Finding a Web Host for Your WordPress Website - dummies

Finding a Web Host for Your WordPress Website

By Lisa Sabin-Wilson

After you register your domain, you need to find a place for it to live — a web hostbefore you begin working with WordPress. Here, you’ll learn about the different features that web-hosting providers usually offer with a basic hosting account, as well as some recommendations on hosts that include support for the WordPress platform.

Additionally, you’ll find suggestions on how you can determine how much hard drive space and bandwidth you may need for your website.

Examining what services web hosts offer

A web host is a business, group, or individual that provides website owners with web-server space and bandwidth for file transfers. Usually, web-hosting services charge a monthly or annual fee — unless you’re fortunate enough to know someone who’s willing to give you server space and bandwidth for free. The cost varies from host to host, but you can obtain quality web-hosting services from $3 to $10 per month to start.

Think of your web host as a garage that you pay to park your car in. The garage gives you the place to store your car (hard drive space). The host even gives you a driveway so that you, and others, can get to and from your car (bandwidth). The garage owner won’t, however, fix your rockin’ stereo system (WordPress or any other third-party software application) that you’ve installed — unless you’re willing to pay a few extra bucks for that service.

Hosting services generally provide (at least) these services with your account:

  • Hard drive space: This is nothing more complicated than the hard drive on your own computer. Each hard drive has the capacity, or space, for a certain amount of files. An 80GB (gigabyte) hard drive can hold 80GB of data — and no more. Your hosting account provides you with a limited amount of hard drive space, and the same concept applies. If your web host provides you with 10GB of hard drive space, that’s the limit on the file size that you’re allowed to have. If you want more hard drive space, you need to upgrade your space limitations. Most web hosts have a mechanism in place for you to upgrade your allotment.

    For a new self-hosted WordPress website, you don’t need much hard drive space at all. A good starting point is 3GB to 5GB of storage space. If you find that you need additional space in the future, you can contact your hosting provider for a space upgrade.

    Websites that run large files — such as video, audio, or photo files — generally benefit from more hard drive space compared with sites that don’t involve large files. Keep this point in mind when you sign up for your hosting account. Planning now will save you a few headaches down the road.

  • Bandwidth (transfer): Bandwidth is the amount of data that’s carried from point A to point B within a specific period (usually only a second or two). Every web-hosting provider offers a variety of bandwidth limits on the accounts it offers. Your bandwidth size is determined by how much bandwidth your web host allows for your account — the larger the number, the bigger the bandwidth.

    Web hosts are pretty generous with the amount of bandwidth they provide in their packages. Like hard drive space, bandwidth is measured in gigabytes. A bandwidth provision of 10GB to 50GB is generally a respectable amount to run a website with a blog.

  • Domain email with web mail access: The host allows you to have an email address that has your unique domain name.

  • File Transfer Protocol (FTP) access: FTP gives you the ability to transfer files from your computer to your web-hosting account, and vice versa.

  • Comprehensive website statistics: View detailed information on the traffic that your website receives on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis.

  • MySQL database(s): This is the database system that WordPress uses to store your data.

  • PHP: PHP is the programming language that WordPress is built on.

Because you intend to run WordPress on your web server, you need to look for a host that provides the current recommended minimum requirements needed to run the WordPress software on your hosting account, which are

  • PHP version 5.2.4 (or greater)

  • MySQL version 5.0 (or greater)

The easiest way to find out whether a host meets the minimum requirements is to check the FAQ section of the host’s website, if it has one. If not, find the contact information for the hosting company and fire off an email requesting information on what exactly it supports.

Finding a host that provides WordPress features

Web hosts consider WordPress a third-party application; therefore, the host typically won’t provide technical support for WordPress (or any other software application) because it isn’t included in your hosting package. However, several web-hosting providers have WordPress–related services available for additional fees.

The popularity of WordPress has given birth to services on the web that emphasize its use. These services include WordPress designers, WordPress consultants, and — yes — web hosts that specialize in using WordPress. Many of these hosts offer a full array of WordPress features, such as an automatic WordPress installation included with your account, a library of WordPress themes, and a staff of support technicians who are experienced in using WordPress.

Here’s a list of some of those providers, each with their own packages, pricing models, and features:

To find out whether your chosen host supports WordPress, always ask. As a WordPress user, you can find WordPress support in the official forums.

A few web-hosting providers offer free domain name registration when you sign up for hosting services. Research the way a hosting provider handles domain registration and read its terms of service, because that free domain name may come with conditions. Many users have gone this route only to find out a few months later that the web-hosting provider has full control of the domain name and they aren’t allowed to move that domain off the host’s servers, either for a set period (usually a year or two) or for infinity. It’s always best to have the control in your hands, not someone else’s, so try and stick with an independent domain registrar, such as Network Solutions.

Planning for future needs

When it comes to bandwidth and hard drive space for website hosting, consider what type of website you’re building. Whether for yourself or a client, do everyone a favor and plan ahead to avoid potential problems down the road.

Different types of websites use more bandwidth, hard drive space, and server resources than others. You need to consider the type of traffic the website gets now as well as how much you expect it to get over the next several months. When you think about building additional features on your site, consider the amount of hard drive space (storage) you’ll need to store the files and data, and the amount of traffic (bandwidth) required to manage it. For example, a photo gallery or portfolio will require storage for large image files and a good amount of bandwidth to handle the transfer of the large image files from your web server to your visitor’s browser; therefore, consider this when calculating hard drive storage space and bandwidth.

If you want to build a social community, there are several other factors to consider because the traffic of your community members will be much more regular. And if you set up the community to allow members to share photos and videos and participate in discussion forums, the hard drive space needed to do that will increase by quite a lot.

Know your site and develop a plan to make sure you have the hosting requirements accounted for and in place — this will save you many headaches down the road.

Being cautious about offers of unlimited space and bandwidth

A lot of hosting providers are out there, and it’s an extremely competitive market. However, use caution when checking into hosting providers that offer unlimited packages. Basically, for a certain cost per month, you get unlimited bandwidth transfer and unlimited hard drive space (along with unlimited domains, databases . . . pretty much unlimited everything!). This isn’t to say that the hosts that do this aren’t good ones. But a popular school of thought says that there’s no such thing as unlimited. Be sure to read the hosting provider’s terms of service. Pay particular attention to what they have to say about server resources, or more specifically, CPU (central processing unit that executes the web server) resource usage.

Although these hosting providers may offer unlimited transfer and hard drive space, if your website gets a traffic spike, the CPU resource usage goes up, and many hosts will throttle your site if your account uses a certain amount of the overall server CPU resource. By throttle, they’ll turn off your website temporarily until the CPU resource use goes down — which generally means that you lose all that traffic that probably caused the rise in CPU resource usage to begin with.

If you see an unlimited offer that looks good to you, pursue it. Just be sure to investigate a bit and ask the right questions, such as “What are the CPU limitations for my account?” and “What happens if I exceed them?”

Forewarned is forearmed.