size of 25 kB. This would make a total of 40 kB of bandwidth usage for every new visitor. So with only 1GB bandwidth, you could afford to get over 250.000 visitors every month. Way more than enough for the average website.
Of course, another story is when you offer downloads from your website, like audio and video files, e-books, tutorials, streaming flash video, etc ... and also want to publish pictures with higher resolutions.
Fortunately, most webhosting plans in the above price range ( 6-15 $ ) now come with at least 1 GB server space and 30 GB bandwidth. Some even offer you up to 10 GB space and 400 GB bandwidth, but don´t be fooled to think the more you get, the better the webhost. They know pretty well that the average website doesn´t even need 5% of all that, so they hype-up their offers to get your business. Therefore, you should beware of those webhosts that offer you unlimited disk space and/or unmetered bandwidth for a low monthly price.
Webhosting - Basic Features
I won´t go into the details about the bare minimum features a webhost should have. I have just listed them here, so you have a quick checklist when you take a look at a certain webhost´s offer. The ones in bold text are those to which you must pay special attention, because they are pretty important as you will soon see and some companies don´t include these.
Ecommerce Features (optional):
Important Additional Features
As already pointed out above, some of the features are pretty important, although you probably have no clue yet about the meanings of "htaccess", "SSI", "cronjobs" and "Shell". Don´t worry, you will soon learn at least how to work with htaccess and SSI (server side includes) and I´m sure you don´t want to miss out on these.
Many webhosts today also offer an easy one-click install for a lot of different scripts. These include bulletin boards, chats, guestbooks, web auctions, polls and surveys, help desks, blogging software and many more.
You should also pay attention to the number of different websites you may host under one account. Remember that the amount of disk space and bandwidth you get in most cases is much more than you need for a single website, so it would be pretty useful if you could host more than one domain under the same hosting account. You could even host websites of other family members or your friends and split the hosting fees.
Shared Hosting vs. Dedicated Servers
Affordable (cheap) website hosting plans are all on shared servers, i.e. your website will be sharing the space and data transfer rate of one server with dozens or hundreds of other websites. Shared hosting is the most frequently used hosting option.
If you plan to build a website whose popularity will grow big in the near future, you´d do good to choose a webhost that offers several different hosting plans, so you can start with a cheap hosting plan and easily upgrade to a bigger plan once you need it.
The ultimate webhosting solution for very popular websites and online stores is a dedicated server. As the name implies, there will be one server for your website alone. But I believe that you won´t need this in the near future, so don´t bother with it for now.
Webhost Quality Quick Checks
After all the features, the quality of a really good webhost stands with its reliability and a dedicated support. What really counts is that your website is accessible around the clock, 7 days a week. Therefore, a good webhost needs to have a fast and stable connection to the internet and also different means to overcome power outages, such as diesel powered generators.
There are two simple ways to know if a webhost is really good enough to deserve your business.
1. The "webhost-name sucks" - test
Look, the problem is that every webhost will tell you their uptime is at least 99.9 %. But in reality, not every company can live up to this promise. When webmasters find their websites being down for hours or even days, they get angry of course. And in such a state of mind, many of them say: "webhost X sucks".
Well, actually they don´t just say it, they post this statement along with a couple of reasons why in forums, on blogs and other places on the internet. And therefore, it´s quite easy to do a quick search on Google, for the phrase "webhost-name sucks" ( replace webhost-name with the actual name of the hosting company and put the entire search phrase in quotes !! ) and see what comes up.
Check out some of the results. Skip the too silly comments and look for discussions where the complaining persons at least write a few reasons why they complain about the webhost in question. Sure, you will find a few complaints for every webhost, but when you find more than a few dozens complaints about the same topic (f.ex. downtimes or lack of support), then you should become suspicious.
2. Asking a question - support test
A good webhost should have a dedicated support and answer questions within 24 hours. At least, there must be a way to contact them by email, better would be they also offer support by phone or even a live chat.
If you want, you may test the support quality and responsiveness of a hosting company before you sign up with them. Simply send one or more questions about the hosting features or other issues to the company´s support email and see how fast and how well they respond.
Below are some of the webhosts I´m currently using myself and I´m very satisfied with them. Check them out and choose the best for you. I especially like the option to host multiple domains under one account, which allows me to create profit-pulling networks of niche websites for a very small monthly fee. Visit the links to the hosting companies to see all details of their hosting plans.
Note: The data in the table below is old. For up-to-date values, I recommend you visit
Web Hosting Search, which reviews many more hosting providers
and offers webhosting tutorials, too. The big advantage of WebHostingSearch.com for you is that they also
publish user reviews and ratings for each webhost in addition to their own editorial ratings.
Pointing Your Domain to Your Webhost
Once you have signed up for a hosting plan, you will get an email from your webhost with all the details you need to manage your hosting account, such as the login info to the controlpanel and the ftp access info (username, password, server). If you have registered your domain name directly at your webhost, then it should automatically be pointed to your webhost´s nameservers. Domains registered elsewhere (f.ex. at Godaddy) need to be pointed to your webhost´s nameservers.
You will find the URLs of your webhost´s nameservers in the confirmation email
you´ve got from your webhost, usually two, sometimes three URLs. For example,
the nameservers for Dreamhost are:
Watch the video to learn how to change the nameservers of your domain(s) at Godaddy.com in order to point your domain(s) to your webhost.
Now you still need to upload your entire website to your webhost. The next lesson shows you how to use the FTP software FileZilla for this purpose.
Cheap Website Hosting
Multiple Site Hosting