Every web site has a name, www.something.com, or www.something.co.uk. These are called "domain names", and can be purchased from a variety of suppliers around the world. There are several different "classes" of domain, but the ".com" and "co.uk" are the most common classes that you'll find.
co.uk and org.uk are cheaper than the .com, .org, or .net classes, the former starting at about £3 per year, the latter about £6.00 per year. Of course you could go for one of the all-in-one suppliers, who will register the domain name and supply you with matching e-mail addresses, web space, virus protection, ftp and just about anything else you can think of.
There are three ways to set up a site on the Internet. Firstly there are companies that provide 'free' hosting accounts. Not surprisingly, as they must make money somehow, there are always drawbacks. Usually they will include advertising on your site, often as a pop-up. In addition you will be limited in the amount of space you can have and the number of associated email accounts. Often you are prevented from using custom cgi scripts or even FrontPage extensions.
The second option is for you to buy and install your own server (very expensive and very difficult). You would then need to buy a leased line connection either in your own premises or at a specialist centre (i.e. London TeleHouse). You could run it on an ADSL line but this is not a robust solution. A variation of this is to lease a 'dedicated server' where you are the only client using the server and it is maintained by the hosting company. But this can work out to be even more expensive than running your own.
The most common option is to purchase a virtual web hosting package from a professional Web hosting company. Choosing a Web hosting company is a very personal decision based on your own unique needs. Switching web hosting companies is a painful process that you'd only wish on your worst enemies. So try to choose a company that not only meets your needs today, but can also grow with you as you expand. Here's a list of more than twelve questions to ask before making that decision on where to host your website.
1) How much does web hosting cost? This may seem like an obvious question, but fees and costs may not be obvious. For example, is there a set up fee? Are there extra fees for secure transactions? If you need to upgrade to a higher plan, what are the upgrade fees? What does it cost to host multiple URLs? What does it cost to have multiple URLs point to the same site? What do additional email addresses cost? Is there a fee for auto-responders? In short what is included in the cost and what is extra.
2) What is the minimum contract? Is there a discount for a longer contract period? Often web hosting companies will offer discount for longer contract periods, but paying monthly or quarterly is very common. Make sure you are clear about the length of your obligation.
3) How much disk space is included? What does additional space cost? Your disk space needs will vary based on your business. For example, a store that offers free music downloads in MP3 format will need lots of space for all those large music files. But a personal site with very few pictures and mostly text files will take up less space. You can estimate your disk space needs based on the amount of space your site takes on your own computer. Disk space can vary from 1 MB to 1000 MB.
4) How much traffic is included? What does additional traffic cost? Traffic (also called data transfer or throughput) is the combined size of all the files transferred from your web hosting computer to your customer's browsers. For example, a 10K html page (ourholiday.htm) that includes three 50K images (beach.gif, forest.jpg., cycletrip.jpg) requested by 100 people generates 16 MB of traffic. The html page and the graphic files only require 160K of disk space -- but if many people visit -- they create throughput. Most web hosting plans offer a set amount of traffic for free (often around 100MB.) Most sites (especially those without any history) will not exceed the free traffic limits.
5) How many email accounts are included? How many auto-responders are included? You usually have two choices for picking up email at your URL (for example email@example.com). You can pick them up directly (program your email software to pick up the mail at yourcomany.com -- this is called a POP account) or you can forward the mail somewhere else (for example to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). If you have a serious business on the Web, it is an important part of your image to use your own domain name for all your mail. It simply shouts "Newbie!" (new to the Internet) if you place your Yahoo (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Hotmail (email@example.com) email address on your Web page. So, you can use firstname.lastname@example.org on your Web page -- but behind the scenes (where nobody can see) you tell your Web hosting to forward ALL your mail to where you want. And yes, that can be your Yahoo account or your M-web account. Auto-responders are a special kind of email address that automatically sends out a standard response to anyone who queries them.
6) Do they support Front Page extensions? This is only important if you plan to use Microsoft's Front Page to create your Website. In this case make sure your Web hosting company does support Front Page. Generally all Windows-based servers will support FP, and so will the majority of Unix servers, but it is worth checking beforehand.
7) Can you use your own CGI scripts? CGI (Common Gateway Interface) are small programming scripts that add functionality and interactivity to your Web pages. Most Web hosting companies have libraries of standard CGI scripts you can use for free. If you plan to advance past "standard" you will need to find a web hosting company that allows you to install scripts. Many will not, especially as many hackers nowadays exploit vulnerable CGI scripts. There is a trend for hosting companies to either allow approved scripts only, or to make a charge to examine scripts before upload. Can you run php scripts and does the server run asp? Extra considerations might be whether they have ecommerce (shopping cart) experience.
8) Do they provide monthly/daily usage statistics? Most web hosting companies do provide monthly/daily reports. Ask to see them. You will notice a large variety in the usefulness and layout of these usage reports from one company to another.
9) What kind of technical support? Is their phone number on the website? Do they provide continuous technical support? What kind of support is available after hours? Can you call them? Some hosting web companies will not list their phone numbers. Who will you call when your site is down? Is the phone number a free number, or a premium rate number?
10) Where are there servers based? What is the size of their pipe to the internet backbone? Do they have more than one pipe with intelligent switching, so that if their main pipe goes down, the network will stay live by switching to an alternative pipe?
11) How long has the Web hosting company been trading?
12) And finally, ask for references.
There are some key questions you should ask before you even start to draw up the initial designs for your web site. These are the questions I would ask:
Who's your target audience, i.e. who are you trying to attract to your web site?
Who is going to be the web master, i.e. who is the person who is going to be saddled with the responsibility of keeping the web site up to date, after the person who built it for you has taken the money and run?
What do you want to show your visitors?
What do you want them to be able to do, e.g. get information, buy things, enter cryptic comments on a message board?
Why are you doing this? Why should they go to your web site and not somebody else's? What should be the end result for you and for your visitors? (OK I know that's not a why question but it fits better in here).
With the above questions answered, you should now be ready to ask the important questions about the physical makeup of your web site....
Where are you going to put your web site? (see the notes on Choosing Your Web Hosting Company above).
What domain name(s) are you going to use? (see Naming your Web Site above).
What bells and whistles do you want on web site? For example:
database (usually MySQL)
php/scripting/SSI/Front Page extensions (don't worry - your web designer will explain what these are)
web stats and/or web counter
How long do you expect this web site to last? Days, months, years, forever?
How much are you prepared to pay? Costs vary depending on Mb of storage, length of tenure, how many bells and whistles, etc.
How do you build the web site (develop your master plan)?
How do you maintain the web site after it has gone live? How much documentation has to be written?
How do your prospective customers find your web site? Examples: inbound links form other web sites, search engines (e.g. google), good old-fashioned publicity.
Now you can go to the drawing board and start the real work!