It's a blazing hot Friday afternoon here in Christchurch. (That's Christchurch, New Zealand -- simmering in the southern hemisphere where January is mid-summer!) Our antiquated air conditioner is groaning. My staff are suffering from the windows/aircon dilemma (neither are cooling us down, but you don't want to favor one over the other in case the other is more effective. Windows open? Windows closed? Fierce debates ensue, and the sweat continues to drip...) Christchurch is also hosting the World Buskers' Festival at the moment, and with heat and distracting noises from the street reducing brain functioning by a fraction, I see an excellent opportunity for a question and answer session! Oh yes!
The subject of this blog post is something we spend a lot of time discussing in the Affilorama forum: Web hosting. Not the most exciting of topics, but one of the most essential. After honing your web authoring skills and sourcing your content, you naturally need somewhere to put this wonderful creation. So here it goes: Hosting 101!
QUESTION: WHAT IS HOSTING?
ANSWER: A web hosting provider is basically a company that stores all your website files on a server so that they can be accessed from 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, with the added benefit of being much easier to remember than the glorious string of numbers that is the IP address of your host server.
QUESTION: DO I NEED HOSTING?
ANSWER: If you're wanting to create a website, yes. It's a bit of a no-brainer to say that you need somewhere to store your pages so that they can be accessed by your visitors. I get a few people asking whether they can use free web hosting services to host their sites: While there are quite a lot of free hosting services dotted around the internet, these are typically better for individuals creating their own personal sites, and not really suitable for e-commerce sites or affiliate sites. This is simply because these hosting services will typically insert advertisments and other distractions into your web pages. When you're trying to guide your visitors towards a specific outcome, you don't want to be thwarted by ads you have no control over (and see no revenue from!)
QUESTION: WHAT SORT OF THINGS SHOULD I LOOK FOR IN A HOST?
ANSWER: One of the most important things (and again, probably another no-brainer) is uptime. Can your host keep its servers up and going? If your service keeps puttering out, you're going to lose money because nobody will be able to access your pages during the puttering. Customer support is another important consideration. For the most part you won't need to communicate with your hosting provider -- they'll do their thing, you'll do your thing, and things will run smoothly. However, when things do go wrong and you suddenly can't access your website or your email... you're going to want answers pretty fast. Also check that your host provides a management interface like cPanel to manage your subdomains, email addresses etc.
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. Before you sign up, perhaps try submitting some customer support requests first to see what their support is like.
QUESTION: SHARED? DEDICATED? VIRTUAL DEDICATED? WHAT?
ANSWER: 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. Some plans allow you to host multiple domains from the same account. 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.
Eventually, if you've got quite a few websites, you'll 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 C-class IP ranges, which means that their links to each other will actually count :)
QUESTION: HOW MUCH SPACE/BANDWIDTH DO I NEED?
ANSWER: For a standard affiliate site with a reasonable amount of traffic, most starter hosting plans will be more than sufficient at the start. 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, and costs $3.99/month. I would say this is more than enough for most affiliate sites.
QUESTION: DO I NEED TO GET MY HOSTING AND DOMAIN NAME FROM THE SAME PLACE?
ANSWER: 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 you get your domain name and hosting through different companies, you'll need to set up your domain name with your registrar to point to your hosting provider. If you get both through the same company, this is done for you.
QUESTION: GOT ANY HOSTING RECOMMENDATIONS? HMM?
ANSWER: Personally I recommend Godaddy.com . A while ago they might have suffered from a bit of a poor reputation, but these days their servers are reliable, they have excellent uptime and load very fast. They've gotten quite big now, so I expect that's translated into improved service. They're also very cheap, particularly for their virtual dedicated servers and dedicated servers. ($30/month and $89/month respectively.) They also sweeten the deal by giving you your domain name for $1.99 instead of $9.99 -- how much sweeter that makes it for you depends on your finances :)
A lot of Affilorama members are recommending HostGator.com . They're a little more expensive than Godaddy. Rackspace.com is probably the best and most reliable hosting provider out there (in my opinion), but also the most expensive. If you're considering Rackspace, be sure to bargain with them. You can usually get them down by 30 - 50%, since their markup is so high.
I hope that clears some things up for any of you who were sweating a little over this. (Sweating is the topic of the day here, really.) If you've got any questions, comments or recommendations, please feel free to share. That's it for this week, guys. Have a great weekend!