When shopping for a web host, have a checklist of features you want. That way, you’ll be comparing hosts on equal terms, and you’ll ensure you’re getting at least what you need without overpaying. Here are some common features and choices you may want for your website.
1. Linux Hosting – Prefer Linux hosting to Windows hosting. Linux hosting is more reliable and is often cheaper than Windows hosting. Note that this choice is about which operating system will be running on your web server and has nothing to do with the operating system you run on your desktop. The only reason one might prefer Windows hosting over Linux hosting is if you plan on doing Windows-based scripting on the web server.
2. Shared Hosting – Shared hosting means your website will be sharing the same server with a lot of other websites. When everyone “plays nice”, this sharing is invisible to the customers using the same server. However, when a customer consumes excessive space or bandwidth and hurts the other customers, the host may pressure him to upgrade to a more expensive non-shared hosting plan or may even cancel his account. Be sure to check the host’s Terms of Service (TOS) to see what you can and cannot do. Although shared hosting is by far the cheapest hosting you can get, it is more than adequate for typical small business websites. A good host should be able to seamlessly upgrade you to a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or dedicated server if and when you outgrow shared hosting.
3. Unlimited/Multiple Domain Hosting – Many hosting plans allow you to have multiple websites. Sometimes this capability comes bundled with the cheapest plan, sometimes it may be an inexpensive upgrade. Having the option of creating multiple websites provides valuable flexibility that is well worth the extra cost. You could, for example, have multiple websites for multiple income streams.
4. Unlimited/Multiple Email Accounts – Most hosting plans have email plans bundled with them. However, if email accounts aren’t explicitly listed among the hosting plan features, you may have to pay extra for them. These email accounts let you use your own domain for email addresses, a requirement if you want your business and website to look professional.
5. Name-Brand Control Panel – A hosting control panel is the interface that lets you control all aspects of your hosting account. Look for a host that lists a name-brand control panel, such as cPanel, as one of its features. If no brand-name control panel is listed, assume the interface was designed in house. Unfortunately, good interface design takes expertise most hosts don’t have. If a host doesn’t advertise a brand-name control panel, search for customer comments on the control panel before signing up for an account.
6. Name-Brand Installation Script – Hosting plans typically come with lots of useful software for your website. The software can’t do you any good, however, if you can’t figure out how to install it. Installation scripts like Fantastico greatly simplify the process. With such scripts, many useful software packages can be installed with little more than a click of the mouse. If a host doesn’t list an installation script as one of its features, you may have to install any desired software manually.
7. WordPress Hosting – WordPress is a justifiably popular content management system, not just for the blogs it was originally designed for. The WordPress interface is probably the easiest way to create and maintain a website. You can choose from a large number of free professional-looking themes, many of which can be customized to give your website a unique look. Even if you’re not currently planning to use WordPress for your website, consider choosing a web host that supports easy “1-click” installation of WordPress. You might be glad later to have the WordPress option available.
8. Pricing – When comparing hosts’ prices, don’t get distracted by discounts offered for the initial period or for committing to several years. Compare prices using a standard duration, such as what you would normally pay for an undiscounted year of hosting.
9. Host Forum – Before committing to a host, check out its online forum. A good forum may answer questions you still have, and will show how the host deals with questions, problems, and their users.