For a small business owner, choosing a web host can be a make-or-break decision, and yet it’s a situation where many business owners are flying blind. Here are the seven key things to look for when selecting your first web host or if you are thinking of making a change:
1. Start by Ensuring You Can Have Your Own Domain Name. This is crucial if you ever decide to switch web hosting partners, because without your own domain name, you’ll lose your online identity. Even if you believe you’ll never switch, having your own domain name looks professional and can mask the fact that you’re a small business.
2. Ask about Support Options. Your priority is focusing on your business, not learning the intricacies of rebooting a web server, so be sure your web host has good customer support. Talk to references or look for clues in forums and blog posts.
3. Read the SLA (Service-level Agreement). This is the most important document in your relationship with the web host. The SLA is much more important than the payment plan. In the SLA, the host spells out exactly what to expect in terms of performance, system uptime, the frequency of backups, plans for disaster recovery and support options. It will be in very small print and very boring, but read it anyway. The SLA is the only way you can compare service providers.
4. Verify the Host’s Reliability. Since you’ll be betting your business on this partner, once again head to forums and blog posts to find out if the host is reliable. Uptime guarantees will be in your SLA, of course, but you’ll want to be sure the web host has a strong history of living up to its promises. It may sound like high reliability, but 99.5% uptime is not that terrific. Look for something closer to 99.9 percent, which larger web hosts provide.
5. Top Performance Should Be a Given. Your SLA will probably spell out your obligations in terms of connection speed and bandwidth, but make sure a commitment for response time is covered. Many small or free host providers have notoriously slow or unreliable connections, and several experts recommend avoiding free web hosts for a business website.
6. Ask About Your Server Options. Ask whether you will be using a shared server, a virtual private server or a dedicated server. With a shared server, you may find your performance adversely affected if one of your server-mates is running a resource-intensive job. With a virtual private server, you’ll be somewhat shielded from resource hogs and have much more control over tuning the system’s performance. The ideal choice is a private server. Naturally, most hosting providers charge more for a private server, yet you’ll be unlikely to notice a difference between a virtual and a private server’s performance.
7. Check Out the User Interface for Updating Your Site. Is it thinly disguised code, drag and drop, or somewhere in between? Wherever it falls on the spectrum, make sure it’s well within the range of your technical skills to update your site.
8. Confirm that the Host Will Be Able to Support Your Growth Plans. You don’t want to outrun the resources of your partner or have them hobble your growth because they can’t support your higher volumes. Ask them to provide some volume information on their largest customers so you can be sure they have the ability to support your growth plan.
By verifying a few facts up front and planning for growth, you’ll be able to choose a web hosting partner you’ll be happy with for years to come.