You have made up your mind that you will buy a domain name (or several) and take out web hosting from a website hosting provider.
First some considerations about the domain name(s)
Domain names do not really have anything to do with web hosting and can be registered independently from the hosting package. There are advantages if you have domain name and hosting separate. For example, if the hosting company you selected fails to provide a good service, all you need to do is find a better website hosting company and change the domain name settings. If you have domain name and hosting with the same company and the company ceases trading, the last thing they think about is your hosting or domain name. By having them separate, you are lowering the risk.
Disadvantages of registering the domain name with your hosting company
Many website hosting companies offer to register domain names on your behalf. You think that your domain name is with your hosting company, when, in fact, they register it through some third party registrar for you. You then receive an invoice in 2 years time from a company you never heard of, ignore it, and in the worst case lose your domain name.
Furthermore, in many cases, you will not get access to your domain name details nor will you be given a domain name control panel. Why do you need a domain name control panel? You need to be able to update the contact information for your domain name(s). If you move house for example and do not update you domain name details and for some reason you need to change registrar etc. (or because your web hosting company ceased trading), you are in danger of losing your domain name because you cannot prove any longer that you are the owner of a certain domain name.
Also, a domain name control panel allows you to change email forwarding, web forwarding, and most importantly, the domain name servers, as well as some other settings. Check out 123-Reg if you want to find out more about that.
Larger hosting providers
Have a good look around online and check out different providers. There are many large hosting companies out there such as 1and1. The advantage of registering with a large hosting company is that they have hardly any downtime and their servers will be fast and up-to-date with the latest spam protection etc. Website hosting can be costly though if you register with a large web hosting company and if you want any additional services, you will have to pay for them. Support can be an issue too – you usually have to fight through hundreds of “Frequently Asked Questions” before you are allowed to send an email to their support team. You might also have to call a Premium Rate phone number if you need to speak to someone urgently. These rates can rate from £0.50 to £2 per minute (!) or even more. In most cases, you will receive good support, but in some cases you might be put through to an unexperienced person who has to speak to their supervisor to double-check things frequently – and all that at a premium rate!
The biggest problem with large web hosting providers is that if you miss the annual payment and do not react to their payment reminders – they will remove your website, your account, without further notice. In some cases, there will not be any chance to recover your website. With a large web hosting company, your website is just a number in a very large pool of websites. If they lose your custom, so what!
Web hosting with a smaller web hosting provider
If you find a reliable smaller web hosting provider, chances are that you will receive a personal service, and support questions are answered with a lot more detail and a lot quicker. Most likely, you can call a UK landline or an 0845 or 0870 number which is a lot cheaper than £2 per minute. In some cases, you might be able to receive a reply to your support question – which you sent on a Saturday evening – that same night.
If you miss your payment with a smaller web hosting company, they will most likely call you personally and remind you on your late payment. They are keen to keep you as a customer and will probably not remove your account and your website immediately.
Ask the web hosting company if they provide extensive website statistics. You want to know how many visitors have accessed your website, what search terms they used to find your website in Google and other search engines, how many visitors you have per day, on a certain day of the week, and so on. Please also ask if you can have access to the website log files. You might think that adding a website hit counter will provide enough information, but that is actually the most inaccurate method of counting your website visitors – and apart from that they look tacky and unprofessional. Your web hosting company should provide statistics that are at least as comprehensive as Webalizer and if statistics are important for you, you need to have access to your log files which can then be analyzed with statistics analysing software (such as Surfstats).
E-Mail issues to watch out for
Before you take out sign up with a hosting company, ask them if they provide SMTP/POP3 which you need to set up email accounts. If you want one or several e-mail addresses with your website – such as firstname.lastname@example.org – the web hosting company needs to provide SMTP/POP3 setup. Some web hosting companies only allow you to receive emails sent to email@example.com, but they will not allow you to use these e-mail addresses to send e-mails from. They will simply argue that you can use your Internet Service Provider E-Mail address – such as firstname.lastname@example.org. This does not look professional at all, and you should avoid web hosting companies that do not provide SMTP/POP3 service.
Check with your web hosting company how often backups are made. Usually, backups are made on a daily basis. If you have a large online store on your website and the server room at the web hosting premises is on fire, you will lose all your work if they do not back up their web server files. So please check if they have a backup routine in place.
Free Webhosting with your internet service provider
Please do not use this! Your internet service provider company provide an internet connection. That is what they specialise in. They sometimes “throw in” free web hosting for up to 100 MB or even more. They normally do not provide SMTP / POP3 setup for the sending / receiving of emails related to your website (such as email@example.com ), nor will they provide databases, server scripting language support and such like. Usually, you can only upload websites developed in pure HTML, and in some cases you will not be able to use FTP software for uploading your files and managing your files on the web server. Your business website will probably use some sort of server-side scripting language – such as ASP, PHP etc. and maybe use a database such as MySQL. If your website is with your Internet Service Provider, the support for this service can be poor and the account can sometimes not be upgraded to include server-side scripting languages, and/or databases.
Web Hosting Costs
Web Hosting costs can vary greatly. You can take out web hosting for as little as £15 per year, or you can get web hosting, including 5 email addresses, 100 MB web space (which is a lot for a small business presence) for as little as £30 per year (check out Plugsocket). If you buy a web design magazine, you will see many adverts from bigger web hosting companies. Check out their prices, their policies, and maybe give them a call – you will find out how long it takes until your call is answered.
Do not jump in because it is cheap, and conversely, do not think the service must be great because it is expensive. Check out what is on offer and then make an informed decision.