This is the second installment of our cornerstone series, Build your own WordPress website in 3 hours (or less). In this series, we will be guiding you through the ordeal (not!) of setting up your own WordPress-powered website, step-by-step.
Second step: Set up a hosting account
(Estimated time: 15 minutes)
Today, we are going to talk about setting up a hosting account. You’ll be able to do this step in 15 minutes or less.
A web hosting account is simply renting the use of a specialized computer called a web server that is hooked into the internet. When someone wants to visit your website, the web server is what gives it to them. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies around the world that provide hosting services. I’ll give you a couple of recommendations shortly (and one or two that in my opinion you should not use).
If you have followed the directions in step 1 of this series, you will already have a domain name for your new site. If you haven’t, do that now – you’ll need the domain name to go any further.
Finding the best hosting company
With all of the choices that are out there, how do you choose the right one? Thankfully, it’s not a life-or-death decision, and you’re not making a major life-altering investment. Depending on the company and plan you finally decide on, a shared hosting account should run you somewhere around $10 a month.
Free or paid?
The old saw about nothing in life being really free applies here as well. Yes, there are companies that offer free web hosting. But free carries a hefty price – you have to allow advertising on your site, or server resources are severely limited, or some other hidden cost. Not even worth considering, in my opinion.
What to look for
Here are the major considerations when choosing hosting:
- storage limit
- bandwidth limit
- type of hosting: shared, virtual dedicated, dedicated
- number of domains allowed
- type of control panel
The first two, storage and bandwidth, are usually, with most modern hosting plans, unlimited (there are behind-the-scenes limits so they’re not really unlimited despite what’s advertised, but it’s very unlikely you’ll ever hit those barriers).
Support This is a biggie. Most hosting companies advertise 24/7 support. But is their support staff actually on call 24/7 for you to get in touch with if you need to, or is there just someone somewhere somehow monitoring server health? The bigger players, like HostGator, offer true 24/7 support.
Type of hosting You should, at least in the beginning, be looking for a shared hosting account (detailed explanation here). This means that many (sometimes thousands) of websites are served from the same box. The technology to do that is what allows for $10/mo hosting plans. Virtual dedicated and dedicated servers can cost anywhere from $99 to several hundred dollars a month. Unless your website is going to have thousands and thousands of visits every day, there is no need to use anything other than a shared hosting account.
Number of domains The rock-bottom cheapest hosting plans (which I don’t recommend) allow you to run one website from your hosting account. Plans that include ‘unlimited’ domains are just a couple of dollars a month more. What if you want to start another web site at some point? Easiest just to add a domain to your existing account rather than opening a new one, right? And once you see just how easy it is to set up a new website, you probably won’t stop at just one! 🙂
Control panel This is where things get just a little more technical and, in my view, most important. The control panel is where you control and manage the features of your hosting account – tasks like setting up databases, email accounts, addon domains, etc. – and is where most of your interaction with your account will take place.
We recommend signing on with a hosting company that uses cPanel control panel software. There is another popular control panel software called Plesk, which doesn’t seem to be quite as intuitive as cPanel. Some hosting companies have written their own control panels – personally, I stay far away from these just because they can be so damned hard to work with. Some of them may be good, but I haven’t yet seen one I like.
Once you’ve decided
When you’ve chosen which hosting company to go with, it’s time to sign up for your account – the easy part of the process. You’ll need your domain name and your credit card.
Go to the hosting company’s website, find the ‘sign up now’ button – it should be fairly obvious – and click it. Usually the first thing you’re asked is if you have a domain name you want to use – you do – or if you want to buy one (incidentally, we recommend never buying a domain name from the same company you’re hosting with). Enter your domain name in the slot, and click whatever ‘continue on’ button you see.
After this, you’ll choose the hosting plan you want, and then enter your payment details. A special note: some hosting companies will try to get you to transfer the registration of your domain to them. Do not authorize transfer of your domain!
Extras Many hosting companies will inundate you with offers for additional services. Don’t bite. You don’t need them. At some point in the future, you may want to purchase features like automatic backups, security services, etc., but don’t do it now. You’ll see as you go on that most of those are just ways to suck money out of your pocket.
I can recommend the following hosting companies based on their features, pricing, and because I’ve used or have had clients use them. There are others out there, of course, maybe some just as good, but these are the ones I have personally had experience with:
My #1 recommendation, hands down, is HostGator. The vast majority of the sites I run are hosted with HostGator. I’ve never had a problem with them, and any technical difficulties have been taken care of very quickly.
Who NOT to use
I am not really going to specifically recommend against any particular hosting provider. I will say this, though – I have PITA fees in place for clients that use GoDaddy and Dreamhost for hosting. My experiences with both have been nightmares. I find their proprietary control panels difficult to navigate. One in particular has so much proprietary goo in their server programming that until very recently, it was impossible to get WordPress up and running without putting on a pink tutu and jumping through flaming circus hoops.
By now, you should have your hosting account set up and running. The hosting company will send you details of your account by email. Do not lose or delete this email! It will have important information that you’ll need to refer to in later steps.
Next up in the series: Navigating through your hosting control panel and setting it up to run WordPress. Stay tuned!