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This article was updated on Nov. 6, 2017.
As a small business owner, you’re well aware of the need to have a quality website for your business. Before you build your own site or start your search for the perfect web designer, though, keep in mind that your site’s design is only one piece of the online presence pie. You should be considering how to find the best hosting company and the services they provide.
Why is this important? Simply stated, if your hosting provider is unreliable, your site will also end up being unreliable. An unstable hosting provider can lead to customers losing confidence in your site, negative SEO rankings, and revenue loss. As a business owner, this is serious stuff.
What exactly is web hosting?
First things first. If you’re not well-versed in the language of websites, it might help to think of a website like a house on the internet. That house has two related parts: an address and a piece of land where the house sits. Domain names are like the house’s street address. It’s where people go to visit your website.
Web hosting is like the land where you build your house. This is the space on the internet where you place your website’s files. Typically, web hosting runs on a server owned by a web hosting company — your web hosting is just a small section of that server.
How to find the best hosting company — 7 considerations
While it might be more appealing to daydream about the ideal color combinations for your upcoming website, let’s go over some of the major points that you should factor when determining how to find the best hosting company.
24/7 technical support.
Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at each one of these factors you should take into consideration for how to find the best hosting company.
With storage, consider what type of site you plan to build and how large you plan to make it. For most small- to medium-sized business sites, a few gigabytes of storage is sufficient. But if you’re planning on running a large eCommerce site, for example, you’ll need more space.
To that end, many hosting providers offer “unlimited” storage space on their hosting servers. Read the fine print to understand what this actually means. For some providers, it is actually unlimited, as long as you’re using your hosting service as intended (i.e., for your site, not to store the photos from your son’s kindergarten graduation).
Bandwidth goes hand-in-hand with storage. It refers to the amount of data transfer allowed. That data transfer occurs between the web hosting server and your customers’ computers. What does this mean? If you have a large site and expect to attract a large number of visitors, you’ll need more bandwidth for your site.
Like storage, many hosting providers offer unlimited bandwidth — but be sure to get clarification on what exactly they’re providing as unlimited. In most cases, running over your allotted bandwidth can cause either overcharges on your account, or throttling (slowing your site’s loading speeds down) until your bandwidth count resets.
You’ll want to check on scalability — the ability of your hosting server to provide higher resources on the fly in the case of unusually large traffic spikes on your site. Say your business somehow makes national news, sparking a big wave of traffic to your website.
You want to ensure, before something great like a ton of website traffic happens, that your hosting can handle the traffic spike. You definitely don’t want your site to crash.
Reliability might be framed as the “uptime guarantee” you see while browsing through your hosting options.
Keep in mind that this uptime refers largely to the hosting company’s own servers being up and accessible. It wouldn’t cover other issues with your site (scripting, malware, etc.) that might cause the site to go down. When choosing a web hosting provider, be sure to ask what type of guarantees they offer in case of server downtime.
Read this article to learn more about how to objectively measure web hosting reliability.
Security options from your hosting provider are another important feature. Security vulnerabilities on your site, such as malware and viruses, can cause Google to divert traffic — complete with warnings about malicious content. That can hurt your search engine ranking and make your website visitors lose confidence in your business.
If a web hosting provider doesn’t list security features, be sure to ask. If they don’t have malware/virus protection by default, they may offer add-on options for extra security.
While it’s usually a good idea to keep consistent backups of your site’s files yourself, accidents can happen. With backup services, most web hosting providers will run scheduled backups of your content and store them on the hosting plan for you. This isn’t typically a default feature for hosting providers, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if they have an option for site backups. And if they don’t happen to offer that type of function, there are options for third-party backup services.
7. 24/7 technical support
Among all of the pointers for desirable hosting features we’ve mentioned so far, one feature that can be easy to overlook is quality technical support.
You expect your site to be up 24/7, so why settle for a web hosting provider that doesn’t staff their technical support 24/7?
In addition, you might want to ask if they have hosting-specific technical support that you can contact, since a customer service team dedicated to hosting support is typically able to more quickly diagnose and resolve any issues that might pop up.
For the inexperienced, sifting through the piles of options available for web hosting services can be overwhelming. But with this list of priorities in hand, you’re well on your way to finding the web hosting provider that fits your and your business’s needs.