Stanley Gnocci was looking forward to going camping with his family. To prepare for the trip he began backing everything that would be necessary for a family of four to go roughing it for a weekend. He packed away changes of clothing, sunscreen, a TV, food, cooking supplies, free weights, sleeping bags, compressed air, bug spray, and several kitchen sinks. If this packing list sounds somewhat odd to you, you are not alone. Oddly enough this story does draw a parallel with web hosting.
Many web hosts suffer from feature overload. In an effort to win customers, outdo competitors, or simply because they cannot make up their minds as to which features should be considered core features, web hosts will often package a vast array of products and services. Question is what features are truly necessary and which ones act as merely a bullet point?
When it comes to planning a web site, whether it is a new site, updating a site, or moving a site, you have to look at what you will need. For those new to web hosting getting past the fog of marketing hype can be a difficult task. The process starts with what do you want your site for?
Those interested in developing a blog will need blog software. It might also be a good idea to pursue hosts that offer multiple blogs. You may have a favorite but it never hurts to spend some time fooling with the others. You may find that you like something a bit off the beaten path such as PixelPost as opposed to using WordPress. Other essentials include a control panel (for administrating your site), multimedia support (you may not need it now, but being able to add video, podcasts, streaming audio, etc to your blog could be something that you will need in the future), and you will want a company that offers quality support. All other features are pretty much filler.
If you are interested in a hobby, game, personal, or family site the features you are interested in are equally narrow. Depending on your skill and familiarity with web development you will want blog software, content management software, and/or a site creator of some sort. Blog software can be useful because blogs like WordPress can be turned into a full-fledge site with relative ease. Content management (CMS) software allows you to build a site through adding and managing all manner of content be it text, image, audio, or video. However, most CMS is not beginner friendly and the learning curve for some might be steep.
Web hosts like iPage (www.ipage.com) offer an easy to use drag and drop site builder and this can very well be up your alley. For those who have no experience in web development, nor do they want to learn, drag and drop editors can be a cheap alternative to hiring out a web developer service. Most site builders work like word processors in that if you want a picture on the page you can drop one in there. If you want to change the style of the text simply highlight it and change it.
Like blogging, you will also want an effective support staff willing to help you out (if the support staff can help with the software itself that would be an added bonus). Other features can be considered of secondary important or mere fluff, depending on whether you can receive some sort of use out of it.
Small business and store front sites run along the same vein. At their base is some sort of CMS (generally this stems from the shopping cart software itself), a shopping cart, support for a merchant account process (generally inherent with the shopping cart software), and a few things that support the whole endeavor. Like a blogging web site, store front site owners should look for multiple shopping cart programs. This will give the users a chance to play around with multiple shopping carts and see which ones they prefer, it also gives the user maximum chance for compatibility between shopping cart and any credit card merchant account processing system they may want to use. If the user would prefer to use a CMS front end, they should check to see if both CMS and shopping cart are compatible and if integration can be seamless.
Everything else supports the shopping cart such as multimedia support (you may never need it, but it is nice to have the option of being able to show off videos for your products, however if multimedia support is not available you can still use a third party such as embedded YouTube videos), possible marketing giveaways (free ad credits never hurt anybody), SSL (shared or dedicated, SSL is often a necessity for shopping carts anyway and if they offer shopping carts the account will at least have a shared SSL), and some form of site traffic reporting. After this everything else is simply taking up space.
Just because a web host lists a variety of features does not mean you will need or want all of them. Most web hosts add extra features because they either want to attract sales or build plans that try to be everything to everyone. With this in mind it is up to each of use to understand our needs and purchase plans according to those needs and not to add too much emphasis on things that are unnecessary.