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What Kind of Web Host Is Best For My Site?

December, 2005

Picking the right Web host isn't an exact science. Your decision relies largely upon what you plan to do with your site, how much time and expertise you have available to devote to it, and what you can afford to pay. Here are the basic types of users and the kinds of hosts that are right for each.

Solo operator

If all you want from your Web site is a place to post pictures of your cat or announce your presence to the world, there are plenty of low-cost options. Armed with little or some HTML skills and a few Web tools, newbies should start with an account at a site such as Yahoo GeoCities or Homestead. Both hosts provide simple step-by-step design tools and templates, as well as modest amounts of storage, bandwidth, and e-mail addresses. For example, Homestead's basic $9.99-per-month package gives you a 10-page site with 50MB of storage and 15GB of bandwidth. If you want extras such as a personalized domain name (for example, www.yournameinlights.com) or phone support, however, you'll have to pay extra. ISPs such as EarthLink also provide simple 1-page sites for subscribers, so check with your service provider.

Easy sign-up, with a free trial period: You can get your feet wet without having to pay for a year's service up front.
Design templates: Pick from a range of different looks and styles without having to sweat HTML code.
Ability to add storage and bandwidth as needs grow: Because you never know what might happen.
E-mail accounts included in the base price: Allowing site visitors to contact you.
File transfer protocol (FTP) server for uploading files: This is faster and easier than uploading files using standard Web protocols.
Expanded support and unique domains for added cost: You can start out small, then decide later if you want to pay more to have your own domain (for example, www.me-online.com) and get real-time support to keep it up and running.

Small business

If you run a small business, you need to hang your shingle on the Web. But don't let running the site turn into a full-time job. While thousands of small businesses use services such as GeoCities or Homestead, a shared host is generally a better bet. You'll be able to give your site a more customized look, though you'll have to design it yourself or pay extra to have a host do it for you, and you'll have more room to grow as site traffic increases or you add employees and e-mail accounts. Prices are extremely competitive; you can get a fully functional site for less than $20 per month. But you'll also be sharing one machine with potentially hundreds of other sites, so if sites on your shared server get hacked or blocked for spamming, your site could be shut down for a time.

Unlimited e-mail and bandwidth: Should your Web site find a rabid audience, your readers/customers will find themselves locked out if you exceed your bandwidth allotment.
Personalized domain names: Having your own domain (www.yourowndomain.com) marks you as a serious business and one that's more likely to stick around.
Multiple static IP addresses: Static IPs are essential for any hosting environment (otherwise, people won't be able to find your site again); odds are you'll need several static IPs for Web servers, e-mail servers, databases, and the like.
E-mail and Web marketing tools: Want customers to find you in search engines or keep in touch with clients? Some hosts offer tools that let you do both.
Web-based site administration tools: They make it easier to manage your site remotely from any browser.
Site design services: Templates are too limited at this level, and your expertise may not be in Web design.
24/7 phone support: If your site goes down, even at 3 a.m., you lose face and may lose money, too; you want support to be there at anytime, day or night.