written by: Meryl K Evans•edited by: Robin L.•updated: 5/5/2011
Need a place to call home for your Web site? Want to find a better web host than your current one? Get tips on how to find the best web host that meets your needs.
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Where to Put Your Website
Starting a new website? Needing to switch web hosts? Those starting a new website have an easy job of searching for a new web host because that's all they need to do. Those who need to switch have a tougher job because it of the pains to transfer the current site, setting up applications like a blog or content management system (CMS), and risking data loss or misplacement.
Believe me, I've been there. I had to switch between web hosts for two reasons: (1) the previous had terrible service and (2) to save a bundle of money. The switch provided huge cost savings, a faster and more responsive tech support, and more features for less money.
Doing research helps lower the risk of signing up with a lousy web host. Use your current provider as a comparison in looking for the new one. If old and new look even on everything except price, take that information to your provider and perhaps the price will come down.
Web hosts offer various types of packages. Some help you with obtaining or registering a domain name (URL), web site design tools, and hosting. Hosting plans range from $2 (yes, even good ones) on up per month depending on the storage and bandwidth you need. For most individuals and very small businesses, the cost will most likely be less than $15 per month.
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Features to Look For
Search for any web host comparison site and you might feel overwhelmed by the options and features available in the comparisons. Don't drive yourself crazy with everything. Instead look for these feautres:
Storage / disk space: Amount of space for your files. If you have an existing site, you can look at the control panel or file manager to see how much space you need. If not, start small. Many providers let you upgrade plans if your site needs more space. I've upgraded with my current provider twice.
Bandwidth (data transfer rates): This is the data transferred in or out of a website such as content, images and media files. When you visit a website, the page with the content, every image that appears and any other component is using bandwidth to load so you can see it.
Uptime guarantee (availability): This answers the question of "How often does the server go down?" You want the uptime rate to be as close as possible to 100 percent.
Email: Hosts tend to offer email accounts as part of the package. If you want to give an email address to every employee or family member, you can do that. Other options to look for include IMAP, POP mail and Web-based email. IMAP and POP mail let you get your emails through your email application like Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora and Thunderbird. Web-based email lets you read and respond to emails through the Internet like Gmail and Yahoo. Many offer all three options.
File Transfer Protocol (FTP): FTP lets you copy your files from your computer to the web host. People can't go to your computer to see the website. Most hosts provide multiple FTP accounts so you can give access to others. You upload and download files between computer and host using the hosts' tools or software like Filezilla (http://filezilla-project.org/). This is faster than uploading and downloading through a control panel because it's similar to the file manager on your computer.
Logs: These allow you to see information about search keywords used to come to your site, visitors, and website and page errors. Visitor information can tell you what countries they come from, what URLs brought them to your site and what browser they use.
Subdomain: If you want to use domains like blog.website.com, about.website.com and products.website.com, you'll want this feature.
Backups: Most hosts come with backup capabilities so they can restore your content if a disaster occurs. It's also wise to have a copy of all the website files on a local computer or using a cloud-based backup service.
Other tools: Will you sell a product or service? Create an online forum / discussion board? Web hosts often offer community and shopping tools so you don't have to search for software elsewhere. Many hosts come with a website builder and Fantasico (one-click install applications and other resources).
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Sites with Host Comparison Tools
A good place to start is asking friends and colleagues about their host providers. But here are sites that focus on comparing and rating providers. Just go to a search engine and enter "web host reviews" or "web host comparison."