This was originally a long comment in response to a question from my hero for the year–Jason Darrick–on his blog. The question came up of what was the best option for bloggers, and if having your own domain name was important.

Which blog platform you go with is a personal preference. I’ll get to that in a later post, maybe. For this one I’m only going to tackle how you get your own name on the internet. Here goes…

There are several different bits that go into hosting your own site. I’ll try my best to break it all down for you. Today’s post is about the web host piece.

Why should I break free from my hosted blog?

Like the blog platform, this is largely a personal preference. If you’re a control freak with a little time and inclination on your hands, hosting your own web site might save you some money in the long run. You won’t have to pay premium fees to install special themes or have access to the premium features. Most blogging software you run in your own web site has much of that stuff for free, out of the box. But don’t listen to me, I’m a control freak with a little time and inclination on my hands 😉

So you’ve decided to break free, or at least you want to know more about this, read on!

Why do you need a web host?

Chances are if you’re like me, you probably don’t have web server setup on your computer or any interest in installing one (or having a computer running 24/7).

So the first piece you need to figure out is a company that will give you a little slice of disk space on their web server as well as the “bandwidth” for people to access the things you’ve put in your allotted space.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of web hosts out there. And there are plenty that want to charge you as much as they can get away with. There are also those who will insist you need things you don’t actually need.

Who do YOU use?

Right now I pay my web host Lunarpages $110/year to host my web sites. That’s with unlimited bandwidth and unlimited disk space. But I’m not married to Lunarpages.

I briefly tested out Dreamhost back in March. Ultimately I didn’t switch to them because there wasn’t going to be enough of a savings to make it worth my effort to switch (it was about the same monthly rate). Both companies seem pretty solid to me but I only have limited experience with Dreamhost.

What do I need in a host?

Most web hosts have several packages available. This can be confusing for someone starting out. For most of us bloggers and authors, shared web hosting is plenty.

Shared web hosting is when there are multiple web pages hosted on the same web server. Sometimes it means there are multiple web sites hosted on the same IP address. In the old days this was more important than it is now. Now the only time it becomes an issue is if one little monkey’s web site gets a bit of attention from popular web sites like Digg, Reddit, Fark, etc. A lot of attention on a neighbor web site could slow down your web site and/or potentially take the entire server down completely.

What is bandwidth?

Have a smartphone like an iPhone or a Blackberry? Then you already understand bandwidth. Bandwidth in the case of a smart phone is the data cap your plan has. So if you have 1GB of data allowed in one month on your phone, you can use up to 1GB of your mobile phone provider’s bandwidth before they start charging you an overage fee. To give you an idea of how that might bite you in the ass, say you buy a few games on the App store on your iPhone, each game may have 100MB of data to download, you only need to buy 10 games to hit your limit.

In a web site, bandwidth refers to how much data your visitors consume. An example would be if you upload a digital camera photo of your cat looking cute to your web site. The image is 10MB, a little over 100 visitors looking at your photo will trigger 1GB of bandwidth.

When shopping for a web host, pay attention to how much bandwidth you’re allotted and how much they charge for overages. To give you an idea, my sites generally pull in less than 5GB of bandwidth per month.

A few ways to get around shocking bills are to host large files elsewhere. Flickr for photos. Youtube for videos. Soundcloud for MP3s.

Or find someone who gives you unlimited bandwidth.

Should I read the Terms of Service?

I generally don’t read the entire TOS but I do tend to check the company’s FAQs, Wikis and/or forums for the answers to a few of my common concerns. Most web hosts don’t want you hosting porn, movies or music (probably because these things are either large or get downloaded most). Some web hosts will consider music acceptable if you own the copyright–in other words, you’ve created the music yourself. Still other hosts stipulate you can’t sell or advertise anything. Clearly that would be an issue for me.

Do I need a control panel?

Yes. Unless you’re an ubergeek, you’ll want to go with a host who offers a web-based control panel. Even though I’ve had experience getting down and dirty with Apache config files, binding IPs and all that crap, I refuse to go with any host who doesn’t have a web-based control panel.

Most of these babies will let you add on “Add-on Domains”, install software like WordPress on the fly, create e-mail accounts, create e-mail forwards and access web statistics.

What other things do I need from my web host if I want to break free from my hosted blog?

My suggestions are as follows:

  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Web-based Control Panel
  • MySQL Databases
  • PHP5 Support
  • Back-ups
  • Server Side Includes (SSI)
  • FTP access (preferably SFTP)
  • One-Click Automatic Software Installers (this may be referenced differently from host to host, but basically it’s the piece that will install WordPress, etc for you)

Things I prefer from my hosts but aren’t necessarily needed for a novice site owner:

  • Unlimited Disk Storage/Space
  • Subdomains (for creating extra sites like blog.anyabreton.com in addition to www.anyabreton.com)
  • Add-on Domains — I’ll talk about this in the next post but my package includes unlimited add-on domains
  • Google Apps integration (my e-mail is actually hosted by Google)
  • SSH Access (only web nerds would need this)

 

That’s all for today. Next up will be Registering a domain name.