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Signing Up with a Web Hosting Provider

As you may have guessed from the name, a Web hosting provider, or simply WHP, is a company that hosts your Web business. They do so by giving you space on a computer connected to the Internet. That computer is your Web server, and you'll upload all your Web business files to it (see step 0 in Figure 4). Once you upload your files, typically with an FTP program, users can access your Web business via their browsers—unless you protect or hide your files. Besides providing space for you to upload your files, the WHP also provides a DNS server so that when your users type in your Web site's address, their browsers can find and communicate with your Web server.

Figure 4

How the Web hosting provider (WHP) fits into the big picture. The WHP provides the Web server (W) and the DNS server (D).

Now that you have a better understanding of what a WHP provides, you need to sign up with the right one. Unfortunately, there are so many different Web hosting providers that it would be pointless to single one out as an example. Instead, I'll cover the key factors you should look for in a good hosting provider. Specifically, there are a set of minimum technical requirements the WHP should meet, as well as a set of highly-desirable features. While there are a number of free Web hosting providers, virtually none of them meet the minimum technical requirements for a personal Web business.

In terms of minimum technical requirements, if you want to follow along with the examples in my column, your WHP must support the following technologies:

  • Microsoft Access databases. The database is the key technology in an autonomous Web business. It will hold content and customer information for your Web business.

  • Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP). You'll use this technology to create dynamic Web pages that interact with the information stored in your database.

  • CDONTS. Short for Collaborative Data Objects for NTS. This is the package you'll use to send email to your customers. I'll cover this package in more depth in the article on memetic marketing.

I should stress that you don't have to specifically use Access, ASP, and CDONTS; however, the examples from my future articles will be based on these technologies, so if you want to have an easier time following along, you should use them. More generally, to meet the minimum requirements for personal Web businesses, a Web hosting provider must support databases (such as Microsoft Access), a server-side scripting language (such as ASP), and script-driven emails (CDONTS). Here are some highly desirable features from a WHP:

  • Unlimited traffic. Also known as unlimited bandwidth. Web hosting providers have a limit in terms of how many bytes of data are exchanged per month between your users and your Web server (for example, a limit of 5GB of traffic per month). They charge you for anything over that limit. Try to find a WHP that provides unlimited traffic. Many do, as long as your site isn't serving movie files and big MP3 audio clips. Read the WHP's Terms of Service very carefully, since it will define what "unlimited" means.

  • Unlimited storage. Web hosting providers may restrict the total size of the files you upload to your Web server (for example, 50MB of storage), and you're charged for anything over that storage limit. So if you have a big database that's 50MB in size, for example, you'll have to pay extra for space to store your HTML and ASP scripts. To avoid these extra payments, try to find a WHP that provides unlimited storage. As with unlimited traffic, as long as your site isn't serving movie files and big MP3s, you shouldn't have problems finding a WHP that provides unlimited storage.

  • Email forwarding. Email forwarding is a service in which your WHP redirects email that your users send to your Web business, sending the email to an existing e-mail address. For example, suppose your existing email address is foobarbaz@yahooey.com and the domain name for your Web business is girlswithknives.com. With email forwarding, you set up a number of email addresses such as support@girlswithknives.com, gripes@girlswithknives.com, and Webmaster@girlswithknives.com. Your WHP then sets up their mailing servers so that any email sent to those addresses gets forwarded to foobarbaz@yahooey.com. Even if you don't think you need these extra "support" email addresses, I recommend setting them up because some users get highly annoyed if there isn't (for example) a Webmaster@xyz.com address where they can report link corrections and make comments about your site. We're developing Web businesses after all, not Web sites, and user feedback is critical to the success of your business.

You should be able to find a Web hosting provider that supports the minimum technical requirements and provides the desirable features for approximately $15 per month. If you pay more than that, you're paying for features that you probably don't need or that you won't use. If you want to get lower than $15 per month, you may get a discount if you pay for a year or more in advance, but I'm always leery about such prepayment plans.

Once you find a good Web hosting provider, contact the provider via email, phone, or a form on the provider's Web site (see Figure 5, step i). You give the provider a credit card number for payment and your domain name, and ask for the addresses of their DNS servers. Your WHP may want to handle setting up the DNS servers, but tell them that you'll handle it yourself. (The reason you want to handle it yourself is that if you ever decide to switch providers, which is very common, you may experience delays of several days or more if your WHP is in charge of the DNS servers. With you in charge of setting the DNS server information, things usually proceed much faster.)

Figure 5

Contacting your Web hosting provider.

Your Web hosting provider should give you the Web (and IP) addresses of two DNS servers. One is the main (or primary) DNS server and the other is a backup (or secondary) DNS server. For example, the primary and secondary DNS servers for my Web sites—YesNoMaybe.com and DatingExpert.com—are as follows:

  • dns.icubed.com (208.0.145.7)

  • infobahn.icubed.com (208.0.145.2)

The secondary server is there to back up the primary server in case it crashes. Without the secondary DNS server, users wouldn't be able to find your site if the primary DNS server went down.

That's it in terms of signing up with a Web hosting provider. The next section shows you how to enter your WHP's primary and secondary DNS servers into whatever site you registered your domain name with—in my examples, Network Solutions—so that your users can find and visit your Web business.

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