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How to choose a hosting service

How to choose a hosting service from the many available.
How to choose a hosting service from the many available.

After choosing a domain name website hosting is the next decision to take before starting to develop your website. This is because even before you register the domain name you have to consider the benefits of using different hosting options.

So what is website hosting?  Every site you access through the internet is no more than a library of computer code sitting on a hard drive of one sort or another just like the hard drive on the computer you are using to read this article. These hard drives are built into servers about the size of a small suitcase and are used for nothing more than storing and providing access to the code and files that we all see as text and images on our screens.

In practice very few organisations are large enough to justify managing their own internet servers, so over the years specialist companies have come into being to provide outsourced hosting services to website owners. The services they provide can be summarised under three categories. (If you are starting to get a bit bored with this technology stuff, number 3 is the most important.  However, it’s worth knowing some of the detail so you won’t be bamboozled by any techtalk).

The most basic hosting service is a Virtual Private Server (VPS). VPS is effectively one server among many which is dedicated solely to your site. Some hosts offer half a server at a lower price if you don’t need the capacity of a whole server. Your VPS is effectively a blank hard disk, and it is up to you to load your operating systems and all the programmes you need to run your software. These are for out-and-out techies, and I would suggest that you spend your time building your website rather than having to worry about the server itself.

Option two is a managed hosting service.  This means that your hosting company has the flexibility to store your files anywhere on its servers. In addition the managed hosting service will often include user name and password security, firewalls and spam filters, automatic back ups and a monitoring and restoring service to ensure that your files are running properly. Hosting is a competitive businesses, prices are low and different price plans offer different service packages. Good hosts also offer on-line chat support and will carry out on your behalf and with your permission the necessary procedures to make the changes you want.

Option three combines the benefits of a managed hosting service with all the other services needed by the typical small website developer. For a modest sum many hosting services offer a complete package including domain registration, emails, and most important an integrated link to the main development platforms such as WordPress. Unless you have a lot of experience (and probably stopped reading this a long time ago) this is definitely the option I would recommend.

I chose to use WordPress to develop agewhatage.com. WordPress has already been used successfully by designers to create hundreds of thousands of websites and is widely respected in the business. When you add to that its relative ease of use, almost limitless range of features and continuous updates either by the people at WordPress itself or by external third-party developers there seemed to be no good reason to look elsewhere.  If at some time in the future we find it is no longer adequate for our needs, we can always move on.

WordPress offer their own option 3 service through wordpress.com.  This is a complete package of domain name registration, access to the wordpress development software, hosting and realtime chat support and charge a monthly or annual subscription for this service. In effect this is WordPress’ own managed hosting service with all the WordPress bells and whistles.

Alternatively you can run your website on a third party server and still benefit from all the features of WordPress through wordpress.org.  Think of it as being the front end developer and administration support for your website. You will have to set up a separate account with a third-party hosting service for everything else. But use of the WordPress software is free of charge.

The benefit of a third-party hosting service is that you have total control over the way in which your files and settings are managed. Perhaps not an issue at the outset, but you want to avoid all the hassle of changing hosting service at a later stage if you can.

Third party hosting (WordPress call it “Private hosting”) is not expensive.  We have an account with ipage.com which includes domain name registrations and unlimited emails, and it only cost us £65 for three years.  After three years the price will go up unless we go elsewhere, but by that time our requirements will probably have changed anyway. We also get unlimited support through their chat service, and if we really get stuck they will do things for us while we wait.

Before making a final choice on a hosting service, run a review search (e.g. “ipage reviews”) on google for yourself, and make sure the reviews are up to date. You don’t want to be guided by a 5 year old review, and then find the company has since been taken over and the service quality has gone downhill fast. There are plenty of review sites such as top10 hosting.

Just one last point.  On top of everything else I decided to change the name of our website recently.  This could have been quite a tricky exercise but we managed to sort it out with the help of the online webchat service. I would rate webchat as one of the most important features of a hosting service – even if you are a real expert.


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