Advice for choosing website hosting

Identifying the right web host is a more important aspect of establishing an effective web presence than many people realise. Making a well-informed decision about choosing website hosting can save you a lot of headaches further down the line.

To an uninformed person it’s more than a little tempting to go for the cheapest price from one of the large hosting companies, of which there are many hundreds to choose from.

On the other hand you might feel more comfortable buying hosting from your web developer, without realising that he/she is just buying space at one of the big hosting companies anyway.

Yes, choosing the right hosting package can be a bit of a nightmare! Here’s some tips to try to give you some insight into questions to ask before you buy.

Web hosting options

Free hosting. All I’m going to say about this is that you usually get what you pay for. I don’t recommend this route even for website newbies who just want to dip their toe in the water with a business start-up. What you’ll often find is that if and when you want to transfer your website domain name, let alone the content, the process can be tortuous, to say the least.

Shared server. Shared servers are a good option for many, certainly as a starting point. You and sometimes dozens, if not hundreds, of other websites share one server. It’s the hosting equivalent of flying economy class; nothing wrong with it at all but you can’t choose your neighbours. All’s fine usually, but there can be issues that impact on the loading speed of websites on the server. Using a shared server to begin with doesn’t mean you’re stuck there forever. Just about every web hosting company provides facility to upgrade hosting to a virtual or dedicated server facility.

Dedicated and Virtual servers. These cost much more money, because your site enjoys better perks than in economy class on the shared server. There is likely to be better security, important if you run a data-base driven website like WordPress.org site. You’ll also benefit from lack of issues caused by other sites slowing yours because of overloads on the server (the brief explanation without getting too technical here). On a virtual or dedicated server your website can stretch out in its own ‘pod’, which means that if other sites on the server experience an issue, yours is unlikely to be affected.

Cloud hosting. Most of us are familiar with working in the cloud, using services such as Gmail, YouTube, DropBox, Twitter and Facebook. The benefit of cloud hosting facilitates is users being charged only for the resources used at the particular time, which is likely to be much cheaper than buying a pre-defined package for resources that are expected to be used, but quite often aren’t. NB This is not usually an issue for start-ups, or for many websites in the longer term.

Therefore, while ‘cheapest’ isn’t a good criteria on which to base a hosting choice, throwing money at a more expensive option isn’t necessarily going to be a good option either. It’s checking what you’re going to get for the price you’ll be paying that’s important. Here’s a checklist of some of the basics I’d advise you to look into before making a decision on which web hosting provider to choose.

Quality of service

I advise people who lack much in the way of technical understanding, when it comes to websites, to choose an option that allows you to speak to support staff on the phone, not just by email or live-chat. When you hit a problem there’s nothing worse than feeling you don’t know where to start, or the questions you should be asking to sort the issue.

Contract/terms and conditions

Terms and conditions can be quite onerous to read but it’s very important to understand the pros and cons of what  you’re buying into. Quite often the contract ties you in for set period, so make sure there is a get-out clause and a money-back guarantee if you’re not happy with the  service provided.

Back-ups

Ask how frequently the hosting company back-up the information on their servers, including the server that’s going to host your site. If they’re not backing up their systems on a daily basis, go elsewhere.

Server location

I advise people to have their website hosted on a server that is based in the country where they are wanting to do business. The implications being that success in Search can by influenced by server location. As a rule of thumb, my advice to those with a business in the UK is to make sure the location of the website hosting server is actually in the UK, many aren’t.

Downtime

It’s inevitable that servers experience issues that have to be fixed, but if the hosting companies servers ‘go down’ then so will your website. Any reputable hosting company will have systems in place to deal with ‘downtime’, to keep interruption of service to an absolute minimum. Ask the questions “How do you…” What do you…”

Web space

This is the amount of physical space you will be allocated on the server, which is like the physical space you have  available to use on your computer. This is particularly important if you are planning to upload a lot of image files, or want to embed video on a regular basis. NB It is quite usual practice to ‘pull-in’ video for display on websites from service providers such as YouTube and Vimeo. Video uploaded to these service providers can display on a website, for the user to view, without taking up web space on your web hosting facility by actually being embedded into the site.

Email addresses

If the hosting package you’re considering doesn’t offer email addresses (name@yourdomain.co.uk/com etc) then look elsewhere. I’d also advise you don’t consider a hosting package that doesn’t allow you at least 3 email addresses, because you’ll probably find you need more than one before you’re very far down the line.

Domain names

If you don’t already have a domain name and need to buy one, check out the costs being quoted as it could be that a cheap hosting package is offset by an expensive domain name purchase. A .co.uk domain name is bought for 2 years, which is renewable, with a usual price-tag of about £7. A .com domain is purchased on a yearly basis at a cost of around £10/year. Costs for other domain endings vary tremendously, so shop around before you buy.

NB You don’t have to buy a domain name through the hosting company you want to use. Domains are transferable between servers and any hosting company should provide instructions on how to transfer in or out of their facility. However, do check that the hosting company you wish to transfer from isn’t going to charge you for the privilege of transferring away from their servers. (there should be no charge for a .co.uk domain, but there is usually a small charge for .com because it’s a bit more involved).

Further help and advice

If choosing a web host is something you feel completely out of your depth with, or need further advice about the options discussed above, then please contact me and I’ll be pleased to offer further guidance.

This will be the first of a series of blog posts about aspects of developing an effective web presence, to run alongside a series of workshops I’m presenting for the eBusiness club. If you subscribe to this blog by leaving your email address in the box on the right hand side you’ll receive all new blog posts, nothing else, direct to your inbox. (You can un-subscribe at any time).

Other blog posts you may find helpful:

Practical workshops in website development

How do you get to feature on page 1 of Google?

SEO basics 2013

Need help with social media marketing?

 

 

 

 

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