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1. iPage: Top Host
2. Webhostinghub: Best Service
3. JustHost.com: Most Features
4. InMotion: Business Host
5. BlueHost: Reliable Host
6. FatCow: Green Host
7. HostMonster: Great Support
8. HostMetro: Best Pricing
9. HostGator: Good Service
10. Yahoo: Popular Brand
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By: Matt Smith
Web Development Expert
October 7, 2007

 

Making Smart Decisions About Web Hosting
While web hosting itself doesn’t seem very interesting , it has a big impact on something that is typically near and dear to us -- our websites. Partnering with the right host not only means a better experience for visitors, but can save you time, money and frustration (which really adds up).

 

Choosing a web hosting company can be a little nerve-racking, especially if you are new to the industry. If you are starting out and trying to wade through the myriad web hosting options, here are some common misconceptions - as well as some pointers - to help get you up to speed.

 

Myth #1: Web hosts with negative reviews must be bad companies.
Almost every host that has been in business for at least a few years is going to have someone that isn’t happy. And if the host hasn’t been in business at least a few years, then you should probably wonder about its financial strength.

 

Why do bad reviews happen to good hosting companies? Because sometimes, technology fails. No server is infallible, and occasionally, circumstances beyond the hosting company’s control can cause outages. Even the mighty Google is not immune.

 

So it’s best to enter the process with realistic expectations: Chances are that at some point, something will go wrong. Your website will not be available and you’ll have to contact the web hosting company. In the end, it’s better to develop an opinion of your host based on its ability to resolve problems, rather than on the problems occurring in the first place.

 

Other reasons good hosts get bad reviews and comments:

  • Competitors make false claims in an effort to hurt their reputation
  • Customers post negative comments before letting the host resolve a situation
  • Online bloggers and other posters create publicity for themselves by insulting others

 

What this means for you.
Online reviews are still a valuable part of the decision-making process, but keep a few things in mind when you use them:

  • Does the contributor provide specific details or do they make claims without evidence?
  • Is the website that posts the reviews a credible source?
  • Does a common or reoccurring complaint appear in different reviewers’ posts?

Myth #2: Hosts with lower disk space and bandwidth are bad values.

Most websites don’t come close to using the space and bandwidth provided in a basic web hosting package. 

 

A typical website uses 10 megabytes (MB) of space or less and up to 10 gigabytes (GB) of monthly bandwidth (bandwidth is used every time someone visits your website). So if a web host offers 200 gigabytes of space (1 gigabyte = 1,024 megabytes) and 2 ,000 GB of monthly bandwidth, there’s a big disparity between what is provided and what is used. Here’s what I mean:

 

Typical Website: 10 MB space, 10 GB bandwidth
Basic Hosting Plan: 200 GB space, 2000 GB bandwidth
Note: 1GB = 1,024 MB

 

Why do hosts offer more than the average customer requires?
To create the perception of value and sell more hosting packages - it’s a technique referred to as “overselling.” Is this bad? Not necessarily, it keeps the industry competitive and drives down prices for consumers. But it also makes hosts that don’t engage in this selling technique look like they aren’t providing adequate resources.

 

The best approach is to first determine your site’s space and bandwidth needs and find a hosting package that accommodates this amount, plus a little more for future growth. Then you can focus on elements such as reputation, service and features.

 

To estimate website space requirements: Take the average page size of your site and multiply it by the number of pages. If you don’t know average page size, use a benchmark of 100 kilobytes (KB). Then convert this figure into megabytes by dividing by 1,024 (1,024 KB = 1 MB). Divide by 1,024 again to get the figure in gigabytes (GB). Here’s a summary:

 

(100 KB x number of pages)/1024 = size in MB
Divide again by 1024 = size in GB

 

To estimate monthly bandwidth: Take the average page size (or 100 KB) and multiply it by the number of page views you expect each month. If you don’t have a clear idea of page views, use the number of monthly visitors and multiply it by the number of pages you think each person will visit. In other words:

 

(100 KB x monthly page views) or
(100 KB x monthly visitors x page views per visitor)

 

Then divide by 1,024 to get MB and 1,024 again if you need GB for the comparison.

 

Myth #3: Avoid web hosts that don’t offer customer service by phone.

We use several hosting companies for our websites and one of them provides all its customer service through a very responsive online ticket system (turnaround time is 10 minutes or less). The service has been excellent and we haven’t missed the phone at all.

 

How do you know if this type of service is for you?
First, assess your website. If it is a simple informational tool composed of less than 10 pages, then it’s likely that your service needs can be easily handled via a ticket system. If your site is more complicated and includes advanced functionality such as e-commerce, then phone service becomes a more important consideration.

 

Next, assess yourself. Are you typically comfortable resolving questions and making requests via e-mail? Then you will likely feel comfortable using an online ticket system. If you value human contact, then phone service is probably a better solution.

 

Myth #4: Prepaid hosting contracts are bad.
Actually, prepaid contracts are good because they have made the marketplace more competitive and helped to lower monthly costs for consumers. These types of contracts usually come with a 30-90 day money-back guarantee which gives you the opportunity to test drive the service with very little risk. Plus, if you decide to cancel after the money-back guarantee period has expired, you can usually get a prorated refund anytime which means you only pay for the time that you were a customer.

 

When asking for a refund, be aware that if there were special set-up fees to get your website online, those probably won’t be returned. Additionally, if you received a free domain with the account, the domain fee that was originally paid by the hosting provider will likely be deducted from the refund, but you should be able to keep the domain name.

 

The bottom line is that prepaid contracts are a legitimate purchasing option, but follow these tips to help ensure that you are a smart buyer:

  1. Make sure the hosting company has an established track record. For instance, BlueHost is a reliable web host that has been in business for 15 years.
  2. Check for a money-back guarantee period and how long it lasts.
  3. Carefully read the contract to understand how all of the guarantees work and which costs are not refundable.

Myth #5: I don’t have web hosting experience so I can’t manage a website.
As hosting providers upgrade control panels and offer more features that make it simple to increase website functionality, web hosting is becoming easier and easier to manage.

 

The control panel is where all the key elements of a website are managed including e-mail, website files, preferences and domains. If you’ve never seen one, visit HostMonster and click the “View Demo” button on the lower right side of the home page. A sample control panel will appear with a step-by-step startup wizard. HostMonster uses a very popular brand of hosting control panel called cPanel. You’ll see that it’s very straight forward with a clean interface.

 

In terms of adding functionality, look for a button under the “Software/Services” area of the control panel called “Fantastico De Luxe.” With this application, you can install a variety of programs such as a WordPress blog or a bulletin board where website visitors can have a discussion. All of this can be done with a few clicks of the mouse.

 

And if you are unfamiliar with some of the icons listed in the hosting control panel, don’t worry. Most hosts offer tutorials, articles and even online forums where you can quickly learn what these features are, and how to use them to get the most out of your web hosting package and site.

 

Myth #6: There are no costs associated with free web hosting.
Although you may not directly pay a free web hosting provider for its services, there are still costs to consider, especially if the website supports a business. First, many free web hosts have substantial downtime; this clearly results in a cost if you are trying to monetize the site in any way. Second, many free hosts run ads on its customers’ websites to generate revenue. If a visitor arrives at your website but then clicks one of these ads and leaves, this is also a lost opportunity.

 

Myth #7: All web hosting companies own a data center.
While most web hosting companies give the impression of owning a data center where all the web servers are stored, this usually isn’t the case. Owning and managing a data center is an expensive and specialized proposition. For example, there has to be physical security as well as technology to protect the web servers from online attacks. There also has to be a climate controlled environment that is resistant to natural disasters. If you want a clearer picture of what this all means, check out the Network Access Point (NAP) facility in Miami. Hundreds of businesses rely on this facility to house their servers because it's simply more cost effective and reliable to outsource the service than try to replicate this type of resource.

 

So what does this mean for the individual website owner? Simply, to be aware that many web hosting companies use a third-party data center for server management and this is a legitimate business practice. Now, outsourcing customer service is a whole different story!

 

Myth #8: Domain names have to be purchased from a hosting company
If you don’t already own a domain name, purchasing one in tandem with your web hosting service can be a good value. Many web hosting companies offer a free domain name when signing up for service. However, here are a couple things to keep in mind when considering this option:

 

a) Is the domain free for the life of the hosting account or just the first year? Read the fine print because the domain cost may increase to $10 - $15 in proceeding years. This becomes inefficient when comparing against a true registrar like Moniker where domains can be purchased and renewed for $8 annually.

 

b) Do you plan on staying with this hosting company? If not, purchase your domain independently. Here’s why: many hosting companies will charge back the original domain cost and additional fees if you switch hosting companies and want to keep the domain name.

 

Ultimately, you can still get good value and have more flexibility when purchasing the domain and hosting service from separate companies.

 

Myth #9: Good hosting can’t be purchased for less than $6/month
If your website has hundreds of thousands of visitors each month, then good hosting certainly can’t be purchased for $6 per month. However, there are plenty of viable web hosting options for small businesses, non-profits, schools or just personal use. In fact, below are some examples of websites that are successfully hosting and managing their websites for less than $5 per month:

 

www.sparkysdeli.com
www.margariteshottamales.com
www.foundationforindiastudies.org
www.lucasgraciano.com

 

Myth #10: All cheap web hosting companies are the same
This definitely isn’t the case. There are longstanding companies that have developed better processes and economies of scale that allow them to deliver quality service at more affordable prices. For example, HostMonster is working hard to distinguish itself by delivering U.S. based customer service with phone waiting times that average less than 2 minutes. In fact, a representative from the company recently told us that they have been able to meet this goal, with the exception of the holiday season, when it is difficult to retain employees and meet staffing requirements.




This top 10 web hosting list provided courtesy of BigHosts.com, the industry leader in web hosting reviews and information.
Disclosure: Some web hosting companies on this site compensate BigHosts.com editors for reviewing their products/services.