For small business, a web presence can mean everything. For most people, once a web site is working, it is rare to change the business relationship with their provider. Because years can pass, the memory of this process can fade. Customer service can change over time, and business owners may have to weigh the trouble of switching providers vs. the benefit. Here are a few key points to remember.
You have your domain name. For me, this is workhorselaboratories.net. For this domain to mean anything to other computers on the Internet, you have to pay a registrar to keep a record of who you are, and what computer can speak on behalf of your domain. If someone types in “http://workhorselaboratories.net” as a URL in their web browser, then somehow, somewhere, a response must come back that says, “connect to this IP address.” This process of looking up names and getting IP addresses is the Domain Name System.
The organization that is the first step in this process is ICANN. They decide what domain suffixes exist, and what companies can act as a registrar. As of June 2012 there were 956 companies listed as active registrars.
The most popular registrars for the .com domain include Verisign and GoDaddy. Prices for simply maintaining a few records in a database can surprisingly vary widely. I have seen this vary from six to thirty dollars per year – for the same service!
Most, if not all registrars sell web hosting service, and why not? If you are one their web site buying a domain name, why not sell disk space, network usage, and some computer time? For the consumer, this is convenient and is less prone to billing mistakes that can result in the loss of a domain name.
Are some hosting providers better than others? To answer that question, try registering some random domain. Think of it as taking a used car to a mechanic for a look over before you buy it. Sure you spend a few dollars, but it will be worth every penny if you avoid a lemon. If you find yourself having to make hundreds of choices, with a non-intuitive presentation, then perhaps you should think otherwise. In the end, if the process was pleasant, then take note.
If you do a Google search for complaints about web hosting companies, you will find enough negative comments a give pause. Instead, trust recommendations from friends and colleagues that have done this. It will make a difference.
Things I look for in hosting companies are:
* Type of web server and version of PHP available,
* How much disk space is provided,
* How databases are managed,
* How e-mail accounts are managed, along with any limits,
* Network usage limits, if any,
* Data management tools (upload/download) and
* Cost per month.
For most people, an initial web presence should not cost more than ten dollars per month. If you tax an entry level plan, move to a bigger one. You’ll know when you need it, and will be willing to spend the extra money.
Incremental steps are key, since you area effectively agreeing to pay a company a near fixed amount for the life of your Internet presence.