Finding a Host

So, you’ve found a domain name you like.

Now you have to make some decisions about where that domain is going to live. Every website actually exists as a physical file sitting on a computer that is constantly attached to the internet…somewhere.

Like Domain Name Registrars, Hosting Companies are around every corner. Some are good, some are bad. Some are VERY bad. Some are free. Some are expensive. They can be helpful or distant. I’ve seen a lot of people just pick a hosting company at random. My first business website, I chose a local hosting company, thinking I’d get home-town service. OUCH! That was an expensive lesson. Hours spent disputing bills, only to discover that when I learned to use the newer technology available on the internet, my hosting company didn’t have a machine that would let me use it!

A friend told me this nightmare: he bought his domain name through a free hosting company. They had a program that helped him set up a pretty good website in just minutes. He was excited. They set up email addresses for him, and all went well for a year. Towards the end of his year, however, he decided he wanted to customize his website, adding a new feature…something like a contact page with captcha (anti-spam feature). The host couldn’t provide that. Well, he’d had a year of great hosting, and now he was ready to expand. The problem was, this particular hosting company didn’t have a good paid plan that would let him do what he wanted. He did find another hosting company he liked, and he decided to move his site. He learned how to copy the files from his web host, and found that his free hosting company didn’t allow him to copy those files. Disappointed, he found out they actually retained the copyrights to his site since it was built on their sample. So, he built a new site on a new host and went to transfer the domain name to the new site…and was told it couldn’t be done. Somehow, they had legally locked him in to using that domain name on that server. (Read the fine print…) He started over with a new domain name, new host, new website…and lost all of his history. He had to reprint business cards, letterhead, etc., and his yellow pages add now pointed to a non-existent domain name. This was a hard lesson. I wish I had only heard this story once, but I’ve heard it many many times.

My husband’s business outgrew three web hosting companies, and it wasn’t fancy.

Your choice of a host may be influenced by what you want out of your site. If you’re just looking for a blog, there are many good blog hosts. Among the ones I’ve worked with are Blogger and WordPress. While I like WordPress’ software, I find their hosting programs a little restrictive if you’re looking for a free host. Blogger will let you customize your layout a little more than WordPress. However, I find WordPress has some better features. I recently did a test and was amused that Google listed my WordPress test blog before my Blogger test blog — even though they had the same content. For my own blog, I decided to go with Blogger at first because it was linked in with Gmail…and I love Gmail. Google is well on it’s way to taking over the planet. Before long, I outgrew Blogger and moved to hosting my blog on my own website.

Both Google and WordPress can help you get your domain name for about $10. Both have some options to allow you additional information pages. For a writer on a budget, this may be a good way to start.

What happens if you want more than a blog? Maybe you’d like a site that has a cool slideshow, or you’d like to offer newsletter subscriptions, sell extra items easily, or just have real control over what your design looks like? You may find that you quickly outgrow a free host. Also, many hosting companies have “band width limitations.” What this means is that if 100 people look at your site a month, you’re fine. If 10,000 people look at your site because you just happened to have blogged about what turns out to be the next-hot-topic, guess what? You can be hit with extra fees, or your site may go d-o-w-n. Wait. You mean if I suddenly get popular, my site could be turned off? Yes. In the middle of your success, your web presence can vanish. Ouch.

For paid hosting, I’m pretty particular. I recommend Blue Host. They’ve won more awards than I can mention in this article. I recently had a discussion with them about high volume sites and how they handle the sudden popularity spikes. First, they allot more bandwidth. Next, they’ll try to help you move towards something called “Virtual Private Hosting”. They’ll work with you so you’ll have an early warning of problems. However, their bandwidth allotment is so high it is hard to hit. I’ve used them with several different customers and been extremely pleased with the features available on their servers and their incredibly patient technical support.

One of my customers released a new feature on their site that involved using a lot of band-width. I thought this might finally hit the maximum for shared hosting. For the first time, I had a site that actually registered as having activity on their band-width graph. (An average site uses so little that it doesn’t even register.) I expected to have to move the site…only to find out that we were using about a tenth of what they considered high volume usage. Wow.

Blue Host includes your first domain name free with your registration. They recommend that you pay for hosting a year or two in advance, with hosting plans starting at $7.95/month for a year or $6.95/month for two years. They’ll also help you transfer from another server. You can run a WordPress blog on their site. You can run an advanced Content Management System on their site. They have some templates to help you get started, or you can turn that space over to a web designer and get a high-powered, custom designed, website. I like working on their servers…because I can play with new, cool toys.

There is another bonus to using Blue Host. (I sound like a salesperson, don’t I?) They offer a lot of space and “unlimited sub-domains.” What this means is that you have the ability to expand. Say your spouse decides to dabble in internet marketing. No need to get a new hosting company. Work with Blue Host and you’ll pay $10/year to register the 2nd domain name on your existing account. Maybe you find that you want to register a domain under your latest book title. $10/year and it can point to your existing site. Want to help out a special cause? I moved my friendly writer’s group onto my server. It costs me $10/year to help them have a fabulous site. What else can you do with all of that space?

This is only a basic introduction to web hosting, but hopefully it will give you something to think about and help you pick your hosting company and register your domain name with care. These first decisions form the foundation of your experience with web marketing. You are leasing the real estate that you are going to build your business on. Do you want a building where the plumming fails and the walls are out of plumb? Or do you want a building in an excellent location where everything works and the superintendent is friendly and helpful? With BlueHost, it is like getting an entire strip mall in a great neighborhood.

Now…what will you do with that space?

A good website is made up of three aspects that work together: content, functionality and design.

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