Selecting a Web-Hosting Service

If you're a small office/home office (SOHO) user, you probably have a small Web site to promote your business. If you don't have a Web site for your business, I'm willing to bet that you have one for your hobbies, family, or other personal interests.

Many users start their Web sites with a small page their ISP provides. That setup is fine for a basic informational page, but you're probably looking at some significant size limitations (amount of local storage) and available bandwidth. So when you decide to build a bigger and better site, start looking for a provider that's dedicated to providing Web services.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of Web-hosting services are out there. Do a little comparison shopping when you decide to make the move. Here are a few things to consider when selecting a provider:

  1. Decide in advance what you want to do with the site. Do you want dynamic content that will require back-end database services? Do you care what the hosting OS is?
  2. Do you need email services as well as Web services? How many accounts do you need? Do you need POP access? Web mail access?
  3. What kind of technical support do you require? 24/7? Normal business hours?
  4. How are the company's references? Contact current hosting customers to determine whether the vendor lives up to its claims.
  5. What bandwidth does the hosting service have available (a tough question to get a straight answer to)? Is the service connected directly to a major Internet backbone or is it a couple of levels down in the Internet hierarchy?
  6. What kind of remote-management tools does the hosting service offer? All service providers are not created equal, and some offer much more granular control over your Web site than others. If tracking traffic on your Web site is important, make sure the service offers the necessary tracking tools.
  7. Analyze the total cost of the service. Some services offer a single price per year, and others offer a monthly billing option. Often, features that you add on drive up the costs in ways you don't expect. For example, I use a $19.95 per month plan at to host a couple of Web sites. Some of those sites might be more cost effective if hosted them at its $99 per year rate.

If you have other specific requirements, such as support for FrontPage Extensions, or you plan to use Cold Fusion, make sure you check into those items first. I use multiple hosting services, which I don't recommend for the average user; I do it to keep aware of what's happening in both the Windows 2000/NT and UNIX-based hosting markets.

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