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How to Choose a Web Host

by Matt Smith

Choosing a web hosting company to host your website isnt easy these days. There are literally thousands of web hosting companies to choose from, each offering different combinations of web space, bandwidth, extras (such as databases, asp, php, cgi, free scripts), and customer support. Some companies lure customers with extremely low prices on the physical assets like space and bandwidth. In return, however, most customers of these extremely low-priced companies get poor if any customer and technical support. In the hosting business, as with everything else, you usually get what you pay for.

So how do you determine the web hosting company thats right for your website? Having been in the hosting business for several years, Ive often had friends and acquaintances ask me, in so many words, this very question. I always suggest that they first sit down and simply write out what they think their website (whether for a company or personal) will need. Do they need a database? If so, what kind of database do they want, MySQL or something else? Likewise, do they need support for PHP, CGI, ASP, or some other programming language? If you have certain scripts youd like to use on your website, these questions can be very important. Also think about exactly how much space your website is going to need not necessarily right now, but perhaps five years down the road after youve expanded a bit. The same thing goes for bandwidth, or transfer. You want to secure enough space and bandwidth now so that you do not have to switch hosts, or pay a premium for extra services, in the future.

On the topic of bandwidth and storage space, there is an important financial lesson Id like to impart. Although you want to make sure you have enough of both for the foreseeable future, you dont want to pay for lots and lots of bandwidth and storage space, month after month, that you will never actually use. For instance, there are many hosting companies out there who are now offering 5+ GB of space and perhaps 100 GB of bandwidth from $7 - $10 a month. This may seem like a pretty good deal. However, if you are only going to use perhaps 100 MB of space, and 10 GB of transfer, then you are wasting money! You can find a nice 500MB / 20GB plan for under $5 per month. This is where planning really comes into play; know how much space and bandwidth you will need before you go looking for a host.

Many hosting companies, big and small, are offering 24/7 technical and customer support these days. Be very weary of these claims. Most companies that claim 24/7 support dont really live up to expectations. In addition, a 1-800 number does not guarantee that someone will actually answer you phone call, or even be helpful. Look for a company that has a good, honest support structure set up with a variety of support options: support tickets, live support chat, e-mail support, and perhaps phone support as well. My own web hosting company, for instance, has everything but phone support. We are still capable of answering inquiries within minutes. If you are considering a particular web host, the best thing you can do to evaluate their support is simply send them an e-mail or open a support ticket and see how long it takes them to respond to your inquiry. If it takes more than 24 hours, thats probably a bad sign.
In order to substantiate the credibility of your potential web hosting company, I suggest looking for some type of customer testimonials on their webpage. If they list the customers website or e-mail address, go the extra step and contact at least one of the customers. They will be able to confirm that they are real customers and let you know about their experiences with the given company. If they have no testimonials, or the testimonial listings do not contain a means of contacting the customers, do a search on the company using a big search engine like Google and Yahoo!. Look for forums and other webpages that may contain customer feedback about your company. Many times, customers that have either had a very bad or very good experience with a hosting company will go onto at least one webmaster forum and tell others about their experience. Looking up these comments is a good way to get a third-party assessment of a particular hosting company.

If you follow these bits of advice I am certain you will find a reliable, affordable hosting company that is right for your website. If nothing else, you could give my hosting company (SitePhase.com) a look and compare it to other companies offering similar plans. Whatever company you decide to go with, I wish you the best of luck!

About the Author
Matt Smith is the co-owner of SitePhase Web Hosting (http://www.sitephase.com). SitePhase offers affordable and reliable web hosting solutions starting at $2.95/ month.
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