Web hosting is the big selling point for a lot of domain name registrars. Any one of them can sell you your domain name, for roughly the same price as any other. It's the web hosting and other features that distinguish the various companies from one another, and these features are what you want research before you make a choice.
Web hosting basically means storing your data on a server. If your webpage is a house where all your data lives, the server is the street your house is on. The server connects your data to the internet and handles all of the traffic to and from your website.
You can do your own hosting if you have a server, but a small server can only handle a certain amount of traffic before it starts to see a performance hit. For those of you who are not familiar with the technology, imagine this as too many cars driving down a small street: eventually, traffic backs up and the cars go slower. That's more or less what happens to your website: the pages load slower, and eventually can just stop allowing connections altogether. Odds are that a small server would work just fine for you at first, but if your website takes off unexpectedly, the last thing you want is for people not to be able to get there. The advantage of using a web hosting service is that they have big fast servers with big fast internet connections. They make their money by making sure your website is always online.
That means that the biggest thing you want to look for as far as web hosting goes is reliability. Try to find user reviews of the service and see how many times people complain about the hosting not working right, or bandwidth issues.
If you're like me, you don't know a heck of a lot about computers. (And yet, I write advice articles. Keep this in mind, folks…) When things go wrong or you have a question, you need your web host's customer service staff to answer the phone. Customer service is probably going to be one of the largest differences between hosting providers. Again, look for customer reviews. If you have friends who have websites, ask what provider they use and what their experiences have been.
(My provider is so customer service oriented, they have a real live person call every once in awhile just to make sure I'm still happy with their service and to ask if I have any questions. Mucho brownie points. I know lots of other companies used to do that back in the olden days, but I can't think of another business I work with that does that now without trying to sell me something.)
This is where you need to be careful.
To get started, all you really need from your provider is a domain name and web hosting. Most providers will try to sell you all sorts of add-ons when you buy your web hosting. No matter how big of a group discount you get initially, think hard before you click "yes." It all adds up, and discounts may not last.
If you don't fully understand what the option is, research it before you agree to anything.
There is one service that you may want to consider. Many providers now offer help in creating the actual website, either in templates or programs or even working with a web developer. I say you may want to consider this, because if you really truly don't want to learn how to do it yourself, some of these options are very good and can cost as low as $5 to $10 a month.
Personally, I think if you're going to have a website, you should learn how to maintain it yourself. Yes, it's a lot of work, but do you really want to have to pay extra every month when you may only need to update your website twice a year? Or if you update your website regularly, if you're working with a web development service they will probably charge a fee every time you want to change something. Read the fine print and take your time before deciding how you want to do the actual website.
We'll talk more about building your site next week.