Monday, December 7, 1998

Putting your Business on the Web

You have downloaded one of the many shareware html editors and browsed through some books on creating a web site. You may have even put together a first draft of your web site. But one question has been nagging away at you: "How do I get this onto the Internet?" There are web servers that you can download, but your computer isn't connected to the Internet all the time, so how would that work? You could get a leased line, but those are expensive. Isn't there a cheaper and easier way to do this?

Web Hosting
Yes. You can lease space on someone else's server. There are hundreds of companies out there with web servers running on computers permanently connected to the Internet, who will rent space to you. These are called Web Space Services or Internet Presence Providers. You can connect to their computers over the Internet using your existing dial-up provider and upload the html files, images etc. to the space that you have rented. From there, anyone can view your home page whether you are connected to the Internet or not.

Since your web pages are on someone else's server, the address (or URL) of your web site will typically include their name. For example, if you have rented space from Tricky Dick hosting for the web site of your company, Slick Records, then the URL of your home page might be "http://www.TrickyDick.com/slickpicks/". But what if you want to have the URL "http://www.SlickPicks.com/"? Can this be done without having to set up your own server?


Virtual Domain
Yes. The service is called a Virtual Domain or Virtual Hosting Service. There are a couple of ways that this can be accomplished, but all you need to do is ask for a Virtual Domain. You will upload your files to their server, but your home page URL will be names "http://www.SlickPicks.com/" or "http://www.anything-you-want.com/". You will need to register your domain name. For help with this, refer to this article on How to register Domain Names.


Resellers
While there are hundreds of web space providers out there, not all of them operate their own servers. Instead, a large number of them are selling on - or reselling - space on someone else's server. Often these resellers will add value with some other service, such as web site design or perhaps knowledge of your industry or support in your country. But it is worth remembering that if you have difficulties with the server, a reseller will have to contact their own provider to get things fixed, which could delay the resolution of your problem.


Choosing a Service
Well, now you know what you are looking for - and perhaps you have even found some Internet Presence Providers - but how do you know which one to choose? First you list all the features that you need. Perhaps you have decided you need an online database, or the ability to run mailing lists, or the option to resell your web space. Now eliminate those providers who do not offer all those features.

You are probably still left with a very long list of potential providers who all offer the features that you need. Three important factors that remain are Price, Performance and Service. Did the providers respond promptly and efficiently to your queries about their services? Write to existing customers and check that this level of service doesn't decline once you are paid up. Also ask them how they feel about the performance or speed of the providers' computers. Many providers will advertise that they have T-1, T-3 or DS-3 lines, but it doesn't immediately follow that people will be able to view your home page quickly.

If computers are overloaded with too many customers, or the connection to the Internet is shared between too many computers or even several providers, then no matter what type of connection it is, the performance may not be ideal. You also need to remember that just because you can load the page quickly doesn't necessarily mean that other visitors will experience the same performance. You should always ask existing customers what their perception of the performance is before signing on the dotted line.

Price is the easiest to quantify, but even here there are things to consider. Find out exactly what the price includes. Many providers will charge extra if your home page is visited more than a certain number of times a month. Make sure that the limits are generous enough. Do not be put off by these limits; they are not such a bad thing. Remember that you will be sharing the server that your home page is running on with several other people and these limits will help prevent someone else's web site receiving so many hundreds of thousands of hits per day that no-one can actually reach your own home page.

Also, check carefully what is included in the setup cost. Some providers will charge extra to set up your domain name on their name servers, while others will include this in the price they quote. Ask if there are additional charges for adding mailing lists or setting up a database.


Business is Business
There is something about conducting business over the Internet that is so convenient that many people do not take the same precautions that they would doing business with a stranger over the phone. At the risk of repeating myself or stating the obvious, remember the following common sense rules
  • Read contracts closely, especially any acceptable use policies and content restrictions
  • Get customer testimonials; ask them about Price, Performance and Service
  • Get a phone number and postal address for the company, not just an e-mail address
  • Consider paying by Credit Card; it may offer you more protection than paying by check
  • Ask about additional charges, e.g. for traffic or domain name registration

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