When you are looking for a professional web hosting service, you want to look for certain features and services. Do not worry about knowing exactly what all the technical terms mean, just look for them! You should always shop around, phone the hosting companies and ask questions as part of your qualification process.
1. Reliability and Speed
Look for a hosting service that owns their own equipment, with high-speed connections to multiple Internet backbones, backup power generators and backup systems in place. The hosting company will generally brag about their high-speed connections and will usually guarantee 99% or better availability of your web site.
Many hosting services are operated by resellers. This can be a good thing if they bring better and more knowledgeable support to their resold services. Unfortunately, many resellers do not really have the resources or knowledge to adequately support you.
Years in business are something you should take a look at. Three years or more is a pretty good yardstick of reliability.
If they offer a trial period, take advantage of it and actually try the service out.
2. Operating Systems
Do they use a standard operating system configuration that they keep updated on a routine basis? If they do not, you may have trouble getting newer scripts to work. On Linux servers, look for Red Hat, Mandrake, Debian, SuSE, Slackware and CentOS. You can visit www.kernel.org to find out what the latest stable version of Linux is. On Windows servers, look for recent Windows operating systems with all patches kept current. If they do not publish this information, email or phone them to find out.
3. Language and Database Support
They should support the key programming languages and databases that are used by newer scripts and should keep these up to date as well. On Linux you should look for PHP and Perl at the least. For a database, look for MySQL. You should be allowed at least one database. You should have your own CGI Bin. On Windows systems, look for MS Access at the least and MS SQL Server for power and speed. If you want to use the Microsoft .NET framework, your hosting will need to support that.
Check their support. The minimum support is email support. The better hosting services provide 24/7 email, ticket system and live telephone support. Actually try their support and see if they respond quickly enough for your needs and if their support staff is helpful and knowledgeable.
5. FTP Access
Many inexpensive hosting services do not provide FTP access. You will need FTP access if you plan to add much material to your website or if you need to install scripts on your website. Also check that you can change permissions on your files via FTP or through SSH.
How many email accounts do they provide? Are they POP email accounts? Can you add forwarders and email aliases? Look for web mail access as well. The better the service, the more options they will provide for email.
7. User Control Panel
Look for a comprehensive user control panel that allows you to manage your hosting account. The better control panels also provide automatic script installers like Fantastico or Elefante. Cpanel, Ensim and HSphere and Plesk are all well known and well supported. There are many more control panels than these and they are good too, but you should probably check them more thoroughly and take a look at their demo system if they have one.
8. Domain Names
You should be able to host at least one domain name. The better hosting companies will generally allow you five or more domain names. There should be no restrictions on sub-domains.
Does your hosting service include a statistics program so you can monitor your website traffic?
10. Disk Space
The absolute minimum is 50 MB, but you should be paying very low prices for that little disk space.
The main difference between the basic and expensive plans of any hosting service is the amount of bandwidth allowed per month.
To figure how much bandwidth you need, multiply your visits per day X page views per visit X average page size X 30 days.
Example: 100 visits per day, 5 page views per visit, with a page size of 45 kb: 100 X 5 X 45 KB X 30 = 675,000 KB = 675 MB.
Make sure you read up on how they charge you if you exceed your monthly bandwidth and what upgrades they have available.
If you plan to run a shopping cart or secure payments or data transfers on your website, you need to make sure that the hosting service supports SSL.
Some Closing Thoughts:
Typical prices for professional level hosting range between 6.99 and 45.00 per month for a reasonable level of disk space and bandwidth on shared hosting. Below that you are asking for trouble because they probably do not make enough money to adequately support their equipment, systems or you.
Windows servers are usually more expensive than Linux servers because the Windows operating systems are not open source. The hosting company has to pay for using them.
When you are comparing plans, keep in mind that you are getting a better deal at 25 per month for eight domain names than 10 per month for one.
When you are looking for hosting don't be afraid to ask questions. Good hosting services have no problem directing you to helpful information or answering your questions in a way that you can understand.