In lesson 1 of how to start a website for a small rural business we looked at how the internet search engines work.
Lesson 2 of how to start a website gave information about keyword research for rural business and choosing and buying a domain name.
So we are now the proud owners of the domain name www cumbrian_cheese_shop.co.uk but what do we do with it now, how do we get a website to display on that web address?
We are going to select and buy a website hosting package.
What is website hosting?
Simply put, website hosting is the storing of a website on a computer (called a web server) so it is viewable on the internet. Think of it like creating a short documentary about rural issues and then needing a tv station to broadcast it, well a server is the tv station.
There are shared and dedicated servers. Which you choose will depend on three things:
- The amount of space your website will require (needless to say the BBC website requires a vast amount of space but your rural farm shop will, at least initially, require the minimal amount.
- How much bandwidth you need, bandwidth means how much data will pass through a channel in a given period of time. This depends on the number of visitors your your website will receive each month, again usually minimal to begin with.
- Email usage, how many email accounts will you run and how many emails will you send out. A farm shop will use virtually no email capacity but my countryside dating website has members sending emails day and night, so we require a higher grade hosting package to cope with the volume of messages.
Choosing a hosting package is a vital but very confusing step, choose the wrong hosting company and your website could spend half of it’s time invisible to your customers.
I was going to include information about free website software in this post but it is already quite lengthy so look out for lesson four where we will find free website software and how to use it.
Once you have purchased a web hosting package you provide them with your new domain name and they should ‘point’ your domain name to the server.
It is worth noting that you can run a number of different websites from the same domain name, this countryside blog is quite a seperate entity to my rural dating website and my dating tips blog, yet they all share a domain name and hosting package. We will look at how this is achieved in the next lesson.
I am not going to make any recommendation for hosting companies but these are the things you should look for when choosing a hosting package:
Our farm cheese shop scenario would require about 10 web pages and two email accounts so a hosting package offering 50MB of disk space is perfectly adequate. Do not be taken in by the sales pitch of “huge space and unlimited email accounts for just $6″, you don’t need it but you do need good support. However if you are going to have a website with many pages (a review website, a directory, a dating site, etc) then you will need an SQL database and much higher disk space. Most good hosting companies will display an information chart about disk space requirements.
Windows or Linux
WHAT? This is the part where people like us look baffled and go and feed the cows instead. Rather than attempt to understand and explain this I will simply say that my research suggests Apache on Linux based servers is the most popular. There is a good how to for Apache on the Linux website … this is the point I go and feed the cows but I have never had to even think about this issue my web hosting company set it all up for me.
Very important. Host servers are computers and computers break down or need maintenance. A good hosting package will give you access to a website that shows the server operating in real time … that just means that I can go to my hosting companies website, look for my servers name and see how well it is performing, if there is a problem and estimated time until it’s fixed. Ask your hosting company for data of down time before buying a package, if they say there has been no downtime in the past year they are probably fibbing. Anyone that claims to guarantee 100% uptime is claiming to be God and clearly delusional.
A control panel is the backend of your website, it is the administrative area where you can get access to your files and you can make changes to your website. A good, easy to understand, control panel is a must. Before signing up to a hosting package ask which control panel they use and look to see whether you can understand it.
There are two things to consider here.
First if your server is physically located in the US or India then do they operate 24 hour customer support (if they say they do then try it before you sign up). If not you could end up waiting 8 hours for anyone to even read your ‘my website’s disappeared’ email when they turn in the morning.
The second issue is unclear as nobody really knows how search engines such as google decide what to display to users. Some internet guru types suggest that search engines use geo location information as one means of deciding website relevancy for someone searching. This would mean that they look at your web address … it’s a .co.uk … your page content … it talks about UK cheese … your server … is located in the UK … therefore your website is most relevent to people in the UK.
That said I chose a server in the US simply because when I weighed up the packages on offer it was the best solution for my business and that is the most important thing for any business.
If like me you are a bit of a technophobe and rely on idiots guides then good customer service is a must. Before signing up to a package test their customer services, be a pain in the behind and see how they respond. Ask the same question three different ways or ask them to respond to a different email address. How quickly do they respond, did they respond to the alternative email address and are they patient in dealing with your questions.
Take time to research website hoting providers, don’t just go for the first one you find on google or the cheapest one you can find. If you know anyone with a website ask them which hosts they use and would they recommend them.
You can google uk hosting packages or compare uk web hosting. You will find sites like host ratings which seems good because it has negative reviews of hosting providers. Many review sites are simply paid to advertise companies so always look to see if anyone is unhappy with the service, in any business you get customers with complaints, this would indicate real reviews.