Over the years I’ve tried numerous webhosting companies and even if they look equal on “paper” there’s huge variations in the service they’re actually providing. As a rule of thumb there’s a few things you should consider before you decide on a webhost:
How much space and bandwidth you’re going to use
For an average website (like a blog or business presentation) you would normally only require a small/medium package with available space in the region 100MB –> 1GB and a monthly traffic (bandwidth) approximately 10 times the size of your hosting space.
What programming languages you need installed
Most hosting companies offers support for either PHP/PERL/MySQL or ASP/MSSQL. Basically you are choosing between a Linux/Unix server or a Windows server. Some offer both, but you rarely need it. Personally I like the stability of a *nix server and the huge amount of free software that goes along with it.
Number of email/ftp/domain accounts
If you’re sharing your space with other users/domains make sure you have a huge amount of accounts present, and also a good administration panel that allows you to set up user permissions etc. If you’re running a blog with a limited amount of users you really don’t need more than a few accounts. Some hosts also offer free domain registration/renewal when signing up with them.
Server specifications, connection and user influence
Before signing up ask your host to specify the server hardware, how they are connected to the Internet and also what possibilities you have to alter the server settings. E.g. if you want to edit php.ini to turn of “register_globals“, use .htaccess to perform various tasks, run cron jobs etc.
Uptime and support
Your webhost should be able to provide you with an estimated uptime based on previous performance. I would say that if they can’t provide a 99,9% guarantee (less than 1 hour a month downtime) or better you should go somewhere else.
Hall of fame/shame
My #1 webhost over the years is without doubt domeneshop.no which is outstanding when it comes to support, uptime and user influence. Rock solid servers with excellent connection and affordable prices. The controlpanel may lack a few features for the novice users, but gives freedom to the more experienced ones (you can run your own phpMyAdmin etc.).
In the middle I would like to mention Netfirms that offers insane amount of space and email/ftp/domain accounts at very affordable prices, a decent controlpanel but continuously disappointing support. Whenever I need something fixed or altered I feel like I’m taking to a robot. I guess that’s the price you pay when you sign up with a huge hosting company…
All the way down at the bottom you find GoDaddy which offers a controlpanel that looks more like a webshop and is as confusing as their service. My clients lost every second email and experienced unstable servers continuously while staying with them. And should you try to move away, prepare yourself for a battle…