So you've got your Web page created. You have a great design, with every feature except a toaster. It's the greatest Web site you've ever seen, well, second to this one. But there's just one problem ...
How are you going to make it live?
The next thing you need to figure out is where the site will be hosted. Or better yet, you need to figure out what you expect from a provider.
First there's technical support. In a perfect world, your site would never go down. But ever since Milli Vanilli was caught lip-syncing, it's been apparent this is not a perfect world. So it's best to be in a situation when if the site goes down, it can be brought back to life soon. Most providers offer some kind of 24-hour support, but only on rare occasions would anything so terrible go wrong that they would have to be called at 3 a.m. On a side note, your host isn't responsible for your refrigerator being empty for a midnight snack, so don't call!
Most Web hosts offer a variety of packages, from the amount of hard-drive space you can use to the amount of e-mails to possible scripts that can be utilized on your site. It really just depends on what things you want, and those can usually be arranged with any provider. Many hosting companies have message boards, chat rooms, e-mail forms, etc. that you can use on your site as well. Some things may cost extra, so make sure you know exactly what you want first.
Cost is important, even more so because with you will be paying the host at least a monthly fee for services. Hosting fees can cost you as little as $5 a month but can go up to, well, I doubt there really is a limit. If you have mostly a static Web site, it's probably going to cost $20 or so a month. The $5 ones seem shady, although once a friend pointed out that in the summertime, shady is good. Your costs will grow depending on the added site features and also database hosting.
Check out HostSearch if you are having trouble finding the best host. You can enter a little information, and HostSearch pulls up your best choices. There's also information on the site to tell you more about Web hosting and whether or not you need one. Basically, unless you have your own server, you're going to need a host. Even if you do have a server, it's probably not nearly as reliable as a hosting company's server cluster.
I recommend going with a host close to your area. Then at least if something were wrong, you would have a better chance of getting your site up and running fast. Be leery of the company that, when you ask who you should blame for site problems, tells you to blame it on the rain.