There are many things to consider when choosing your web hosting provider. It is important to identify your requirements before you look and compare providers based on these requirements. The list below should give you some ideas for what those requirements may be.
Your Web Developer
If you already have a web developer that you are happy with who also provides hosting services this can be a great bonus. They are likely to look after you more so than another provider and they are someone you know and can trust. As a business owner it is useful to have fewer good suppliers rather than more. You web developer will also know the specific requirements of your website and what hosting plan is best for you. If your web developer doesn’t offer hosting directly they more than likely know a number of provider and will be able to recommend someone.
What type of support is available and how is it handled. Are they based overseas or local? What type of guaranteed support do they offer? How have they responded to your initial inquiries?
Bandwidth and Disk Space
Bandwidth is the amount of information transferred from a server to a computer. Bandwidth is utilised when people visit your site and download files. Disk Space is the amount of information (documents, images etc) you can store on the server. The amount of Bandwidth and Disk Space required will vary from business to business. For a small business it is likely that you won’t need much disk space and initially probably not much bandwidth either so work out how much you need and try not to get sold on a plan that offers way more than you need. Also make sure you can purchase more bandwidth or disk space if you need to easily and cheaply. If your provider allows you to do this they are showing their flexibility.
Find out how many email addresses you will receive with your package. Will you have access to the Control Panel to create, delete and modify your existing email addresses? Can you access your emails via webmail as well as software such as Outlook. If you are a small business owner it is likely that you won’t need more than a handful of email accounts however if your hosting provider won’t provide you with unlimited accounts it is a sign of inflexibility.
Shared vs. Dedicated Hosting
Some web hosting providers offer both Shared and Dedicated hosting. Shared hosting means your website is placed on a server that also houses other businesses. Shared hosting is considerably cheaper than dedicated hosting which is why it is so popular. Dedicated hosting means you have full control over everything including the way the server is set up. Your website will be the only website on the server which makes the cost of dedicated hosting significantly dearer than shared hosting.
For the majority of small and medium businesses a shared hosting set up is more than adequate. A dedicated server is expensive and completely unwarranted for the majority of small to medium businesses.
There is also a thing called a Virtual Private Server (VPS) which is a way of breaking up the space and bandwidth on a server and allocating a certain portion to you. This way you can have a dedicated section of the server so you are guaranteed space and bandwidth and full control but others can also have dedicated space on the same server and therefore it is a bit cheaper.
Once again for the vast majority of small to medium business sites including large community sites and ecommerce sites, shared hosting is the way to go.
Not all web hosts offer multiple platform support such as Windows, Linux and Cold Fusion. If your website is being hosted elsewhere you’ll need to find out from your web developer if you have any programming requirements such as asp, pearl, CGI scripting etc. If your web developer is using open source programming technologies you will need a Linux server with the Apache server and MySQL and PHP (referred to as a LAMP configuration) which most hosts will support. This is also usually the most affordable platform as it relies on open source technologies and not on proprietary technologies such as Cold Fusion or Windows Server.
Reporting and statistics
What type of reporting is available? Will you be provided with access to your website traffic statistics? That is, the number of people who visit your site and what they do whilst on your site. Web stats are very standard among web hosts now so you should be able to get access to this information for no additional costs.
It is crucial that your website is backed up at least daily. Backups should be kept offsite in case the primary facility is destroyed or not accessible. Find out how long it will take to restore a website from a backed up version so you can take into consideration your websites downtime.
Are you being locked into any contracts or can you pay month by month. If they lock you into an annual contract it might be a sign that they aren’t confident you will stick around. Avoid annual contracts and request to go month by month to start with until you are comfortable.
There are other things you may wish to consider such as do they allow dedicated IP Addresses for setting up Secure Layers for direct credit card purchases, or do they allow additional sub-domains on your account. However for the main part the above items will provide you with a good starting point for your list of requirements for evaluating potential providers.
Written by Dan Norris, Director of Gold Coast Web Design agency Web Circle on 17 September 2008.