Web Hosting Choices – Finding A Quality Web Hosting Provider
There are now so many I’d be afraid to count them. Every man and his dog owns a web hosting company. Everyone seems to have a server, be it running on a dial up modem providing very bad service and speed to running in a multi link network operating centre with environmental control, armed security guards and escorted entrance. Wow. But with so many providers out there all differing levels of service and products, how can you know which to go with? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are some simple questions and rules to to follow while shopping for your next web hosting provider.
You need to know about their uptime policy. What uptime level guarantee do they offer? This is quite important. If you can’t offer anything better than 98-99% at the minimum then steer away! Is this high? Not at all. It’s a standard in the hosting industry to offer at the minimum 99%. The high end ones offer 99.999% uptime (approximately meaning that out of an complete year, they are only allowed 5.39 mins downtime total!), while others would offer simply 99% of 99.something%. Uptime and availability are very important. Especially if you had just started a new marketing campaign or been handing out a lot more business cards recently and these new possible clients go into in your website address into their browser and your web hosting provider has overcrowded their systems or has gone down, what will happen? Well simply, it will time out, they wont be able to visit your site and would most likely visit your competitor’s site, which has stayed up trouble free all this time! Is it worth risking your business to a less than competent hosting provider? I didn’t think so,
Bandwidth is important. This is major. Without bandwidth your visitors wont be able to visit you, or already if they do, their visit will be very slow, which could translate into an image in their mind of your business matching (ie: being equally slow!). Another factor in this is bandwidth capacity. If you expect a lot of visitors (and if you aren’t, I’d suggest you’re in the wrong business!), you’ll want to be able to adjust to them all. I suggest starting at a minimum of 1GB (gigabyte – this is how bandwidth capability and monthly allowance is measured on the internet). This will be enough to start out with. Also make sure that your website isn’t cut off if you go over this limit! Most providers don’t cut you off, but you need to make sure they wont! If you have a burst of traffic, and the limit is reached, new visitors wont be able to reach your site! Most providers will let you go go the limit, but bill you additional in accordance with how much you surpassed the standard allowance in your hosting plan. This is fine. You can always upgrade later as you build your site and online presence.
Storage is the next major point. You need to know you’ll be able to fit everything for your site into the allocated space. IF you run out of space, you wont be able to fit any more web pages or images in. This is a Bad Thing(Tm). You need to make sure you have at the minimum 5MB for personal sites, 10-20MB for basic business or 50MB for progressive and corporate websites.
But how about contact? You also need to know about email accounts. How many are you allowed? If you are a only trader, you could probably get by with just one and having what they call a catch-all facility enabled. This method that no matter what people send email to (e.g.: [email protected], [email protected], etc.) it will reach you. However, as you introduce more and more sets or hire people to help you in the general running of the business, you’ll want to provide individual and separate email accounts to each activity, ie accounting, sales, manager, etc. Make sure you’re able to easily add what they call POP (Post Office Protocol, the internet language used to receive email) accounts to your web hosting package. at the minimum 5. And need that they have plenty of storage in case you are sent emails with attachments. Or several emails with several large attachments. I’d recommend allocating at the minimum 20MB to each email explain starters.
E-commerce is a big industry buzz information right now. But it’s very important, especially if you’re considering offering products and sets on your website. You’ll need to know that your web hosting provider can fully adjust to you here. Things to ask about are shopping carts, what software they offer, digital certificates and credit card processing. There are many expensive solutions out there, and there are many free ones. Please don’t think that the free ones are lower quality or less useful than the expensive ones because that would be misleading. I used a completely free one for many months. The only reason why I stopped using it was because I took the online store down because of job move. The offer unlimited number of categories and items. If the software your hosting provider is offering doesn’t offer an unlimited number of categories and items, with pictures, review capability and credit card payment processing integration, then walk the other way. These features are way too important and could be all that separates your online store from looking amateurish to specialized. It’s not worth gambling on. For payment processes, try to choose someone local (the money conversion would eat up a part of your profit) or someone with reasonably low fees, but probably not the lowest. I know that PayPal integrates into osCommerce (free shopping cart and ecommerce software) quite well and they make a decent combination.
What about if you want to run a mailing list? You’ll need a database. truly you’ll need a database for your shopping cart too. Don’t forget that! Your hosting package should include at the minimum ONE (1) database. Preferably MySQL or PostgreSQL. They are very proven database packages that are free to use. But with the mailing list, you may want to keep a list of people that have visited or registered at your website and wish to be notified of updates and changes (keeps ’em coming back!) and/or to start a free newsletter. Everyone loves freebies. It’s human character. You can use one of many free and commercial mailing list managers. Ask your hosting provider which one they use and how to set it up. Hopefully they’ll be a free facility in your hosting package as they are very simple to use and set up. I use one on my site that I designed myself. Works quite well. I also recommend MailMan or any other open source package.
You know another great way to keep your website busy and customers coming back for more? Run a public discussion board or forum! This allows you to interact with your website visitors and helps build up rapport with them. This is important. Make sure your hosting provider either has these facilities, can set up for you, or if not, download and install one yourself. There are many excellent quality free forum packages out there. I use them everywhere. Choose one that uses a database to store it’s information. clearly you’ll need a database for this too.
But what about website maintenance? Well, you could go one of three (3) ways here; 1) Do it yourself, 2) Hire a webmaster to continue everything on behalf of you or 3) Have a Content Management System (CMS) installed. Let’s look at each one in turn. Do it yourself? I’m not against this, in fact, I encourage it, or at the minimum, in the beginning, to become familiar with HTML, CSS, PHP and all those other internet programming acronyms. They’ll all important and you’ll need to become familiar with them, or learn them to a level where you would be comfortable in using them directly to manipulate your website. However, there are time restrictions. You may not have the time to invest in learning these language. After all, learning foreign human languages is hard enough, how much harder do you think trying to learn a foreign computer language would be? Your main job will be to run your business, as that is what you do best! Do you really want to distract yourself from your sales and customer service to worry about your website? Some people leave website maintenance for when they have the spare time, others have decaying websites that never get maintained properly. How could we address that? Well, we could Hire a webmaster. A webmaster is someone who is paid to sustain, continue and keep a website up to date. They really do require quite a bit of attention. No one likes a idle boring and sleeping website, especially if that is how theirs is described! The webmaster you hire should have references to sustain this work, be well versed in internet technologies and languages and have a few certifications to back it up, plus many samples of their work. But you will need to pay them. However, if you ‘re unable to do that just at this moment, you can try using a Content Management System (CMS). A CMS is an automated piece of software which allows you to log into a control panel, select which page you wish to modify, go into or edit your text in a form and press submit. This requires you to have knowledge of how to use a website copy (a web page’s text content) to tell your customers the assistance of what you’re presenting them. It requires sales skills (which you already have attained in running your business) and some text formatting skills. Some of the best CMS packages are very pricey, while others are quite cheap, to the point of being free. I’ve used many free ones to estimate them and can assure you that free ones are equally and functionally as good or equal to commercial variations.
But what about getting your website up in the first place? You’ll need to make sure that they offer unlimited FTP (File move Protocol, an internet language that allows you to move files from your computer to your web space for public viewing) access and web-based file management (in case you need to do some emergency updates away from your main computer, or your holidaying and want to do a little website maintenance from your beach side holiday house on your laptop). Many free web hosting providers offer just web-based upload facilities and this is cheap. You need to make sure you can upload via FTP, if not for you, then at the minimum for your webmaster (if you hire one). It makes everything so much easier and saves so much time. A web-based solution usually only allows you to upload a few files at a time, and you have to manually browse for your files to select them and marked them to be uploaded. With FTP, you just click on your website folder on your computer and drag-and-drop them into your FTP program. Wham! All uploading in a fraction of the time it might take otherwise!
Well, sure, these are all great conditions and rules to keep a look out for, but what if you run into a problem? Well, you’ll need sustain. And plenty of it. Make sure your web hosting provider provides you with a phone number, an emergency phone number, a fax number, an email address, an emergency email address and possibly a residential or postal address. 24 hour sustain is a plus, especially if it’s 2AM and that one last file just refuses to be uploaded, and your website is being non-responsive. If they do not offer 24 hour sustain, then they should at the minimum offer a special sustain email address where there is a guaranteed response time, usually within 1-3, maybe 6 hours tops. You’ll need it. already if just for assurance. You’ll never know when you might need it.
Well, that about does it. Stick to these simple guidelines when shopping for your web hosting provider and you hopefully wont be caught by a shark. There are many that are out there with overloaded servers trying to make a quick dollar, and there are ones that offer great quality sets at competitive rates with great customer service. They are scarce, few and far between. But once you find that Great Hosting Provider, stick with them and they’ll reward you in many ways for your loyalty and sustain. Happy hunting for your next (or first) web hosting provider.