Finding the perfect web host can be difficult. Many people spend months looking for a host that is perfect for them, only to be disappointed very frequently. I will give a list of criteria you must consider when picking a host. Rule #1 is, "If it looks too good to be true, then it most likely is". Keep that in mind and heed what I have to say and you will soon have a happy home on the web.
In this article, I will concentrate on finding the perfect shared hosting account. This is where several websites are hosted on a single server. Using a shared hosting account is ideal for smaller sites using dynamic pages or just about any reasonable size site with static html pages. When comparing hosts, there are three things you need to compare - I suggest making a spreadsheet if you plan to compare lots of hosts. The first is the amount of disk space you get. The second is bandwidth and the third is probably the most important - the cost.
Before I go on, I need to mention that all web hosts will oversell their resources - this means selling more than you have and hoping that most people will not need everything you promised them. Most hosts can pull this off. Others are just greedy, or simply don't understand how to manage this properly. Usually when you see complaints about slow servers or servers crashing frequently, this is why. If you keep rule #1 in mind, you will avoid most disreputable hosts. 1000GB bandwidth for $5 is not a bargain - it is too good to be true.
The first thing you need to do, before you even start to hunt for hosts is decide on what you need to host your site. Will you have one site or more than one? How much disk space do you need, how much bandwidth do you think you need? Do you need several MySQL databases?
If you only see the need to host one site, a normal shared hosting account is perfect for you, but if you feel you need to host more than one site, you need to look at something called a "Reseller Account". It's also a shared hosting account, but it allows you to (usually) create as many sites as you like, as long as they use less that the total maximum resources allowed.
Deciding on disk space is easy if your site is already created. Chances are, if this is your first site, you will most likely need less than 10MB initially (most hosts will give you at least 100MB). Bandwidth will be more difficult, because unless your site was hosted somewhere else, and you already know how much bandwidth you use in a month/day, this is very hard to estimate. The sad truth for most new webmasters is that most sites won't need a lot of bandwidth the first couple of months.
All shared (and reseller) hosting accounts will include some sort of control panel - this is a web page that allows you to configure the e-mail accounts that comes with the account, allows you to manage your databases and much more. The two main ones are CPanel and Plesk. If you don't know the difference, you don't have to worry about it - both have the same features, and the only difference is the look and feel. Plesk has a very rich, Windows-like interface, while the default CPanel interface is much simpler and faster to load. CPanel is the most popular, more flexible and usually preferred. You will generally also find that hosts using CPanel are also cheaper than hosts using Plesk, even though the quality of everything else might be identical.
Lastly, if you have a gut feeling about a host, listen to it. Hosts with badly designed web sites should be avoided - it most likely means they are a small or newly formed company. They might be excellent, but chances are just as likely that the owner might decide that he is not making enough money and quit, abandoning all he's customers.
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