Decisions for a Web Site – Part 2 – The Web HostJuly 3, 2009 at 3:16 am | Posted in Blogs, Computers, Hardware, Internet, Online services, Web Design | 6 Comments
The Web Host
The host is the company that serves your web site to the world. Thus, you want it to be reliable, fast and easy to work with.
If you’re geeky enough, you can be your own web host. Set up a web server on an old box in your basement using something like dyndns.com to direct browsers. But this means you do it all, need reliable high speed Internet with decent traffic limits, and have to check your Internet providers user agreement. Some are not happy with servers due to FTP music servers bogging down other customers connections, for example. Most of us don’t mind paying $8 a month for someone else to do this.
Personally, I would not recommend any of the free web hosts. They’re more about serving ads than your web pages and often don’t do a great job of that. Some require you to use their limited design tools so they can place ads more easily.
One exception – some Internet providers include free web space with your Internet service. That doesn’t have ads. You just have to arrange to ‘activate’ it – basically create a folder on their web server. Look at them first to ensure they’re ad free. In this area, 2 of the main ISP’s do it, one points you to someone else’s ad riddled service.
A downside to free ISP web sites is the address. Something like members.isp.com/sites/~yoursite
You can use or migrate to a virtual domain to solve that. More on this later.
First thing to do is look at what you want to do with the site now and in the next few years. If you don’t know that, it’s time to think about why you’re doing this. With a review, you have a checklist of requirements. Some hosts include a remarkable range in their base offerings, some are cheap with everything else as extras. And watch out for the setup charges.
For example, you want to be able to grow the site and volume, to add a blog, eCommerce, and email addresses. Maybe start an email newsletter (mailing list). Maybe you want to create email aliases to use for special events or mailings so you know where mail is coming from. Or host podcasts or streaming video. Have an FTP server for large files. And you may want to be able to manage your domains in the same place. There are many, many options.
If you’re not sure what to think about, here’s a site that talks about some of them.
Be careful of hosts that don’t clearly and openly detail what the hosting plan includes.
Cpanel is a popular tool for managing your site settings. Some services use their own cludgy system that is hard to work with. What about support? 24/7, live chat, toll free number?
Where are the actual web servers? In an earthquake or flood zone? Overseas? Top commercial hosts will have mirrored servers in more than one area if you need that level of reliability. Are they connected to one of the Trunk lines of the Internet? If they’re on a backwater, you’ll get poor performance. Some retail computer stores have servers in the back room. Not inspiring.
When it comes to price, check for setup fees, monthly rate, and overage rates (drive space and traffic), extras for any of the additions you want, especially backup. If your site gets corrupted or a virus, how will it be restored? I once got huge overage fees when someone hacked their web server and hide a massive French movie file inside our directory. Not hard to sort out.
Once you have a list of features you need and may soon want, you can begin looking for suppliers.
The biggest challenge in choosing a web host is the myriad of choices. This is partly because some of the bigger companies have resellers, marketing them under another banner. Local resellers can give you better service, but it takes you a step away from the provider so make sure that’s there.
Fred Langa suggests you take a 2 pronged approach. Check reviews on-line and check examples like yours.
Careful – some on-line reviewers have biases for advertisers, etc.
Some have Country based searches if you want it in a certain country. For example the first has a Canadian section.
“You can help ensure you get good results by thinking about not only what you need from a hosting service right now, but also what you might want and need in the future.”
Once you have a short list, Fred suggests then working the question the other way.
2) Find a site similar to what you plan and see who’s hosting them.
You can ask them and see how happy they are. Or ask people you know who do similar things for a recommendation. If that’s not available, you can find out who’s hosting a site of interest with WHOIS tools for domain lookup.
Most ISPs that offer domain services also have a WHOIS tool.
Personally, I’d avoid the mom and pop shops and the really big companies as they can be lumbering beasts.
The hosts I’ve recommended have varied over time. Some have stopped hosting, been absorbed or slipped badly. These days I recommend TRK. This was based on a recommendation from Fred Langa after his own extensive research for his site. On-line reviews continue to support that. They’re smaller so give that more personal support. http://www.trkhosting.com/
I’ve also seen Bluehost.com well recommended a number of times.
Careful about cheap services that have their servers overseas. A couple of clients have had nightmares with that, like the ISP trying to make side money and associating their domain with a porn service.
Some people have concerns about the US Patriot Act and thus keep their sites off of US soil. Depends on the kind of data you store. Do you have personal information for international customers, for example?
Don’t worry about making a perfect choice. You can always move your site somewhere else, whenever you want. But it is simpler to get it right the first time.
Posting to the Web Host
When you’ve made that choice and rented that server space, it’s time to take the web files and upload or post them onto the web server. FTP or File Transfer Protocol is normally used. You can use a separate FTP program like the free Filezilla or you may use the the FTP tools built into your design program or web tools your ISP provides. Personally I much prefer managing files directly, so use an FTP program.
You need to know 3 things for any sort of access, including FTP. The address, the login and the password. Typically when you sign up for hosting, they send you 2 emails. One with account and billing info. And one with FTP info, how to access your control panel, and so on. (The control panel is where you’ll set up email accounts, sub-domains and all the other features)
FTP may require knowing the true IP address of your web site, especially if your domain name is not fully registered yet and you want the web site live when it is. Your host may ask you to use your domain name thereafter.
Upload the web pages and sub-folders into the root or public-html folder (or similar), laid out just like they are on your computer, then open a web browser and test it – make sure everything’s working. Your site is now live and the server environment may respond differently with links, etc. Some design programs can goof up and make links relative to your computer. OOps. A good web design program will validate your site before you post though.
Web hosts will often have other special folders already present. Usually, you leave them alone. They are typically for optional features and statistics for your site. (page hits, browsers used, country of origin, etc etc)
It is a good idea to have a backup copy of your web site files saved on your computer. Just copy them as they are, .HTM, etc. files. Don’t forget the sub-directories with images, etc. Make a folder called web site and put everything in it – just like a paper filing cabinet.
If someone else updates the web site, remember that the copy you now have is the old version. Don’t then update and post that or you’ll erase the previous updates. Download the latest to your computer first, then update from that. Adobe Collaborate is designed to update on the server, simplifying this issue.
If you’re not familiar with Windows Explorer (In Accessories), it’s a good program to get to know. Microsoft has been making it less obvious and pushing you into the My Docs folders, but it’s the default Windows file manager. Handy if you want to get a little more advanced than dumping everything in one place. We all know what it’s like when someone keeps everything on their real desktop…
Digitally copying files over the Internet is pretty reliable. Otherwise you would see lots of web sites messed up. They’re downloading so they can open on your computer. You can add secure FTP (sFTP) if you want, but that’s more for sensitive content.
Next, the Domain…