Top 10 Things You Should Look For
If you are reading this article you have either started a new business and are looking for some helpful advice on selecting a web hosting package or you are looking to move from an existing hosting provider. Whatever your reasons, it's important to pick a solution that is right for your business now and in the future.
You've probably heard all sorts of nightmare stories of sites going down, losing their data, losing sales information, terrible support, domain hijacking, spamming …. the list goes on. So what we have tried to do below is give you ten of the most important areas of a small business web hosting package that you can use as a checklist to vet prospective hosting providers.
1. Personal & Knowledgeable Technical Support
We have put this at the top of the list as this seems to be one of the biggest issues facing companies that are just starting out. They want to be able to phone up and get hold of a person, not an automated message or an off-shore call center, that can help troubleshoot issues straight away in the shortest time possible.
Running a small business means that most owners are doing a number of jobs and they do not have the time to be "on hold" while the first line tech support tries to work out what the issue is. So you want to ensure that your web hosting provider has this capability to deliver excellent, personal technical support.
2. Intuitive and User-Friendly Control Panel
The control panel is where you create and manage your domains, sub domains and databases. Cpanel is one of the most popular control panels for web hosts these days, but there are plenty of others out there. As a small business starting up it's quite likely that you do not have the technical expertise to configure your website without a Cpanel, so make sure you can look over an example of the control panel and make sure that it is easy to use.
3. Hosting Package Considerations
As the needs and requirements for each business variations here are some of the items that you should look into to ensure that the prospective web host will be able to run and support your website now and as your business grows:
– Shared vs. Dedicated Web Hosting
Most small businesses only require shared hosting (often referred to as 'virtual hosting') which means your website sits along a number of other websites on the same server but as your business grows you may need to move to a dedicated server for any number of reasons, such as: your site has a high volume of traffic with eCommerce functionality, you need greater access to the operating system for specific software that you need to run or for scalability and security reasons.
So ensure that you can move from shared to limited with the same provider with minimal business disruption (ie down-time).
– PHP vs. ASP Web Hosting
As a general rule of thumb most smaller websites are developed using a programming language called PHP as this is open source (ie free) and widely used which makes for a good support base. Larger clients and corporates often go for ASP as it is typically supported by Microsoft. The type of hosting you will need is often predetermined by the company that has designed / developed your website. If your site is database driven then you'll need to ensure that the package you buy includes the ability to create databases such as MySQL for PHP and SQL Server for ASP.
– Email Addresses
Make sure that you package gives you the ability to create at least more than one POP3 email address and that they do not charge separately for this pleasure. If you are fairly mobile and need the ability to check your email from any computer rather than something such as a Blackberry then make sure you also have webmail functionality. This is pretty standard for any decent hosting company these days. Finally, as a number of internet service providers (ISPs) such as BT, Virgin etc are a little precious about using their outgoing email servers (SMTP Server) to send your emails from your new company email addresses then you'll need a SMTP service provided by your hosting company.
– SSL Certificates
If you plan to sell anything via your site you'll need to have a security certificate installed on your website. Make sure this is something that the hosting provider / package can handle.
– Automated Backups
Backups should be automated nightly on the hosting provider's side giving you peace of mind should anything go wrong. You do not want to have downtime and then to find that you can only get a restored version from the previous month.
– FTP Access
You definitely want the ability to connect to you server via an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client so that you can upload multiple files at once. There is nothing worse than having to upload files one-by-one.
This is a pretty simple exercise where most proactive web hosting companies will publish a number of testimonials on the site so that you get an idea of what other users think of the service. Have a read through and see what they have to say.
5. Uptime Availability
Uptime is a measure of the time a computer system has been up and running. It came into use to describe the opposite of downtime, times when a system was not operational. What you are looking for here is some statement from the hosting provider saying that they are "Guarantee a 99.9% uptime". Anything less should make you worry.
Running a small business is never straight forward and there will no doubt be changes that you need to make to most areas of the business including your website and hosting needs. Having a flexible hosting provider that you can have a chat with to decide what 'the best route forward is', can be invaluable. The problem with most large scale hosting providers is that they can not or rather wont be able to help by giving you the personal attention you may need in the early days which could be crucial.
7. Server Security
The hosting provider should be big enough to have the processes in place to ensure that all servers are patched regularly and have the latest firewall protection. What this means is that server vulnerabilities are found (ie what the hackers try and exploit) so they should be closed down so as not to allow a breach and possibly downtime.
8. Storage Space
Most basic 'brochureware' type sites do not require much storage space. Around 25MB is typically sufficient but you may want to check what the upgrade price is to ensure that they do not have a low price for the entry level package and then a large jump to the next available option.
9. Bandwidth or Transfer
So what exactly is bandwidth? Most hosting companies offer a variety of bandwidth options in their plans. In simple terms, bandwidth is the amount of traffic that is allowed to occur between your web site and the rest of the internet.
The issue is trying to work out how much bandwidth you think you need and this really depends on the numbers of visitors to your site, the number of pages that view and the average size of your pages. If you plan on having multiple downloads then this will also need to be factored in.
Here are some basic formulas for monthly figures:
- Average Daily Visitors x Average Page Views x Average Page Size x 31 x Fudge Factor
For a "download" site, your bandwidth calculation should be:
- [(Average Daily Visitors x Average Pageviews x Average Page Size) + (Average Daily File Downloads x Average File Size)] x 31 x Fudge Factor
Similar to the above point on storage you want to ensure that the upgrade to a larger bandwidth package does not break the bank.
10. Ethical? Banned from the Search Engines?
As you can imagine during these tough times some hosting companies are not very discerning when it comes to what type of content is hosted on their servers. The issue with this is that if you have shared hosting and have other websites that are, let's say, a little unsavoury, then you may find you start having issues with the search engines as they may ban the server that you site is hosted on due to the other sites on the same server or worse still downtime due to spam, bandwidth issues etc.
So when going through the motions of picking a provider ask them the question and see if they can give you a positive response.
So there you have it. Our pick of the ten most important web hosting areas that you should check to ensure that you new small business runs smoothly especially during these troubled times.
Fishfood Hosting is an ethical web hosting company serving small businesses. Click here to view our hosting packages and how they perform against the criteria above.