Choosing a Web Host – Information to Use

There are many information resources to help you choose the right web host. Sifting through the information from the following resources can help you avoid a web hosting mistake and is well worth the time and effort.

1. Collected Body of Reviews – Read lots of reviews about a web host and you’ll start recognizing patterns. Are the majority of customers happy, or critical? Are there repeated complaints of downtime or billing irregularities? You should be able to get a feel for how a host’s typical customer feels. Remember to check the dates on the reviews. Praise or problems from 10 years ago may no longer be applicable.

2. WebHostingTalkWebHostingTalk is an excellent and popular forum for getting unbiased information about web hosts. Many of the posters are experienced and knowledgeable. Some web hosts monitor this forum and respond to posted questions or complaints. One indicator of a good web host is that it responds professionally to posts, even by those who are ignorant or abusive. Another positive indicator is when the host’s customers defend the host or attempt to help resolve the problem.

3. WebHostingJuryWebHostingJury is a good place to find uncensored reviews of web hosts. Although this website scores and ranks web hosts, you’re better off absorbing the general trend of the reviews. Note that all major web hosts will have some customers who fire off hostile reviews before giving the host a chance to resolve the problem, or before realizing their problems are of their own doing. With practice, you should start to recognize which reviews are useful and which aren’t.

4. Host Forums – Most web hosts will have open discussion forums on their website as part of their support. Good hosts are comfortable having this window on their operations. Browse the forum to learn how the host responds to problems and questions. There’s often a section for pre-sales questions. Consider posting there if you’re thinking of signing up but still have some concerns.

5. Better Business Bureau (BBB) Ratings – For US-based web hosts, take a look at the company’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) page. The stats on the number of complaints and how many were resolved and unresolved might tell you if this is a web host you’d want to commit to.

Choosing a Web Host – Information to Distrust

Although the internet is a great resource for researching web hosts, some of the most visible information is worse than useless. Beware when using the following resources. They could lead you to make a big mistake in your choice of web host.

1. “Top” Web Host Lists – Websites that rank the “top” web hosts look like great resources. They display price and various features in a nice, easy to read table. Unfortunately, these websites are usually worse than useless. For one thing, the low pricing that gets a web host a good ranking isn’t a price you can get safely. The low price often requires a long-term commitment, which is extremely risky if this is your first dealing with the company. Another problem is that these lists are usually created to maximize affiliate (partner) commissions, not to inform the consumer. To recognize whether a link is from an affiliate, position the pointer over the link without clicking. If the link has characters that look like tags or redirection information, it’s an affiliate link. When you click on such a link and sign up, the affiliate gets money. The affiliate relationship introduces potential conflicts of interest and biases, and, unfortunately, most top web host lists have given in to these biases. Many of the hosts given high rankings in the list get terrible ratings on the sites where affiliate links aren’t in play.

2. Individual Web Host Reviews – Reviews of web hosts can be useful, but any single review may not be representative of the typical customer experience with that host. Customers who feel they’ve had a bad experience often fire off a negative review without much thought. The negative post stays alive even if the customer is wrong or if the host quickly resolves the issue to the customer’s satisfaction. Rave reviews can mislead also. A customer with minimal website requirements may not have yet encountered a bad host’s shortcomings. Some rave reviews have even been exposed as fakes, attempts by a web host to boost their poor reputation.

13 Steps to Your First Business Website

1. Choose a domain registrar

Choose a reputable registrar with straightforward name management and consistent pricing. Dynadot and Moniker are both highly regarded registrars that offer good service and pricing. GoDaddy is the most popular registrar but be prepared for upsell and price increases at renewal time.

  • Recommendations:
    • Dynadot
    • Moniker (UPDATE: Contented Designs no longer recommends using Moniker, which after ownership changes has had problems with security and support.)
  • Alternative:

2. Choose and register a domain name

Use your registrar website to check the availability of the domain name you want. Be prepared to search for alternative names if your first choice isn’t available. Good domain names are in high demand so, if the right name is available, register it without delay. During registration, make sure your contact information is correct, and set the domain to auto-renew. This will help ensure you don’t accidentally lose your domain through administrative error or non-payment. The cost for registering a domain name is about $10/year.

3. Choose how to manage your website content

Content management systems like WordPress maintain your website in a database on the web server. Of the popular content management systems, WordPress is the easiest to use. WordPress is extremely flexible and powerful, however, and you can use it to create a business website that looks very professional. A content management system like WordPress should be your choice if you’ll be making frequent updates to your website.

You can also create a website by using a template. Copy the template to your PC, use the template and an editor to create your web pages, and upload the pages to the web server. A good template and quality content can provide your business with a professional web presence. The template approach is appropriate for small websites that don’t change frequently or for hosting plans that don’t support WordPress.

  • Recommendation:
  • Alternative:
    • template

4. Choose a web host

Select Linux shared hosting. Shared hosting, where your website shares a server with many other websites, is inexpensive and is sufficient for most business websites. Linux hosting is more reliable and is sometimes cheaper than Windows hosting. The cost for host a website using Linux shared hosting is about $75/year.

Arvixe and HostGator both offer reliable service at good prices, and have very high customer satisfaction. HostGator is one of the largest web hosts. Arvixe is a medium-sized company whose owner is actively involved in answering customer questions.

If your budget is tight, consider Dynadot or Google Sites. Dynadot offers a minimal hosting plan for only $12/year. Google Sites is free, but has limited features and takes some expertise to use it with your own domain name.

5. Point your domain to host nameservers

Login in to your registrar account, look for “DNS” or “nameserver”, and set the nameservers as instructed by your web host.

6. Choose your website design

Going with a clean and simple look lets visitors focus on your content, not on how flashy your website is.

7. Choose graphics for your website

Royalty-free stock images are an inexpensive way to add a professional look to your website. Upgrading the appearance of your website for a small one-time cost is a good investment.

8. Accept payment on your website

Adding a payment page to your website makes it easy for clients to pay you. PayPal lets you accept credit card payments without a merchant account.

9. Set up analytics for your website

Seeing information about your website visitors, such as how they found your website, which pages they visited, and how long they visited them, is valuable for assessing your content and marketing.

10. Upload your website content

To create or update content on your WordPress website, login into WordPress and make the changes using the WordPress interface. To create or update content on your template-based website, copy the web pages from your PC to the web server using an FTP client or the uploading interface in your hosting account.

11. Add your website URL to your marketing materialsAdding a link to your website on business cards, brochures, stationary, and email signatures makes your business more visible.

12. Advertise your website

Google Adwords lets you run pay-per-click (PPC) ads where you only pay when someone clicks on your ad and visits your website. Adwords lets you reach potential clients worldwide for as little as $0.05/click. If your business serves a local area, you can run a Craigslist ad for your business for free.

13. Repeat forever

  1. Evaluate your website analytics
  2. Evaluate and update your website advertising
  3. Backup your website content
  4. Evaluate and update your website content

 

Checklist for Domain Name Registration

Here’s a checklist to help you get the most value from the domain registration process with the fewest headaches.

1. Get as many domains as you need. One domain for one website sounds obvious but if you’re planning a business website you might benefit from having some extra domains.  For example, suppose your business is Joe’s Widgets. The domain joeswidget.com, if available, would be an obvious choice for your website. However, suppose you want some of your advertising to focus on just one of your services. You could also register widgetrepair.com and widgetconsulting.com, then use URL forwarding/redirection to point those domains to joeswidgets.com or one of its pages. Most registrars offer URL forwarding for free or for a small amount. URL forwarding can be done for free within your hosting account if the account supports multiple domains. (Web hosting options will be discussed in a later post.) Extra domains are only about $10/year so they can make a pretty good marketing investment.

2. Find good domain names that are available. After you’ve chosen some names, go to the website of the registrar you plan to use. There will be a mini-form that lets you check the availability of a domain name you type in. Most registrar websites also have a form to check the availability of multiple domains, although you might have to look around for it. If all the domains you want are available, you’re lucky. Although buying a domain already registered by someone else is possible, let’s assume you’d prefer to limit your domain hunt to names that are currently available. Pop open your favorite text editor and start typing in domain name candidates, one per line. Use the registrar website’s multiple-domain checking form to see which of them are available. You might also try NameBoy. It generates domain name candidates from 1 or 2 keywords you give it and tells you if they’re available.

3. Find available price discounts. During the registration process, many registrars will give you the opportunity to enter a discount code at the payment step. Go to Google and type in “discount”, “code”, and the name of the registrar you plan to use. Leave the web pages with applicable discount codes open as tabs so you can use them during registration.

4. Register the domains. On the registrar website enter the list of domains you want to register and follow the instructions. Look for the opportunity to enter a discount code before you submit payment for the registration fees. You may have to retry if a code has expired or is otherwise invalid.

5. Make sure your contact information is correct. During the registration process you set up your user account with the registrar. You’ve probably received one or more emails confirming the registration and account setup. Log in to your account and navigate to the part of the interface that allows you to edit your contact information. It will be in four sections, often containing identical contact information. The first section, for registrant, is the only section where it’s critical that the contact information is correct and up to date. That section identifies the domain’s owner (you), specifying who should be contacted for issues related to ownership of the domain(s). The contact information in all sections will probably be pre-populated with your billing name and address. If you wish, you can change the contact information. Just make sure it’s valid information that points to you. The registrar interface should have a checkbox that tells all sections to use the contact information specified in the registrant section. That’s common and simplest if you’re a one-person operation. The contact information should be default apply to all the domains in your account.

6. Set your domains to auto-renew. Log in to your account and find and set the option to have your domains auto-renew. This saves you the trouble of having to make a manual payment every year. It also gives you extra protection in case you somehow miss all the email warnings that your domains are in danger of expiring. You don’t want to build a killer website and have it go down the drain when the domain it sits on expires and gets registered by someone else.

7. Verify your information in the Whois database. Unless you specified Whois privacy during the registration process, your contact information should make its way into the master Whois database within 24 hours. Go to whois.domaintools.com and plug in your domain name(s) to see how you and your domains appear in the Whois database.

Choosing a Domain Registrar

Of the big three choices you have to make when starting a website — domain name, domain registrar, web host — choosing a registrar should come early, maybe even before you’ve thought of a domain name. The reason is the demand for good domain names.  If you find a good name that’s available, you’ll want to register it right away instead of starting your registrar research.

If your research time is limited, browse the reviews at Registrar Judge.  For the most part, the good registrars get the higher scores. The reviews aren’t a perfect sampling because most users don’t publish reviews unless they’ve had a fantastic or terrible experience. Also, some negative reviews come from user misunderstandings, fired off in the heat of the moment, that can’t be retracted after they were posted online.  However, Registrar Judge can at least suggest some good candidate registrars. To narrow the candidates further, search for more opinions at DNForum, Web Hosting Talk, or using Google.

$8-$10/year is a typical price for a .com domain registration. Extra features, such as URL forwarding and Whois privacy (both discussed in later posts), may cost a few dollars a year. If you look to pricing to differentiate between registrars, check for pricing consistency. Some registrars offer teaser rates at initial registration, then revert to a higher rate at renewal time. Instead of being distracted by minimal price discounts, look for the registrar you feel is most reliable and professional.

If you think you might have your registrar picked out but aren’t quite ready to commit, sign up for a free account.  You just need an email address. This lets you test drive their user interface from the inside. Ideally, you should be able to easily navigate your way to editing your contact (Whois) info, change nameservers (which point to your web host’s server where your files will reside), and setting auto-renew on/off. Realistically, though, you may have to do all these things just once.  Just put your domains on auto-renew and make sure your email is up to date so notifications of domain and credit card expirations reach you.

The following registrars get consistently high recommendations from their customers:

My top recommendation would go to Dynadot (simplest interface, extra features at no extra charge), followed closely by Moniker (large registrar, low base prices). (UPDATE: Contented Designs no longer recommends using Moniker, which after ownership changes has had problems with security and support.)

GoDaddy is the largest and best known registrar but customers are hit with an assortment of minor annoyances — confusing interface, outdated documentation, fluctuating prices, and constant upsell. On the other hand, they’re a reputable company with solid tech support, and the annoyances will mostly be in the background after you get your domain registered and put on auto-renew.