Guide to Web Hosting

by Sarah Dopp

Your web host is your website's home. Your website is made up of files, and they don't just float in cyberspace (although I once thought they did!). They need to be stored on someone's closely-monitored, extra-high-tech hard drive somewhere.

Hosting is sometimes referred to as webspace. You need to rent that space.

Cost

$5 - $100 per month

Smart Shopping Tips

Buy only the space you need, and make sure you can upgrade smoothly when you need to. Most people spend too much on hosting, buying more space than they'll ever use. They're wasting money!

It's possible to get webspace for free, but it will usually be covered with someone else's advertisements. Check out Tripod or GeoCities if you want to take that route.

There are two factors in web hosting: the space and the bandwidth.

The space is just like the space on your hard drive -- you need enough to accomodate the sizes of your files. Multimedia files are big. Text files are small. Images are medium-sized and can vary. The average small business website uses less than 50 MB of space.

Bandwidth (also called "transfer") is harder to understand. It's a monthly measurement of how much coming-and-going happens on your site, and you'll usually have a limit. Every time someone views any of your web pages, they use a little bit of your your bandwidth. The average small business website uses less than .5 GB bandwidth per month. An online toy store in Christmas season might use closer to 10 GB.

Talk to your website programmer to find out how much space and bandwidth you need. If you overbuy, you'll waste your hard-earned cash. If you underbuy, your website will experience problems.

There are a few other factors to take into consideration with hosting. How good is their customer service? How reliable are their servers (try to ask a customer, if possible)? Do they have a good reputation? How about their technical issue support staff? What other useful features do they offer?

A nice mid-range option for hosting is to choose a reseller. Resellers buy hosting space in bulk and then sell it to clients at more reasonable quantities. Your reseller's provider monitors the servers, so they can focus more personal attention on your concerns. They'll often have fewer clients, and therefore more time and energy to help you out.

Take note: You should never agree to a time commitment contract with a web host. There's no need to in this highly-competitive market. A company who ropes you into an obligation no longer needs to impress you with service.

The hosting market is huge and ever-changing. Ask around and do some thorough searching before you make a decision.