Don’t go it alone when looking for a Web host

When you’re looking for a Web host, don’t go it alone.  This is one case where word of mouth beats out the usual methods of  Web search.

Lots of folks are  looking for hosts, and  in turn lots of hosts are looking for your business. To illustrate, “Hosting”  was the ninth most profitable keyword term for Google early in 2011, earning the search engine 2.2 %, or  $31.9 million, of its $32.2 billion in total ad revenue, says Search Engine watch.

Google the question, “ How do I find a good Web host?” and your search will return many sites that say they rate Web hosts independently.  Beware. Many of them are resellers pushing a particular company.

So if you are at the beginning of your journey, find a good web developer or knowledgeable techie and tell them — in general — what your requirements are.  Then take notes and start searching.

My personal website was with a Web host I found in 1997.  I decided to change hosts last year when I wanted to update certain aspects of my site and my most tech-savvy friends couldn’t figure out the backend to add WordPress. “It’s kind of retro cool — but how does it work?” They’d ask.  It was also way too expensive for my needs, almost $600 per year.

When I changed hosts, I selected MediaTemple based on the recommendation of some colleagues here in Chicago who are running independent online news sites.  Unlike them, my needs are minimal. I don’t have a high volume site, i.e. hundreds or thousands of visits a day. I’m not seeking advertising and I am not planning on doing e-commerce.

Basically I don’t have a business plan.

But that’s likely to change and when it does, MediaTemple is robust enough that it can handle significant traffic and multiple platforms so I can manifest what I want in terms of creative and coding.  And the backend is so easy that I can handle my own email and day-to-day housekeeping. It is also connected to a domain name registrar, so I can register names as needed.

The ability to host your site through upgrades is one of the most important aspects of selecting a web hosting services.

“Look for a service that is scalable,” said Emily Lonigro, Owner and Creative Director of LimeRed Studio in Chicago. LimeRed designed and launched the sites for two independent online newsrooms in Chicago and develops sites for large clients including Northwestern University.

“Look for a hosting service that lets you start with the basics and then move up. Look for expandable, “ Lonigro said. And look for excellent customer service.

“You need to be able to call and get someone on the phone,” Lonigro said.

You also should be able to get the pricing right off the website.  “I like when I can compare features and know exactly what I will be charged for a certain set of features,” Lonigro said.

My personal pet peeve is sites that lowball the basic price but charge $3 for every additional service. It’s too late when you’ve signed a multi-year contract and discover that you are being nickel-and-dimed. Don’t be fooled.

If you are at the beginning of your journey and don’t even know what a Web host is, get familiar with terms at sites like TechSoup, a non-profit consultancy that has been bringing NPOs online for two decades.  Then find a web developer, ask them what they think. Tell them — in general — what your requirements are.

Where to find a techie? Do some networking with the technology groups and meet-ups in your area – here in Chicago we have the MIT Enterprise Forum, the Illinois Technology Association, SocialDevCamp and scores of other  groups that can help you understand the lay of the digital land. You might also want to seek out digital expertise at your local college or university.

And of course, you might want to give a Tweet to your colleagues from the Block by Block summit, requesting their recommendations. Use the hash #mybxb.

Lonigro says that her firm uses  Dream Host, Enginehosting, Inmotionhosting, LunarPages and RackSpace. (BlockbyBlock.us is hosted by Dream Host.)

“I would make sure that your IT person gives you a run down of what the requirements are,” she said. “If the host doesn’t have all your features. If it’s too locked up.  If it doesn’t work with Drupal, WordPress or whatever you are building your site in, forget it.“

Most good web hosts offer single click install of the major platforms.

If you’re just getting started with your idea and plan to grow, you might want to use a simple WordPress install. My host has one click installs for WordPress, Drupal and ZenCart as well as 24/7 phone customer service. For $20 per month, I can host up to 100 domains and 1000 email accounts.  My old host charged $50 per month for that.

There’s a lot of confusion about what a site developer is. In my experience, a small Web site development company usually includes a designer – who has marketing and creative expertise — a project manager who helps develop content, navigation and usability,  and a coder who understands the software and how to plug all the pieces of the web site together.  Sometimes one or two people combine to have the  brilliance of these functions.

Don’t use a Web developer that wants to hold onto your site and manage the hosting once the site is built. You — not your developer — should have the contract with your Web hosting service.

Although Web developers have different approaches to this, it’s simpler if you know when the hosting service is renewed. It’s too easy for a Web developer who is dealing with multiple clients to forget about your renewal. The same goes for your domain name.

Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on  and on twitter at saduros.


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5 Responses to Don’t go it alone when looking for a Web host

  1. Before we launched Brentwood Home Page in August 2009, we were working with a local web host/website developer. Soon, however, we realized we were paying for so much custom work that we were going to be out of funds before we even started; plus, we felt they were not seriously listening to what we needed and wanted. Three weeks before our launch, we stumbled upon bondware.com located just down the road from us. We switched and never looked back. Though we know the day is coming when we will create our own custom site, Bondware was, and remains today, integral to our success. Anyone considering a hyperlocal news site may want to check them out.

    • sally duros says:

      Thanks for letting me know about Bondware. I’m watching the video tutorials. I’m glad that Bondware works for you. Can your advertisers manage their ads themselves? Can you say how expensive this is?

  2. For >a href=”http://www.TucsonSentinel.com”>TucsonSentinel.com, we use a local web hosting company, SimplyBits, because we like to work with local businesses when possible, and they have a staff with experience working on large, complex news sites.

    For many other sites, I’ve had a great experience with asmallorange.com. Their rates start at just $5/mo., they don’t nickle and dime, and they offer amazing service.

    • Sally Duros says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. The idea of working with a local web host is laudable. Have you been working on the Web a long time? How did you get started finding your Web host?

      • Sally,

        Been doing various Web-related things for a decade or so.

        Although I’ve used asmallorange for quite a few projects, we approached a local hosting company for TucsonSentinel.com both because as a local small business, our success depends on other business in our community being successful, and because we’d worked with one of their staffers before on a large news site.

        While any news site is going to tax the ability of a cut-rate host, for one with lots of custom-related data and expectations of decent traffic, having somebody who knows how to keep things running when you get national attention makes a huge difference.

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