Before Choosing a Web Hosting Provider
Not every web hosting plan is built alike, nor is every web hosting provider. When you start shopping around for your next web hosting provider, there are certain criteria you’ll want to hone in on, namely: disk space, bandwidth, upload/download speeds, security and reliability, customer service, references/testimonials, and guarantees. We’ll take them one by one below.
Disk Space and Bandwidth
Disk space is the storage space your web hosting provider allows you for all the files that make up your website (from image galleries to databases to HTML and ASP docs, etc.). Bandwidth is the amount of data transfer your web hosting provider permits you in a given period (usually a month). It’s disk space that determines how rich and elaborate your site can be. It’s bandwidth that determines how much traffic you can accommodate. Gauge properly for the best results — in other words, don’t spend a bundle for more than you need, but get yourself more than enough to allow for the traffic (and the growth) you anticipate in your best-case scenarios.
When someone visits your website online, how long will it take the page to load? The answer to this question alone — and the consistency with which you and your web hosting provider maintain it — can be the singular point that makes or breaks your business. People have short attention spans, made even shorter on the web. The longer you keep them waiting, the more likely they’ll stop waiting.
Security and Reliability
The servers and other equipment that a web hosting provider uses to run your website are housed in a building called a data center. This data center needs to be as secure as possible to protect your equipment — your entire business is at stake. This means 24/7 365 monitoring by live, trained security personnel and security cameras. Certain precautions must be taken in order to keep the equipment functioning properly in case of emergency, like power outages, fire, and other natural disasters. This comes in the form of redundant backup power sources and fuel supplies to ensure uninterruptible power, state-of-the-art smoke and fire detection, alerting, and suppression technologies, and redundant environmental controls (ie. air conditioning systems).
Is it 24/7 365? Is it all free, or only certain services? Or is none of it free? Can you talk to a human being by toll-free telephone? In what areas? (A European toll-free number might not be accessible from the U.S., for example.) Does the web hosting provider use email query tickets or live chat or both? How extensive are their user guides, tutorials, and help docs? Do they use Flash or streaming audio/video or are all of their help guides merely text based?
Who likes them? A smart sales site will feature customer testimonials on its very own page. To find out who dislikes a web hosting provider, however, you’ll have to do a little broader internet research. Just keep in mind however, if you look for complaints, you’ll probably find them. A web hosting provider is not immune from the old adage that you can’t please all the people all the time. So take complaints with a grain of salt, and read them carefully. Could the issue have been the customer’s fault, was it something that was out of the web hosting provider’s hands altogether, or was it a misunderstanding of policy or technology or some other form of miscommunication? Far too often the only type of feedback a company will get is negative. If an individual is inspired to give positive feedback, it should be given due weight.
Just like you need to test drive a new car before you commit to buying it, you should be able to try out a web hosting provider and their services before committing to having your site hosted by them. Rarely (though occasionally) will this come in the form of a free trial. More often than not, it’ll come in the form of a money-back guarantee. Fine with us. 30 days is the minimum. 90 is especially nice.
A good web hosting provider will also usually offer some sort of uptime guarantee, meaning the percentage of the time your site is guaranteed to be live when a visitor tries to visit it. The best ones go from 99.95% to 99.9999%. As long as they have one in the 99% range, you can feel somewhat secure.
One last guarantee you’ll often see is a Custom Support Response Time guarantee (though it may not be worded quite that way). This tells you have quickly they vow to have a support representative respond (either by phone, live chat, or email) to a “support ticket” or “email query” you submit. 24 hours is acceptable, though you’ll see 48 and 72 sometimes as well. 3 hour response guarantees are rare, and precious.
Are they free? For how long (1year, life)? What if you discover you’ve chosen the wrong plan for your needs, or you outgrow your existing plan, or you downsize? Don’t sign any contracts with any web hosting provider that locks you into one particular plan with no recourse should these situations arise. There’s no need to have to pay exorbitant fees to get out of one plan and into another. Especially when a decent web hosting provider will allow you to change plans whenever you need to and for whatever reason.