This is the first in a series of articles where I will cover how to create and manage a firm Web site yourself.
When choosing to start a Web site there are two roads you can go down. One is to hire a Web design firm who will take care of all the back-end set-up, which includes hosting and domain registration. The other road is to do-it-yourself. First step in getting your Web presence up and running is to select a Web host and to choose your domain name and get it registered.
Let’s start off with what is on everyone’s mind: How much is this going to cost me? Hosting plans can range from free to hundreds of dollars a month, depending on what your requirements are and what you are willing to pay for. Often you will find that you get what you pay for when it is free, and other times you may be over charged for high-end service. For most solo and small firms who are looking to start a Web presence, you can find Web hosting for as reasonable as $10 per month. I believe it is better to start with what you need at the time, knowing that you can always upgrade your plan if you require additional features.
Where to Find Hosts
There are hosting companies all around the world. If you don’t know where to start looking for a Web host, here are a couple of suggestions. First, ask your colleagues in the community or look at their Web sites. Sometimes Web sites have a link back to their Web hosts in the footer. Using this method, you may find a common set of hosts that tailor services to law firms needs. For instance, when I look at other sites in the Web development and design community, I often see two common hosts, Media Temple and Dreamhost. Both have services that are exactly what this community seeks and their reputation is good with community leaders. You may find the same with the legal community.
Third, you can seek out Web host lists on Web sites like c|net. Finding a host will not be a problem. Finding a host that meets your business needs and criteria is where you will want to focus your time.
Criteria for Selecting a Host
Choosing a host should not be taken lightly. Moving hosts often is not an easy experience. This is mostly due to porting your content from one server to another, not the fact of choosing a new host to move to. Like choosing software to use for your firm, a Web host should meet certain criteria. While your criteria may vary, here are some basic questions that you may ask yourself when looking for a host.
Do you have an existing environment you want to leverage? An existing environment could be with your current client database or file management system that you want to leverage through an extranet or client portal.
Where is the host physically located? Do you care if the host is local or anywhere in the world? For instance, I live in Chicago and my host in California. To me this was not a big deal because I was looking for features and service, not necessarily a local company.
Does the host perform regular back-ups or have redundant servers? You will want to make sure your data is safe, even if the host servers’ crash. I remember when the power outage hit Los Angeles about a year ago. My host went down because their power back-ups went down too. They had issues with about three of their servers which meant that they did not come back up online correctly. My data was on one of those servers. The good news was that they backed up their systems on a regular basis and all my data was restored without any problems.