Choose a Reliable Hosting Provider for Your Web Site

Choosing a hosting provider for your Web site can have a huge impact on the performance and accessibility of your site. Pick a reliable hosting provider, and managing your site can be fairly headache-free. Pick a bad one, and you could have a nightmarish experience with unreturned calls, unanswered e-mails, and a Web site that’s unavailable to visitors.

Unless you have your own server and other equipment in-house, and the technical know-how or staff to run them, you’re going to need a Web-site hosting provider. Hosting providers are third-party companies that lease out Web space by month or by year, similar to office space. In addition to space on their servers, they offer varying degrees of additional services.

There are some key things you should ask about when researching hosting providers. Factors include the amount of traffic your site receives, how complex your site or application is, how much storage space you need, and so on. The best hosting provider is the one that meets your needs and provides the right balance between quality and value.

  • Customer service: One of the most important elements of a good hosting provider is their level of service, which can range widely. How easy is it to contact them for support, and how quick and helpful is their response? You can get a feel for this by asking a few questions of different providers in advance. Don’t let them intimidate you with technical-speak. They should be willing to answer your questions promptly and in an understandable way, or they aren’t the people you want to work with.

  • Server: The type of server software they use is critical. To ensure enough flexibility for search engine optimization (SEO), make sure you go with either an Apache server or a Microsoft IIS server.

  • Dedicated versus shared IP: If you have a small site that’s just getting started, you might initially share an IP address with other sites. Having an IP that hosts only your Web site, however, is preferred for many SEO-related reasons. This is called a dedicated IP. Here are good things to find out from a prospective hosting provider:

    • If the IP will be shared, ask how many sites share it (the fewer, the better).

    • Ask if they offer dedicated IPs, and find out how you would get one.

  • Uptime: Uptime means the percentage of time the site is up and running, not including scheduled maintenance periods. A guaranteed uptime of 99% is not uncommon, so make sure you’re contractually covered.

  • Bandwidth: The amount of bandwidth available to your site determines how much traffic your site can comfortably handle. Bandwidth refers to the flow of data transferring over an Internet connection. You can think of it like a pipe — the pipe’s diameter determines how many gallons of water can flow through it at the same time. The bigger the pipe, the more water it can transfer. The higher the bandwidth, the greater the number of consecutive visitors your Web site can handle. You need more bandwidth if any of the following are true:

    • Your site is large (in number of pages).

    • Your site has a lot of traffic regularly at peak periods.

    • Your site serves many Flash and sound files, or has large images, audio, video, or other elements that require a lot of bandwidth to display.

  • Storage: File storage space is cheap, and most hosting providers give out a generous amount even to the smallest sites. However, more storage space is needed if you plan to have a ton of image, audio, or video files on your site. If you’re going to operate a social media site (a Web site enabling user participation and consisting of user-generated content) where people can upload their own videos, for example, you want to be prepared with lots of storage space to hold them.

  • Server capacity: This refers to the processing power of the server. You know how a new computer always seems to work faster than the old one did? That’s because it has a much more powerful processor. Similarly, server capacity affects the performance speed and capacity of your Web site. If your site application requires a lot of processing power, ask about how they allocate server capacity and strongly consider requiring a dedicated IP.

  • Scalability: Scalability means being able to expand your server resources as needed. If and when your Web site business grows, you want to be able to scale your server resources up to deliver the same or better site performance. You also may want to add storage space, bandwidth, or server capacity to your site at peak times, or all the time. Make sure you have a flexible hosting environment that is easy to adjust as your site needs change.

  • Clean IPs: You don’t want to move into a bad neighborhood, so you want to make sure your site isn’t on a dirty IP address. Because you have no way to know in advance what IP address you’ll get, make sure it’s written into your service level agreement that you require a clean IP that’s not blacklisted (listed on anti-spam databases).

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