A few thoughts on how to choose a web host today, and avoid tons of trauma later. Free knowledge in Luddite-friendly language.
Scroll to the bottom to become more independent and avoid getting stuck with any particularly host.
In this Article
What’s a web host?
A web host is someone with a computer hooked up to the internet. You pay them for a little space on their disk drive that people can look at over the web. They do a lot of work to keep this simultaneously simple and fancy, fast and reliable, accessible yet perpetually safe from trouble makers. It’s not easy, but it also isn’t rocket science.
There are plenty of fancy terms out there to describe fairly simple things. What’s a server? A computer. What’s an IP address? An address on the web. What’s DNS? An address book. Don’t be deterred, it’s just lingo.
Do it once, do it right.
You don’t want to move webhosts more than once. Trust me. So take the time to make a good choice. Talk to people using the host you’re considering. Don’t be tempted by an unknown host just because you haven’t heard any complaints. Ask for references of similar organizations.
Private or Dedicated Hosting
Your website is an essential part of your livelihood. If you can afford it, choose private hosting. It’ll cost you a couple thousand a year. What do you get? A computer dedicated to your website and your website only, and professionals on call to keep it working.
Shared hosting is the affordable option most nonprofits choose. Is this a good idea? Maybe. It means your website is sitting on a computer with other people’s websites. When one goes kaput, they might all come down. If one gets super busy, the others had better hope they are not. Sound terrible? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Why would anyone choose this? It costs $5-20 per month instead of $250 per month. Keep in mind how much a brochure costs to print and mail, and how much more a website can do for you. Don’t choose a host because they cost $5.99 instead of $11. That would be foolish.
Before you choose a host, don’t miss the advice below on how to become less dependent on your host altogether.
A few Hosts to Consider
Bluehost and Dreamhost are two that have been around for a while that seem to stink less than other shared hosting options. I have used Dreamhost, which is also free for nonprofits, worker owned, carbon neutral, and ya dee da. But I don’t endorse web hosts. Why? Cause they all stink at some point. I choose Dreamhost because it’s a breeze to manage and feature rich, they don’t charge for things that should be free and their support is fairly intelligent and responsive. But, I wouldn’t say their servers are particularly zippy. If you need a super speedy website for thousands of daily visitors, they are not for you.
Godaddy, go f’ yourself. I’m sorry!! Forgive my language, but any host with a homepage that has more than 17 ads for itself is not worth your time. Hosting should not have 34 different options and addons. They will tell you need things when you don’t. When something of theirs breaks, they’ll try and sell you another package you don’t need. They’ll vanish when you try to move your web address to another company.
Looking for something more socially conscious? You might choose Electric Embers, Gaia, or MayFirst if you want a progressive/radical worker owned collective. They host a lot of social justice sites. If they aren’t perfect, at least they’ll be nice about it and you won’t have to hate them. They aren’t the cheapest, but they’ll always want what’s best for you and will always work with you personally. Read the Why Us on electricembers.net. Or check out gaiahost.coop and mayfirst.org
I use Pair Networks to manage my domain names (web addresses) even though it’s more expensive. They are absolutely professional and reliable and, like Dreamhost, have never tried to sell me anything. I probably should use their hosting too because I’ve never seen a bad review. They’ve been around forever. But they’re more expensive. They aren’t as ubiquitous because they don’t have endless promotional schemes. You might consider their regular plans (affordable) or their dedicated hosting if you decide to spend $250/month. But before you do that, take note of your current bandwidth, disk space, etc. Take inventory to make an educated choice of plans.
The latest new kid on the block might seem like a good idea, but they are often pitching ease of mind that just isn’t possible. What? No servers? No hassles? All of their websites are in a flawless cloud that can handle any load at any speed? I’d read a hundred reviews (literally) before paying them a dime. If you find 100 good reviews and only a couple of bad, go for it. Otherwise, steer clear.
If you’re running a site with a CMS (as you should), you should have some sort of Cache thing set up. What’s Cache? A place to keep things recently viewed, so it takes less time to show them when someone else comes along. When caching is turned on, your site moves more quickly. You might only see a difference on a computer that hasn’t logged into your CMS.
Become less dependent on your host.
Two things can help make your move easier and more smooth. Make these changes now if you’re planning to divorce your current host. Make these changes if you aren’t.
- Set up your own servers! If that isn’t for you though, then…
- Register your web address (domain name) with someone other than your host. You can register your address at Pairnic and point it from there to your website at Godaddy. You can then build a new site at Dreamhost. When it’s ready, simply point the address from the old place to the new. No strings attached. Godaddy will no longer have the ability to make this move difficult for you. It doesn’t matter where you’ve previously registered your address. Talk to a new company and they’ll guide you through the process of moving your registration.
- Move your email off your host. Moving a website is a chore. Moving your agency’s email is a beast. You can use Google Mail or Zoho or other services with your domain name. All of your addresses will still be firstname.lastname@example.org. Move your mail now, and you won’t miss a beat when you move your website later.
Utopia on the Internet
It sometimes feels like hosting companies are the only thing standing between us and the utopian internet you dreamt about yesterday. It’s not true, but it sometimes feels like it.