When you are ready to start your journey into the web, you don't necessarily need the most expensive web hosting account you can find. A basic account should meet most of your start up needs. As you learn the kinds of things that you need, you will most likely be able to upgrade your account as necessary. If however, you have an e-commerce site, you may need slightly more complicated web hosting services. You need a company that can handle SSL technology and Payment Gateway Integration, for example. Moreover, if you choose a different service to handle your Payment Gateway Integration than you choose to handle your web hosting, you must ensure that both services can work cooperatively to take care of your business. Remember, the key to all of this is to make you money, so you want things that work well for your customers, and the best way to do that is for everything to work together seamlessly. To that end, the ideal web host has to have all the options right there.
Traditionally, the first thing you looked for was reliability, but over time, most hosting providers have managed to get their act together on that front to the point where anything less than 99% uptime is a disaster. The new first step in web hosting is choosing the kinds of things you need to keep your website running smoothly, such as what kind of server operating system that host uses, how much room to grow they give you with your hosting package, and what software they offer you to help your website do things.
Some web hosts offer tools such as an HTML/Scripting Editor, so you can design your website on the actual site, rather than having to get a designer to do it. These work with an extensive web editor that allows you to build and enhance your website right on the host server. Other tools might include something like Task Plus, a scheduling application that reminds you when you have a task due. You might also find your host offering you information resources, such as e-books, or perhaps a series of templates to use on your site, or even scripts that allow you to set up email forms and databases and testimonial rotators. For example, Flizard.com offers these, a total value of US$276, as part of their standard package.
Of course they, like most web hosts (but not all - you should check first), also offer our full customer service and support, but in this company's case they also offer 1 hour of free website programming consulting every month, so you can call them up and tell them what you'd like your website to do, and they'll tell you how it can be done. That's pretty handy, especially if you're a little new at the whole website game - in fact, it's pretty darn rare.
At an absolute minimum, you need a company that gives you a number of basic things. First, you need unlimited FTP access. Second, you need web support that is available to you all of the time. Finally, you need some guarantee on your satisfaction. Some companies have a money back offer, others will work with you until you are happy. There are some additional features you might be able to find, such as a very low or free set-up fee, but while those can be tantalizing bait, what happens down the road when the honeymoon deal runs out and your costs suddenly spike?
Some offer web mail services. Some even offer web-based site administration capabilities. There are e-mail auto responding services with some companies. There are even virus protection policies with some companies, but ultimately we recommend using a company that will answer the phone when you have a question, because that's the kind of personal one-on-one service that really turns into benefits for you down the road. That's what makes the free web consulting offer mentioned above so special - it indicates a company that actually wants to talk to you, and that's rare indeed.
Starting your journey to choosing the right web hosting company can seem a bit overwhelming, but making the right decision will make you very happy with your web site.