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How to Choose a Web Host

How to Choose a Web Host

There are a ton of webhosts out there. Some are cheap, some are risky, some are high quality, and some are expensive. None of those qualities confers any of the others. Choosing one is one of the most difficult tasks in setting up a website by yourself.

Windows Vs. Linux

However tempting it may be to get a web host with the same operating system as your home computer, you must resist. In general, you want a Linux host. The LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) powers millions of web sites, based on free software packages that make it easy for you to put content on your website without writing code. CMSes like WordPress and Joomla!, as well as e-Commerce packages like X-Cart, osCommerce, Zen-Cart, as well as forum software, Wiki’s, photo galleries, and other software that makes managing your website easy, all run better on a LAMP stack.

This isn’t to say that all windows hosts are bad. I’ve used EasyCGI in the past, and they run PHP apps very well. In terms of performance, PHP performs as well or better on Windows/IIS, but things like nice permalinks (look at the URL’s on our site) are not available, which means software like TextPatttern won’t run.

Quality Tiers

  1. Reliable, High quality hosts. in this category, I’d put Bluehost (inexpensive), Site5 (expensive) in this category. These hosts provide good support, all the free add-ons you’ll ever need, full access to your server, etc.
  2. Overly Controlling hosts. I’d definitely put GoDaddy and Yahoo! SmallBiz in this range. Their support is great, but it needs to be, because you’ll be calling them pretty regularly. These hosts deliberately cripple their service, to make their own lives easier. These sites often have custom control panels as well, making it difficult for your “geeky” friends to help you without logging in. It’s controversial, but I’d also put Media Temple in this category, because they bill based on CPU cycles, which isn’t something that makes sense to a lot of people. Since a great many people are installing software like wordpress automatically,
  3. Terrible hosts. These are the hosts that will accidentally toss your data, and then charge you to recover it. Support is terrible, and you’ll be calling them often, since even basic features are missing. Startlogic is the most recent of these that I’ve had to deal with. I’ve blotted the rest out of my memory.

How do you tell the difference? Short of personal experience, or reading hundreds of reviews, you can’t. You should read reviews, but it’s better (and easier) to find the opinion of someone you trust. Don’t go googling “Startlogic Sucks”. Those results are worthless. You should be googling for “compare webhosts”, and variations thereof. Hosting review sites will paint a much more accurate picture. If you’re on your own, here are some things to look out for:

  • Restrictive storage and bandwidth. These things are cheap. You should look at the numbers and think “How does anyone use that much”? Right now Bluehost is offering 15 Terabytes of bandwidth (transfer), and 1.5 Terabytes of storage. I’ve been known to backup my home computer onto my webserver, just because I don’t know what else to do with the space. Tier 2 & 3 hosts will have numbers that look more reasonable, because they want to scare off the “Power Users“.
  • Offering Plesk or vDesk instead of cPanel. It’s not that cPanel is inherently superior (maybe it is from the hosting side, but as a customer, it’s irrelavent). It’s that I’ve never seen vDesk or Plesk as a tier 1 host’s default control panel.
  • Additional charges for services that most hosts provide as part of their base package.

Terms of Service

Before you decide on a web host, you should always look at their terms of service. For most people it won’t be an issue, but when it’s an issue, it’s never a small issue. Hosts fall into tiers here as well:

  1. Permissive: Hosts who you can be absolutely sure won’t be taking down your website. Clear terms, that clearly state that they only deny service to people who are breaking the law in an actionable manner. A Small Orange has great terms of service in this regard.
  2. Boilerplate: The vast majority of hosts have boilerplate Terms, that technically allow them some leeway to take down your content, using words like obscenity, piracy, illegal content, etc. This language is troubling, but for most people, it’s not an issue.
  3. Scary: There are some hosts who have terms of service that prohibit hosting anything that they determine to pornographic, content with foul language, and other “moral police” type infringements. The hosts that I remember having these sorts of terms have all changed theirs since I saw these clauses. While you may not be interested in hosting what you think is objectionable content, you may run afoul of what they think is objectionable.

Trust

We list hosting as a service that we provide. What we actually do is manage hosting for our clients, most often hosting their content on our own hosting accounts. Recommending other hosts is not a conflict of interest for us, because we’re not providing the same service. This site is still hosted on Godaddy, but we recommend Bluehost to all our clients, and host several of our related sites there. We do see a small commission of of the Bluehost links in this post, but we’d rather see you choose a good host than make back any of our hosting fees.

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