How to Choose a Web Hosting Company?

Nowadays, anybody can afford to order a feature-packed web hosting plan for next to nothing; however, affordable price is not the only criterion which should be considered when purchasing web hosting services. In this article, I'll explain the basics of what you should look for in choosing a web hosting company, not just concentrating on the best price and features, but also on reliability and honesty. You're investing your money and effort into finding paying customers and you wouldn't like to lose them in order to save a few dollars per month on a web hosting service.

When looking for a web hosting company, it doesn't matter if this is just for the inception of a web or the move of an established site; you need to consider a large selection of criteria to determine which company to go with:

Customer support

Website hosting service isn't just storage or bandwidth. Based on personal experience and that of others, even a top-notch service is worthless without customer support. If you own a business website, your hosting provider needs to be there for you 24/7 and give you instant access to the technicians you need to solve your problem; otherwise, you may end up losing customers and money.

Downtime guarantee and service monitoring

Having a personal website go down is a minor inconvenience; having a business website go down is a serious matter. What amount of profit would you lose if your site had been down for a week? Long downtime may be very harmful to today's companies which spend large amounts of money on advertising their websites. Essentially, there are two rules regarding reliability that one should look at:

1. You should check if there is an uptime guarantee offered. A truly service-oriented provider will also give a money-back guarantee, offering a discount or free service as compensation for downtime. Any company which avoids taking responsibility won't put much effort into the service.

2. I definitely wouldn't go with a company claiming 100% uptime, as there is no such thing as a server with 100% uptime. If anyone ever claims their server has a 100% uptime they are either lying or they don't perform the necessary upgrades that prevent a machine from being compromised.

Reputable web hosts will post statistics on their site: What is the frequency of interruption? How about the average percentage of downtime? If these aren't posted, ask; if the answer isn't forthcoming, that should be a warning sign. If you still go with a host which doesn't monitor servers, you'll have to do the monitoring yourself. I recommend www.siteuptime.com, as it's one of the best monitoring services available for free in the market today.

Backups

There is no host which is safe against different types of technical and programical failures, so make sure that the company runs scheduled backups. The other advice would be always having a backup of your website yourself, as you never know what might happen. cPanel, which is the most popular web hosting management software at this time, has a very comfortable backup-making tool. It allows you to backup files and databases quickly and easily, so backups are no longer a problem.

Acceptable use policy

Web hosts may have 200-300 or more clients per server; there is no exact number, as companies have different hardware and each hosted website has different resource usage. There always is a possibility that a few of those customers host illegal content. There are web hosts who have had their servers unplugged, resulting in their clients' websites going down. I'm sure you don't want to put your business at risk and have your website hosted on the same server together with illegal pornography and software sites, so check host's acceptable use policy to find out, if the host takes care of what's hosted on their servers.

Hosting your site on an uncared-for server will also result in a low speed. If somebody on the same server sends spam, the server's IP address will be blacklisted and you'll have serious problems as recipients stop receiving your emails. Use the "Spam database lookup" feature on www.DNSstuff.com to check if a web hosting company is blacklisted. Spam is being sent almost everywhere, so having one or two red records isn't that bad; but, if there are more, it may become a problem later on.

Unlimited bandwidth and web space

In web hosting industry, the adage "you get what you pay for" is almost universally applicable. Do not fall for hosts offering unlimited allowances, as there is no unlimited bandwidth, nor unlimited web space. Host's pay for each GB of bandwidth themselves. Hard drives also aren't free, so how can they say it's unlimited? They simply are performing false advertising in order to attract customers. The average website doesn't use more than 1GB of bandwidth per month; the customer is happy as he bought something "unlimited" and the host gets a new customer, which won't cost them any more than $1-2 USD per month. But imagine what would happen if I had a website, burning much more bandwidth than an average site does, and I signed up with a hosting company offering unlimited traffic? The host would simply suspend my account and tell me, that it was using too much bandwidth. There even are companies which offer unlimited bandwidth and have a statement on their terms of service, explaining that unlimited bandwidth means 40GB, for example.

Will you really own your domain name?

When you buy a domain name together with a website hosting package, make sure the host will register the domain name under your name. It usually should be written in their FAQ, but, if there is no such information, simply contact them. This will also give you an opportunity to check how fast their customer support team replies to inquiries. If the hosting company registers domains under someone else's name, you may have problems switching hosting providers later. If you were in such situation, you would have to file for a Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), which costs much more than both domain name and web hosting service together.

Control Panel

For ease of maintenance, a feature called a Control Panel is a necessity; this tool will normally allow for regular maintenance, be it email mailbox additions/deletions, password resets, web additions, web count reports, statistics and so on. If the site is for any sort of business, this is an absolute must. The most popular web hosting management software currently available is cPanel. It's a next-generation web hosting control panel system that allows you to manage your domain through a web interface. The idea is to transfer as much of the control of managing your web site to you; you have the ability to manage all aspects of e-mail, files, backup, FTP, CGI scripts, and web site statistics.

Value-added services

Hosting companies offer different value-added services in order to set themselves apart from the competition. Of course, these are an advantage, but a common mistake customers make is choosing a host just because it offers many value-added services which won't be used anyway. Some of the really useful features are:

1. Auto-installer script ? Auto-installers will save you time if you are going to install a forum, image gallery, content management system, etc. Installation procedures on an auto-installer script take seconds and can be performed by novices without the need of doing difficult tasks usually associated with installations.

2. Online website builder - It lets you design a website in a few minutes without having any creation software and knowledge. One very powerful website builder on the market is Site Studio; this editor allows for ease of use, full control of color schemes and themes, one-click publishing, and an array of templates to use.

The last tip

In this article, I've mentioned only a few warning signs which are worth considering. You should know yourself that price and allocations aren't as important as the quality of service; if the budget is absolutely limited, then the price can be a valid criterion, but otherwise it shouldn't receive much credence.

By going through this article and asking questions, you can narrow down the list of web hosts to the point where a good, sound decision can be easily made.

About the author:

Karolis Petreikis is the CEO of UPHosted, a company that provides reliable hosting services for both individuals and businesses.

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