Is Cheap Website Hosting Dependable?
Tips to finding inexpensive and reliable web hosting.

Website hosting doesnt have to cost an arm and a leg. But as with everything else on the Internet, you need to do some research and know what you want and expect from your site. If you dont do a little homework, youll end up paying for things that you dont need.

First, the Internet is really just a collection of computers and servers connected together – a network. You need to rent space on one of those servers, so people can access your site. Thats essentially what website hosting is. A company providing this service is called a web host. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and Domain Name Registrars may also provide hosting options.

Monthly costs can vary from nothing to hundreds of dollars, depending on a number of factors. Here are some tips to finding website hosting thats both cheap and reliable.

Why free web hosting is a bad idea

You might be tempted to sign up for free hosting, because thats really cheap. But thats too cheap. Although theyre free of charge, there is still a big cost to you: some of your websites real estate is going to be used to promote the hosting companys advertisers. So, expect banners and pop-ups. All that clutter is going to get in the way of your website.

Free hosts arent usually fast, so your visitors can expect delays and time-outs. And because theyre free, theres going to be a lot of people using them, which further adds to the traffic jam.

Finally, its unlikely that youll be able to use your own domain name. Instead, your free host will give you something like: Not very professional – and its hard to remember.

In the quest for cheap website hosting, your company might come across looking penny-pinching, and thats not good.

The basics of website hosting

To decide on a web hosting company, youre going to need to know roughly how much space your going to need, what kinds of technology your site will be using, and how much traffic you think you might get.

Your web designer can give you an idea of your websites size. Most basic hosting options vary from several to a couple of hundred megabytes of storage space, and thats enough for the average-size business. Unless youre running an adult, file-sharing, or software site, you probably are not going to need a lot of space. And if youre involved in any of those ventures, you can forget about cheap web hosting.

Next, if your site features basic HTML or Flash pages, then you dont have to worry about added features. However, if youre using forms, e-commerce, or special scripting languages like CGI and PHP, which add functionality to your site, you will need to look at upgrading to a more-than-basic package.

Finally, most web hosting options have bandwidth limits. Essentially, web hosting is like a cell-phone package: you have a certain number of hours or minutes available every month. With hosting, its not minutes, but quantities of information, measured in megabytes or gigabytes, can be transferred from the host to your visitors computers.

So, every file, picture, sound clip, movie, HTML page, and Flash movie which on your webpage counts towards your bandwidth or transfers. These limits exist because traffic for adult or file-sharing sites can cripple the quality of service to a hosts other customers.

If you exceed your bandwidth limits, you may be asked to pay for more, and if youre using more on a regular basis, it may be more economical to upgrade your hosting.

Choosing a web host

There are a lot of companies out there, so make sure you read the fine print. A low-cost web hosting option may not include all of the features you need. You can always upgrade your hosting option down, but make sure you start off with everything you need.

Hosting shouldnt cost you any more than $20–25 a month, and if youre running a site with no special forms, e-commerce, or scripting language, you should be able to get it cheaper than that.

But dont stop at the price tag. Finding a low-cost web host is just the beginning, now you need to test whether theyre dependable or not.

Find the technical-support telephone number for the host you are considering. Is it a local number or a long-distance call? Then, call the number and see how long it takes to reach a live support person. Also, pay attention to how many hoops they make you jump through to get support.

If the technical support number is busy, if the hold time is excessive, if theyve got you pressing 1, 0, then 2, then 4 – making you listen to long and confusing messages – or if the support hours are too limited, find another host.

Go to their website. Is it professionally designed or is it do-it-yourself web design? Does that fill you with confidence? Do you want to put your websites accessibility and level of service in the hands of someone who doesnt even have the good sense to hire a professional designer?

Is their website riddled with spelling mistakes? Its a small thing, but isnt that indicative of the level of service you might expect?

Do they have a FAQ (frequently asked question) section? If theyre cheap on information, they might also be bad on service. If you can find an e-mail address or contact section, send them a question just to see how long it takes to get a response. If you cant find an e-mail address, find another web host.

Its important to take your time because if you get it wrong and you sign up with a lousy host, you could have trouble moving your site later on. Many web hosts will walk on water to get your business, but once you fire them, theyre not so helpful.

Dont buy the hype

Finally, the most important thing you can do is remain focused. Dont buy the hype. When the technical jargon starts flying, start doubting or be suspicious. Dont be impressed by big numbers and words you dont know.

Dont buy extras you dont need. A lot of hosting companies will offer to register a domain name for you, but theyll charge you a premium. They may offer you extra space, extra mail boxes, design services, search engine submission services, or discounts on multiple domain name registrations. Remember, it all costs you something. Keep asking, Do I need this?

Your best bet is to ask your web designer about hosting options. They probably already have a couple of companies they know and are happy with. No matter who you choose, make sure that you record your hosts information, all of the login and password information they give you, and the instructions for uploading and maintaining your site.

We had one client who needed to have his site moved, but couldnt remember which host he had signed up with. We spent four days in back-and-forth e-mail correspondence between four hosting companies before we figured it out.

Also, keep your contact and payment information current with your web host. If they cant reach you because you've changed your e-mail address and your credit card has expired, your website comes down. And if you don't keep your contact information up to date, the host will require you to photocopy and fax many documents, including photo ID and business registrations, before they will release the site back to you.

If you need a dependable web host, we'd be happy to discuss your needs and recommend one for you. We'll hold your hand through the technical stuff, and we'll explain exactly what you've got and why you needed it. We think the Web really should be simple and easy. Check out our full range of web design services.

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