Okay, so last week, we talked about how to install a self-hosted WordPress blog on your hosting account, but I forgot to cover one crucial detail – how to choose a hosting provider in the first place!
If you aren’t entirely clear on what a web host is, consider this analogy: Web hosting companies are to websites what real estate management companies are to shopping malls. If you were going to open a retail store in a shopping mall, you would lease a physical space from the management company for a set fee, from which you would sell your products.
Web hosting companies work the same way, but instead of leasing physical space, web hosting companies provide you with digital space on their servers from which you can run your website. You pay a monthly (or annual) fee, and in exchange, you receive the necessary space and resources to launch your site.
With this in mind, it’s important to know that all web hosts (like all real estate management companies) are not created equal. The following are a few of the technical specifications you’ll want to consider before signing up for a hosting account:
Databases – Believe it or not some website hosting companies don’t include databases within their hosting packages. Most PHP scripts, like WordPress, require a database to be installed on a website in order to run (each installation of WordPress will require one database). If you plan to install more than one WordPress blog or a separate forum script, for example, you’ll need additional databases.
Disk Space – Typically, the WordPress script and database don’t take up a lot of disk space (the base installation of WordPress requires only 1.5MB of free disk space). However, the amount of disk space you’ll need is also affected by the amount of content you plan to post and the number of plugins you plan to install. Fortunately, most basic hosting packages include enough disk space to host a single WordPress blog, but you should account for a little extra if you plan to host more than one WordPress blog.
Bandwidth – Bandwidth is calculated by the number of visitors that come to the site and how much time they spend there. Because this can be difficult to estimate, most web hosting plans now offer unlimited bandwidth on even their smallest hosting packages. If the plan you’re considering doesn’t offer this, keep in mind that you can always start with the smallest amount of bandwidth possible and upgrade your plan later if necessary.
PHP – PHP is the scripting language in which WordPress is written. Although it’s extremely rare for a web host not to offer the latest PHP installation, it’s worth a final check before you sign up for a web hosting account.
Beyond these technical concerns, you’ll want to evaluate a potential web host’s up-time and customer service capabilities.
Up-Time – Up-time is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, it refers to the percentage of time that the host’s servers are running correctly and the sites stored on those servers are live. Obviously, you want this number to be as close to 100% as possible, since any down-time is time that potential visitors can’t access your websites (and time that you aren’t making money!).
Customer Service – As a new website owner, you’re probably going to have questions, so it’s important to start with a host that provides great customer service. A few things to look for that demonstrate great customer service include a fully-developed knowledgebase or FAQ, online chat support and a phone number you can call at any time with questions.
There are thousands and thousands of web hosts out there, so using these criteria should help you to separate the legitimate web hosts from “fly-by-night” operations that sound great but aren’t reliable enough to base your internet marketing business around.
However, I also want to share my experiences with a few web hosts here to help speed your search up even more. Fair warning – some of the links below are affiliate links, but I’m only using them in cases where I believe the web host offers the absolute best bang for your hosting dollars. Feel free to use them or go to the websites directly.
First of all, Bluehost. Bluehost holds a special place in my heart because they were the hosting provider I used for my very first website. From the very start, the interactions I had with them were overwhelmingly positive – and I say from the very start, because it wasn’t more than 20 minutes after I signed up for an account that I got a phone call from them…
The problem was that the first site I launched was called “The Sexy Secretary” – a website about living a fabulous life on a secretary’s budget. Unfortunately, the name of my site triggered their adult content filters, so I had to spend a few flustered minutes explaining to the customer service rep that I wasn’t planning any R-rated content!
(Lesson learned – provocative website names can be great, but it can be difficult to be taken seriously when your domain name sounds smutty!)
That little issue aside, I 100% recommend Bluehost for beginning website owners. Their customer service is outstanding, and they were always prompt in answering my sometimes-silly new webmaster questions. (A special thanks goes to the customer service agent who walked a *very* confused 2007 Sarah through her first WordPress install!)
I also want to mention Hostgator for beginning website owners. The customer service is still good (although not quite as thorough as Bluehost’s), but the major advantage here is price. Hostgator has some of the best priced packages for new webmasters, so it’s worth a look if you plan to expand your internet marketing business rapidly and have enough technological knowledge that you won’t need a lot of hand-holding to get started.
Currently, I use a reseller hosting account through DowntownHost. For about $17/month, my reseller account gives me the ability to set up separate hosting accounts for each website I run, instead of controlling multiple websites through subdomains, which can get confusing. If you’re just starting out, a reseller account isn’t necessary, but I do recommend upgrading once you’re running five or more websites.
I didn’t put a lot of research into choosing a reseller hosting provider (seriously – you can spend hours and hours comparing packages, and that’s time better spent on other aspects of your business), but so far, I’ve been very pleased with the up-time and customer service responsiveness of DowntownHost. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re ready to make the leap to reseller hosting accounts.
Finally, the only web host I recommend you stay away from is GoDaddy. I’ve worked with clients who have hosting through them and am consistently amazed by how poorly things are set up. There are also some pretty serious accusations against them in terms of privacy and billing issues (search for “GoDaddy” in the Warrior Forum if you want to see what I mean).
While I haven’t personally experienced these issues, given the number of other legitimate, reputable hosting providers out there, why waste time with one that doesn’t always seem to adhere to ethical business practices?
Any questions about choosing a web hosting provider or about any of the providers I’ve described above? Ask them in the comments!