UNIX/ NT/ The two most popular hosting platforms to choose from are UNIX and NT. UNIX is by far the favorite, as it was the only choice way back in the early days of the Internet. It is easy to configure, great for setting your own file permissions and the platform for most of the free scripts available for download. It is flexible, reliable and supports scripting languages like Perl and PHP3.
NT is Microsoft's baby. One problem that I have found with NT servers is a lack of readily available scripts that work on this platform. Also, (unlike UNIX) many NT users need assistance from their Web Host Administrators to set file permissions. NT supports MS applications such as ASP, Access, FP and scripting languages such as Perl, Cold Fusion and ASP.
TECH SUPPORT/ When you need help you'll want to make sure you can get it. Some web hosts offer phone support or even live chat. Make sure they have good tech support in place as there's nothing more annoying than needing assistance with your site and not being able to get it.
SET UP FEE/ MONTHLY FEE/ Some hosts charge an initial set up fee to get your site set up and running on their server. Make sure you check on this when comparing prices. I've seen monthly fees ranging from 9.99 to 39.99, depending on the plan and services offered. My advice to you would be to look past the cheapest and most expensive ends of the scale and go with a mid-range pricing plan to be on the safe side. You should be able to pick up a reliable web host for 10 to 20.00 per month.
HARD DRIVE/ SPACE/ How much space they're willing to give you is important if you're going to compare apples to apples. You need to keep in mind the size of your site when deciding how much space you really need. Generally, 20 to 30 MB is plenty for a small site. You might want to ask if you can pay for more space should your site ever outgrow its present state.
FTP ACCESS/ TELNET ACCESS/ Even if you plan on using Frontpage to manage your site, you'll still need to have FTP access. It is usually standard, but it never hurts to ask. Make sure you keep your user name and password in a safe place. You'll use FTP to set file permissions and to upload your files to the web server.
Telnet can be very useful for troubleshooting CGI scripts and changing server configurations. There are some servers that will not grant telnet access.
CGI-BIN/ A very important component if you're planning on adding any sort of interactivity to your site like forms, shopping carts, etc. Usually comes as standard equipment, but I've seen some of the cheaper hosts leave it out entirely.
EMAIL BOXES & POP 3 ALIASES/ One thing that's very important to me is the ability to use different aliases with my domain name. For example, if your domain is YourBizName.com, you may want to set up separate addresses to sort your mail like serviceATyourbizname or supportATyourbizname. They may all funnel into the same mailbox, but you can set up filters at your end, making customer service a whole lot easier.
If you have a "wildcard" account, you can set up as many aliases as you like. If you have ther employees who will need their own private box, check with the web host to see how many boxes they will allow.
STATS/ Once you start getting traffic, you'll want to know where it's coming from and what pages of your site are being visited. Some web hosts will throw stats tracking in with their standard package or at least give you access to your log files, which you can then use with third party software to run reports on the traffic your site is receiving.
1) If you want to use Frontpage: Do they have the FP server extensions installed?
2) Do they offer autoresponders?
3) How about a secured server option for payment transactions?
4) Do they back up all websites in case of disaster?
5) Do they offer assistance in programming or design work if needed at an hourly rate?
6) Do they offer shopping cart software if you're going to be selling products?
7) Do any customized forms come standard with your account, like feedback or order forms?
8) Bandwidth- Be aware that bandwidth is how much data can be transferred in a month's time. This shouldn't be a concern unless you're getting a ton of traffic, but be aware that most hosts do have limitations on what they'll allow.
As you can see, there are many factors to take into account when choosing a web host. Your host is essentially the spine of your site, so you want to make sure that the one you choose is reliable and solid. Nothing can ruin a site faster than an unreliable host. I know; been there, done that.
Remember, choosing a good host is essential to the success and reliability of your online business. Do your homework and choose the one that's right for you.