Thursday, January 12, 2012

Frugal: Website hosting

Whether you want a personal website or a site to support your business, you should carefully evaluate potential website hosting companies. Before you start, you should consider what you need from a hosting company, particularly beyond basic hosting and associated tools. If you need an easy to use website design tool, most hosting companies offer them, but they are all different. Once you have your list of requirements, check out several companies and research the tools they offer.

I can't help you evaluate web development tools because I do most of my development by hand (other than this blog). I've been doing this since the internet was invented and the tools designed for the non-technical just slow me down. They also, often anyway, generate dreadful HTML code. For a personal website, this might not matter, but for business sites it can mean the difference between a site that brings in new business and one that nobody ever sees.

What I will comment on is cost, availability, and technical support. Cost is easy to measure: just look at their price for a package that meets you needs. Availability is how often their servers are up and available. Most have up time above 99%. Check out what the company says, and then check around for reviews to see what really goes on. (Take all reviews with a grain of salt, even mine, and check the date of the review. Things change.) There are lots of options for companies in the same price range and with similar availability records.

Where I see the most difference is in technical support. What are their support hours? 24/7, business hours only, business hours India time only? These you can check on their websites. Then there is the quality of their support. Do they offer good support for the average, semi-technical person? Do they focus more on personal websites than business sites? These companies are often easier to work with.

I'll repeat a bit about using reviews. Definitely read several and question what you read. Some reviews are "planted", paid for positive or negative reviews. Some are from a customer who had one bad experience. And also check the date. The company I have used the longest, APLUS.NET, went through a change of management and then was bought by another company and delivered dreadful technical support for a while. There are some really bad reviews out there that were accurate at the time. Fortunately, they got their act together and have returned to acceptable, but not stellar technical support.

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For my own sites (several) and those who I do design work for, I use mostly the three whose ads are displayed in this post. All offer packages in a similar price range. All have excellent technical support, whether you are a techie or not. And all offer a good range of basic and advanced facilities.
I'm sorry to say that I do not know of any local or regional hosting companies that are as good. While I would love to support local companies, I won't settle for less. Many use under-powered servers, or crowd too many sites on a server. Many charge extra for basic services (like FTP support or PHP coding).

As I mentioned, I've used APLUS.NET for a really long time and am very happy with them.
I started using InMotion Hosting when Aplus was going through one if its transitions. I continue to use them. I like that they are employee-owned. I didn't pay too much attention to until I stated doing some work for a client who was already registered and hosted by the them. I had thought they were too focused on personal site hosting, but have found their offerings to be competitive and robust, and their technical support is very good and REALLY friendly.

Define your needs and check out the options.

Important: If you are going to hire a web developer, talk with him/her BEFORE you sign up for hosting. Having the wrong package can cost you lots in monthly fees and additional development costs if the host doesn't have the required tools and facilities.


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