How Many Features Do You Need?
A shared or virtual service is a form of web hosting where multiple websites reside on a single server. In other words, clients share resources, which is the opposite of a dedicated hosting scenario. Since resources are often underused in most dedicated environments, a shared approach allows the website to avoid that waste. Therefore it is much less expensive and often more flexible than a dedicated one.
The most common concern among newbies is that the shared hosting will lack features. Fortunately, this is rarely the case. Since costs are lower across the board, the providers are able to include many features that small websites wouldn’t be able to afford in a dedicated package. There are so many features available, in fact, that the real question becomes a matter of which ones you actually need.
With that in mind, let’s consider the most common features available with shared hosting services. Note that all features in the following list apply to both Linux and Windows environments. Also, keep in mind that “unlimited” is a marketing term that demands attention to detail. The truth is that there are often limitations associated with features like unlimited bandwidth, unlimited disk space, and unlimited email addresses.
The three most important aspects of your shared web-hosting contract is the length, upgrade flexibility, and the money-back guarantee. Committing to a longer contract is an excellent way to reduce cost, but that is only feasible when the service plan can grow and move laterally with the needs of the website. Also, beware providers that don’t give you at least a 30-day opt-out period and a prorated refund.
Uptime is an indication of how stable and reliable a provider is, and it is an important component of choosing a host. An uptime guarantee is a promise to the client that the provider will live up to a certain standard. It is a nice gesture. Unfortunately, due to low hosting costs, the refunds from such guarantees pale in comparison to the losses that websites can suffer due to significant downtime periods.
New webmasters are apt to underestimate around-the-clock expert-level customer support. Don’t make that mistake: It is important, and you will come to appreciate it when the site is generating profit and issues crop up. Don’t settle for anything less than 24/7 support with at least live chat access. It also useful to have phone support available, and in that case, toll-free numbers can be quite valuable.
For most websites, bandwidth is the most important aspect of a plan. When choosing a host, this should be the make or break factor. Additionally, this is the most crucial factor in being able to upgrade your plan as the needs of the website dictate. If you are locked into a plan that doesn’t provide you with enough bandwidth, you can end up paying though the nose for it, which will kill the site’s profits.
Web space is an aspect that makes for attractive marketing, but most websites, even image-heavy sites, use far less than the standard basic allotment, which is 10 GB. As with bandwidth, ensure that you have the flexibility to upgrade if the needs of the site demand it. On the other hand, don’t become enamored with large amounts of storage space alone because chances are the website will never use it.
Much more important than web space itself are the databases and the space allotted to them. Keep in mind that most providers handle storage space and database space separately. For instance, one of the most popular basic shared plans provides 10 GB of web space and ten 1GB MySQL databases. Most sites are likely to hit the limitations of the database space long before the limits of the storage space.
Site-building tools are perhaps the most valuable features available to many new webmasters because they can save an incredible amount of money. Site builders are available in different styles. Many sites have a custom site builder integrated directly into the control panel. Another option would be to use a content management system. Popular CMSs include WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and Expression Engine.
Applications and Scripts
Most shared plans include an array of applications and scripts, such as WordPress, that you can use as part of the website. The best configurations have one-click deployment, which is especially nice for neophyte webmasters since you don’t need the technical know-how to have a particular app up and running. Know which software you want so that you can target those programs while shopping for your host.
If the plan is to sell products via the website, then an e-commerce tool is a very powerful and cost-effective feature. Third-party solutions are complicated and expensive. A built-in solution allows the webmaster to get his feet wet and have an internet store up and running quick. In time, if the needs of the website grow, the webmaster will have enough experience to choose a commercial solution.
The control panel is your interface to all the features included in your package. It has a file manager, backup wizard, and application and script manager. It also allows you to control FTP access and your email addresses. A good control panel makes a webmaster’s job much easier, so it saves money. A poor control panel, on the other hand, can be a major hindrance to what you are trying to accomplish.
Some shared plans include a free domain, which is a nice but not particularly valuable perk. Some providers limit the number of subdomains, which can have a significant limitation is some scenarios. Most webmasters prefer Google Analytics, so having integrating reporting and analysis isn’t a priority. Many hosts also provide SEO tools and advertising credits, which is a nice benefit for a small websites with limited budgets.