What to Look For in a Hosting Provider
After you've found yourself a domain name, the second important necessity for your website is web hosting. In this lesson we show you What to look for in a Hosting Provider.
Setting up your web hosting isn't as complicated or traumatic as it might sound, and these days you don't even need to be particularly technically-minded to have everything up and running in a short time, but there are still many technical terms you may encounter, so it pays to know how to deal with them.
What is hosting?
A web hosting provider is basically a company that stores all your website files on a server so that they can be accessed from anywhere on the Internet.
Your web host is different from your domain name: your hosting is your storage, whereas your domain name is like a big neon sign pointing to where your site is hosted. The real purpose of the domain name is that it's much easier to remember than the glorious string of numbers that is the IP address of your host server. Your domain is nothing without something to point to, and that's where your hosting comes in.
Do I need hosting?
If you want to create a website, yes. In order for your visitors to access your website it has to be stored somewhere.
A lot of people ask whether they can use free web hosting services to host their sites. While there are quite a few free hosting services dotted around the internet, our opinion is that these are typically better for individuals creating their own personal sites, and not really suitable for e-commerce sites or affiliate sites - most (if not all) these "free" hosting services will insert advertisements, pop-ups and other distractions; when you're an affiliate trying to guide your visitors to click on your ads or follow your affiliate links, the last thing you want is your site plastered with ads that you have no control over, and see no revenue from!
What should I look for in a host?
When looking for a host, we recommend you consider several key factors:
Our first most important point is uptime - this is the number that tells you whether the host is able to keep their servers up and going. If they putter out, your website(s) will become inaccessible, which means you will lose money because nobody will be able to access your webpages.
Most web hosts will advertise an uptime of 99.98% or better (this generally means the host's servers have been up 99.98% of the time since the host started business) - if they don't list an uptime percentage it is well worth asking the host's customer support or steering clear altogether.
Inevitably you are going to hit a snag with something in your hosting and you are going to need the help of the gurus in the help desk; what's worse is these "snags" tend to hit at the most inconvenient times, and that's where the helpfulness and speed of the customer support comes into consideration. If they have live chat support on their website, feel free to test it. If they provide a 24-hour phoneline, don't be afraid to call up their pre-sales support to get an idea of how fast their call centers are and how well they seem to know their thing - the last thing you want is customer support that has no idea how to help you when your website goes down in the middle of the night.
This is one you need to be aware of when looking into a web host - some hosts will only let you assign one or two domain names to their hosting plan; although is may not affect you when you start out, it will certainly come into consideration when you want to host your fourth or fifth site on the same plan.
For a standard affiliate site with a reasonable amount of traffic, most starter hosting plans will be more than sufficient to begin with. Once your site starts getting bigger, you’ll be able to see from your statistics when you’re pushing your storage/ bandwidth limits. As a benchmark, the basic starter package with Godaddy.com is 5 GB of storage space and 250 GB in transfers. We offer hosting with our Affilorama Premium Membership too, which gives you 2GB of storage space and 75 GB in transfers and hosting for up to 15 separate domains – plenty to get started with.
The other aspect of "space" to look out for is MySQL databases - some hosts will restrict you to two or three databases, which can present an issue if you intend to use blog or forum software (such as Wordpress or phpBB), all of which require database access.
Linux or Windows hosting?
This refers to the operating system of the servers that your website will be hosted on, not your own personal computer's operating system! This really has very little impact on the way your website operates, and for the vast majority of affiliates the key deciding factor here is price: Linux hosting will always be cheaper, because the operating system is (generally) free, whereas Windows server software costs thousands of dollars, and hosting companies pass this cost on to their customers.
The only real reason for having Windows hosting is if you're wanting to host an older site that uses FrontPage extensions or if you're particularly excited about developing your website in ASP. If you don't know what either of these are or why you'd want to use them, then you're probably better off with Linux.
Most, but not all, hosting providers these days provide management interfaces to control all the aspects of your hosting from an "easy to use" web interface. Depending on your level of expertise you may be able to cope without a full control panel, but for beginners we recommend looking for hosts that provide 'cPanel' or 'Plesk' control panels as part of their feature list. Again, if you're not sure, ask sales support before you sign up.
If you're tempted to a host because they provide some variety of automated website building platform, or (often amazingly beautiful) website templates, don't be. As useful as they may seem for getting your website going, this is not an important consideration by any means, and frequently these platforms and templates can be more hindrance than help - some will tie you inextricably to the host, so that you won't be able to switch hosts without complete rebuilding your website.
What are 'Shared', 'Dedicated', etc?
These terms refer to whether you have your own server or whether you share with others, and how much control you have over the server.
Shared hosting means you share the server with lots of other sites. You don’t have any control over the server itself. This is probably the most common form of hosting chosen by affiliates.
A dedicated server gives you more control over the server. A virtual dedicated server behaves like a dedicated server, but is actually a server divided up into "virtual" servers. You feel like you have your own server, and you can do all the same things that you’d do on your dedicated server, but you’re actually sharing it with others. The downside is that it tends to be quite a bit more expensive than shared hosting.
Eventually, if you’ve got quite a few websites, you might want to get your own dedicated server or virtual dedicated server, but it’s also important to not put all your eggs in the one basket, and instead consider spreading your sites across a couple of hosting providers. The benefit to this is that if one host goes down, only a few of your sites will go down, as opposed to your whole business! It also means you can create a network of websites linking to each other and helping each others rankings — you get a number of sites with different IP ranges, which means that their links to each other will actually count!
For beginners, we recommend shared hosting until your websites are bringing enough income to justify a dedicated server.
Do I need to use the same provider for hosting AND domains?
No you don’t, although it’s frequently cheaper, faster and easier to get them through the same company. Many hosting providers will put a big discount on the domain name because they make their real money off the hosting. If your hosting company is offering you a "free" domain name, just make sure that you actually get to own the domain and that you can transfer to another registrar if you like.
One benefit to keeping your host and your domain name separate is that if you ever have issues with your hosting provider/registrar you're better able to “escape” from the bad relationship. If you have both your domain and your hosting with the one company, they pretty much hold all the cards. That said, if you're going through a reputable company with a good history then you will probably be fine.
If you get your domain name and hosting through different companies, be aware that you’ll need to set up your domain name with your registrar to point to your hosting provider. It's easy to do, but can feel complicated the first time you do it. If you get both through the same company, this is done for you.
Learn how to do this in our lesson on Linking your Domain with your Hosting Provider.
Affilorama Premium Membership
We decided to create a custom hosting package designed for affiliates - if you’re looking for more than just hosting, Affilorama Premium Membership comes with all the tools of the trade you need, and more. As part of our Affilorama Premium membership, you can host up to 15 separate domain names with us.
To find out more about Affilorama Premium, go here.
We've recommended GoDaddy.com for a while now, and they're still pretty good. You might see some poor reviews for them from times past, but these days their servers are reliable, they have excellent uptime and load very fast. They've grown to a rather large company, and it seems to have translated into improved service. They’re also very cheap, particularly for their virtual dedicated servers and dedicated servers. (from $34/month and $64/month respectively.) Shared hosting starts at around $3.65 per month, although that's restricted to hosting one website - to host multiple websites on the same plan you need to pay a few dollars more per month.
However, they seem to have shied away from cPanel for their own custom administration interface, and sometimes this can be particularly annoying when trying to follow some tutorials on the internet which use cPanel.
Also be aware that they are very keen on the upsell, and they are all to good at encouraging you to buy add-ons for your hosting that you very likely don't need as a new affiliate.
A lot of people recommend HostGator, and we've had no problems with them ourselves. They work just like you want a hosting provider to work - silently and efficiently in the background. They tend to be only a little more expensive than GoDaddy.
The nice thing with HostGator is that they don't restrict you on ridiculous things, like sub-domains and MySQL databases. On all of their plans these are unlimited. They do restrict their most basic plan to hosting one domain, but you'll find this is pretty standard - an extra $3/month gives you unlimited domains. Another advantage over GoDaddy is that their website and support material is a lot less frustrating to navigate. They offer 24/7 phone support, live chat support, and apparently if you have a problem with regular support you can simply ask for the HostGator owner to deal with your problem himself - we like the personal touch!
The best advice in this case is to keep your eyes and ears open to discussions on forums — once people find a good host, they’re typically eager to spread the word. Be wary of glowing reviews on websites - many hosting providers offer very generous affiliate commissions which can sweeten an affiliate's opinion considerably!
We also recommend taking a negative approach, and searching for terms like "X sucks", "X problems" and "issues with X" - these terms will often turn up forums and sites with customers leaving comments about actual problems they've had with the host. If there seems to be very few of these such posts, the posts you find tend to be with regards to very trivial matters or all the posts seem outdated, then the host is probably a good one.
Try looking for hosts that offer hosting on a monthly basis as opposed to yearly, and that allow you to upgrade your plan as needed. That way you won't pay more than you need to, and you'll be able to cancel your hosting if they're not up to scratch.
In this lesson we've looked at some key factors when deciding a host, including:
- Uptime - do they tend to keep running?
- Customer Support - is it fast and knowledgeable?
- Domain Names - is there a restriction on how many you can have?
- Space/Bandwidth - do they provide enough space/bandwidth for your needs?
- Linux/Windows - unless you have specific needs, we recommend Linux
- Extra Features - do they provide a control panel?
We also took a look at a couple of recommendations for hosts:
- Affilorama Premium - for affiliates, this custom package provides you not only with hosting but also content such as PLR articles, SEO tools and access to our premium magazine!
- GoDaddy - A cheap and fairly big provider
- HostGator - Not unlike Godaddy, with outstanding customer support.