Why do I need a hosting company? -
Without a hosting company you will not have a website, except on the hard drive of your computer. Nobody will be able to reach it. To use an analogy: imagine that your website is a mobile studio. If it has nowhere to park, then it will have no phone lines, address or any means of being found. A hosting company is like the landlord for the ground on which you are parking your business, except that the ground in this case is in cyber space.
Why do I have to pay for hosting if I am already paying an internet service provider?
A hosting company and an internet service provider are essentially two different things. A service provider is the company that gives you access to the internet. A hosting company gives the rest of the world permanent access to your website.
Some service providers do also offer website hosting, but these are essentially two separate services altogether.
Do I need a domain name to have a website?
While a domain name is not necessary to have a website, it is recommended. Whether you are creating a family website or a business website, having a domain name allows your site to be more easily found and remembered.
What should I consider when choosing a hosting company?
Some of the more important considerations are:
Uptime is critical. They should guarantee at least 95% and the guarantee should not just be words. - Do they offer a money-back guarantee?
However - a word of caution: be careful of any guarantee of 100% uptime. This indicates that the host is either being deceptive or is not maintaining their servers properly and not doing essential upgrades. This places your site at risk because security and stability will become compromised, eventually leading to all sorts of potential problems (all placing your site at risk) and even a complete server crash.
Bandwidth is critical. - Do they have sufficient bandwidth to cope with the load? How many websites do they put on each physical server? A good host would ensure that there is always enough free server space and capacity.
Check that they offer enough space for your site and for reasonable future growth. For a small business site, this should be at least 150-500MB (megabytes). A 200 MB allowance on an average small site should offer sufficient room for quite a bit of future growth.
Check that they allow enough traffic. This is measured in megs or gigs. 1 gig is roughly equal to 100 000 hits. Each time someone visits your site, every image or script on a page is a hit. For a small business website 500MB is normally more than sufficient unless the site is offering software downloads, streaming, chat rooms, forums, large flash objects or other forms of interactivity that use up a lot of bandwidth.
If you want to use any scripts, check that your hosting company allows the specific script and that there is no additional charge attached. This includes any forms, auto responders, flash or special effects that you want to use on your site.
Email: you must get at least one email address linked to your website, that you can check through either your normal email programme (like Outlook Express) or on the web itself from anywhere in the world. One of the biggest advantages to having this facility (apart from looking professional) is that your email address belongs entirely to you for as long as you own the domain name. - This means that you can change hosts and connectivity providers in the future without any fear of losing your email address.
Support: can you contact them and get free basic support - including after hours? Are they available in an emergency? Do they actually give you quick and meaningful answers and/or solutions ? Do they bend over backwards to help you ?
Upgrades: can you upgrade your hosting package later without hassle or huge cost? You may not be thinking of changing your site right now, but who knows what you may decide in another month or 6 months time. Your hosting provider should offer packages that are flexible enough to accommodate this without disrupting your website or breaking the bank.
Hosting set-up: will they help you with getting set up (including email) and sorting out any difficulties you may have or are you just a number and a cheque at the end of the month? Find out the full extent of this support. It may be limited to the pure hosting side.
Statistics: do they supply statistics that are comprehensive enough for you to clearly track what is and is not working on your site? You cannot possibly know if your site is an effective marketing tool unless you can monitor the results. You need to know how many visitors you are getting and where they are coming from, what they are doing on your site and how much business your site is generating. - Stats help you to more accurately assess and improve on your investment.
Backups: do they do regular backups so that if their server does go down they can reload everything again immediately? - Please note that it is still your responsibility (personally or via your webmaster) to ensure that you have a full backup of your current site, but your host should at least be able to get a fairly recent version of your site back up and running if there is a server problem.