How to choose a web host

You needn’t pay for hosting these days. If you have an email address, you’ve probably got some web space thrown in for free by your ISP. It won’t be generous, it might be slow and it will almost certainly feature your host’s name somewhere along the line. But who cares when it’s free? The answer is you. Or at least it should be.

How to choose a web host

Free web space doesn’t cut it these days. Not when you can register a domain for a fiver and host it for less than £20 a year. For that, you receive a proper address of your own, pages that load in a flash and stats that tell you not only who came, but where they came from, where they went to and what they did on your site. You can expect guaranteed uptime, top-notch support and the cachet of a personal .com.

Yet bagging a domain and setting it up can be a bewildering business. The hosting market has exploded, and the range of options and prices is now even wider than those for mobile phones. So should you pay more for a .com domain, or save your cash there and spend it on extra web space instead? What about bandwidth; does your chosen package bundle enough or will you be fined for tripping its limits? Over the next four pages, we’ll answer these questions and more, as we walk you step-by-step through the options to consider when setting up your home on the net. We won’t recommend one host over another – impossible without knowing more about your site – but, by the time we’re done, you’ll be armed with all you need to know to choose the best package for your needs. Meanwhile, check out the winners of the Best Web Host category in our PC Pro Awards supplement.

Registering your domain

The rules for registration differ from country to country. Most national registries insist your domain is at least three characters long, and some restrict registration to businesses or individuals resident in their territory.

The trouble is, if you haven’t already nabbed your domain, someone else almost certainly has, and every time a new top-level extension rolls out every possible permutation is massively over-subscribed. When .eu went live, Volkswagen, Ralph Lauren and Nestlé all put in for VW got there first, and the other two went home empty-handed.

UK2’s Nicola Woolham advises new business to take this into account from day one, and check whether a domain is available before choosing your company name. “If you name your business and then can’t get the domain, the choices are either to rename the business, which is costly and time-consuming, or to get a less customer friendly or recognisable domain,” she explains.

You could try registering your name in another country, but that’s rarely a good idea. For UK users, .com and addresses are by far the most appropriate; not only because they’re instantly recognised, but because they show up higher in web searches made from UK-based IP addresses. domains – along with the less popular and – are registered for a fixed term of two years, but you can acquire a more flexible .com for one year, a decade, or anything in between. Be aware that .com is usually more expensive, but if you’re paying more than £5 per year for your or £20 for your .com, you should really be asking what extras you’re getting for the money.

It’s important not to confuse registration with hosting when you want to move your domain, as one is far more complicated than the other. When switching registrar, your new registration company will usually submit a request to your existing provider, which will then send you a code that you must enter into its system to authorise the transfer.

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