How to Choose the Right Web Host for Your Site - dummies

How to Choose the Right Web Host for Your Site

By David Karlins, Doug Sahlin

After you determine your site needs from the server, it’s time to choose a web-hosting service. Like any industry, you’ll encounter varying degrees of competency and customer service, so take the time to some research upfront before you commit.

Getting answers to the following questions will help you settle on a dependable and trustworthy service:

  • Does the web-hosting service offer a shared server or a dedicated server? When a host offers a shared server, other client websites share the server with your site. Comparatively, a dedicated server hosts your site on one server dedicated to your site. As you can imagine, a dedicated server is more expensive than a shared server.

    For example, hosting your site at HostGator can be purchased for as little as $3.95 per month, while a dedicated server with HostGator starts at $139 per month. A pitfall to opting to use a shared server can be poor performance if another site (or several sites) on the shared server gets a lot of traffic.

    And if you do choose a hosting service with a shared server, check first whether you have the option to have the site moved to another server if you have an issue with performance.

  • Does the web hosting service guarantee percentage of uptime? Many web hosting services advertise that their servers are up a certain percentage of time. Industry standard is around 97 percent.

  • How long has the web-hosting service been in business? Startup companies can have teething problems and may experience technical difficulties. Fairly young companies can also experience cash-flow issues, especially in today’s turbulent economy. If a company has been around for a couple of years, chances are that they’ve got their act together.

  • Has there been a recent change in ownership? Big companies buy small companies. And although change can be good, if the new owners don’t have a track record in the industry and none of the old management staff has been retained, this could be a recipe for disaster.

  • Do the web-hosting services you’re considering have redundancy in case of computer problems? Most web-hosting services have redundancy in the form of a chain of backup computers on their server in case of a problem. Another important fact to know is whether the service has set up redundant power circuits to the server and a generator, and also how often they check the redundant circuits and generators.

  • What is the web-hosting service’s backup protocol? A good web-hosting company will back up its servers on a regular basis. When you’re shopping for candidates, find out how often the company backs up its servers.

    Then, find out how easy (or not) it would prove to get your site restored in the event something goes wrong (which in the worst-case scenario would be a hacker destroying the site). Most services back up their sites once a week.

  • Does the web-hosting service allow you to make your own backup? Even though your web-hosting service backs up their computers on a regular basis, there may be a fee to restore your site should disaster strike. However, many web-hosting services let you create your own backup through the control panel. This gives you the power to create a backup whenever you want, and store it on your own computer.

  • Does the web-hosting service have the latest version of server software? Like all other software, server software is upgraded on a regular basis to support new features, thwart the latest hacking techniques, and so on. Make sure the companies that you’re considering have the latest version of the software they use on their server.

    The service will tell you what version they’re using, or you can find it in the site specs. Then you can go online to see if it’s the latest version of the software.

  • How easy is it to get technical support? A good web-hosting service will provide a toll-free number that gives you access to 24/7 tech support. Having said that, a toll-free number is fairly useless if you have to wait more than a few minutes to reach a competent specialist.

  • How knowledgeable is technical support? There’s nothing more frustrating than being connected to a technical support representative that has no real knowledge and is searching through a database in an attempt to find the answer to your problem. A good web-hosting service will have a system administrator available at all times to solve difficult problems.

  • What do people who have used the web-hosting service say about it? Find out what current and past customers have to say about the web-hosting service. The easiest way to do this is to ask for the URLs of the service’s current and past customers. Go to the websites and contact the webmaster and ask for her level of satisfaction.

  • Is the web-hosting service flexible? In this economy, it’s never wise to purchase more than you anticipate you’ll need. However, you should find the hosting plan that best suits what you anticipate will be the future needs of the site.

    Make sure you have the option to quickly and easily upgrade or downgrade in the future without having to pay a service fee to change plans. For example, you may not need a blog now, but if you think your site might need one in the future, make sure the web-hosting service you choose can support a blog, and make sure you can easily change to another plan that supports future needs.

  • How quickly does tech support solve a problem? This information may be difficult to acquire when you’re looking for a web-hosting service. However, current customers can tell you how competent tech support is and how quickly they solve a problem.

    When you’re looking for a web-hosting service, ask the sales staff for the URLs of sites that currently use their service. Contact a couple of webmasters and ask them for their assessment of the support staff. Another ploy you can try is calling tech support before you choose a service.

    If you’re on hold for a long time, this gives you a clue that they may not have a large customer service staff, or they have lots of customers that are experiencing problems with the service.

  • Does the web-hosting service offer e-mail? Most services do offer e-mail, and you want this functionality. If you are looking at a service that doesn’t offer e-mail, disregard it. When you set up a commercial website, you want an e-mail address that’s associated with a domain. Visitors and customers feel more confident communicating with instead of