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Simple But Effective Approaches To Picking a Web Hosting Service: Which One is Right For You?

December 4, 2011 · 13 comments

in Internet Marketing

No matter what your startup does, it probably needs a website – which means you need web hosting. The problem is, which service do you choose? With so many web hosting companies (and so many different services offered) picking the right package can be a daunting task. Pick right and you’ll get the ideal combination of price and value. Pick wrong and you’ll either underpay for inferior service overpay for unneeded bells and whistles. Here’s are some simple and effective ways to decide which package is right for you:

Reseller or Actual Provider?

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When it comes to web hosting, what you see is not necessarily what you get. It is common practice for web hosts to have “resellers” (or affiliates) who are basically paid middlemen that sell the web host’s services for a commission. While resellers are not automatically bad, businesses should be wary of buying from them. Your website is mission critical: if it goes down, you want a direct contact with the hosting company who can resolve the issue immediately.

But if you buy from resellers, you might get stuck dealing with sales reps who lack the knowledge and/or ability to help you. Plus, consider the reseller’s goals. Unlike an actual hosting company (whose goal is to provide excellent service and get repeat business) the reseller is generally concerned with closing new sales. Customer support and troubleshooting, for many resellers, are necessary evils, not something they strive to do a great job of.

Shared or Dedicated?

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Broadly speaking, there are two types of web hosting packages: shared or dedicated servers. Shared, as the name suggests, means that you will be sharing a server with other customers. All of your websites will be hosted from the same server. Dedicated packages, meanwhile, are when your business gets your own server – no one else’s website or data is stored on your machine.

The benefit to having a shared server is much lower cost and much simpler management. Businesses with very small websites (or that don’t have many daily visitors just yet) are well-served buying shared hosting. On the other hand, if your business gets a flood of daily traffic or processes secure information (such as credit card transactions) shared servers may be too slow or insufficiently secure. Dedicated server packages offer stronger reliability and greater peace of mind regarding security.

See the article The Great Hosting Debate: Shared vs. Dedicated on SmallBusinessComputing.com for more guidance.

Storage Space

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Another key consideration when picking a web hosting package is the amount of storage space it offers. Storage in a web hosting package refers simply to hard drive space – how much data you can store on that server. As with other details, different hosting packages offer varying levels of storage space. You can have anywhere from 10GB to 100TB or more, depending on your needs and how much you’re prepared to pay.

Again: let your actual needs (current and anticipated) guide your decision here. There is no need for a fledgling web startup with 10 daily visitors and 5GB of content to buy 50TB of storage (especially if it adds $20-$50/mo. to your hosting bill.) Conversely, it would be pointless for a gigantic, Facebook-sized website to be pennywise and pound-foolish by scrimping on storage. Buy what you need, not what sounds cool or “seems” appropriate.

Guaranteed Uptime

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Web hosting is all about keeping your website online. If it randomly goes down for hours or days at a time, customers can’t access it. That’s why uptime is such an important factor. It’s the reason almost all of them advertise “99% uptime” as one of their biggest features. But what does 99% uptime mean, exactly? In fact, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Mon.itor.us offers a handy chart explaining what different uptime percentages actually mean. 90% uptime means your site is down for 876 hours per year. That’s 36 days – over a full month! 99% equates to 87 hours and 36 minutes. Better, but still not ideal for websites that process sales. 99.9% uptime is what you should shoot for: just over 8 hours of downtime all year. At minimum, hold out for 99.5% uptime (and don’t be blown away by how impressive 99% sounds.)

Data Transfer

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Data transfer (otherwise known as “bandwidth”) refers to how much text, images, video and other content you can actually provide from your website each month. Once this limit is exceeded, visitors will not be able to access your content until the next month (or until you pay for a higher limit.) Ranges vary here: you can get as little as 5GB per month in data transfer or as high as 50GB or more. If your website is mainly text-based (a blog, for example) data transfer will rarely be an issue and you need not pay for high amounts.

If your site provides streaming video or audio, data transfer starts to matter. Too low of a limit makes your website load slowly and annoy your users. Paying for a higher limit makes much more sense. Also, don’t be fooled by web hosts who claim to offer “unlimited” data transfer. The fine print virtually always redefines “unlimited” to be limited in some way.

Availability of Tech Support

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Last but certainly not least is the availability of technical support. When you do business online, your website is the nexus of your company. When it goes down, you go down. Problems with your website, therefore, are not minor nuisances but floor-shaking corporate emergencies. Accordingly, you need a web host that stands behind its service with 24/7 tech support.

Not all web hosts offer that. Many of the cheaper, “bargain basement” companies that might seem attractive skimp out on customer service. Maybe they only offer e-mail support (never re-assuring) or take weekends and holidays off. That’s fine if you’re hosting a personal blog or some family photos, but it’s completely unacceptable when your income depends on uptime. Make sure any web host you do business with offers phone support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Written by Caleb Blackham

Caleb Blackham is a freelance writer for Adobe SendNow. With Sendnow users can send large files fast.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sanjeev December 6, 2011 at 6:18 am

I always like to use actual providers rather than re-sellers, though reliability and up-time are important factor. I always go to establish provider in the market as they have proven them already and you know the standards of their service.
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Warren December 6, 2011 at 8:14 am

Over the last 15 years I’ve dealt with quite a few different companies, as well as a brief stint as a reseller. (you are totally right about service being a necessary evil) Probably the one thing that stands out over the years is the value of a great tech support team who works 24/7 and is available to you any time!

In this area Hostgator stands out for me, and I’ve been happy with them for years now, and have never regretted it once! I’m sure there are others, but once you find a great host you tend to stick with them for quite a while! :)
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Lilach Bullock December 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I’m currently with Hostgator. For me it was about having the live chat feature.

I’m not the most technical person (I can set up a Wordpress blog) but when it comes to servers and hosting I’m afraid I holler my dad who helps me!
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DiTesco December 6, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Ahh! The all time question about which web hosting to choose. I have to admit that it is still complicated, but fortunately with some real cool tips like this one, tend to make things a lot easier. For now I am still using shared hosting, which fits in the budget nicely and solved temporarily the problem of added security and performance by using CloudFlare. The article about shared vs hosting is top notch. Tanks for sharing that one. Nice find :)
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Viviana December 6, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Hi Kostas, thank you for sharing your knowledge. I’ll change to dedicated server when I renew my webhosting. Thanks for highlighting it!
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Stacy December 6, 2011 at 8:22 pm

I didn’t know that there was so much to consider when deciding on a host! :) I went with hostgator because it had good recommendations. Overall I’ve been happy with the service and have found them to be very helpful.

Stacy
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Tosin December 7, 2011 at 2:38 am

Hi,

Nice to be on your blog and it’s warm here.

Wow…I didnt know there were so many points to note when looking for a host. And I think I should know since I had a terrible experience with a reseller some months ago as regards my blog. I am good, though.

I am with hostgator, because some good friends recommend it and so far so good.

I believe 24/7 support is a chief factor to consider.

Thanks

Tosin
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Catarina December 7, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Beware of GoDaddy. They seem to be performing better lately but have had plenty of trouble with them. And it’s easier said than done to change your hosting. So take your time before deciding where to host your blog.

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Srinivas Reddy December 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Very informative and good tips, Kostas. I’m with Bluehost.com right now and am perfectly happy with them. They check out on all the points you make. If things change, I’ll remember your notes here. Cheers!
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Lesa December 8, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I’ve used a number of different hosting companies for my own websites and have had the opportunity to interact with many more through working with clients. All of your points are valid and worth considering and I wish more people would give this more thought and not just go with the one their friends recommend.

I recently switched my own websites to Canvas Dreams. They are a little known company out of Portland Oregon. Their website has lots of great information on what to look for in a hosting company and they are very upfront about what they do well (and don’t). What I love about them is their technical support is all in country and awesome, they don’t oversell their shared hosting plans (so that other guy on your server can’t hog all of your resources), and they get all of their power from wind. Oh, and if you are looking at becoming a reseller, they handle all the technical support for their resellers so you don’t have to (and your clients get top-notch service).
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