Dedicated Versus User Accounts
When choosing the kind of web server account you want, you can either have a user account or a dedicated account. A dedicated account is one that lets you lease space on a web server and requires that you have secured your own domain name. For example, http://www.lynda.com is our dedicated account. A dedicated account requires a fee and offers numerous services. A user account is one in which you don't have to secure your own name or pay a fee. For example, http://geocities.yahoo.com/lynda/ would be an example of a user account. These types of accounts are almost always free, but have a limited number of services available.
figure 3 Some web sites, like CNET Internet Services, let you specify the type of hosting you want and the amount of money you want to spend and it will display web hosting companies that match those criteria. Very cool (http://webservices.cnet.com/cgi/scompare.asp?stable=Hosting_Plans)!
How Much Do You Want to Spend?
If you are making a web site for your local Moose-head lodge, then you might not want to spend a large amount of money each month to host the lodge's web site. In fact, a non-virtual account like those found at GeoCities would work great here. On the other hand, if you are promoting your own portfolio site and you expect potential clients to visit the site, then you should budget a reasonable amount of money so you can get the hosting services you need, like email addresses, logs, extra server space to place client work, and access to scripts. How much should you budget? That will depend on your exact needs, as services can range from $10$500/per month.
They offer a collection of templates and even an online web page builder to help get you started! These can be a good place to start if you are unsure about your design skills.
This is one of the most important services a hosting company can provide for you. It doesn't matter if you are a technical expert or a complete beginner; it's a huge issue to consider. If your site goes down, you are going to want answers immediately! So make sure the hosting company you choose has awesome technical support, or you might regret it later.
Here are some things to consider about technical support services:
Availability: Is someone available 7-days a week, 24-hours a day, including holidays? This is an absolute must. The Web does not sleep or take vacations; neither should your technical support team. If they offer limited hours, look elsewhere.
Contact Method: Is there a phone number you can call, or do you have to fill out some lame online form and wait for a callback? I have seen some companies respond within minutes of sending an email for technical support, but never consistently. You need to talk to a real person who knows what they are doing. Also, make sure they have a toll-free number. I mean, do you really want to pay for being on hold for 40 minutes?
Size of Staff: Make sure you check and find out how many tech support people they have on staff. A friend of mine called her hosting company during a normal work day, and do you want to know who answered the phone? It was the owner of the company! This is not a good sign that there was sufficient tech support on hand to take care of all the customers.
Size of Customer Base: Ask the hosting company how many people they provide hosting for. It's important to know this and the size of their support staff. If they are servicing 10,000 customers and have one tech support person, it's probably going to be a hassle getting the support you need when you need it.
Traffic (also referred to as Data Transfer) is the amount of information that can be downloaded from your web site. For free accounts, there usually aren't any published limitations. However, if you have people download two or more gigabytes of information in a single month, I am sure you will get an email asking why! For virtual hosting accounts, there is almost always a limit to the amount of information that can be downloaded from your site each month.
For example, if your entire web site was exactly 1 megabyte and 1,000 users visited every single page, your traffic for the month would be 1 gigabyte (1,000 megabytes). If your traffic limit was 2 gigabytes, you would be fine, but if it was 500 megabytes you could have some issues. Some hosting companies will charge you for the extra traffic while others will simply pull the plug on your site until the 1st of the next month. So make sure you know what your traffic limit is and what your web hosting company's policy is if you exceed that amount. If you are paying around $25$100 bucks a month for a user account, you should expect to get at least 1020 gigabytes of traffic each month.
How Big Is Your Web Site?
Are you going to have a small (fewer than 20 pages) web site, or is it going to be a larger site with streaming multimedia? Take an inventory of the types of things you will have on your web site. You need to know this so you can determine how much traffic (the amount of data downloaded from your site) you expect to get each month. Most hosting companies restrict the amount of data that can be downloaded from your site each month. If you exceed this limit, the hosting company will either block access to your site or charge you more money than you agreed to spend with them. For example, if I were going to post a bunch of QuickTime movies on my site, I would need to get a hosting account that allowed for a lot of data transfer at an affordable price.
Do you need to have an email account set up that relates to the web site? For example, you might want email@example.com and you may want firstname.lastname@example.org. Look into the costs and availability of this service, as well as how easy it is to set up.
Server space refers to the amount of hard drive space your account is given on the hosting company's server. This space is where you will upload all the files for your web site. Most free hosting services give you more web space than many of you will ever need, typically between 3 and 15 megabytes. For example, if you subscribe to AOL or Earthlink, you already have a non-virtual account as part of your monthly fee! (I bet some of you didn't even know that.) Now, 3-15 megabytes is really a lot if you figure that typical web page is under 100k. If you are paying for a hosting account, then you should expect to get somewhere between 20-50 megabytes of server space. Even though you might not need that space now, there might come a day when you want to expand your web site to include large media files, such as QuickTime, etc., and then you will need that much space!
If you don't currently have a web site designed, then this may be something you need to consider. Many hosting companies offer web design services to their customers. Even the non-virtual hosting site, like GeoCities Tripod and others, offer free web page design templates. Of course, in most cases you will get what you pay for, so don't expect to win any Communication Arts awards using a GeoCities template.
Once your web site has been up for a while, you will want to find out some important things about it, such as how many visitors have come, what parts of your site they are visiting the most, what browser they are using, what operating system they are using, and so on. This is critical information to help you make decisions on how to update your site. This type of information can be obtained through the web server logs. These reports will give you detailed information about your site, which is important for its current and continued success. These reports can also help you spot problem areas of your site, such as broken links, etc. Make sure the hosting company you choose offers a comprehensive online reporting system for you web site.
If the hosting company does not have a collection of CGI scripts for you to use, are they willing to help you set them up for no charge and willing to let you add your own CGI scripts? If not, then you need to look some-place else! And if you are paying more than $40-$50 bucks a month for a virtual hosting account, they should offer some type of basic e-commerce shopping cart for your site as well. Don't be afraid to demand and expect these services from your hosting company.