So you want to publish a web site do you? Welcome to the club. These days it seems that almost everyone has a web site of some kind, and thousands more continue to be launched every day. It's challenging enough to design a site and fill it with interesting content, but when all is said and done another challenge still remains - where to host it?
A popular choice for newbie webmasters, and even experienced ones, is to secure a free hosting plan with a company such as Yahoo! Geocities, Tripod or Angelfire. While these are easy to setup and free of charge, they do have limitations. Most free hosts don't offer all the nice features that paid hosts do such as FTP access, CGI-BIN, or your own personal domain name. Instead you're stuck with minimal features and a generic URL such as www.freewebhost.com/marcswebsite. This somewhat limits your web site's potential. Most free hosts also require you to run banners or pop-up ads on your web site to make it worth their while - these banners and pop-ups can obstruct the view of your web page and ultimately annoy visitors and drive them away. Lastly, most free hosts have a daily bandwidth limit that is very small, so if you do get a lot of traffic you'll most likely exceed the allotted bandwidth and your site will be temporarily disabled. Overall I would recommend free web hosts for people that are new to web hosting and want to get a feel for how it works. I'd also recommend them for web sites that are personal in nature (such as an online journal) as well as web sites that don't plan to generate any revenue. Free web hosts are a great stepping stone to paid web hosts - I myself starting building web sites 4 years ago using free hosts, and today I run several high traffic web sites that are hosted on paid web hosting plans.
Now it's time to get into the good stuff - paid web hosting. Web hosting companies that charge money for their services are plentiful on the Internet, and feature a wide array of hosting packages at various price points. First we begin with so called "budget" web hosts, who claim to offer you the world for only $1 per month. Having used numerous such companies I feel I must tell you to proceed with caution here, as these companies aren't all that they are cracked up to be. Many claim to offer 24/7 e-mail support, which in my experience turned out to be 0/0 e-mail support. My e-mails were either never answered or answered a week after I sent them. Even when I got a response it was generic in nature and completely unhelpful. Also, expect frequent outages with these budget web hosts as they rarely even have their own web servers - often they are reselling space on someone else's web servers over which they have no control. One budget web host I used went down unexpectedly for 6 days, and they didn't even bother to notify their customers. As a result, my web site was down for 6 days and I lost most of my visitors as well as my hard-earned search engine rankings. Lesson learned: if the reliability and success of your web site is important to you, budget web hosting might not be the answer. However, this is not to say that all budget web hosts are bad - 1dollarhosting.com is one of the leaders in the budget web hosting arena and has quite a good reputation.
The next type of paid web host is what I refer to as a "mid-range" web host, meaning that they offer prices and service that will satisfy the majority of web sites out there. Mid-range web hosts like PowWeb, Your-Site.com and iPowerWeb offer packages ranging from $5 to $8 per month and provide the tools that most webmasters will need to run a web site, such as: CGI-BIN, tons of e-mail addresses, FTP support, visitor statistics and more. These hosts do have monthly bandwidth limits, but the limits are quite high, and most web sites will never reach them. However, if your web site features hundreds of file downloads and gets decent traffic you may be shocked at how soon you'll reach those bandwidth limits. When you do, your site may be temporarily shut down or you'll have to pay bandwidth overage charges, which can get pricey. Overall though, mid-range web hosts will be satisfactory for 90% of the web sites out there, and generally offer excellent uptime/reliability. In fact, many web-based businesses are successfully run using a mid-range web host. However, as mentioned previously, web sites that offer large files for download or sites that get a huge amount of traffic may find that a mid-range host doesn't quite suit their needs. These types of web sites may require "high-end" web hosting solutions, the next topic in our discussion.
High-end web hosts typically service web sites that are extremely popular, have a high amount of traffic, and/or require pretty much 100% uptime. Most businesses rely on high-end web hosts to host their web sites. Rackspace.com is an example of a well known high-end web hosting company. Pricing for high-end hosts varies, but typically runs from about $50 per month to several hundred dollars per month. Many high-end hosts give you your own dedicated server (which they support) that is reserved just for you and your web site. The mid-range hosts I discussed earlier typically host many different web sites on the same server - this is known as "shared" hosting. High-end web hosts offer stellar reliability, bandwidth, and just about every tool you'll ever need to run a successful web site. Another feature that some high-end web hosts provide is "co-location" hosting. In this scenario, YOU configure and provide the web server, but you get to plug it into their data center/network. This can be very nice because their data center usually has a fiber-optic connection directly to the Internet, offering blazing bandwidth and stellar reliability. People who run web-based businesses or extremely popular, high traffic web sites are good candidates for high-end web hosting.
Hopefully this brief overview gives you a good picture of the various types of web hosts that exist, and which one might be right for you. When you begin your search for a web host, always keep in mind the old adage "You get what you pay for" because it really does hold true in this case. Before you make the commitment to host a web site be sure to take some time and analyze what you want out of the web site, and decide which factors are most important to its success. Answering these questions will get you many steps closer to choosing the web host that's right for you.
Marc Eberhart is an IT Project Manager, webmaster, and all-around Internet junkie. His web site http://www.webhostingdiscounts.net/ offers visitors 40% off web hosting plans with top-rated hosting companies.