Lesson 9: How to choose the right web hosting

Perhaps the most important factor when choosing a web hosting service is knowing exactly what your business needs from the provider. Most of the web hosting providers (whether listed below or not) will work with you to provide the service and features you request, but only if you can express those needs in a coherent way.

This list of web hosting services presented in the table below is in no particular order and only represents a sampling of available services. The features offered by each provider, as well as the cost of their services, changes over time, so it is important to do your own vetting before deciding which service works best for your business.

When choosing a web hosting service provider, there are over a dozen features to consider. Beyond checking whether a provider offers a feature, organizations must also consider the quality and the reputation of the service. Beyond even that, choosing a web hosting service provider for your business essentially means choosing a new business partner. Choosing a web hosting service is a long-term commitment and should never be made without serious and comprehensive research.

Cost: Probably the most obvious and the least important detail to consider is cost. Most web hosting services will offer their basic services at a reasonable price. On average, the subscription price for basic web hosting services can be purchased for under $10 per month–including the purchase of a domain name. Be sure to read the fine print on your contract because many services will offer low promotional rates for the first year or two and then raise the price to “standard” levels once the promotional time-period is complete.

Understandably, additional services beyond the basic levels will add to the overall cost of the service and will vary, so businesses requiring advanced features will want to get every thing in writing, most likely in the form of a service level agreement (SLA).

Performance: When comparing the performance capabilities of various web hosting services, note what hardware the provider will use. You will also need to consider what type of server you want to use for your website: Shared, dedicated, or cloud-based. Your choice will determine what performance you can expect from your web host.

Scalability: Beyond the sheer speed of performance, some businesses require a web hosting service that can scale performance in an instant when requested and scale back when demand wanes. A retailer, for example, may have a season during the year where thousands of orders arrive in a matter of weeks–the hosting service must be able to scale up and then scale down as necessary. This is an advanced feature that not every web hosting service can provide.

Uptime: Once you establish your website, you’d like for it to be up and accessible 100% of the time, but no web hosting service can ensure perfection, so most providers commit to 99.9% uptime. If your business is willing to spend a little more for extra uptime guarantees, you might be able to negotiate 99.99% uptime. Whatever level you agree to, be sure to get it memorialized in an SLA.

Customer support: While all of the technical considerations of choosing a web host service provider are important to the decision-making process, customer support and the depth of rapport your business can establish with that provider is often the most important factor. The ability to establish a beneficial working repartee with your web hosting service provider’s customer service department will often be the deciding factor when choosing a service.

Security: A web hosting service should have the means and the resources to offer a secure website infrastructure, complete with the latest updates, patches, and active security protocols necessary to hold off the onslaught of daily cyberattacks. Security features, guarantees, and expectations should be negotiated as part of an SLA.

Bandwidth: Beyond the speed at which interactions can be processed, a small business must also consider the volume of data they will require from their web hosting service. A small business with a website that draws only a few visitors a day looking for contact information has much different needs than a business streaming thousands of media files daily.

Most web hosting services can handle a multitude of scenarios but will adjust pricing depending on the bandwidth requested. An SLA laying out exactly the amount of bandwidth your website will need and providing for any spikes in bandwidth requests that may occur, will go a long way toward avoiding unexpected service charges.

Storage: Web hosting services will offer various levels of storage depending on your needs. A small business with only a landing page has much different storage needs than a business with hundreds of pages of content. Once again, making the correct decision on storage will depend on your business needs and should be documented in the SLA.

Website building tools: Many web hosting services offer a set of building tools that make developing a professional-looking website for your small business simple. The quality and quantity of the development tools offered by web hosting services differ greatly, so you should look for services that offer the specific tools you’ll need to build your website.

Domain names: Once you find a domain name, your chosen web hosting service should offer to register it for you. In many cases, the service will offer to do this for free or at low cost, but be sure to read the fine print, because that may be only for the first year. Domain names must be renewed annually and there is always a fee–be sure you understand just who is responsible for filing the renewal paperwork each year and how much it will cost.

Email: Almost all of the web hosting services will offer email support as part of even their most basic packages; however, it is important to consider what email capacity you need for your business. If you are a one-person operation, hiring a web hosting service that provides 10 email accounts may be plenty. On the other hand, if you have 50 employees, you will need to find a web hosting service that offers much more capacity.

Mobile capability: As part of their site building tools, some web hosting services will offer a system that produces a dynamic website that can be displayed on a desktop or on a mobile device. Mobile interaction is vital to success in the digital age, so mobile capability for your website should be a priority.

Transfer of existing websites: Unless you are just starting out, your business is likely to have a website already. In many cases, you will want to transfer the existing website over to a new web hosting service; depending on the website, this can be a difficult task to complete in a timely manner.

Some of the more sophisticated web hosting services will offer the help of expert technical personnel to make the transition from one host to another as quick and efficient as possible. Some web hosting services even offer this expertise at no charge as an incentive for making the switch.

Ease of use: For the most part, the most popular web hosting services can be accessed via a standard web browser. This interface allows you to update your content, track visitor activity, and otherwise manage your website. This configuration works great for simple websites typical of small businesses.

If you need to implement special scripts, insert specific code, add advertising tracking widgets, etc., you will want to research how accommodating a web service is to those advanced requirements. If access to those features requires the services of your providers’ internal technicians, it may raise the overall hassle and cost considerably.

Compliance: With the recent implementation of the GDPR and other data privacy and protection laws, compliance has become a major consideration when choosing a web hosting service. A compliant service should offer specific assurances on how it will protect any data collected by your website.

When considering whether a prospective service is compliant with the GDPR and other regulations, you should ask questions about data encryption, SSL certificate support, the security of its Web Hosting Automation Platform, firewall deployment, and internal security measures like strong passwords and authentication protocols. This information should be detailed and documented in an SLA.

Operating system: Linux v. Windows. Most website servers use a version of the Linux operating system and associated web service infrastructure; however, some organizations prefer to use a Microsoft Windows server. While many of the web hosting services can handle either OS, not all of them will–and, the ones that do, may charge different rates depending on the operating system. Before you decide on your service, you should check their capabilities in this regard.

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