Don’t just take their word for it, go web host shopping, here’s how to do it

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If you use a free website service, pretty soon you’d reach a point when you’d want your site hosted in your own server and using your own domain. If you’re just starting a site or are currently running one but want to change providers, take time to shop around for a web hosting provider that best fits your need.

In choosing which web host to use for your site, evaluate hosting providers based on features, pricing and performance. Give yourself a few weeks if not a month to decide because you’d be doing automatic monitoring of their performance.

Before checking web hosting providers, list the minimum requirements for your site. If you want to run WordPress, for example, you’d need PHP 4.2 or greater and MySQL 3.23.23 or greater. If you plan to use other web scripts, list their software requirements as well.

Features

List web hosting providers that meet your minimum requirements and check for add-ons.

Check whether they have such things as a web control panel like CPanel, which makes it very easy to configure and manage your website. CPanel makes it easy to create sub domains, manage MySQL databases, FTP accounts, and change MX entries (if you want to use your domain for e-mail with Gmail for your domain or Windows Live Custom Domain) among a host of other tasks.

If you want, you can check for Fantastico, a program that offers you simple, one-click installs of a lot of open source software to manage content, images, and ads and run blogs, discussion boards, wikis. With Fantastico, installing programs like WordPress is as simple as specifying the directories where you want it installed. Upgrading is just as easy.

I chose not to use Fantastico, however, as updates on web scripts (based on experience a year back) take a long time to be included in the server. I’d rather install the scripts or updates myself because not only do I learn things when I do these, I also have more control over the process.

Storage / Bandwidth

In their services or plans page, web hosting providers list various options with specifications on different web storage size and monthly bandwidth allocation.

If you only want to run a blog, you can get by with minimal storage space (my domain, for example, can be hosted comfortably in a 75MB account). If you choose plans with minimal storage space, however, make sure you don’t upload a lot of files. If you need to use photos with your blog posts, for example, use an online photo storage service like Zooomr or Flickr.

It is the bandwidth allocation that you should keep a keen eye on. If you have less than a hundred visitors a day, you’ll do fine with minimal bandwidth allocation. In the first few months of this blog, for example, I was only using a 2GB monthly bandwidth plan. I increased plans incrementally as traffic started to increase. I’m now on a 10GB monthly plan.

Assign plus points to web hosting providers that allow you to purchase additional bandwidth as this might come in handy during traffic spikes.

Feedback

Check discussion boards of hosting providers in your shortlist. Read posts on complaints and check how technical staff responds to these. Check other discussion boards for feedback on hosting providers.

You can also search for “(name of hosting provider) sucks” or “(name of hosting provider) rocks” in your favorite search engine. You might also want to try searching in Technorati and read up on blog posts describing services of hosting providers.

Monitor performance

Many hosting providers have claims of “99.9% uptime guarantee.” I don’t know if they actually meet this performance level but there is an easy and automated way to check for the performance of sites hosted in their servers.

monitoring of web hosting providers
Monitoring of various web hosting providers using mon.itor.us.

For the monitoring, use mon.itor.us, a free distributed website monitoring service.

What’s good about mon.itor.us is that you just enter website addresses and the monitoring is already activated — you don’t need to add special codes into your site’s pages. This makes it possible to monitor the performance of other websites.

Search for “hosted by” or “hosted on” or “hosted in” plus the name of the service providers in your shortlist in your favorite search engine. Pick random sites for each of the hosting provider.

Log into your mon.itor.us account, click on the Start button, create a new page and name it Website monitoring.

When this is done, start entering tests for the websites you want to monitor and label these test after their web host. You can use tags to enter other data. If you’re only using the service to host a blog or any other regular website, just choose HTTP monitoring. Mon.itor.us also offers HTTPS, PING, POP3, SMTP and FTP monitoring if you need it.

After entering tests, create reports for all the sites you want to monitor and then add these to your Website monitoring page.

Mon.itor.us will then start running regular checks and you can get a visual representation of the level of service of the web hosting providers in your shortlist.

The service will notify you via e-mail if any of the sites are down or are too slow. The reporting threshold is seven seconds. If your site’s response time is longer than seven seconds, mon.itor.us treats that as downtime.

Mon.itor.us also generates an RSS feed for your tests and you can view results in your favorite reader.

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9 Comments

  1. [...] Max Limpag has a post on web host shopping that I know will help some readers [...]

  2. Nice, thanks for the heads-up with mon.itor.us. I agree on not using Fantastico to update scripts, it’s always a fun and learning exercise to go under the hood and do things yourself.

  3. Server Downtime Scare…

    At exactly 4pm this afternoon, my service provider went down without notice. What made me worry is that what if they have decided to shut their free hosting service. The last time I made a backup of my database and sent it to my gmail account was 2 wee…

  4. Where is your site hosted, Max? I’m considering moving to a new host now and not just a free hosting account. I’ve already tried IXWebhosting.com but unfortunately, their basic plan doesn’t have MySQL support. I had to claim a refund because I signed up without reading the damn features.

    Could you just please post a list of some sort to make things a little easier? :)

  5. [...] For more on how to evaluate web hosts, you might want to read my previous post: “Don’t just take their word for it, go web host shopping, here’s how to do it“ [...]

  6. [...] No, I’m not hosted with Media Temple, yet — although I’m considering a transfer to the Grid-Server — but I’ve been monitoring an account hosted with their servers. When I read about the Grid-Server offering, I searched for a website hosted with them so that I could monitor that site using mon.itor.us, a tool I wrote about earlier. [...]

  7. [...] Recent posts at famous Max Limpag’s blog http://max.limpag.com/2006/11/09/media-temple-delivers-uptime-promise/ and http://max.limpag.com/2006/08/15/compare-web-hosting-providers/ show interesting trend – using mon.itor.us to check ISP to select the best one. Here is a fragment from his post: “Many hosting providers have claims of “99.9% uptime guarantee.? I don’t know if they actually meet this performance level but there is an easy and automated way to check for the performance of sites hosted in their servers. For the monitoring, use mon.itor.us, a free distributed website monitoring service.” [...]

  8. [...] previously written about how to use mon.itor.us to compare web hosting providers. I still continue monitoring blogs with Media Temple and Dreamhost to help me on my choice of [...]

  9. [...] problems so that I can work on fixing it or submitting a support ticket. All the sites I run are monitored by free web server monitoring services that check every few minutes or so whether these are [...]

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