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?
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?
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.
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.
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 (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
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.
Written by Caleb Blackham