Web Hosting Checklist: Choosing Your Provider

Typical DatacenterIf you’re searching for hosting for your business or personal website, you’ve probably already run across any number of possibilities. There are literally thousands of hosting providers in the United States from which to choose. Some of the best providers offer discounts on webhosting here on our site, but wherever you look, you’ll need some basis for comparing the providers on your short list in order to make an informed decision about which to choose.

For a huge business concern with your own I.T. department, chances are that the in-house dataheads will already have taken everything into account and would be more than happy to present the pros and cons of various providers if you ask. All of the pros and cons. In minute detail. For several hours. With charts. Have fun with that.

If, however, you’re shopping for hosting for your own personal site or weblog, or if you want to put up a site for your small business, the sheer number of options available boggle the mind. How to even narrow them down? Fret not. Here’s a simple checklist of things to consider when selecting a host.

The Most Important Considerations

Uptime Guarantee – Your hosting arrangement should provide fast, reliable access to your site. Whether the site is there for making money or as a means of personal expression (or both), it’s not doing its job if people can’t see it. Look for uptime approaching 99.9% or at least in excess of 99.5%, and look for a guarantee in the terms of service, so that your costs are discounted or you receive a refund of some sort if your site is down for more than the stated percentage.

Support – Speedy access to technical support for your site is essential, and since things seem to go wrong at the worst possible time, it’s important to have around the clock support, every day of the year. Thoroughly research the tech support provisions your prospective provider offers, and make sure they match your own needs and level of expertise.

Value – Obviously, you’ll want to obtain hosting at the lowest possible price for the service you expect. This can be a tricky thing to evaluate, since you’ll need to compare the type and quality of services you’ll be receiving in order to do a fair comparison of price between providers. The main thing to keep in mind is that in general, you get what you pay for with hosting since competition is so fierce. This doesn’t necessarily mean that more expensive is always “better” though. Depending on your needs, more costly options such as “dedicated servers” or other often-touted hosting arrangements may not be necessary. The trick is to have a pretty clear idea of what you need, and then review the hosting plans side-by-side as much as possible to compare relative value. Apples, oranges, etc.

Other Important Features

Traffic Allowance, Storage Space and Resource Usage – In addition to the amount of disk space that will be available to host the pages, databases, media files and other components of your site, you’ll need to be aware of the limits for data transfer and resource usage in your hosting package. Most small sites that are not media rich will have way less than 3 GB per month in traffic (that is to say, the amount of data served by the host to people who visit your site). In fact, the vast majority of sites on the World Wide Web consume less than 5 GB per month. Still, it’s important to understand the limits and make sure that you don’t get hit with penalty charges for exceeding them.

Access and Management – Will you need access to the site via FTP (File Transfer Protocol), Telnet, etc.? Does the host offer a web-based control panel or dashboard that’s easy to use and fits your needs? What sort of statistics and analysis programs are offered? Look for at least the ability to manage things like security, email accounts, and FTP support yourself. You don’t want to be calling tech support every time you need to change a password. Look for a demonstration or screen captures of the management interface to see if it suits your needs.

Operating System and Programs – For basic, HTML-based websites, these won’t likely be of concern, but if you’re planning on a weblog or a script rich site, you may need to check for the inclusion of Perl, PHP, MySQL, etc. Much of the time support for programming languages is included in hosting packages without additional charge, but often databases are only available for an extra fee, or there may be a limit on the number of databases you can have for free. Check the fine print in your prospective host’s terms of service if any of this is important to you. Additionally, keep in mind that Unix operating systems tend to be more feature rich and stable, but if you’re site uses .ASP files they will require a Windows Server.

SSL – If you’re doing business online that requires a secure site, check to make sure your prospective host offers SSL transport layer security and how much it costs.

Email, Multiple Domain Support, Etc. – If you’re planning to have an email address associated with your site’s domain name, you’ll want to check out the email features offered. Is there a limit on the number of addresses you can have? Can you forward email from the server to another account? What are the software compatibility requirements? Is there a web-based email program offered?

Also, will you be allowed to set up additional domains or subdomains using the same hosting account? The ability to at least use additional subdomains can be a very handy addition to a site. Check to see what is allowed and whether or not there are additional costs involved.

Users Rule

When it comes to selecting a hosting provider, the value, services offered and terms of service are the most important considerations, but how do you know they’ll deliver? One of your best resources will be the user reviews you’ll find out on the Web. Yes, some reviewers will have an axe to grind, and you have to take into account relative levels of expertise, but taken together, the experience of actual customers will help you predict what kind of service you might receive. Do a search for “web hosting reviews” and you’ll find any number of credible, reliable sites with reviews and data about your prospective hosting providers.

The process of finding the right provider for your site can be daunting, but if you take a little time to investigate and compare, you’re much more likely to find fast, reliable hosting that meets your needs at a reasonable price.

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