There’s no question that if you want your business to succeed, you need a website. However, not all web hosts are created equal. There can be a tremendous amount of variance in pricing, services offered, registration fees, site customization, and service agreement regulations. Here’s a few things to look for when choosing a web hosting service:
How Can They Help?
Most web hosts offer several types of memberships based on what services you require (and how much money you’re willing to put down). Most basic memberships will offer limited remote file storage, limited bandwidth, site management features, FTP access, and server log analysis programs.
Businesses willing to pay a little more can expand the functionality of their sites to increase their bandwidth limitations and file storage capacity. Premium services may include SSL encryption for better network security and CGI or SSI scripts for more comprehensive functionality. However, these services can get expensive and aren’t necessary for every site.
Picking Your Plan
Knowing which type of plan will work best for you depends on what you intend to do with your site.
- Do you expect to draw large amounts of traffic with data-heavy content like video and audio? You may need a plan with large amounts of bandwidth and disk storage space.
- What if you intend to display dynamic web pages with interactive content or database functionality? You’ll likely need a package that includes CGI, PHP, or MYSQL services.
Consider your current needs as a business and what your needs will be in the future—many web hosting providers operate a year-by-year subscription basis, but others may require a 2- to 3-year commitment. Before you lock yourself into a contract, consider how your business will scale as your site becomes optimized and what your customers will expect from you.
As your site grows, you may find that you need a more complete view of your site’s performance. Picking a web host that offers specialized server log analytics can be beneficial—this info can give you data on visitor access, error logs and handling, and reports concerning the performance of your site’s applications. Some web hosts can even customize these logs to give you insight on specific functionality and analytics that are relevant to your unique business model.
At this point, you’re probably ready to hop off the page and start scouring the web for the best deal for your web hosting…but hold on a second. We’re not out of the web-hosting-decision woods yet.
Before you sign up for any hosting service, don’t neglect to review your host’s service level agreement. This agreement is the “contract” that defines the responsibilities of each party for the duration of the deal. While you’re probably better off shopping around if your host’s SLA isn’t up to par, you should make sure that, at the very minimum, the host’s SLA covers:
- Hours of operation and service availability
- Defined plans for problem-resolution
- Timetables for completion of goals
This agreement may seem unnecessary with your prospective web host spouting a laundry list of quality assurance measures in your ear, but don’t buy into the hype. A good SLA can mean the difference between a website that’s down for an hour and a website that’s down for a week.
The Final Call
It might be tempting to forgo the analysis of your business goals and choose the web host that will give you the best deal, but be careful about starting your search with the cheapest options. While your bottom line is important, remember that you usually get what you pay for. Assess the needs of your business, the capabilities of your service provider, and the groundwork laid out in your SLA to figure out how to get the most bang for your buck for your web hosting service.