In this section I will talk through the different options for hosting your website, where you can get started for free, but why you might want to stump a small amount of money for a more flexible web hosting service.
We’ll take a look at both free, and paid for solutions.
Free Website Hosting Options
There is a very definite positive to free web hosting options.
This can therefore be a great option for the absolute beginner. With a free service you can:
- Get started immediately
- Start a new site risk free
- Experiment with different ideas
With the well known blog services such as blogger, wordpress and tumblr you can sign up to the site, pick a new name, and get posting content within the space of a few minutes. You can register multiple blogs and experiment with the different services available. You don’t have to worry about how much it will cost, installing software or keeping the site running.
Sounds awesome! Why wouldn’t we chose these options every time? Actually in many cases you may well stick with free sites. There are many world famous blogs that are hosted with free services and there is nothing to say that this will hold back your web site’s popularity.
However, as your site grows, you may find this early decision has limited your potential:
- Not fully in control. You are subject to what ever content management system is provided to you. They will update it at any time and you won’t have any say in the matter. If you change your mind at a later date you may find it difficult to retrieve your content.
- Advertising may be limited. If you are growing a commercial site then this is likely to be a problem for you. These free services typically limit how and where you can place advertising units. Sometimes you won’t be able to display any at all.
- You don’t own the site. As discussed on the site name page a domain name can become valuable once it has ranked in Google and has many other websites linking to it. You will never “own” the domain name when using a free service. Check the small print carefully when signing up to your service provider and understand what the terms and conditions are.
Don’t let these points turn you off these services totally. They are great for throwing up a quick micro blog and testing out new ideas, but if you are looking at building a long term professional blog, you may want to investigate a paid web server solution.
Paid web server hosting
Buying yourself some web space need not be expensive and will provide you with full control and flexibility. Many providers will happily install common web site packages such as WordPress, Joomla or phpBB for beginners so you don’t even have to worry about the technical side of things until you want to take things further.
Fortunately most hosts will provide the full range of technologies that you will require. However it is worth double checking. If you are looking to use PHP based open source website packages such as WordPress then as a minimum make sure that your provider can support:
- PHP 5 – this is the scripting language used by most open source website content systems, if you want to host WordPress, Joomla, e107 etc then you need this.
- MYSQL 5 – the database software that will store all of your data, again this is a standard for open source projects.
- Apache module: ModRewrite – worth asking about as it enables clean search engine friendly links. Just ask if the hosting plan allows you to configure ModRewrite rules in a .htaccess file. Don’t worry too much about what it means as software such as WordPress will set it all up for you automatically.
For those starting out, I recommend finding a host that offers a wide range of hosting plans. Start off with the cheapest that will allow you to run the software you need. As your site grows, you can upgrade to superior hosting plans that allow for more storage space and high volume bandwidth usage.
In reality your first site will take time to grew, unless you get lucky you won’t be pushing the resources of a basic introductory package.
In time you can upgrade your host through a number of stages:
- Shared Hosting Package: With this package your site will be hosted with any number of others. As many people set up sites and do little with them hosts can get away with piling hundreds of low traffic sites onto one server. If you want to run more intensive applications, such as forum software, you may find there isn’t enough power available when you need it.
- Semi dedicated: In this type of scenario you’ll find that a small number of users share the same resources but they are tightly allocated ensuring each person has their fair share. Whilst you won’t be enjoying the full power of the server, you also won’t be competing with hundreds of other sites for precious CPU time.
- Dedicated Server: The most expensive option sees you with an entire server and all of it’s resources dedicated to your needs. This ensures no one else can interfere with your projects and should support intensive applications.
A more recent update to the traditional server hosting options includes cloud based hosting. This is where your site isn’t hosted on just one server but on a whole group of servers. As far as you and your users can tell the website is operating as a normal server.
However in reality your virtualised server is floating between different PCs. The advantages of this for you are that the server will have a very high availability rate, sometimes you’ll see 100% up time promised. This is because is any one node in the cloud goes down then there are plenty of other resources to take up the slack. This setup is much easier to manage for your service provider which in turn should mean they can keep costs lower than it would do to rent a whole server to yourself. Everybody wins!
My Server Host: I use the cloud based Vidahost service. At the time I was looking they offered exactly the right scalability I needed at the right price.
I recommend Vidahost’s cloud service for a number of reasons:
- The starting price and resources on offer were exactly what I was looking for. I had only just outgrown my server and many other providers were asking a lot more money for more resources than I needed.
- Setting up sites is easy, you can create and destroy them at will and even choose to go with a Linux or Windows based server.
- I have only required a helping hand a couple of times but the people on the other end of the support line were responsive and helpful. The service itself has been very reliable.
- Their cloud offering is scalable, if I need more power to run additional sites then I can do so. But that said, the starting package offers everything a hobby blogger is going to need in the short term.
There are cheaper shared hosts out there you might want to consider
Find the Right Service For You
It is important that you investigate a few local hosting options and try and read some reviews from real users of the service. Often the cheaper providers can have hidden charges or reduced support, but sometimes they can offer a fantastic service so don’t rule anyone out without doing some research.
It is possible to move host later down the line, having done this recently it wasn’t a joyful experience but neither was it so difficult that you’ll never want to do it. It could well be a struggle though if you aren’t technically minded, you’d need to be confident with redirecting your domains to the new host, installing software and copying over files and data.
Next – Content Management Systems