How to choose a web host

Posted on Thu 23 October 2008 in Technology • 3 min read

Lemme shout it aloud: I am a big fan of free webhosts :) Until recently, one of my friends made me realize(brainwashed!) that probably I had had my part of the freebies :P And its been long since I last did something php-ish, so the thought of getting hands dirty with web programming made me take this bad decision of getting a host.

And dude, choosing the right host is much tougher than expected. It ate up some 10s of my sleep-hours and a few man-weekends :( Finally, yesterday I gave up(damn it! set IDontCare=true) on my FindBestHost greedy approach and purchased a hosting package.

A few suggestions for those looking out for webhosts:

1. Apply filters

<u>Define your purpose</u>. Why you need a web host? What kind of
websites you plan to host? Any special requirements? How much
resources(space/bandwidth) do you think you'll spend?

As an example, here are my answers: I need a webhost to host a
blog(pleaseeeee not one more!). Mostly the website will be personal
and will host my dev work, some projects. Since I am a
self-proclaimed web hobbyist, I would need flexibility in terms of
scripts (RoR?). At max, I will put in 5-10 domains in the web space.
Considering a GB per site, will take up 5GB and assuming a moderate
crowd will use my web resources, lets allow 40GB per domain per
month, that would make bandwidth around 200GB per month.

  1. The search begins!

    Use your favorite search engine. Ask around. SetGTalkStatus/Twitter/Spam/Scrap/Write-on-wall your contacts. If they can refer, your hard job is done. Don’t waste time on more search. Jump to the next step.

    In case you’re shy to ask people, you can look in some good webhosting forums (e.g: WebHostingTalk). They’re good. Lots of webhost guys roam around there. I got around 14k results for a simple search query “recommend host” :P I think first 3-4 pages should suffice. This is a good starting place as well.

    3. Test the host!

    At this time, we should have a shortlist of 4-5 hosts. Now for each host try this:

    • Go to Search for the webhost. Have a good look at the number of domains coming into the host and going out each week. You can country wise breakup of top hosts. For me the most important criteria was domain in/out analysis and total domains hosted.
    • Do a “You suck” test. Query your favorite seach engine for negative reviews of the host. E.g: Go to your favorite search engine. Query for “[webhost] sucks”. Safely ignore the [Web Host Name] [TheBigCheapAndBestWebHost] websites. A good choice would be query in Blog Search.
    • Consider having a chat with the sales/support people at the webhosting live chat. Sometimes the time they make you wait will immediately give you a feel of their customer service :)

    4. Beware of these!

    - The “foobar” offers. Before you sell out cash on *any* offer that gives you substantial discounts, make sure you’re aware of their normal(non-foobar) pricing. Unless you plan to change host every billing cycle, you will be charged against the normal pricing. E.g: A webhost offers 4.95USD as foobar price and normal pricing is 7.95USD.
    And I never understood the rationale behind the *.95USD pricing rule. - Overselling. I was really astounded at the number of companies offering unlimited resources. So I went around bugging their sales/support guys on this. They say you can’t store personal files(Does it translate to “all your files must be web accessible”?). I doubt if they have shared hosting customers who distributes legal 1gig files! I wish I could copy/paste the chats I had with these guys :P Clearly these people are overselling. They’ll put in your site in some server with probably a few hundred more poor domains. IMO unlimited bandwith can make sense for people who publish streaming content. But does the resource usage policy of these shared hosts allow you to stream enough?
    I would suggest to take a limited resource plan. I agree we all love greedy algos, but lets truly have an estimate of the resource usage before getting lured away on such offers.

Hope this might save a few minutes while deciding for a webhost. Good luck!