Choosing a web host
This guide assumes you are choosing a web host for the first time.
by Enda McGuinness
What are you looking for?
Before you start looking for a host you need to know want from
your host, what options you need, how much server space etc. Here
are some of the questions you may want to ask yourself:
To begin with, server space: how large is your site going to
be? Is it just a personal homepage, which may probably only be 10
pages? Or a business site where you want to sell
products/services? Will 10mb be enough or will you need 50mb?
Don't choose a host because they offer 500mb at a cheap price,
especially when your site may never reach 5mb!
Do you need many email accounts? No reason why you would need
more than 5 anyway, but many offer much more. Do you need to be
able to access your mail accounts on the web or will you have to
use a mail client such as Outlook Express? How about a mailing
list, do you need one?
What about server side scripts? Do you need a cgi-bin or
ability to run scripts such as formmail, voting scripts, site
search and content management systems?
Do you need the ability to use Server Side Includes or
password protect directories with .htaccess?
Will you have a control panel to manage your site? Will you
have FTP or how can you upload files to your site?
What about a database? Will your site required that you have
MySQL as backup?
How much are you prepared to pay?
This is not a major issue as most web hosts are very
reasonably priced these days. In my opinion you should get all
you need for approximately US$10 per month. Many European web hosts
are more expensive than this, but may offer some better options.
Once you know what you want you can start looking at web hosts.
Do a search on the net, check sites like www.tophosts.com.
Compile a list of the best hosts you can find. Start to narrow
this list down to a manageable figure like 4-5 by checking their
options and eliminating those who either don't offer what you
need or are way too costly for what they offer, compare one host
against the other.
Apart from the options there's a few things you should check
- Server uptime: should be at least 99%.
- Support section/knowledgebase: make sure they have a good
knowledge base. I personally hate this idea of just a FAQ,
sometimes they cover very little. Starting off it will help you
if your host has some detailed guides to assist you.
- Contactable support: you need to be able to contact your
support personnel fast if there is a problem with your site.
There should be at least email addresses and a feedback form
available to you but it's also preferable if they have telephone
support. And support must be 24hrs per day!
- Response time: this isn't exactly accurate but you can gauge
your hosts response time by emailing them. You should definitely
receive a response from them within 12 hours or even less. This
might give an indication of what you can expect from their
- Attitude: I am a firm believer in attitude; you host must
have a friendly, approachable attitude! Sometimes this can be
reflected in their website, and definitely in any communication
you have with them.
- Willingness to answer questions: you have a right to ask as
many questions as you want and can expect to get them answered!
This ties in with attitude, if you get an impatient response mark
'em off your list!
Once you have narrowed down the list of potential hosts then
comes final selection! Start mailing the hosts.
Compile a list of questions! Was their something in their
website you were unsure of? Something not mentioned on their site
that you need to know? Something else you need confirmation
Make a nice list of questions and send it to each host. Gauge
their response time, their willingness to answer your questions,
how well they answer your questions, their attitude and so
Hopefully after you have received their responses you will
have an idea of who you want to host with! If not you can mail
them again with more questions or search again and compile a new
Choosing a host is really trial and error; the best thing is
just to get started! Choose as best you can, select a host and go
for it. You should have 30 days to try them out and even after 30
days you can still cancel your account if you are not happy!
Hope that helps!
Summary check list
In no particular order. What's important to you?
- Server space - 10mb min?
- Monthly transfer rate - sufficient 1Gb?
- 99% Server uptime
- Good knowledgebase
- Fast response time
- Friendly and professional attitude
- Email accounts - 5 min?
- Site Backup - AT LEAST weekly
- Web based email
- Server Side Includes
- Password protected directories (.htaccess)
- Control panel
- Mailing list
- Free scripts
- Custom error pages
- Anonymous FTP
- Secure Server?
- Database - MySQL?
- Spam filter
- Stats package