My policy of using whatever web hosting service a client has previously signed up for has been challenged this month as clients have found hosting services with small annual fees that have turned out to be cheap rather than inexpensive.

Here are some basics about hosting and why you might want to let your web developer choose the service for your site.

At its simplest, a hosting service merely needs to be reliable so that 99.some% of the time anyone trying to get to your web site will see your information.  Because of the limited requirements for hosting, it’s very tempting to sign up for a hosting plan that costs $5 a month instead of paying $200 a year in advance.

However, each hosting company offers different services and conveniences.  The hosting businesses vary on how you can upload information to your web and the features included in their hosting packages.

Most businesses need only very simple hosting. But, there are some fundamental qualifications for a professional hosting service.

What You Need in a Hosting Service

  • Uptime. You want your site to be available 99+% of the time. Ask a potential hosting service for their uptime stats!
  • An online way for you to make certain changes to your account. The hosting company should provide you with a “control panel” which lets you add new email accounts, change passwords, and do other administrative chores.
  • File Transport Protocol (FTP) access to updating your web site. You want to be able to use common web authorizing programs like Dreamweaver which employ FTP to publish web pages. You don’t want to be limited to using the hosting services custom file updater.
  • Unrestricted, 24×7 updating to your site. Yes, you want only authorized users to be able to update your site, but authorized users need to be able to authenticate themselves and do updates from anywhere at any time. Typically, hosting services control access through a user name and password (which you can change). However, some hosting services demand more, and their additional security requirements — such as IP authorizing — can make updating your site difficult.
  • Mail accounts. You want to use professional looking email accounts that include your domain name (e.g., [email protected]). You should be able to set up, modify, and delete at least 10 of these accounts for your hosting dollars.
  • Scripting language support. Even a straight-forward web site may include a contact form that you want validated. Or, the site may grow to use a login for certain pages. Or, other bright and shiny functionality may become a need. In any event, you want the host to support PHP and perhaps other scripting languages so that you don’t have to change hosting companies suddenly when you want to add a particular feature to a page.

Like many web designers, I charge clients by the hour. But, up to now I haven’t started the clock when learning the ins and outs of a new hosting company that a client picked. I figured that I was learning more about the hosting marketplace.

But, enough! After spending hours on work-arounds to comply with the quirks of some inexpensive hosting services, I have learned already!

Spending a reasonable amount of money for a full-service hosting company is truly the least expensive way to keep your site on the Internet. We recommend who charges $120 year. From now on, I’m going to ask that clients use that choice… or make sure that the client’s existing service has the convenience and features we need.