I live in a fairly small town, about 20,000 people in the city limits. Suffice to say, most of the small businesses in town don't have a website. Forget search engine marketing, heck some are still on dialup.
But such is life (not) in the big city. If for some odd reason, a local business actually decides that they need a website, they still have no idea the few purchases (domain, hosting & web designer) that they need to make just to get that site up and running. Web hosting is the most foreign of the three to the average business owner.
So today I'm going to help Mister Joe Average out there who's running a business selling appliance parts or running a local drywall company.
Web Hosting Defined: A service that allows users to post web pages to the Internet. A web host, which is also called hosting service provider (HSP), is a business that provides the technologies and services needed for websites to be viewed on the web.
Basically, web hosting is the virtual real-estate that you lease which you build your website upon. You rent out a portion of a hard drive on a server that is connected to the Internet.
So how do you go about picking out a web host? There are tons of them out there. Some are professionally driven, and some are run by a 15 year old high-schooler. Here are some quick and easy ways to pick out a good host.
Pre-tips Tip: This may be a personal bias, but if you're planning on marketing your site, I suggest you stay away from Windows-based hosting. The options with Linux servers are much better, and there are plenty of them out there, don't be at a disadvantage right from the get-go.
Tip 1: Check Out Reviews
To get started, visit a site like Web Hosting Blue Book or WebHostDir and check out the reviews. Keep in the back of your mind that every web host has problems, from cut pipelines to hurricanes. Things happen. But things shouldn't happen over and over. People will always complain, but they won't always tell the whole story.
While I'm on the subject, I should also mention that just because the companies are on the first page of these sites, it doesn't mean they're the best. It just means they have the most advertising money 🙂 Take time to do a little research before you decide which way to go
Tip 2: Test the Support
Probably the number one thing you'll hope works, especially if at 2:00 AM your host's web server takes a dive. Once you've settled on a few options for hosting companies, I suggest you pick a time and send the company an email, asking something generic such as the speed of their servers. Then watch the amount of time that it takes them to reply. If they don't have a support email address available, hopefully they at least have a support form that you can fill out.
Either way, see how long it takes them to reply. Try to write to the 'support' team and not 'sales'. Any sales team should be on the ball because they want your money, so ask something thats a bit more technical and you're more likely to get a response from a support-type person.
Tip 3: Google Search Other Forums for Complaints
This kind-of goes back to tip one, checking out reviews. But instead of reading reviews on a website built for such things, just do a search on Google at sites like WebmasterWorld and Digital Point to see what other Average Joe's are saying about their hosting company.
Tip 4: Disk Space Isn't That Important Anymore
Disk space used to be a big selling point for hosting companies. Over there you can get 10Gb, here you can get 100Gb. It doesn't matter for 99% of the people looking for hosting.
Let's say the average HTML page takes about 8k or so of space. That means you'll need 125000 web pages to fill up one Gigabyte of disk space. You think you're small business will have that many pages?
Tip 5: Worry About Bandwidth? Yeah, Maybe - But Probably Not
Bandwidth is the amount of data transfer that goes from your web host to various visitors' computers. Every time someone pullsup your home page, they're downloading that 8k file, and your web host will tabulate that. More than likely, your small business won't have to worry about bandwidth, as these limits are rising as well. The average web hosting company gives 10Gb or more with their base hosting deal.
So unless you're planning on 'serving out' some pretty big files, such as MP3's or videos, you probably don't need to worry about bandwidth.
Tip 6: Easy to Use Control Panel
All web hosting companies offer some sort of a control panel where you can set up things like your email addresses, create subdomains and check your stats. In my opinion, stick with a company that offers cPanel or Plesk, the two most popular control panels.
Hosts like GoDaddy, which offer a lot of 'extra' stuff to their customers (sometimes all their ads get annoying) has a (IMO) really bad control panel. I've done some work for a customer that hosted there, and I hated it.
Tip 7: Payment Plans & Contracts
Good news - web hosting is cheap. Bad news - web hosting with good support is cheap, but harder to find
Most web hosting companies have hosting starting around $6/month or so. Usually the 'cheap' package will suffice for most small businesses. Plus, you can always upgrade if you find out that you're going to need more room or bandwidth.
I have noticed that some hosting companies are now requiring their customers to sign up for two years instead of one. They usually offer a nice discount, and are counting on keeping you and getting those residual payments to make up for their upfront loss. Be careful choosing one of these, because they'll require payment up front. Then, if you aren't happy with them, you're stuck with hosting you've already paid for. You can always move to another host, but you won't get your money back from anyone.
Some hosting companies still allow monthly payments. These payments may end up being a few dollars more a month, but may be the way to go if you're not 100% sure about them. If after a few months, you're satisfied, see if you can go to the yearly (usually discounted) pricing plan.
I hope these tips help you pick out a hosting company that'll knock your socks off with their service and pricing. In my opinion, support is the number one deciding factor when choosing a hosting company. With my hosting company, its something I rely on a lot. If my customers can't get the support they need, they're going to go elsewhere, and I don't want that!