Join James Williamson for an in-depth discussion in this video Choosing a web host, part of Introduction to Web Design and Development.
- One of the most important decisions that you'll make as a Web Designer, is which hosting company to use when creating sites for yourself and your clients. A quick search will reveal dozens of sites that are dedicated to comparing hosting companies, and the plans that they offer. The sheer number of hosting companies, available plans and features, and pricing options can be confusing and sometimes a little overwhelming to a person when they're choosing their first hosting company. So, in this movie, I want to cover some of the basics of choosing a hosting company and offer you some advice on what to look for.
First, you should take some time to think about what the needs are for that particular site. Is it a commercial site, a blog, a portfolio, or is it simply a web presence? Will the site require ecommerce, databases, or server-side scripting? Knowing what the site's needs are, and how those needs might grow in the future, is gonna help you understand which hosting plan is right for that site. When looking at hosting plans, here are a few things to consider. First, almost everyone makes the mistake of looking at price first.
I understand this, hosting your personal site can be expensive. And, many clients are gonna balk at the cost of some plans. I've had clients that have been a bit leary of the hosting plan that I recommend, you know, they come back to me and they say, "Hey, I did a quick search, and I "found these incredibly cheap hosting "prices, let's go with one of these guys." Now, there's nothing wrong with cheap hosting, some of the lower priced hosting companies do a great job, and are very reputable. I would recommend, however, remembering that often, you get what you pay for.
Trust me, your client expects you to create a site that performs flawlessly, suffers from little to no downtime, and one that has any problems with it fixed quickly. If you choose a hosting company based solely on price, you could be asking for trouble. Next, don't be fooled by plans that offer an unlimited hosting space or data transfer. Now, hosting space is the amount of storage space that the hosting company provides for your site. Most sites don't need a lot of space, and unless you're creating a massive site, or one that makes use of heavy assets, such as video or larger images, you probably won't need a huge amount of storage.
Now, data transfer refers to the amount of files requested and served by the server over the course of a month. This is something that you want to watch closely. Most personal or commercial sites won't exceed what your hosting provider considers to be a nominal amount of data transfer. However, if you're creating a blog that you feel will be featured on reddit occasionally, or an ecommerce site that's gonna do heavy business, you can ignore that unlimited data transfer claim. Read the fine print of any hosting company and you'll see that the unlimited amounts they claim are actually subject to their discretion.
If you're gonna host a site that will get heavy traffic, talk to the hosting company and find out how much bandwidth they'll allow before the extra charges kick in, and without a doubt, find out how much those extra charges are. That's often a surprise that neither you, nor your client, wants. You also want to research hosting uptime. No system is flawless, and any hosting company that claims 100% uptime is lying. Again, read the fine print. But, it is reasonable to expect 99.9% uptime, and if you're hosting company can't guarantee that, look elsewhere.
There are some great tools online that allow you to monitor your site's uptime. Uptimerobot.com is one that I use, but a quick search will give you a lot of different sites to choose from. Next, decide whether you need a dedicated or shared server. A dedicated server means that your site is the only site hosted on it. As you can imagine, these are a bit more expensive than shared servers, but they're worth it for high traffic or larger commercial sites. In fact, if you're doing a job for a large client and expect heavy traffic, you should expect to use a dedicated server.
For most sites, shared servers are fine, but you do want to do a little bit of research about who you're sharing it with. In web hosting terms, you don't want do end up in what we call a quote, unquote, bad neighborhood. That means that you're sharing a server with a site that's known for spam, phishing, or some other dubious activity. Search engines are quick to blacklist that site and often your site will suffer from association, so before choosing a hosting company, you should call them and discuss their policies on hosting such sites.
After your site goes live, check out your neighbors by using some of the online tools that allow you to see who is hosting right along side you. I use Axandra's free reverse IP lookup, but it won't take you long to find a few sites that will do this for you. Also, take a close look at available features and supported software. Some hosting companies will allow you to install your own software, while others only offer pre-installed solutions. Understanding which configurations you'll be using for your site is important when choosing which features to look for.
At a minimum, you want to make sure that any server side software like PHP.net or Ruby, that you're gonna be using is supported. Check out the support for database administrators, like mysql and php myadmin. Also, look for the level of email support, and what type of spam filtering they offer. If you're gonna be blogging, make sure the blog engine that you want to use is either supported or that you're allowed to install it on their server. I would recommend looking for more control over your installations than less, although you might not be comfortable at first going in and making those changes to installs, you want to make sure that you, or your developer, have those options available.
Not being able to configure your HT access file or PHP config files can cause a lot of portions of your site to either not work, or not be as secure as they need to be. Now, that leads me to my last point, and that is support. A good hosting company will have 24 hour support. Don't be fooled by 24 hour email support, yeah you can send an email at two am, but there's no guarantee it will be read before nine. Test out a hosting company's support before you sign on with them, and look for companies that have 24 hour phone or live online support.
You may never need it, but if you do need it, you'll be glad that they have it. Finding a hosting company is an important decision. Don't be afraid to look up the hosting company through the Better Business Bureau, or to read client reviews and online forums. Check out reviewsignal, it's a great way of filtering through potential hosts, and getting actual customer reviews. Ask other web designers and developers who they use and who they trust. It doesn't matter how great the site is that you've designed, if the hosting company offers poor service and low uptime.
Find a company you trust, and establish a relationship with them. As a professional web designer, you want to find a hosting company that you can build a relationship with for both yourself and your clients.
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- What is web design?
- What is a web designer?
- Learning to code
- Choosing a web host
- Working with a CMS
- Exploring how websites are structured
- Choosing your framework or software
- Designing with standards and accessibility in mind