Choosing a Web Hosting Provider
One of the most important aspects of the internet is being found. You'll hear lots about optimising your site for the search engines and making sure you have great content but you'll rarely hear about the importance of reliable web hosting.
No matter how good your site is, if your hosting is more often 'off-line' than 'on' then you run the risk of losing potential visitors / customers and in some instances you may even be 'de-indexed' by the search engines.
There are thousands upon thousands on hosting companies/providers so how do you choose the RIGHT one? It's an important decision. To help guide you we've put together 10 questions which you should address whenever you are looking for a new hosting company.
10 Questions to Consider
All good hosting companies will be able to give you guarantees on uptime. You should expect to see 99.5% uptime and above. Since hosting companies rarely alert you when your site is down or likely to be down it's a good idea to monitor your site's uptime yourself.
Bandwidth is the amount of bytes transferred from your site to visitors when they browse your site. This includes the images and text on your site along with flash animation, videos, music etc. The more you load on your site the bigger your bandwidth usage will be.
An example: One Gigabyte is 2 to the 30th power (1,073,741,824) bytes. One gigabyte is equal to 1,024 megabytes. It takes one byte to store one character. An MP3 song is about 4MB, the same song in wav format is about 40MB, a full length movie can be 800MB to 1000MB (1000MB = 1GB).
Avoid hosting companies that advertise "unlimited bandwidth". This can mean the quality of the hosting is compromised . Very often it actually means that there is a limit but it's not advertised. The hosting company has to pay for the bandwidth, and if you consistently use more than they deem 'your fair share', you will be charged.
3. Disk Space.
Most small business web sites need less than 50 MB of web space. As a rough guide most pages should be 10 - 20 KB in size (not including images, videos etc).
4. Technical / Customer Support.
Technical support should be at the top of your list of priorities. Support should be available 24/7. Test support by emailing them at midnight and on Saturday nights, Sunday mornings, etc.
A good hosting company will answer pre-sales questions through their support facility so you can 'test' their support before you 'buy'. Take a note of how long it takes them to respond and see if their responses are technically competent. Look for a company who is willing to help and not one who has a list of things they don't support!
5. Email, POP3, IMAP, Mail Forwarding.
Do email accounts come with the hosting or are these extra? Can you access email via a web browser?
6. Type of Hosting (Windows vs. Linux).
If you need to use ASP programs, you have no choice but to look for a Windows server. However we would recommend using Linux hosting if you can, as it provides much more flexibility.
7. Up To Date Software / Security.
Check the versions of software the host uses on their servers. If a host is using very old versions it may be that their servers are not up to date and may be less secure. You may also run into problems installing scripts that rely on up to date versions.
The location of your hosting company/the server you are hosted on is important for SEO. You can use Google webmaster tools to set the geographic location of your company/business if you host outside the country you are targeting. Having said this, we would recommend that if you are targeting the UK market, host in the UK.
9. Logs / Stats.
A good host will provide access to error, latest visitor and bandwidth logs if required. Stats programs like Webalizer, Analog and Awstats can prove helpful information when you want to e.g. review how well your site is performing, check and optimise your bandwidth usage and identify and block spammers.
While price is always a factor, you should realise that you often get what you pay for, although it's not necessarily true that the most expensive hosts are the best.