Duncan Riley> One of the hardest things in entering into the DIY blogging sector (MT, WordPress etc) is finding a web host that meets your expectations and budget.
There are literally thousands upon thousands of hosts offering millions of packages, and the worst thing is that there is no easy way of bench marking what one host offers to another: they all speak in their own terminology and provide a variety of information.
I posted last week requesting some feedback and recommendations about hosts, and got some good suggestions. The exercise took a lot of time and eventually I signed up to a new host which I hope will meet my needs. This guide isn’t about recommendations though, its about knowing what to look for when you’re looking for a host for your blog. Im also presuming that you’ve also already bought a domain name as well.
1. Make a list
It doesn’t have to be on paper but if you don’t know what your looking for to start with you’ve got little hope of finding the right host. The list should include
– What are the requirements of your blogware? Check the requirements page with your package to see what it needs, its usually PHP, mySQL and similar, but it does vary and although most hosts offer everything you need, some don’t
– How much space you’ll need? If you’re writing a basic blog with the occasional picture you’re not going to need as much space as a photoblog or podcasting site. If your into podcasting you are going to need heeps of space
– How much bandwidth do you need? there’s no definate answer to this, like the space issue the larger your files the more badwidth you will need. I’d think that 1GB would be plenty for a new blog. Your blogware and layout also plays a part in this. The Blog Herald is up to about 12GB a month on over 300,000 page views, but when it was doing 100,000 views it was sometimes doing 20GB a month, site redesign and tool changes has seen the site run a lot more efficiently now, and I don’t run a lot of pictures as well.
– How many domains do you want to host? This isn’t an issue if you’re just starting out but if you’re a budding blog network builder like myself, or can see yourself branching out into separate blogs for say photos or on different topics, this should be considered. It use to be nearly impossible to get multiple domain packages at a low cost but things are now changing, but it’s general still the exception to hosting and not the norm.
– How is the package managed? Do you want to be able to tweak some, or all of the features, or do you want to pay someone else to do it? you need to consider what features you’d like here, not considering them can leave you caught short later
– Do you need multiple email? some hosts offer unlimited email addresses, other may only offer 1 or a few.
– Payments/ Cost: how much are you willing to spend and how are the payments made? some take paypal, some take some credit cards but not all credit cards etc..
There may be other things you specifically need, and by all means add them to your list. If you’re still not sure what you need then pick a medium level and go from there, but its better to know up front if you can.
2. Finding hosts
Finding hosts that meet your needs is often harder than you’d think, and they nearly always tell you that they’re the best company to meet your needs. Now I’m not saying that all web hosts are dishonest, but I’d love just once to get an email from one saying they’re not the right host for me and suggesting someone else.
– Word of mouth: ask other bloggers, associates or friends who they use
– Other blogs: some blogs will feature a link to their hosts, if they don’t you can always send an email and ask, you’d be surprised, most bloggers would (eventually) respond
– Web hosting guides: this is a tricky one because a lot of “guides” are actually just fronts for affiliate programs and don’t provide impartial advice. WebHostDir, FoundHost.com, WebHostMagazine and WebHostsOnline.com are a few legit sites that may be useful.
-Forums: check out some of the bigger web forums (check Google) who often run threads on hosts. Also the forums at a number of the Blogware sites will also include discussions on hosts
Once you find a web host of interest there is NO easy way of describing what you will find as every one is different. I nearly wish they had to have a standard form somewhere on the site that describes their packages in the way that food here in Australia has compulsory standard nutritional information on it, but I’ll have to keep dreaming. Use your list and check out the packages. Obviously price is going to be an issue, if the sites out of your price range it doesn’t hurt to see what’s on offer none the less as a reference for other sites. If you’re not sure about any of the features (often they won’t be listed) email through and ask the web host. If they are serious they will respond in a reasonable time frame with a personalised response to your question or questions. I also push the boundaries a bit because I email them and ask them to convince me why they were the one, and only pointed to my post (about looking for a new web host) at the Blog Herald as reference. Some responded well, others didn’t, but the point I make is if they want your money, they should be able to respond to you.
4. Due Diligence
This, for me is the most important part of finding a web host, and I’d recommend it to others as well. I’ve been bitten plenty of times before by flashy sites and cheap prices and its cost me in time and money in the long run. Do a background check on the web host, and the people running it. Web hosts always say they are the best, most reliable host out there, but only their customers can tell you this. Type derogatory terms into Google next to the name of the host, like xyz host sucks etc.., search Google for other mentions of the host. Find out who’s running the show and type their name in as well. If you’re familiar with webmaster related forums search some of these as well. Even join one and ask others what they think of the host you’ve picked. In most cases it doesn’t take very long to get a picture of the host and its services, and some of the results make for an interesting read as well.
5. Sign up
Always pick to pay for one month only at sign up (and no longer) unless you personally know the people behind the post. Most hosts offer “money back guarantees” that aren’t worth the screen space they’re presented on and are often impossible to pursue. If they insist on wanting longer, ask yourself why? If they are confident enough in their services they’ll offer the ability to pay every month without a timed contract. The best thing about 1 month is that if you’re only in for 1 month then its a whole lot easier to take your business elsewhere if the host isn’t up to scratch. Call it a 1 month trial if you like. If you’re still happy after this by all means go for something longer if you can afford it and it provides a discount, but don’t get trapped until you’re sure.
I hope this guide will provide some help in finding a host: I don’t want to sound negative and scare you off if your currently blogging on Blogger or similar and are looking at changing, but like anything its important to know the pitfalls and dangers before you start out, and if you stick at it I’m sure you’ll find that the experience of hosting your own blog is well and truly worth it.