The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step – Confucius
I recently completed a quest to find the perfect web hosting for the blog you are now reading. It was a long winding road, that took some time to travel. I am glad the quest is now over. If you are reading this, I must assume that you are somewhere on that road yourself. Hopefully, this post can help you make the journey a little easier.
Before you do anything else, you need to consider going to either a free web hosting, or a site where you are paying for a web hosting plan. The free site has many advantages, besides being “free”. The biggest of these is that a free web site allows you to almost entirely focus on writing your blog’s posts. In most cases, the URL for your site will be a sub-domain of the host’s domain. The management of the site is up to the host. Typically, you have limited options about what software you use to create your website, how your site is constructed, and eventually runs the site. To me, a free site may be your perfect web host as it is a terrific way to get your blog started. If you decide to go another direction with your blog, or loose interest in blogging altogether, you have only your own time as an investment.
On the other hand, paying to have your site hosted, is pretty much like renting an apartment, in that you don’t actually own the space, you are just renting it for a predetermined time. The landlord (the “host”) provides specific services like maintaining the building and grounds, the utilities are available and working (plumbing, electric outlets, etc.) and a reasonable amount of safety. In this scenario, you supply the furniture, pay some or all the utility bills, keep the place clean, and have responsibility for your own safety. To me, the biggest advantage of paying for a hosted site is flexibility. You choose your blogging software (often the site will have several options to choose from, or you can use something else), and how it is configured. With the exception of some legal limitations, you decide how you use your site. Another advantage is that you almost certainly will have more storage space available on a paid hosted site. This space will come in handy if you have blogged for a few years and/or have a lot of photos or movies posted on your site. A downside is that you could have a bad host. The support pieces he is supposed to give may fail; you could have lousy support; servers could be down for extended periods of time, and so on.
If you decide to go with a free hosting site, you have a very short journey: decide your domain name, tweak your site template, and write, write, and write. For the hearty souls that want a site of their own, we walk on. Be ready to do a little research, some price shopping, and some planning. At the end of the trail, you will have site that meets your needs now, and will be flexible for your future needs as well.
Here are some points to consider along the way:
Certainly the domain name itself is important. You will also want to take a look at costs for the name, and in some cases, who actually owns the name. Most web hosting sites are also domain name registrars. In fact, the cost of the domain name is one enticement commonly used to persuade you to go with a hosting site. Depending on the host, the price for the domain name can be as little as nothing, or a few dollars. The splashy ad on the host’s own website may or may not tell you that these names are good for a year, and then you have to pay again to renew the name. Should you decide to go with a hosting company that offers a discounted price for your domain name, be sure to ask what the annual fee will be for the following year.
I have also seen sites that offer you a free domain name for life. Sounds good, but when I did a little digging, I found that a few sites actually owned the domain name, not you. If you stay with the site forever, this would be no problem, but what would happen if for some reason (better price, services, etc.) you decided to move to another site? Normally, the domain name moves with you; however, in this case, you would need a new domain name, making all the search engine optimization history for your posts, at least as far as your are concerned, pretty much vanish.
You will be seeing different hosting packages with space availability ranging from 5 GB to Unlimited. A good strategy to consider, especially if you a pretty new at blogging is to start small. Five GBs will be plenty of space. Most hosting services allow you to upgrade anytime; so if you need more space, you can add it on later. Be sure to ask the potential host if there is any penalty for the upgrade.
On the other hand, you may need a lot of space if you are transferring from another hosted site and you have many posts that make Tolstoy’s novels seem like short stories, or you have a lot of photos or movies to upload to your site.
The bottom line here: pricing for the site usually increases incrementally for the amount of space needed to store your programs and data.
Hosting website splash ads all speak of their excellent support and service. The validity of these statements would be the same as assessing an outcome from reading tea leaves, or speaking to the Oracle of Delphi. The only thing you can reasonably infer from the host’s website is that support is available at the posted times.
For Web Hosts that I was considering, I called their Support, explained that I was not yet a customer, and that I had some questions about their services. I was concerned with their responses to my questions and how they responded as well. Could I understand them? Was the technician polite? Did the technician try to rush me off the phone? And so on……. I tried to picture this technician after calling him at 11:00 PM, explaining to him that my website just crashed. Is it fair that I evaluate the support effort of a company by talking to just one technician. My answer is, “YES”. They are only as strong as their weakest link.
This is not incredibly critical for a blog, while it is life or death to a commercial site. Usually, I found from a comparison of sites that bandwidth was unlimited; however, I was looking at large hosting companies. A host on a smaller scale may throttle down bandwidth on his less expensive packages. I only mention this because when you start comparing the sites with each other, you want to be, as much as you can, on an “apples to apples” basis.
Make sure the hosting site you finally decide on has the programs you need. I found WordPress to be pretty universal on all sites I was considering. At this point, it is pretty much a standard. I found other programs for blogs available as well; however, some looked a little too proprietary to me (such as: it may hard to transfer data to another site, especially if that site does not support the same proprietary program).
Once you decide on the program that will power your blog, find out what supporting programs (Php, MySQL, etc.) it needs, and does the site offer those programs in its packages. If you do not know what these programs are, do some research, and/or call a couple of sites and ask a technician.
You may or may not have a need to use the real stored data, or support files on your site, but if you do, check to see that the package you are looking at has SSH, FTP, and/or Web Disc. Some sites offer access programs in all their packages, and some sites don’t offer access at all.
Reviews and recommendations
After reading hundreds of reviews and recommendations over the course of a couple of weeks, I came to this conclusion: Unless the review or recommendation came from a publisher I was familiar with, I totally discounted the information. I felt that many websites that had the sole purpose of its existence based on reviewing only web hosting sites, were at the very least tainted. How does a website test a hosting service based on user reviews? Are any of these reviews validated? Could bad reviews come from a competitive company? Could great reviews come from a company itself. How often is the data updated? Finally, could all the reviews been generated by the evaluating company itself? Who certifies them? Very very very very suspicious.
It appears that pricing on many hosting companies is very deceptive. You will see a splash screen ad from a hosting company with the price “$6.95 a month” that has a big slash through it, and then in larger figures, in the foreground, a price of “$4.95 a month” is shown. Looks like a big sale doesn’t it? Two dollars off; such a deal; where do I sign up? What is missing from the ad, is that the $4.95 a month figure is only available if you sign up for three years!!! Though I was not able to confirm this, I imagine that $4.95 a month is the everyday price for a three-year commitment. With some companies, if you dug deeper into the site’s information, you would see packages priced by one year, two years, and three years. One could still think that the splash screen pricing superseded the package pricing. In any event, the three-year obligation is made crystal clear when you get ready to pay for the service.
In order not to leave an impression of a conflict of interest with the reader, I deliberately not mentioning the name of the hosting site for this blog. I will say that their advertising does not contain anything that would even possibly be interpreted as misleading. Support, though I have only used it once after I got set up, was excellent. Installing WordPress was accomplished using Simple Scripts. In addition, I was able to transfer all my documents from my former site without a hitch. I was up and running in no time. With a 30 day opt out, one year commitment, I am paying $4.12 a month. This is their everyday price, – no special deal. It includes 10 GB of hard drive/file space, unlimited bandwidth, 10 email boxes, supports two sites, FTP, SSH, Web Disc, Site Builder, WordPress, free domain name for a year, and a lot more.
When you begin to compare different packages offered by the web hosts, you see they all include a lot of stuff, – a lot of which you may never use. To me, the 7 items mentioned in this post are the real “deal breakers”. These points need to be researched to see how they will apply your site. By so doing, you will know what you are getting, and its relevance in building and maintaining your site. In addition, the homework you do will let you see through some of the “remarkable” statements presented in the host website splash ads.
Good luck with your new site. If there are additional points you want more information on, please leave me a message in the Comments section of this site.