Monkeys are cute and all, but who doesn’t know what they love to throw? At the zoo, you see signs like, “Stay back from the monkey cage!….”
Like monkeys, even legitimate web hosting companies will toss numbers, deals, packages and a whole bunch of stuff at you. Unlike monkeys, web hosting companies make the crap they throw at you look really good…
Just the facts, please.
Make sure you keep a “just the facts” attitude. Don’t get sidetracked from your questions by slyly inserted sales talk. Better yet, before you go shopping for hosting grab a healthy Crap-o-Meter and turn it to “ultra-sensitive”. Some web hosting companies carry badges for U.S. Grade A crap.
Web Hosting Packages: Crap vs. Gold Nugget
You, the business professional, will have to wade through all the crap to find the golden nugget web hosts. Unfortunately, with the abundance of web hosting companies out there the crap-to-gold ratio is high enough to require hip-high wading boots. However, like a leprechaun at the end of the rainbow, we’re tossing some gold into that pile. No matter what type of website you want, or what functions you want it to do, every site needs the following:
Your website has an address, just as your house has an address. It’s called an IP address, and it’s a bunch of numbers. We create names, called domain names, as an alternate for the IP address.
These domain names really just point to the IP address – sort of like we’d say, “Bob’s house” and mean “the house at 0001 Round About Way, Timbuktu, 58259”. You need a domain name.
Crap-o-Meter says: They make it sound like domain names are just lying around; snagging a domain name is as easy as peeling a banana. Beautiful, flowery sales talk often mentions “free” with “domain”, too.
It’s monkey crap. The domain name you really want may not be available. Find out if your domain name is available and, if not, find an alternative. Also, never buy the hosting and domain name from the same company. On top of that, domains aren’t free; somebody has to pay for them each year. If they offer free domains, pay close attention to the fine print.
The final injustice is the clever unlimited domain tactic. Oh, sure. You can launch websites until you’re up to your armpits in them. However, after about the 5th domain, you run the risk of losing all of them thanks to the huge drain on the server’s memory, bandwidth and CPU time.
Then, there’s the number of stipulations and restrictions normally tied up in unlimited domain plans. The clauses have claws. Long story short? Don’t fall for the freedom of unlimited domains; it’s not as freeing as it sounds.
You have a certain amount of disk space, AKA storage. You can think of disk space as your website’s hard drive. If you plan on:
- Placing a blog on your server
- Using a content management system
- Adding a lot of images or video files
- Allowing more than one site on your domain (multi-user subdomains, for example)
- Having a forum
What they say: You’ll either need a few GB of disk space (1 GB is 1,024MB), or an option to upgrade. For the above, if you won’t be able to upgrade, a 5GB package minimum would be the best deal – IF you care about staying with the same web host through the years.
Crap-o-Meter says: Leaving out the exceptions above, you don’t need a ton of disk space. In fact, most small-to-medium businesses never use more than 1GB of space, and seldom use more than 50MB. Web hosting providers know this, and yet, they still try to sell you some insane number.
Let’s not forget to mention the many sales on unlimited disk space. This is the biggest load of crap those monkeys will ever throw at you. Like your personal computer, a server only has so much space. Even if you have a dedicated server, you’re still only limited to the space available on that server.
When you’re being offered unlimited disk space, you’re actually being allotted a specific amount of disk space. The web hosting company is just gambling that you’ll never use it all.
You can’t skip over bandwidth; like disk space, this is something you need. Bandwidth is used each time someone visits your site. A normal website might use 10GB of monthly bandwidth. Exceptions to this rule might be the New York Times or other extremely high traffic sites.
Crap-o-Meter says: Most sites never need more than 50 GB of bandwidth, yet web hosting companies will try to shove extremely high bandwidth numbers down your throat. This includes the now hated unlimited number. In this case, unlimited means, “there’s a set amount, but we’re betting you won’t reach it”.
Not every single business will need a database. However, it’s a common need; if you plan to have a modern website, you’ll need a database. If you plan on creating a website made of code from the dark ages of technology, you probably don’t need a database.
MySQL is a “brand” of database, and one of the most commonly used for a variety of programs. We specify MySQL, because it’s available in the highest number of web hosting companies. As well, it’s the only database supported by WordPress (a widely used CMS).
Crap-o-Meter says: Again, “unlimited” rears its ugly head. Here, the hosting companies tell you that you can have as many databases as you want – no problem, here’s 50, pay up. Ooops. There’s a large difference between database and database size.
Sure, they can give you 30 databases, but each may only have about 50MB. Now, for a small site or personal blog, well, 50MB is fine. However, if you plan to build a site with a lot of traffic and community driven content, you’re going to need more than that.
Usually, you only need one database, as long as it’s 50MB or more of space. Don’t get blinded by the unlimited sales talk.
PHP Language Support
PHP isn’t always offered with web hosting packages, but it should be. It’s a very common coding language, used in a large number of sites.
Do you absolutely need PHP? No. However, it’s absolutely invaluable for website owners who want shopping carts. WordPress won’t run without it. Polls work much better, etc. etc. etc.
Will you regret it later if you don’t have it? Oh yes – eventually, you’ll wish you hadn’t ignored this advice.
Crap-o-Meter says: PHP has several versions. Before you buy a web hosting package, check what version of PHP they offer. You need more current versions. Some scammy web hosts will offer PHP to unsuspecting buyers, but the PHP version will be so outdated nothing works with it.
FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is used to upload files to a server. If you’re unfamiliar with FTP, you’ll probably be hiring someone to build your site for you; FTP is one of the things they’ll ask for. Quite simply, it makes it much easier to add, change, delete or otherwise edit your website files.
Crap-o-Meter says: While you need an FTP account, you don’t need thousands. Don’t base your hosting package decision off of numbers, here. The number of FTP accounts you need depends on what you’re doing with your website.
For example, if you want 50 people to have access to their own directory on your website, you’ll need at least 50 FTP accounts with personal login information. However, if you’re the only one (or your web developer) who’ll be messing around with the site, 2 is all you’ll need, tops.
The Monkey Crap Storm of Overselling
Web hosting companies, good and bad, have this insane need to oversell. Now, here you have to really think about the monkey vs. web host analogy. When monkeys throw crap, do you try to argue with them? Or, do you just get out of the way?
Why does overselling (crap throwing) run rampant in the web hosting world? Well, the industry is rather competitive, and hosting companies need to create the perception of value. Even top companies do this.
The killer is, if the top companies don’t offer unlimited packages or high numbers of xyz, they’ll look like smucks next to the truly sub-standard web hosts. More innocents will be scammed because of great looking packages covering inferior services.
So how do you find the best web host?
You read articles like this one. You research and corroborate info from trustworthy review sources. You find out what you really need out of your web hosting service. You learn where the monkeys with their giant crap balls are so you can avoid them. In other words, you don’t stop going to the zoo to visit the monkeys. You just make sure you know how far they throw their crap before you get to the cage.
About the auhtor: Robert D. Jenkins is a freelance writer from Charleston, West Virginia. He enjoys writing about web hosting, web development, and is a hobby electrician.
Credits: Photo courtesy of Nicolas Raymond.