Get your website off the ground with the right webhost


I mentioned in an earlier post that I moved webhosts. It’s now been more than a month since that move was made, and I have already seen the benefits. By sharing what I’ve learned in my transition, I hope to enlighten other hopeful web users who are about to start their own site.

I moved from webserve.ca to Bluehost.com in June of 2008. The reason for the move was that I became annoyed with webserve’s downtime, and relatively basic feature list compared to other hosts. While their support was generally quick and responsive, the fact that I needed to put in so many requests was unacceptable.


Now that I’ve moved to Bluehost, I’ve noticed that Google response times are down, meaning the bandwidth for my site has been greatly improved. A faster server means more visitors, which is always a good thing.

If you’re in the market for a new webhost (or your first) here are some things to look for:

Bandwidth


This shows the difference that a good web host can make. The graph represents the average time Google needs to download a webpage. The drop is when I moved to Bluehost.

Bandwidth when related to web service means not only how much data your site allows you to transfer in a given month, but also at any given time. A higher number is always better, because most hosts institute large penalties for going over this number. The problem is that bandwidth often varies widely month to month, as sometimes a single link on a popular site like Digg.com can cause massive bandwidth spikes in mere hours. If the bandwidth link to your site isn’t large enough, an influx in traffic can cripple it. Unfortunately, you won’t truly know how well your site is connected until you receive one of these influxes.

Disk storage

In an age where portable hard drives have hundreds of GB and cost ~$100, don’t settle for less. A large data limit means you can store your own data outside your website for transfer, and also use advanced features on your own site (like a photo gallery). In many cases you won’t actually use your entire quotient, but it is good to have the excess if you ever want to expand.

Server hardware

This is important, but is often not a limiting factor. Simply put, a faster server system can handle more connections at once. This means that on a hosting plan with a fast server and good bandwidth, events like the Digg effect can almost be completely avoided. Usually hosts use the fastest hardware available, but some of the lower priced services achieve their savings with slower machines.

FTP and email accounts

With my original web service, I was only given 1 FTP account, without an option to configure more. At the time I had no real need to have more, but now that I have the ability to create an unlimited number of users and email addresses, I’ve learned how handy it can be. With multiple accounts, you can give friends or family access to a specific folder on your server with stored pictures, or any other large files that cannot be emailed. It’s the same way with email; you want the option to make more addresses than you originally think.

Multiple domains

The internet moves fast. While you may start with a single website, within months you could find an entire new niche with real potential. With the ability to host multiple domains with single hosting packages, you can get started much easier with a brand new website: simply buy a new domain, point it to your current package, and you’re good to go. Just keep in mind that you are also sharing resources, so if any of your sites become very popular, it is definitely worth while to switch to a dedicated package for that website.

Online configuration

The online configuration of a webhosting package is where you do all the administration tasks like adding email accounts, MySQL databases, and backing up your data. It should be intuitive and uncluttered. Unfortunately not many hosts give you the opportunity to try this panel before purchasing, so you’ll have to do some online research to learn about them. If things like MySQL databases make your head spin, be sure to look for hosting packages with step-by-step instructions to install popular features.

Server software

Mostly the domain of a website administrator, the server software decides what your website can do, and how reliable it is. A poorly managed server can be unstable, and cause more downtime than truly necessary. Look for companies that run PHP 5, MySQL 5 and update all their applications regularly. Even if they sound a little foreign, these are the applications that keep the internet running.

Support

If you really want to start a website, but are slightly frightened at the acronyms and version numbers involved, be sure to investigate a company’s support record. This can only be done properly online, at unaffiliated websites, but it is invaluable to know what you are getting involved with. You’ll always find a mixed bag of reactions, but generally if the dominate response is positive, you’ll be in good hands.

This is by no means the definitive list for choosing a website provider, but everything here you should keep in mind when searching around. The webhosting industry is quite competitive, so be sure to do plenty of reading to find the best deal. I chose Bluehost.com to host wesg.ca because it offers infinite bandwidth and storage, multiple domains and has efficient support, all at an affordable price. Happy surfing!

Disclosure: I am a member of the Bluehost affiliate program.
[tags]websites, blogs, hosting, ISP[/tags]

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