What type of
site do I want to build?
The kind of site you want to build will play
a big role in which provider you eventually pick to host it.
If you're just looking to promote yourself--that is, you
want a page to describe you, your family, and maybe Ralph
the dog--a low-end hosting provider will be more than
adequate. If you're trying to promote a business, you'll
need to move up the ladder. And if you want to conduct
business transactions--selling items online or letting your
customers access account information--you'll want the best
services your money can buy. Here are the pluses and minuses
for each type of site.
A home on the Web can be yours for as little
as $5 per month--even less if you don't mind
banner ads. For $10 to $15 per month, you
can live like a king, with your own domain
name and multiple e-mail accounts.
A snap to use
Simple tools and templates available online
make it easy to create your pages--just add
text and pictures, then stir. Move up the
scale to a shared host and your design
choices expand, but so do the skill
requirements, starting with a working
knowledge of HTML.
Personal sites typically come with 25MB to
50MB of space for stashing files. That's
more than enough if your site contains
mostly text and small JPEG images, but it's
far too little if you hope to post lots of
large graphics or stream video from your
last vacation. Some sites serve up a few
megabytes of e-mail storage, others do not.
Most personal sites don't come with a lot of
disk space or bandwidth, and generally, you
won't need it for a personal page. If you
hope to build a popular site--remember
Mahir's ikissyou site?--you may run have to
pay more for the privilege of sharing your
thoughts with the masses.
At the base level, you'll likely get tech
support via e-mail support only, but don't
expect an instant response. Pay a little
more, and you can wait on hold for a techie.
But with a personal site, support and
reliability are less essential; if your site
is unavailable for a day or two, it's
annoying but not fatal.
Informational or brochureware sites
are fairly simple to manage and maintain, so
even a large one won't necessarily cost a
lot of money. Small businesses can get a
sizable site for $20 per month.
Room to move
In most cases, you'll need room for stashing
multiple pages and the ability to handle a
higher number of hits than a personal site
would require. The more information--words,
images, sound files, or video--you ask
visitors to download, the more disk space
and bandwidth you'll need to buy.
You want multiple e-mail accounts so that
everyone in your organization can receive
messages at your domain (for example,
also want visitors to contact you, so the
ability to handle Web forms is essential.
Back it up
Many brochureware sites don't change much
from day to day. So while making backup
copies of the site is still essential, your
host doesn't necessarily need to do it every
day--weekly backups are sufficient for many
sites. Some hosts include a regular backup
as part of the package; others offer it as
an extra-cost option.
Home page security
Nobody wants a hacker to deface their home
pages or a spammer to hijack their mail
servers--security is important. But it's
less essential here than it is for
e-commerce sites that need to protect their
customer's credit card information or bank
balances. If you're using a shared or
managed host, ask what they're doing to
protect your site. If you're managing your
own server, the onus is on you.
You should demand nothing less than live
24/7 support. But the quality of help you
get varies widely from vendor to vendor. For
example, some resellers offer basic support
but will pass you off to their hosting firm
when your problems get sticky. Ask who
provides support at every level before you
If you're doing business over the Web, you
generally need to pay for the privilege.
Small shops, especially online arms of
brick-and-mortar establishments, can get
away with simple shared-hosting solutions.
But if e-commerce is your organization's
lifeline, you'll want the best hosting
solution you can afford. That can cost from
as low as $100 per month for a single
unmanaged server to tens of thousands of
dollars for a geographically distributed
Minding the storage
Transactional sites are usually high-traffic
sites, so be prepared to pay more for
bandwidth. And the size of your catalog will
determine the amount of storage you need.
The general rule of thumb is to buy more
than you need right now but not too much
more. If space becomes tight, you can
generally upgrade your hosting plan to a
Most hosts offer help placing online ads,
boosting search engine results, and sending
e-mail newsletters to drive traffic to your
Your customers need to know that a hacker
won't hoover up their personal information,
and you need to know that the worm du jour
won't take down your site. A host must
provide external services, such as SSL
certificates, and a robust internal security
net with high-end virus scanning, firewall,
and intrusion detection.
100 percent uptime
For e-commerce sites, downtime can be
deadly, so make sure you have redundant
systems in different locations. If your Web
server in Los Angeles goes down, the one in
Chicago can pick up the slack. You also want
to make sure your host has built-in
redundancy--multiple high-speed Net
connections and power generators, at least.
Dynamic, database-driven sites, such as
online catalogs, change virtually by the
moment. You'll want backup options that are
as close to real time as possible.
If you're paying for a high-end shared or
managed dedicated host, you should expect
immediate, 24/7 personalized service, the
kind you'd get if the techies worked for you