What Web Host Should I Use?

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what webhost to use, I wouldn’t have to work anymore. Well, maybe not, but I could definately buy one sweet pair of designer shoes! That’s why I’ve been documenting my answers, so I don’t have to write it anymore.

I always recommend Dreamhost.com right off the bat because I have personal, verifiable positive experience with them which has only increased in favor over time and which is supported by thousands of adulations by other customer of Dreamhost’s, freely accessibly via a Google search for “dreamhost“.

I have written about this on my personal blog, and recently someone asked me “but what about this ultra cheap host”. Well, here’s my review, and for future folks seeking reviews of their potential hosts…please just follow the advice herein and substitue “1and1″ with your webhost under consideration.

In short, if you’re going cheap as possible, their plans are better:

https://www.b-one.net/

http://dhost.info/

Registration is cheap, hosting is cheap, it depends on your needs. Because your needs are small (probably) for [the website] it might be fine.

For the price, it’s great…but here’s where they get you, entry packages are basically crippled and do not provide standard items such as Server Side Includes until the $10/mo (for instance, you want your navigation to be imported from one location on every page so navigation changes only have to be made in one file, not every page on your site), no statistics (on basic), no form builder and likely no ability to run scripts (for feedback/mail form, newsletter signup, etc) till $10/mo though you do get their pre-canned CGI form. Databases are where they really get you – SQL only included on $10/mo and up – only one database allowed on $10/mo and 2 on $20 per month with a truly measly 200mb limit. Although if you go with Linux hosting, you do start off with 10 mySQL databases on their base plan, but with a 100mb limit.

Again, if you’re just going to have a couple of static html pages then this could be a good deal for you. It’s definitely geared towards web design beginners and the prices are quite cheap. But if you guys decide you want to install some kind of calendar system or blog software, all of these things will require SQL (or mySQL) and you’ll quickly grow out of this plan and into the $20/mo and up. I didn’t see streaming media anywhere – I doubt it’s included and would quickly push you into traffic overages (extra charges) – so streaming music and vids would be out.

And of course, the ultimate test is a Google search the host, in this case, “1and1“.
It returned one oddly vague yet glowing review and then long threads of rants about them.
Also, I find their myriad incarnations of 1and1.com, 1and1.org, 1and1.co.uk, 1and1.fr, etc. a likely case of trying to push bad reviews on other sites down in search ranking (a direct domain name match nearly always gets ranking priveledge).

If a host is both cheap and good, trust me, a quick search will turn up pages and pages of raves from customers on blogs and message boards. People love finding cheap hosting that works. In fact, an interesting way to find a good webhost is a good search for “love my web host“. The many fine folks in the WordPress community have provided a small list of recommended hosts as well, even if you aren’t using WordPress (blogging software), I’d bet these hosts are pretty darn good in general.

1and1.com has a well-designed and enticing site, I’ll give them that…but you know the saying, if it seems too good…

Bloggers – Update WP now!

There’ve been quite a few reports about sites getting hacked, blogs and otherwise. ‘Spykidz ownz you’ is what you’ll see on many such sites. All the more reason to update to the latest and greatest in WordPress – currently 1.5.2. It addresses security issues, specifically xmlrpc.php, which seems to be the leak.

Alternatives to Google’s Site Map Generator

I’ve yet to pick my poison, but here’s a few alternatives to Google’s Sitemap Generator:

How Americans Search

iCrossing and Harris Interactive’s study of US adult search patterns offers insight into how Americans use the web. The study returns the following key findings:

Seventy-seven percent (77%) of U.S. adults who are online have been using the Internet for more than five years. Furthermore, 93% of all online adults have at least three years of Internet experience.
 
Over half (53%) of all U.S. adults who are online use search engines most or every time they are online, trailing only e-mail (87%) and general surfing (55%). This compares to one-quarter (25%) who visit entertainment sites, 17% who engage in e-commerce, and 21% who use instant messaging (IM) or participate in chat groups most or every time they go online.

Though I’m easily seduced by well wrought information graphics, this report seems both impartial and thorough. I was suprised by the high percentage of users with three years of experience – it makes me feel a little better about the challenge of designing for maximum usability without compromising graphic quality and interest.

via Social Patterns

Black Backgrounds

Cleverly titled Dark Side of the Blog, Centripetal Forces writes on the topic of dark backgrounds coming back into vogue. Whether or not dark to black backgrounds are as usable as very light or white backgrounds is simply not subjective.1 Whether or not people like them is. While I would agree that black background sites can be done reasonably well, but they’re never going to be as easy to read. I often skip reading blogs (unless they have full post feeds) with dark backgrounds simply because I don’t feel like squinting. Design Observer comes to mind. I, myself, have designed sites with black backgrounds at the owner’s behest.

  1. According to Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines, a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, when compared to reading light text on a dark background, people read black text on a white background up to 32 percent faster. In general, the greater the contrast between the text and background, the easier the text is to read. Study after study supports this finding.

Google’s Sitemap Buzz

Google’s Sitemap Generator is not exactly easy to use, but the potential the Sitemaps program has to reveal important content buried in complex or dynamic architectures is very promising.
After trying to install, configure and run the Google Sitemap Generator my server for a few hours I realized three things: 1. I don’t know anything about Python, 2. running shell scripts is harder than I thought it would be, and 3. Google is really expecting a lot out of your everyday web designer.

I mean, I can follow directions, I even taught myself Perl back in the day but for some reason, I’m missing something. So I added a search my RSS feed aggregator to look for blog posts related to Google’s new Sitemap service and related tool, the Sitemap Generator, which was unveiled just two days ago, hoping it would create enough buzz that better tutorials would surface. Although, there has been a lot of talk (and 23rd World was even quoted – whoopee!), no one seems to have reviewed the generator tool itself.

In fact, the only mention anyone makes of using the generator script (that I could find) were two instances of problems. Fortunately there’s already a PHP script solution for us folks running WordPress blogs and I suppose I could make one the old fashioned way until then. Okay, maybe abbreviated versions. As long as we’re handcoding, stream of conscious offers some good advice:

1) Don’t set your priority really high all the time. Google folks are not stupid. It will penalize you for making everything have a high priority. My advice is set everything at 0.5 and set a few high priority pages as .8, or 1.

2) If you run a dynamic site, then this is really for you — you can make sure that google knows about every page. Even pages that are not linked to.

Just to rephrase the priority thing, Google explicitly states that the priority is only used to compare pages within your site, so if you had them all at 0.5 it would be no different than if they were all at 1.0. It’s is simply an opportunity to create emphasis. This is really a great idea, and I would personally advise people to de-emphasize portal and about pages, placing emphasis on keyword rich pages and blog posts themselves. This program has a lot of potential. You see, Google can see hierarchy in terms of site architecture, but not everyone’s actual important/relevant content is in the top tiers (although, ideally it should be). I can’t wait to get this generator script thing worked out. Please let me know if you’ve had success with it and/or if you could lend a Unix command line novice a hand!

Google Sitemaps Explained

Google Sitemaps is an experiment in web crawling. Using Sitemaps to inform and direct our crawlers, we hope to expand our coverage of the web and improve the time to inclusion in our index.

Basically, Google is asking web sites to supply their spiders with an xml guide to their site. The xml file is a feed format, like an RSS feed, and is easier and faster for the Googlebot to ingest. The file also gives you another opportunity to instruct Google what to crawl and when to come back. Google will continue to crawl as usual, but is hoping that this protocol will help webmasters ensure that important and/or comprehensive links on their sites are indexed. Google offers a free sitemap generator to help in this process.

So what are you waiting for? Create a Google Sitemap, upload it, and don’t forget to submit it.

Choosing a Browser

Lots of people at Browse Happy want you to ditch Internet Explorer for any other browser…Mozilla, Opera, Safari or Firefox. Although site stats and news reports indicate that more and more market share is going to Firefox, I still believe people need a compelling reason to switch to new software when what they are using seems to work. I think people do need convincing, so now a sweet-faced non-geek music student, Sarah Williams, will tell you why she switched to Firefox. She’s not alone, If you do switch to a new browser, you should do it for the right reasons: tangible benefits, not oozing testimonials.

Developing Content Isn’t Easy

The biggest hurdle for most of my clients seems to be content. They have too much to choose from and aren’t sure what their priorities are or they have nothing developed and need a writer or a marketing strategist more before they need me.
I tend to post technical things, because that’s what I’m most concerned with. But this site is also a resource for my clients and so, the new category, content.
It’s not a joke: Content is King! Quality content is the best way to drive traffic to your website. On that note, I ran into a couple of articles today.

  • Your Website Needs a Call to Action – this article describes how to focus your site. Regardless of whether you are retailing online, selling a service or simply distributing information, you need to have a distinct focus that leads visitors to the good stuff. Make it easy, make it clear.
  • Keywords – the Long and Short of It – another article from Marketing Professionals, there are a million out there on choosing keywords. However, I appreciate that this article actually uses some metrics to solidify their assertions. It’s also fairly brief, and, in laymans terms, describes the importance of choosing key word phrases. Phrases gets emphasis because in oder to get hits from searches you need to anticipate exactly what people might be searching for that will match them up with your site. ‘Insurance’ is too broad a term in todays competitive and prolific internet context, ‘auto insurance for excellent drivers’ is better, ‘auto insurance for excellent Seattle drivers’ is really good.

Enjoy. And good luck…the sooner your content starts to solidify the sooner we can have fun turning it into a great webstie!

The public notebook of Mahalie Stackpole, Web Developer.