By Don Resh
With literally thousands of web hosting companies in the industry all vying for your business, carefully consider these key points to ensure you make the most well informed decision possible.
Server Disk Space
First, think about how much space your site will take up on a server. Unless you are planning on running a software repository or an image gallery, the files that make up your website will probably only use between 1 and 5 megabytes of disk space. Many companies will offer several hundred megabytes of disk space for a very affordable price in an attempt to out perform their competitors, but ask yourself "Do I really need that much space?" Though it's true that you should allow your site "room to grow", don't opt for what seems like a great deal on a massively sized account if you'll never use all of the space offered. Chances are you'll find an even better deal on an amount of space more suitable for your site size. But make sure you think ahead. Will you be running a forum, an article repository or a multimedia marketing campaign? You have to at least think about these issues before abandoning that mega-deal.
This assessment should be based on the same factors as above. Though you may be thinking that your business web site will be the next phenomenon in Internet marketing and garner millions of visitors a day, you really shouldn't need an exceptionally high bandwidth allowance unless, as previously stated, you're running a software or info product download site. Even extremely popular sites usually only use a few gigabytes per month in bandwidth. Don't go hog wild just because it seems like an amazing deal. You may also want to be suspicious of companies that offer "unlimited" data transfer as there are usually some fine-print conditions that make this promise illegitimate. Be sure to read the legal terms and conditions very carefully before deciding on this type of host. A five or ten gigabyte bandwidth allowance is usually plenty enough for a small to medium sized business or personal site. But I must reiterate. If you are planning a business that sells software and e-books that are available for immediate download upon purchase, then you must take that into consideration.
A critical issue to think about when choosing a web host is the types of technical support offered by the company and how easy they are to contact when you need them. Optimally, a company should offer 24x7 toll-free telephone support and email. I have seen companies that do not even offer a telephone number on their website. I was actually ripped off by one of these companies in my early days as an Internet marketer. You should look for a company that is extremely easy to contact and deal with in your time of need. Nothing is more exasperating than being in the middle of working on your site and needing an essential nugget of information to finish the job and not being able to get any support from your hosting company.
No matter what type of site you are developing, chances are you will ultimately need to install some type of CGI script. Whether it be a mailing list management script, contact form processor, or maybe even a fancy credit card processing script or shopping cart, your hosting account will need to allow you to install and run them. This requires access to special CGI-bin folders on the server. Some hosting accounts will only allow you to use "pre-installed" scripts as a security measure. These are scripts that the hosting company have installed and configured so that they know that they will work properly and not adversely affect their server's performance. That may be all you need, but if you have the knowledge, it's great to have the capability to install your own scripts and configure them to suit your personal situation. You should also be sure that the account you choose supports the language in which your scripts are written, such as PHP, Perl, etc. Most good hosting companies that I have dealt with offer all the script support and languages you will need.
Service Level Agreement (SLA)
Another significant issue in assessing the value of a hosting company is how often and for how long their servers go down. No matter how good a deal you get on server space or bandwidth, or how wonderfully the company's tech support takes care of you, your site can't entertain visitors or generate revenue if the machine on which it is hosted is not up and running. Obviously you want a company that can guarantee the highest up-time percentage possible. Servers are taken down for a short time occasionally for maintenance or upgrading, so no company can guarantee 100% up-time, but you want your site to be hosted on reliable, well managed and maintained servers that are not continuously having problems which require them to be down for long stretches of time.
Again, like bandwidth allowance and disk space, some companies will offer you loads more email accounts than you will ever use. Some offer hundreds or even unlimited email accounts as a selling point. This is an important factor if you are IBM and have tens of thousands of employees, each needing their own e-mail box. But it's not a big deal if you're just one person or a small company. You should be fine with 10 or 20.
This is probably the most critical aspect to consider when choosing a web host. Do your homework. Pay attention to any negative feedback you may hear or read about a particular hosting company. There are several sites around the Internet that offer discussion forums that encourage people to chat about and evaluate different hosting companies. Ask precise questions about any company you might be considering. See if anyone else has had any bad experiences with them. Dig into the hosting company's web site and read everything that they offer about themselves. Read their policies, terms and conditions. Check out their contact info. How responsive are they? Does the founder tell you anything about him or herself or are you left to deal with a nameless, faceless stranger? It sounds like a lot of work, but the alternative can be very expensive.
Don Resh is CEO of WebForce, Inc. A more detailed bio is available at:
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