Times have changed dramatically. Lead by easy-to-use content development programs, the streamlining of internet services, and the affordability of new hardware- cheap website hosting is now an option worth considering.
Many features that were once high-end are now taken completely for granted. Domain name registration is quite often free or practicable free. Sub-domains are common and frequently used. Email addresses are plentiful. Storage can be almost infinite.
Caution is still needed, however. As the feature-rich environments we all enjoy becoming more prevalent, it is the smaller details that are getting cut at some hosting sites. Make sure that you consider your decision for a cheap web hosting site very carefully, and be aware of all the benefits and drawbacks on a site. Here are a few basic things to look for.
1. Is there technical support?
Not support support, not billing support, true technical support. Every web hosting site has some small area where the setup is not quite the same as every other site. Technical support should be there to answer those types of questions. I would not expect there to be an actual phone line for technical support with a cheaper web hosting company, but an email address or web form should be just fine.
2. Does the host support my scripting language?
For slightly more advanced users, make sure that the web hosting site supports your preferred scripting language. Almost everyone supports PHP these days, but if you are going to use Java- make sure the host specifically states you can use it. If they do not list your scripting language (or if you are using a very new or not-so-popular language), contact the host and ask if they support it or could install support for it. Sometimes they will!
3. Are there pre-made templates for complex features I want?
Often overlooked by new web designers, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. If you are looking for a site that will need a forum section or a mailing list, see if any of the hosts you are considering offering pre-made 'templates' so you can effectively drag-and-drop the features into your website. This may save a great amount of time and headaches.
4. Is there a content management system?
Most web hosting sites today employ a front-end 'content management system'. This is usually a simple web interface allowing you to move files from your computer to the site, edit style sheets, drop in scripts, etc. If you are planning on using the content management system provided by the host- research it a little and make sure its features will make maintaining your site easy. If you are not going to use the content management system, or they do not offer one, make sure you know how you will manage your site- whether that be through FTP, a Unix command line, or a professional design and publishing program.
5. Finally, make sure that you read all the fine print and end user license agreements. Make sure you are aware of all aspects of what you are buying into. Specifically, check for any bandwidth restrictions, content restrictions or service restrictions. It would be terrible to design a website to sell all of your precious books through Amazon only to find your host does not allow business sites and shuts down its servers every Saturday!
In the end, cheap web hosting has come a very long way and is very desirable today. With a little caution and a small amount of research, it can be a very economic solution.