A website can be utilized for either personal or professional reasons. For personal reasons many people choose to chronicle their lives, blog about something they are interested in or share photos with friends and family. For businesses, a web site is a necessity. In fact, many people these days use the presence of a web site as a method for determining the legitimacy of a company and often they prefer to use the Internet to conduct their business.
Whether looking to enable a web presence for the first time, or if you are simply unhappy with your existing service, you will need to find a web host provider. In order to ensure you have the best possible service there are several items you should consider. When shopping around keep these five important questions in mind:
- Reliability: How often will your site be unavailable? Reliability or uptime is of vital importance and something that should be carefully considered before choosing a host. For business websites this is even more important than personal.When a website is down it may be irritating for a personal website but it can translate to hundreds, even thousands of dollars in revenue lost for businesses. Keep in mind, though that claims of 100% uptime are likely not accurate so be wary of these claims. The fact is there are times where there may be an unforeseen problem or scheduled maintenance causing your website to be unavailable for a short period of time.What is important to determine is the actual uptime percentage for the company as a whole as well as the specific server where your website will reside. All web hosts should have this historical data available. You should also determine how scheduled outages are handled. When possible the better web hosts schedule down time well in advance and during non-peak times. With today’s technology there is no excuse for any web host to have a low uptime percentage.
- Customer Service: Will you get help when you need it? Customer service is sometimes one of those aspects people are willing to compromise in order to get a lower cost. But before you decide this is not important to you, consider your frustration and potential loss of income if you cannot get help when you need it.Customer service may include pre sales questions, billing and technical support. Many web hosts have a variety of methods for you to get answers to your questions so that you can do so quickly and thoroughly. Choose the host that has the best combination of options that you feel will suit your needs best.Available options include the following:
- Telephone support – this is where a live operator will deal with your issues. Consider availability (24/7 phone support or business hours only?), hold times and knowledge of representatives.
- Email support – this is typically handled via a help desk system where your query is put into a queue and answered in the order it comes in. Consider the length of time it takes for a response and how thorough the response is. Live Internet chat – this is where you actually chat on the Internet with a representative. Consider amount of time it takes for an operator to respond and available times for this service.
- Knowledge Base/FAQ – this is simply a listing of common questions and answers. A well stocked knowledge base can save a lot of time so that you can help yourself by searching for the answers to common questions. Consider the extent of the knowledge base and how often it is updated.
- Community networking – forums and blogs are a great way to allow customers to help one another. This is a great way to network and get assistance quickly. Consider the number of active users and frequency of posts.
- Pricing: Is the cost competitive? Of course price is a consideration especially in tough economic times. Research the cost for your hosting providers comparing each company you consider. Keep in mind that there may be variances in cost based on the available features. So make sure you narrow your choices to the ones that have the features you want first then compare like features. Choose the best combination of cost and features. Also, consider the payment plans and determine if these are convenient for you. Many hosts will extend a discount if you pay an entire year up front. If you cannot afford to do this how often is the bill due?Considering a free web host? For businesses this is not recommended. Most free hosts make their money on advertising revenue. These ads disrupt your website with pop ups or banners that cannot be removed. It detracts from the professionalism of the site. For personal sites, the ads may be acceptable but with so many budget hosts with good reputations available why risk it?
- Company Stability: Will your host be there for the long haul? Companies come and go and the web hosting industry can be particularly prone to fly-by-night companies. Added to that is the prevalence of resellers that have bulk accounts through a major host and resell their services. If you deal with a reseller, make sure you research the reputation of the reseller as well as the primary company. Longevity is often an indication of stability. If your host is established in the industry you have a better chance of them being there long term so you won’t have to move to another company down the line.
- Space and Bandwidth: Do you have what you need? Space and bandwidth are primary considerations for your hosting package. The amount of space you need depends on the number and size of the files you will have on your site. Be aware, though, that even large sites typically do not need a lot of disc space so web hosts will offer unlimited disc space or large amounts of disc space as a selling point. The fact is, you will likely not need it so don’t put too much emphasis on this.The bandwidth is the amount of data transfer that occurs when people use your site. The busier and more popular the site, the more bandwidth is used. Make sure you have enough to accommodate your needs. However, be wary if unlimited bandwidth claims. This is a cost the host pays for so if you have an excessive amount you may have a problem. If you are on an unlimited plan make sure you read the fine print. Most web hosts have clauses that will allow them to suspend your site if you use too much.Most web hosts have graduating packages available where you can upgrade to additional space and bandwidth if needed. This is typically an option when you outgrow your plan and need to upgrade. However make sure to research the cost of exceeding your plan specifications and the policies for how this is handled.
If you carefully consider the five most important questions to ask about a potential new web host it will save you a lot of time, energy and grief in the long run. Carefully researching the possible web hosts before you make a decision will ensure you have a quality service at a competitive rate that will suit your business or personal needs.