Free Web Hosting Guide: 33 Secrets You Probably Didn’t Know!

web hosting guide

Many website owners often make the mistake of deciding too quickly which company to host their website with. They don’t do their homework beforehand and pay the price later. This means they’ll have to find an alternative web host then transfer their files, databases, etc to the new one. No one wants to endure this kind of frustration as it takes the focus away from building your business.

This free web hosting guide will save you a ton of time and money when selecting a company to host or transfer your website. Here are the most important points to consider before laying out your cash:

PREPARATION

1. What are the goals of your website?

Before deciding on a web host think about the goals you have for your website so you can determine how much space and bandwidth you will need. For instance if your goal is to generate leads for your business you won’t need much space however if you plan on adding lots of content on a regular basis make sure you can upgrade your hosting plan as the need arises.

Resources

20 Reasons to Put Your Business on the Web

2. What type of hosting service do you need?

Shared (virtual) web hosting
This is the most common type most website owners choose. You share the same space on the same server with other websites. Most website owners purchase this type of service because it’s inexpensive and usually provides sufficient space and bandwidth for their needs.

Dedicated hosting
This means you have the whole server to yourself. It is not shared by other websites except the ones you own. This is commonly used for large websites that need tons of space and bandwidth. Expect to pay over $100/month.

Reseller hosting
If you need to host multiple websites or want to resell hosting services to other site owners consider a reseller hosting plan. Keep in mind you’ll need to learn how to use the web hosting control panel as well as cpanel (if using a Linux server). If you have no desire to learn this or the time, look for someone who will do this for you.

Free Hosting
These companies are able to offer free hosting because they include advertising. Others may offer free hosting if you register a domain name with them. You only pay when you upgrade your hosting plan. Free hosting means you get what you pay for. I wouldn’t recommend it if you plan on building a serious business online.

Resources

Top 7 Web Hosting Mistakes to Avoid

REQUIREMENTS/FEATURES

3. Disk Space

disc space

This refers to the amount of space (MB) you need to host your files on the server. To get an idea how much space you need right click on the folder containing your files and view the properties. A basic website containing a few images and 10 pages won’t consume much disc space e.g. 50MB will probably be sufficient. If not you can always upgrade to a higher plan.

If your site contains a lot of graphics (e.g. a photography site) or store a ton of information you’ll need a greater amount of disc space and pay a higher fee.

Note: Avoid hosting companies that offer unlimited web space and unlimited bandwidth. In reality there is no such thing because server space and bandwidth is limited. If your site suddenly experiences a ton of visitors you could use up all the bandwidth on the server causing the company to shut down your site so it doesn’t affect the other sites on the server.

Resources

What is Hosting Space | How Much Do I Need | How To Choose a Host
Use Add-On Domains To Optimize Your Web Hosting Space
How Much Hosting Space Do You Need?

4. Bandwidth

This refers to the amount of data transfer. For instance if your site contains video or audio files that are regularly played you’ll consume large quantities of bandwidth. Data transfer will be higher than a site containing mostly text. The average website uses less than 200MB of bandwidth per month.

Resources

How much space and bandwidth do I need?
How To Reduce Web Hosting Bandwidth

5. Server Speed

A slow web server will cause your site to load slowly. Website visitors have little patience for slow loading sites and will leave and go elsewhere. One of Google’s main ranking factors is site speed so if your site doesn’t load quickly it may affect your rankings in the search engines.

To speed up your site reduce the size and number of your images, videos, fix html errors and reduce the number of plugins (if you’re using WordPress).

To check the load times of your web pages visit http://gtmetrix.com/.

Resources

Site Speed – 5 Ways to Decrease Your Website Loading Time
How to Calculate and Speed-Up the Download Time of Your Web Site

6. Uptime

If your site goes offline due to server downtime you may lose leads and sales. The more uptime your hosting provider guarantees, the better. 99% uptime is the minimum acceptable standard. Look for 99% plus guaranteed uptime. Keep in mind most servers will require some downtime (usually 1% or less) due to server upgrades, maintenance, etc.

7. Reliability

Check how long the company has been in business. If it’s only been a few months or years it may mean they lack experience and you don’t know how reliable they are.

Resources

How to Choose a Hosting Company That’s Reliable

8. Backups

If the server goes down or experiences a disaster (e.g. fire in the building housing the server) your site will go offline and not be available to your visitors. Check if the hosting company does daily backups of the server and if they also keep off site back-ups in case of the disaster.

Sidenote: It’s a good idea make backups of your own site on a regular basis just in case a server fails. You can do a one click backup from cpanel to a folder on your desktop or purchase an automated solution such as BackUpBuddy. This software also enables you to easily transfer a WordPress website to another hosting provider (preserves all files, databases and plugins).

Resources

How to Backup SQL Database – 4 Top Methods
How to Backup mySQL Database With phpMyAdmin

9. Responsive Technical Support

customer service
Inevitably you’ll run into problems while hosting your website therefore highly responsive technical support is a must. Test the response times by sending an email or calling tech support. If they don’t respond to your email within 24 hours or less look for another provider.

10. cPanel Access

The cpanel is a dashboard that allows you to easily manage your hosting account. It contains easy-to-view icons on the main page that include such features as:

  • Add/edit/delete email accounts
  • Check website statistics
  • Monitor web space and bandwidth usage
  • List of databases you’ve set-up
  • Access to setup and maintain databases
  • Installation of scripts ie WordPress, Joomla, Forums, etc
    • Resources

      How to Use Cpanel: Top 7 Ways to Use a Web Host Control Panel

      11. Softaculous

      Softaculous is an auto installer for cPanel. It enables you to install scripts in just ONE STEP i.e. WordPress, Joomla, Forums, etc.

      12. CGI Bin

      This is a standard feature included in almost all hosting companies. It enables you to enhance the content of Web pages over and above what simple HTML provides.

      If you do not have access to your own CGI Bin, you cannot install your own cgi scripts and programs. For instance you may want to install an opt-in form that requires a cgi script to be installed in the CGI Bin folder.

      Resources

      How to Install a CGI Script and Increase Website Interactivity

      13. Perl

      This is a programming language often nicknamed “the Swiss Army chainsaw of scripting languages” because of its flexibility and power to enhance your website.

      14. Server Side Includes (SSI)

      This allows you to update all web pages simultaneously across your whole site by simply updating one line of code. It’s a great feature to implement if you need to maintain/update an html website.

      Resources

      How to Update Your Web Site Using Server Side Includes (SSI)

      15. FTP Access

      This allows you unlimited and unrestricted access to your site. You’ll need an FTP program to transfer files from your computer to the server such as Filezilla (free) or SmartFTP. Alternatively you can also use the FTP feature included in cpanel although it’s more difficult to use.

      16. Website Statistics

      It’s imperative to monitor how many visitors your website is receiving, where they are coming from, what keywords they are using to find your site and what the top referrers are. Most hosting plans include a web stats program (ie AW Stats) so check before you decide what company to go with.

      Resources

      How to Analyze Your Web Site Traffic
      How To Monitor Website Traffic

      17. MySQL Databases

      If you’re building a WordPress website you’ll need at least one MySQL Database. You may need additional databases if you want to add a forum or membership component. Check how many databases are included in your web hosting plan and how much you’ll need to pay should you require more.

      18. FREE Shared SSL

      If you’re accepting payments on your website you’ll need a SSL certificate to ensure transactions are secure (unless you use PayPal as your online payment provider). A free shared SSL means the certificate is included in your hosting plan although it is shared by other websites on the same server.

      19. POP3, SMTP, IMAP Email

      These days you need to be able to stay in touch with your customers via your computer, cell phone and tablet therefore check that your web host offers POP3, SMTP, IMAP Email
      so you can access your email from all your devices.

      Resources

      How to Organize Your Email Without Losing It
      How to Stop Spam Mail

      20. Website Builder

      Some hosting companies include browser-based sitebuilding software with cpanel. This is a great option to have if you want to build to quickly build a web presence without spending a fortune hiring a professional web designer.

      Resources

      RVSitebuilder is browser based sitebuilding software that installs directly into cPanel. Its easy-to-follow workflow, social media plugins, and robust content management features makes it easy for even non-programmers to create, market, and maintain a high-end web presence.

      21. Subdomains

      Subdomains are useful for adding additional sections to your website such as a forum or blog ie blog.domain.com. A subdomain can even have it’s own stats and email accounts.

      22. Add-on Domains

      An add-on domain is a new domain that is added on top of your main domain. It creates a subdirectory within your main web hosting directory but can show a different website. The add-on domain collects the information from the subdomain directory using the same space and bandwidth as your main account, however it doesn’t have its own cpanel.

      Resources

      Use Add-On Domains To Optimize Your Web Hosting Space

      23. Domain Pointers

      Domain pointing allows you to host multiple sites with just one hosting account. This can save you hundreds of dollars each year.

      Resources

      How do Domain Pointers Work?

      24. Autoresponders

      Autoresponders enable you to deliver your message automatically by email. It can work for you 24 hours per day delivering information without being at your computer. By placing your marketing message in your autoresponder, customers can request information any time of the day and instantly have it in their mailbox. This will save you hours of manually filling out forms.

      Note: Autoresponders included in cpanel (web hosting control panel) only offer one reply. They are not to be confused with stand-a-lone autoresponder services such as Aweber which enables you to store contacts in a database and automatically send out a series of emails at pre-scheduled times.

      Resources

      Autoresponder Marketing System
      How to Make Use of Autoresponders
      Email Marketing Software Review: YourMailingListProvider (YMLP)

      25. Email Aliases

      An email alias is an alternative email address that points to an existing user account. For example, the user bill@domain.com might also want to receive email addressed to william@domain.com. If you create william@domain.com as an email alias for bill@domain.com, email will be delivered to both of these addresses in the same inbox.

      26. Front Page Support

      There are still many people that use the once popular Front Page Software to build their websites. In order to upload files to the server Front Page Extensions need to be installed. So if you’re still using Front Page to build or maintain websites check the hosting company has Front Page extensions installed.

      27. PHP Scripting

      PHP is a server-side scripting language designed for web development. It extends the functioning of your website. Check your web hosting plan to see if it has support for the script you need. Outdated scripts may not work for your site.

      Resources

      Create a Simple, Effective PHP Form for Your Website
      Secure PHP Form Mail Script
      How to Install and Configure Master Form v4

      28. Password Protection

      A password protected folder or file is useful if you don’t want to give access to the general public. Within cpanel you can easily password protect a directory or sub-directory on your website so it’s only accessible to those people who have the login information.

      Resources

      How To Password Protect A File Or Folder And Stop Snoopers

      29. SpamAssassin

      Email spam prevents you from easily viewing your important emails because you need to spend time sorting out what to keep and what to delete. SpamAssassin is an automated email filtering system that attempts to identify spam messages based on the content of the email’s headers and body.

      Resources

      How to Stop Form Mail Spam
      How to Stop Email Spam with SpamAssassin
      How to Mass Delete Comments From WordPress Using phpMyAdmin

      30. Custom Error Pages

      You may have seen the dreaded “404 error” page. This occurs when the web server can not find that page so access to an area of the website is denied. It could be caused by a broken link or the person misspelling the address for that page.

      Creating your own custom error pages within cpanel enables you to redirect visitors to another page ie your home page or site map page so they don’t get lost. This should definitely be included on your web hosting checklist.

      Resources

      How to Create a Custom 404 Error Page to Stop Losing Website Visitors

      31. Secure Data Center

      data center

      Web hosting providers both big and small need a central location where they house their servers and equipment. It is important to have some idea as to where these systems are located. If you seek reliability and high quality you may not really want your important web venture hosted in someone’s basement. Most large web hosting companies house their servers in a secure, fireproof building.

      32. State-of-the-art Technology

      Most web hosting companies will provide some detail on their data centers including the different bandwidth providers they use, and physical security of their premises. Check if they utilize rock solid servers and if each server contains an additional hard drive for continuous backups so it provides protection for your crucial data on multiple levels.

      33. Affordable

      Avoid purchasing the cheapest host you can find because you’ll probably get what you pay for (ie slow or unresponsive tech support). Instead check off the features you need to host your site, test the response times and ask if tech support has extensive knowledge on building websites as you may need their help when you get stuck building yours.

      Watch the video Free Web Hosting Guide – 3 Secrets You Probably Didn’t Know!

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Comments

  1. Really an interesting guide for any beginner. If I would be a beginner in website creation, I would definitely apply all the steps written in this article.
    Very useful Article.
    Gautam Roy recently posted…5 Best free WordPress themes for Photographers in 2018My Profile

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