When you set up a Web site for the first time, you may wonder why you need a hosting service. Can't you just run your Web site on your own computer? Well, yes and no. Yes, if you are prepared to pay for a high-speed connection to the Internet (and I'm not talking about DSL here), and if you have the skills to administer a Web server and to deal with the inevitable hacker attacks and security issues. Most companies are much better off leaving these responsibilities to the professionals.
So what does a hosting service give you? They should give you a stable environment in which to place your Web site. The host provides the computer, the high-speed connection to the Internet, and the system administration expertise to keep things running smoothly. They give you secured, remote access to your Web site files via FTP or FrontPage extensions so you and your Web designer can modify your site. Most hosting companies offer additional services beyond that.
As always, it helps to have a good idea of what you want before you try to find it. Here are some standard hosting features you should consider. Decide which ones are important to you and use them to compare hosting plans.
- Storage Space: Disk space for your site files.
- Transfers: Data transmission to and from your Web site in the form of HTML pages, graphics, etc.
- Statistics: A tool that tells you how many visitors came to your site, what pages they visited, etc.
- E-Mail: E-mail accounts branded with your domain name (email@example.com).
- List Server: An e-mail tool that lets you set up e-zines, discussion lists, and newsletters.
- Bulletin Board & Chat Room: If you cater to a special interest group, you may want to offer an on-line forum for visitors to communicate with each other.
- Shopping Cart: If you sell products or services on-line and the hosting company offers a shopping cart, consider using it. Doing so will simplify most of the support issues you encounter later.
These are the basics. Most hosting companies bundle their services into plans, which can make it hard to compare the offerings of different companies. Focus on the features that are important to you. You aren't getting a good deal if you have to pay extra for features you won't use.