Now that you have decided to go ahead and buy a domain, you have long struggled trying to find the right name for your business or blog and tried them out using availability tools like the one I’m making available on the home page of my blog, the next step is to go ahead and find the hosting company that offers the right plan for you.
If you are writing a blog, you might consider standing out by getting http://www.yourname.com/ (org.. net..). Usually a .com domain gravitates around $6 / yr, of course if you’re looking into having the “music”, “movies”, “programming” or other obvious name domains, the road is bumpy unless your bank account stands out as well. In this case, you can get your domain and direct it towards a free bogging service like the one I’m using. There are hundreds of them out there and they all come with any kind of bells and whistles imaginable. If you’re interested in having a business site, a free service does not cut it. You really need to have a distinct and direct link to your customers, even if you’re not monetizing the traffic by displaying ads, a site that presents a “hosted for free by …” footnote just makes me think about a garage company which I would not trust with my credit card number. That service is more suitable for public services and students and it actually makes the daycare (for example) look good as it shows that you, as a parent, are not paying for website hosting as well. There are too many to count hosting companies out there and you will find all price ranges, and all kinds of catchy features. One of the resources I stumbled upon in my search is http://www.findmyhosting.com/, a hosting plan search engine. I never used it as I got my insights on 1and1 the company I am currently using and I found that they are offering the technical solutions and the packages I was looking for. At a certain moment, it’s time to stop shopping and go for it. I’ve put together a list of features and services that a hosting company should really offer if you have got a marketing plan or wish to sell a product or service of your own.
· Domain names – You may not need to buy your own domain, the hosting plan may come with it. There are many hosting companies offering a free included-in-hosting domain name for as long as you are their client, even with their basic, cheapest plan. WARNING, the registration of those domain names included in the plan should be Private (you should own it, not the hosting company)
· Money Back Guarantee – the longer the grace period, the better. You need a way out if it turns out you can’t do there what you came for in the first place.
· 24/7 Support – Essential to hosting. Make sure they’re not just offering a “comprehensive FAQ” and email support. They should offer live chat and phone support. You need a real person on the other end of the phone, not a recorded message.
· Control Panel – it’s your central neural system where you control your account. Here you manage email accounts, services, statistics (very important), affiliation links, search engine optimization, websites, domain parking and all other aspects of your hosting. Easy upgrade – you should think ahead and get a company that allows you to easily change your hosting plan as your needs may grow. “Think Big – start small”. You should always start with the basic plan though.
· Statistics – Comprehensive report on what pages were shown, how often and to whom (even the geographical location of your visitors is an interesting factor). You may be thinking your site targets the North American market but you get more European hits. That’s good; it’s just that you have to put on your marketing hat again. Statistics should be up-to-date and easy to browse through.
· CGI, PHP, ASP, FrontPage Server Extensions, Perl, other – What each of this things is part of some other conversation. You should be able though to use some server side application to get back the data from your customers (a guestbook, a form, orders, and suggestions). Those should be offered for free.
· Email Accounts – Now that you’ve got http://www.yourcompany.com/ you need an email@example.com email account that you can reach with your email client. That’s a POP account and you should be able to forward, auto-respond, check for viruses and filter out SPAM right there on the server.
· FTP Accounts – You need to be uploading files through your ftp client. Maybe not right away so the basic account may miss that, but make sure the next-in-line package offers that. If your business grows, you shall definitely need to upload files or the entire website developed with other tools than the branded Website Builders most hosting companies use.
· Shopping Cart and Password Protected areas, paired with SSL communication- If you are selling something, your hosting company should provide a shopping cart so that you develop your virtual store and provide secure checkout for the products your visitors are buying. You may also display your user Account information and reports and all this should be secured. This is not the starter plan but keep in mind you may get there.
· Newsletter – You are out there because you want to create a community. It makes good sense so make sure you can offer that without choosing the most expensive plan.
There are even more things to consider when you are choosing your hosting provider. Your site may grow and provide media streaming, photo printing (and thus require storage space), online gaming. Make sure your host allows you to grow or allows you to move to another host without hassle. If you are writing a blog, you will need Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and a blog system.