One of the important decisions you will ever make for your website is selecting a reliable web hosting service. Shopping for a web host can be a really challenging task and that’s what this article seeks to help you with.
For starters, you should have a clear idea of your business requirements and all the functionality you’re planning to add to your web business. Based on these, you can look around and choose a web hosting provider that meets all your needs.
Here are some pointers to help you deconstruct the elements involved in web hosing and simplify the process of finding a suitable service.
1. Shared, VPS and Dedicated Hosting
I loved this analogy that InMotion Hosting wrote on their blog – “Shared hosting is compared to owning an apartment in an Apartment complex; VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosting as owning a Condo and Dedicated hosting as owning a House.” It all depends on your specific requirements. If you’re just starting out, you don’t need VPS or a dedicated server. You can start off with shared hosting and upgrade as your traffic increases. The type of hosting you choose determines the resources your website needs, to run without much downtime.
In the shared environment, if you have high traffic and lots of functionality in your website, it will hinder the overall performance of your site and the entire server. You will face more downtime and some web hosts will shutdown your site if they find that it is causing problems for all others hosted on the same server. The solution then is to upgrade to VPS and may be later to a dedicated server as you grow. The above mentioned article also provides guidelines on when to make the switch.
So when you’re choosing your web host, check if they have a facility to seamlessly upgrade your service. This will help you avoid problems later as it is a bit difficult to switch between hosting servers.
2. Available Space
This defines the amount of storage space you are allowed to use on the web server’s hard drives. Hosting providers allocate space on their servers for everything related to your website (content, images, emails, etc.). While some web hosts offer unlimited hosting space, some of them allocate space based on the hosting plan you select. The more expensive the plan you choose, the more space you are allowed to use.
You need to ensure that your web host is offering you enough space for your online business. It would be better if your web host has a provision to contact you when you’re nearing the threshold limit, rather than simply cutting you off.
Bandwidth is the total amount of traffic to and from your website. Some web hosts place a limit on the number of visitors that can access the site. Should there be a spike in traffic to your online business, your website might get shut down if it exceeds the bandwidth threshold. If you do not plan on getting hordes of visitors, you can opt for a plan that offers limited bandwidth. But if you are expecting a lot of traffic to your online business (for example, a deal site), you should opt for a web host that offers unlimited bandwidth.
4. Control Panel
Wikipedia defines control panel as:
A web-based interface provided by the hosting company that allows customers to manage their various hosted services in a single place.
You can access just about everything regarding your hosting and your website from this interface. Your website administration is made easy through the control panel.
When you choose a web host, the control panel is one of the important aspects you should consider. Control panels are of various types and have varying functionalities. Many prominent web hosts use the popular control panels such as cPanel and Plesk, but there are some that use their own custom-made versions. Some versions might not be user friendly, so you need to ask for and check the demo control panel before making the purchase. (If you ask for my recommendation, I’d suggest that you go with cPanel.)
5. Email Facility
Most providers include email facilities in their hosting packages. This allows you to have a customized email ID with your domain name, such as, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The email facilities you might need to verify with your web host include:
- Number of email addresses allowed – If you have a team, each person may require a separate email ID. And you may need additional email addresses for customer support, sales queries, etc. You will have to ensure that your web host provides as many email addresses as you may require.
- Charge for email services – Does the hosting provider charge extra to provide an email facility or additional email IDs?
- Ability to set up auto-responders – This is required if you’d like to set up a system where an auto response is sent for each email that your business receives.
- Group email services – This facility ensures that everyone on your team can have access to mails corresponding to the same email address (for example, a support email ID).
- Email aliases – This is simply the facility to forward all the emails you get on your business email address to one particular email ID that you’ve chosen. For example, emails from email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com are all directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A database is required to install software and scripts on your website. The database is where all your software specific data will be stored. For example, you need a database for installing the blog platform WordPress on your web server. All your blog posts, user details, comments, etc. will be stored in that database.
You need to check how many databases are allowed with your chosen plan. If your online business requires more installations, then you might need a package that has more databases.
7. FTP (File Transfer Protocol)
Most hosting providers provide FTP, which is the facility used to transfer files between your computer and the web host’s server. FTP access is required to upload your website’s files, images and scripts to the web server.
You might want to check with your web host if they permit anonymous FTP. But this is only required if you need to allow your end users to upload files anonymously, without your permission.
8. Customer Support
All web hosting providers provide customer support, but not all of them are effective. Let’s face it, when establishing a business online, you will face technical snags. When you do, you need the assurance that your service provider will help you resolve the technical issues and get your website back up and running.
A few things you need to look for are:
- Availability – Can you contact the hosting provider at any time – 24×7, 365 days a year?
- Accessibility – Do they have a dedicated phone line, email address or live chat to help you resolve your issue?
- Accountability – Do they allocate a support ticket for your technical problem that you can refer back to, if it remains unresolved, or if you face the same problem again?
- Response Time – How long does it take for the support person to get back to you with a solution?
Hosting your website is going to cost you, so you need to have a budget in mind before your purchase it. Some web hosts charge a standard rate, but most of them offer different pricing plans based on the services your require. I recommend that you take a note of the basic services you need from your hosting provider and pay only for that. For example, shared hosting is cheaper than dedicated hosting. So if you can made do with a shared hosting account, you need to pay a lesser price.
Add-ons are provided by web hosting services to make you a sweeter deal that you cannot refuse. As the competition is very high, you will see many attractive add-ons as part of the web hosting package. Add-ons range from free website builders, free domain names, free ad credits from Google & Facebook, and many more. But please don’t choose a web hosting company, just because the add-ons seem good. The first 9 points I’ve mentioned above are more important while deciding on your web host.
I hope this breakdown of the services offered by web hosting providers has given you a clearer picture of what you need to look for when choosing one. Stay tuned for a list of prominent web hosting providers that will be published tomorrow.
Today’s Action Step: Make a list of all the facilities your online business requires from a web hosting provider.
Click here to catch up on all the posts in this series.