Web Strategy 101 for Creatives (Part 2) – Site Hosting

As a creative, whether a hobbyist or a professional, artist, photographer or designer, a key thing is presenting our work. The Internet is one of the ways of doing this. But it is important to get it right. This series of articles covers the issues.

Setup Site Hosting
Once you have a domain name you will need somewhere to host your website. A hosting company provides a server on which your site sits, various services and an admin interface so you can control your site, emails, etc. Do not look for the cheapest but, at the same time, there is no need to go for the most expensive. You want a reasonably priced, extremely reliable host with excellent customer service. Anything else will drive you nuts and more than outweigh any financial saving (especially if you take your time and possible lost business into account).

There are many other decisions to make. Hosts will usually offer either Linux or Windows hosting. This is not related to what operating system you run on your local computer, but rather the OS the server will run. It affects the services you can use. For most creative’s I would recommend Linux. Not only is it sometimes cheaper but you also get access to a whole range of free open-source software applications you can run on your site, such as blogging and gallery systems. Windows is a good choice for certain businesses but creative’s rarely need these features.

Hosts will often offer you a range of options (and prices) from shared to dedicated (some call private), and sometimes some in between, such as virtual dedicated, which gives you most of the capability of a dedicated server but with the machine actually being shared. Shared means that many other websites will also be hosted on the same server whilst dedicated gives you a dedicated machine all to you. The latter is generally too expensive for a single creative’s website although it does give you full control of the machine. Full control can be important if you have to install certain features, but again is unnecessary for most creatives. Shared hosting works well if the hosting company balances the number of sites appropriately and adjusts as necessary to maintain good performance.

Hosting is priced on the features you get. Apart from the above, the common differentiators of hosting cost are space and bandwidth. Space is how many mega or giga bytes of disk space you get on the server. While 20MB is plenty for many small business websites, many creative’s want a full portfolio of their work and this can end up quite large. Thankfully storage is quite cheap and so hosting plans are available at reasonable price with enough storage to suit almost anyone. Bandwidth is the measure of how much data is transferred to and from your site. Transfers to the site will typically just be you uploading new content, unless you use ftp a lot for clients to send you large files, and so will be a small part. When people view your site every file they see, images, the pages themselves, CSS files, etc count towards the bandwidth. This can add up fast on a popular site or even an unpopular one where people who do come view a lot of content. Again, this is getting cheaper all the time.

There are also many extras to consider. Having the ability to create your own email addresses gives you a lot of flexibility. I’ve adopted a policy of using a minimum of three addresses: one for use on forums and mailing lists, one for enquiries from my site and another for email correspondence I participate in directly with individuals and the companies I deal with, such as the camera companies. I change the first two fairly often to minimize being hit with a lot of spam. I also use fairly heavy spam filtering on these. Another option worth having is Fantastico. This allows you to easily install free open-source applications, such as blogs, galleries, mailing lists, newsletters, forums, etc on your website and keep them updated. You’ll understand the value of this in the next part of this series. There are many other options.

Hosting can happen anywhere in the world. It is thus worth exploring hosting in another country if local hosting is too expensive or does not offer the features you need. While I live in Australia I host in the US because not only can I get a faster connection to the Internet for my server there but the costs I have to pay for huge amounts of space and bandwidth are so much lower than I would pay here in Australia. Look for features of the hosting company, such as the configuration of their data center: redundant air conditioning, power backup and generators and redundant and fast links to the Internet.

One company you should never use for hosting is your Internet service provider, the people who you use to connect to the Internet from home or the office. Hosting with them can lock you into using them as an ISP and it has been my experience that you want to be able to easily change ISP for a better deal, faster connections, a cheaper price or more reliable service. You do not want to be locked in. This is the same reason why I said to register your domain name yourself; it means you have no hassle moving your site to a new host if necessary.

Once you have a host, you point your domain name to it by logging into your account at the domain name registrar and setting the DNS (domain name server) to point to the hosting company’s DNS server. When you create a hosting account they will tell you what you need to specify here.

Once you have your domain name and hosting in place you should create for yourself one or more email addresses tied to your domain name. This is commonly done through some sort of control panel your hosting company provides you access to. In some cases they will need to do it for you. You want to use your domain name in your email address, such as [email protected], for two reasons. Firstly, it looks far more professional and stable than a gmail, yahoo or .mac address. Secondly it advertises your web site every time you use it. It amazes me how many people have a website but continue to use a gmail or such account. It makes no sense to me because if you have proper hosting you can easily create new email addresses whenever you want.

Many hosting companies include optional spam filtering on your email addresses. Learn how to configure this and turn it on and off as you need it. Work out how you want to handle spam. I have to be careful because many press releases I receive look like spam to most filters, so I have my spam filters label is as possible spam but still send it though to my mail program so I can check it myself. For others this will not normally be such an issue and you may be able to be more aggressive.

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