Where to Host Your Site?

You may already have a site, or you may be thinking of setting one up. There's all kinds of ways to host a site, with various advantages and disadvantages to each.

In order of increasing cost, you can opt for:-

  • Free hosting
  • ISP-based hosting
  • Virtual domain hosting (fine for most sites)
  • Colocation or dedicated server hosting

1. "Free" Hosting Services

Free hosting services come in many shapes and sizes. Very few things in life are genuinely free, and free hosting services generally earn their revenue by mandating that you show their advertising banners on one or more pages of your site, or in some other way, such as accepting your "invitation" to have your email-box junkmailed into oblivion.

Commercial sites should steer clear of free web hosting at all costs. If you are hosting a personal site, a free hosting service may be sufficient. It's your call.

This subject is guaranteed to raise the hackles of hundreds of web site owners across the 'Net, but I'm not going to run away from the issue! If your site is in any way commercial, be aware that free sites do NOT convey a professional image.

Think of the medium you have chosen to communicate your message to potential customers! You don't have a shop for them to walk around, nor do you have samples they can pick up and examine. Instead, you have to sell your credibility (and hence your product) with nothing more than an insubstantial collection of words and images.

The First Hurdle to Free Hosting

Now what is the first message you want to send to your potential customers? "I am such an established presence in Market X that I can't even afford a couple of hundred dollars to set up my virtual shop/office..." Er, was that your equally virtual door I just heard banging in the wind as your prospect high-tailed it to the more salubrious looking establishment next door.

Just think: If you were preparing for a hot date, would you rent a car that had the words "This is a rented car" painted on it in big letters? NO! So if you are trying to do business on the 'Web, why penalise yourself with a site plastered with banners that scream your inability to afford better?

In this respect at least, the Web has some valuable parallels in real life: free sites and ISP-hosted sites can be considered as the "market stalls" of the Web -- nothing wrong with running a market stall, but it is not going to make you millions.

The Second Hurdle to Free Hosting

You have a second, and much more formidable hurdle to overcome if you opt to host your site on a "free" server: other people! It takes just one rotten apple to sour you on the entire barrel, and trust me, there are hundreds of rotten apples on the free servers! From porn sites to MLM pyramid scams, from Make Money Fast to sites guaranteed to tear out your optic nerve with their garish graphics, you'll find it all after a few minutes spent browsing the selections on offer at most "free" hosting companies.

There are many roses along with the "organic fertiliser". However, since all the sites on most free virtual servers are grouped under fairly similar URLs [a URL is the address you use to find a site, such as http://www.pr2.com] the overall impression is overwhelmingly negative. Many people simply refuse to do business with sites hosted on free servers for exactly that reason.

The Third Hurdle (as if Two Weren't Enough!)

As we will see in much more detail later on in the course, search engines and directories are also loading the dice against sites hosted on free servers by refusing to list them at all, or by severely limiting the sites that can get in.

By hosting your site on a free server, you are guaranteeing yourself an uphill struggle later when it comes to actually promoting your site.

For Those Hardy Folk...

If you are still hooked on the idea that free is free, there is an excellent roundup of free site hosting services here

2. ISP-hosted sites

If you are browsing the Internet via an ISP, it is likely that you already have some space allocated to you for your website, even if you don't know about it. There's no hard and fast rule about this, but most ISPs will give you a few megabytes of space in which you can keep your site. Some ISPs have restrictions on the type of site you can host with them for free, such as personal sites only, so you may need to look elsewhere if you will be running a business site. However, even if you turn down the free hosting that is offered, or you do not qualify for server space, it is always worth making a small effort to find out what the possibilities are.

Have a look through the documentation that was sent to you when you signed up with your ISP, or look on their website. If you don't know where their site is, it is very likely to be the same as the email address your ISP assigned you, though with www tacked on the front. For instance, if your email address is joebloggs@aplace.com then your ISP's site is likely to be at www.aplace.com

Most, if not all free space provided by ISPs is of the non-virtual server kind i.e. your site will be hosted somewhere under the ISP's own site. For instance, your page might be at http://www.aplace.com/~joebloggs/

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but you might well do better to get yourself a web site with a domain name.

QUICK TIP: Just because it is included with your monthly fee to your ISP, it is not always best to make use of the website hosting they offer you. The hosting service they will provide is often much more limited than that provided by a company dedicated exclusively to hosting websites. Common limitations include strict restrictions on the amount of space your site is allowed to occupy, on the number of KB of data you are allowed to transfer every month, or on the speed of the web server.

3. Virtual Domain Sites

This is my recommendation for all except the smallest personal sites.

Since these days anyone can slap together a PC, some free software and a leased line and call themselves a web hosting company, it is worthwhile looking at a number of aspects of the company you are considering using before you finally take the plunge.


  • How many customers the hosting service is already serving. Most larger companies post this number in REALLY LARGE LETTERS somewhere on their site since it constitutes a worthwhile bragging point.
  • How fast does the company's own site load? If the web hosting service's own site loads at a speed that would make a snail look like a speeding bullet, how fast do you think your site will be?
  • Examples of satisfied customers, especially big name firms.

The best place to start looking for a good value web hosting company is BudgetWeb.com as it has a list of hundreds of companies that offer inexpensive hosting services. You can search the listed sites under dozens of different criteria, such as companies that offer unlimited data transfers, that support mailing lists or RealAudio etc...

I can recommend IperWeb highly since I use it to host Pr2... is an ultra-low cost full-service provider that will host a site with a full virtual domain name, 50 megabytes of disk space, unlimited traffic and lots more for only $120 a year! No set-up costs either... a real bargain.

Another company I have had excellent experiences with is Hiway Technologies. I have been hosting my Internet Gold-Rush site with them for over a year.

4. Colocated or dedicated servers

A colocated or dedicated server is the top of the web-hosting food chain. With a colocated server, you supply the server to the colocation provider, who connects it to their (hopefully fast) Web connection and generally keeps it running.

Dedicated server hosting packages include a server just for you, plus a large amount of bandwidth.

I will be shopping for a dedicated server solution soon to consolidate all my sites; once you start getting 15-20GB of traffic per month it is well worth considering a dedicated solution.

In conclusion

I hope this will inspire you to get your site on the Web. Never fret: with few exceptions, it is always possible to change hosting services after your site is set up, so even if your initial experience is not brilliant you can easily move to somewhere better.

Next: WHY you need your own domain name.

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