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How to choose a web hosting provider

Question: How do I choose a web hosting provider, and which ones do you recommend?"

I've used a few different web hosting providers over the last decade or so to host numerous web sites both for business and personal interests, and also for friends and family.

There are literally hundreds of web hosting providers to choose from, but only a couple that I am willing to recommend based on my own experience. I'll mention those and will also provide some tips for choosing a good web hosting provider.

For readers who are wondering what a web hosting provider is, it's basically a company that stores your web pages and makes them viewable on the Internet for others to see.

For example, this website (rickysays.com) is made viewable by HostMonster. As you might have guessed, I highly recommend HostMonster as a web hosting provider. I have run rickysays.com with them for over 5 years now and have been very happy with the performance, features, and support.

I get over 8,000 unique visitors to rickysays.com each day (and climbing fast), yet I am able to run the web site on a basic web hosting account with HostMonster that costs only $6.95 a month! That's amazing performance and should be plenty robust for your new web site.

The second web hosting provider I recommend is LunarPages. I have hosted several websites with them and they are also very comparable to HostMonster in pricing, features, and support. The only reason I switched to HostMonster was because at the time they were offering slightly better features then LunarPages.

Now for some tips on how to choose a web hosting provider - starting with whether you even need one.

Know what kind of web site you want

If you're just looking for a place to experiment or load family pictures to share with friends, then you may be better off just using a free site like Facebook, or a site like Picasa Web Albums where you can store up to 1 gigabyte of photos and videos completely free thanks to Google.

I recommend Facebook if your child wants to set up a website for themselves, because you'll be able to easily control who is allowed to view their web pages and see their photos. I even use one of my own personal email addresses for my kid's facebook accounts, so that I get to see all of the friend requests they receive.

That being said, if you know you want a website of your own for business or personal interests, then here are a few things to consider when choosing a web hosting provider:

Price

The playing field has leveled significantly over the last couple of years as hardware and network performance has increased greatly, and as costs have gone down. But there are still a few things worth considering to make sure you're getting as much as possible for your hard-earned money. You shouldn't need to pay more than $6.95 a month for your web site, and look out for hidden setup fees or charges for adding additional databases or new domains to your account.

Features

- Free domain. Many hosting providers like HostMonster and Lunarpages give you a free domain name for life, and they let you reserve (park) as many other domains as you like for as little as $10 a year.

- Bandwidth/Storage. This is the amount of traffic the site will support and the amount of file storage you can use. In most cases you'll receive far more bandwidth than your site will ever use, and in some cases the web host will even offer unlimited bandwidth (knowing you'll never actually use that much).

- Add-On Domains and Databases. If you come up with another website idea in the future you'll want to add a new domain name to your web hosting account. If you install Wordpress or Drupal (this site runs on Drupal) then you'll need a database to store user accounts and web pages.

One thing to notice is that some web hosts offer unlimited websites but limit the number of databases you can have (e.g. Bluehost and StartLogic listed above). You won't be able to have more database-driven sites than the number of available databases, even if they offer unlimited domains.

Support

If your site is having problems, or if you need help getting started, then make sure the web hosting provider offers free technical support from an actual person.

Support has been the number one reason I've stayed with HostMonster for so long. They provide real-time live support so I can pick up the phone and talk to a knowledgeable support tech 24/7 or I can send email or chat with a live technician. They are very prompt and have always been able to quickly solve my problems.

Dear Ricky,

I Stumbled upon your forum on Web Hosting Comparisons and found the information to be very useful since I am seeking a new Web Host for our site. Presently, we use Yahoo Web Hosting. Initially, it didn't seem like a bad service, but I know realize that there are better hosts who don't charge as much as Yahoo.

I liked what I read about Lunarpages on their site. My only question is that we have a URL address through Yahoo that has been out there for several years and I would not want to change to a different URL. I didn't read anything on the Lunarpages site about migrating our URL to Lunarpages. Do you know offhand if that can be done with them? I know I could call their phone line to get an answer, but I would have preferred to email them, however they don't list an e-mail address. I was hoping that you might have an answer. Thank you!

Sincerely,

+Bishop Russell F. Coates, Jr., FDP
Rocky Hill, CT

I've worked with the folks at Lunarpages and they can definitely help you transfer your existing domain over to their service. They've always been very helpful to me via phone or email - just use support@lunarpages.com.

As with any domain transfer, you should expect about a 24 hour period where your site is down due to the transfer. It can be as little as a few hours, or as long as 24 hours, which gives the DNS servers time to adjust to the new IP address (each domain name is associated to a unique numeric IP address, and that IP address changes behind the scenes when you switch web hosting providers).

Once you've transferred your domain, you'll be able to access it using the same internet address that you're currently using.

Hope this helps, and feel free to post any other questions you may have.

What about nearlyfreespeech.net? They charge you for only what you use, with accounts similar to a prepaid phone. They charge $0.01/mb/month storage and $1.00/GB bandwidth, and a mysql process costs $0.01 a day allowing you unlimited databases. This is defginitely grat for smaller sites, who may not need everything in these packages.

Thanks for the comparisons. But from my personal experiences i will advise not to use those who offer unlimited or few K GB bandwidth, as soon you will realize many times your website is offline or responding very slow.

Lunarpages can definitely help you transfer your existing domain over to their service. They've always been very helpful to me via phone or email.

The comparison of different web hosting companies in this site has really helped us in choosing the appropriate plan and hosting company. Personally I have found Godaddy better than others but it is costly so Hostmonster is another best solution.