By Amy Armitage (c) 2008
The Web hosting firm you choose can make or break your small business. Good ones can run things smoothly, are easy to reach, and fix problems efficiently. But bad ones can have more problems than they are worth, be unreachable at critical times, and bring your business to a screeching halt. Finding a good one is crucial to your success.
Here are some tried and true ideas for how to select a host that will save you money, avoid technical snafus, and build your online platform for the future.
1. Choose a Service that Primarily Does Hosting
Although it might be tempting to sign-up with a firm that provides an umbrella of services in addition to website hosting, a good rule of thumb is that if a company overly-diversifies its services, it won't deliver top quality in any of them (e.g. tech support, updates, maintenance, etc.)
2. Choose a Host with a Great Record for Online Security
Most secure hosts will provide SSL Certificates to guarantee your security. Without an SSL Certificate on your site, visitors may come and go without identifying themselves, and this could put your site at risk. Make sure your host implements best practices when it comes to maintaining security architecture, updating security software, and responding effectively to breaches if and when they do occur.
3.Excellent Technical and Customer Service Support via Phone
Does the host provide phone support around the clock? Or can you only email for help during non-business hours? You definitely want the option to call a staffer. Studies show that over-the-phone tech and customer support systems are vastly more efficient than e-mail support centers, on average.
4. Solid Add-On Services
A number of great web hosting companies provide little extras to make sites more effective and user-friendly. These can include image upload galleries, blogs, control panels, order forms, support scripts, databases, and embedded video features. When evaluating various firms, examine sample sites and note what value add-ons you like and what value add-ons you feel are missing in each sample.
5. Don't Rely on Numbers Alone to Make the Decision
Many hosts promise uptime approaching 100%. But there's no way of verifying that kind of claim. If your website goes down, for instance, the company can easily explain it away as a statistically insignificant outlier. Similarly, a potential host may brag about oodles of bandwidth and space on servers, but if your online small-business needs are modest, these numbers shouldn't be your incentive. Finally, be wary of online rating systems. These figures can be jiggered and rejiggered to make a web host look better (or worse) than it actually is.
6. The Right Price for Your Needs
Sure, you can find a service for practically nothing. But there is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to web hosting. If you're paying a dirt-cheap rate, chances are that the host is watering down services in some respect. Perhaps the host offers minimal security protections or charges clients "pay per play" for technical support. Or maybe the site charges a sky-high maintenance fee or other monthly fee. The point is, you need to read the fine print and to price-compare before making a decision.
7. Flexible Features and Enough Elbow-Room
You have no idea how your online platform might evolve. That's why you need a hosting company that boasts flexible features, supports many different languages, offers linux and Windows options, and supports an array of scripts (PHP, Pearl, Java, etc.) A good rule of thumb for determining space is to "buy big". In other words, even if you don't have tens of thousands of files to upload and store, leave yourself some wiggle room to anticipate future growth.
8. An Easy-To-Use and Safe Shopping Cart
According to numerous estimates, U.S. and U.K. consumers will be spending nearly $150 billion per year online by the year 2010. Your site's e-commerce options should be simple, safe, battle-tested, and easy-to-use.
9. Protection Against Spam, Viruses, Trojan Horses, and the Like
Most creditable web hosting sites provide solid e-mail protection. Make sure to check for compatibility, however. For instance, if you use Microsoft Outlook, make sure that the host has the tools and services to shield your Outlook e-mail effectively -- without blocking key notifications from clients or suppliers.
10.Important Questions to Consider:
- Does the host provide good references and testimonials?
- Does the company employ best-of-breed firewalls and routers?
- Has anyone filed complaints against the company through the Better Business Bureau or other organization?
- What services do small businesses similar to yours use for web hosting?
- Can the company provide any statistics to back up claims regarding reliability and technical support?
- Can you use the host for a trial period before paying full price?
- How expensive is it to upgrade or downgrade plans?
- How do blogs and customer forums rate your candidate hosting services?
About The Author
Amy Armitage is the head of Business Development for Lunarpages. Lunarpages provides quality web hosting from their US-based hosting facility. They provide a wide-range of services from linux Virtual Private Servers and managed solutions to shared and reseller hosting plans.