How to Choose the Right Hosting Company
Choosing the right hosting company for your Website can be confusing and cumbersome. Learn what to look for in order to optimize your online presence.
Web hosting is the anchor to your online presence. You can have the greatest Website in the world, but if it isn’t up for all to see, what good does it do? With the plethora of choices available to you, we wanted to help make the process a bit easier.
Here are a few tips to help you become an educated consumer in the vast world of Web hosting:
The Free Domain Bait
Although it sounds appealing and may not always be a bad deal, there are a few areas of precaution to be aware of when getting a free domain with your hosting package.
The biggest precaution is that you may be getting poor hosting service with your free domain. Free domains are most often given away with hosting packages and are sometimes used to disguise inflated pricing. Domains can be obtained for a mere $10 or less per year and it is far more important to invest in your Web hosting – the two are not mutually exclusive and don’t need to be obtained through the same company. If you have to pay for your domain in order to get the best service, make the investment. Check with your preferred hosting provider; they should be able to transfer the domain to their registrar on your behalf so you can keep everything under one provider.
Another thing to be aware of is that the free domain you obtain may have hefty annual renewal fees. Perhaps it’s free the first year, but if there’s a $19.99 or $29.99 charge each year thereafter, you really aren’t saving money in the long run.
Separate Domain and Hosting
Again, domain registration and hosting can be purchased through separate companies. Don’t be strong-armed into purchasing a hosting package with your existing provider simply because they happen to be where you obtained your domain. As we alluded to before, most reputable hosting companies will allow you to transfer your domain registration for free, so find the best long-term value for your online presence. This means putting hosting first and foremost.
What’s the difference between 99% uptime and 99.999% uptime? We won’t bore you with the technical jargon, but the difference between the two percentages is pretty substantial. Check out this chart describing what the differences mean in terms of hosting outages, otherwise known as “downtime”:
What does all of this mean for you? Well, if you ran an eCommerce site 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, the difference between 99% and 99.999% would mean down time of over 100 minutes—per week, or over an hour and a half. If you’re concerned about customers contacting you, making online purchases or registering accounts during that 100 minutes, that extra percentage may prove to be very valuable. Extrapolate that over a year and you’re looking at almost 4 days of down time. So, when a hosting company touts even a 99.9% uptime guarantee, be aware that you may have substantial downtime hosting on their servers—10x more downtime than 99.99% and 100x more than 99.999%.
Data Transfer (Traffic/Bandwidth)
Data transfer is the amount of bytes transferred from your site to a visitor when they are browsing. Most Websites operate under 3GB of bandwidth in a given month, but media (such as music, video, etc.) can really bump those numbers up. As traffic to your site goes up, so does the bandwidth usage.
Although many hosting providers claim to give unlimited bandwidth, be sure to read the fine print. A lot of these companies will actually charge you for using in excess of bandwidth you thought to be unlimited. Also look into what the hosting company will charge for overages.
You are undoubtedly going to come across extremely inexpensive, if not free hosting options and there are some things to watch out for. The biggest thing to watch out for is the add-ons that may not come with your package, such as email account(s), email forwarding, ftp access, etc. You may find that the add-ons that you need cost more than it would had you gone with another company. These things should all be included with your hosting package so factor them in to the budget when making your comparisons.
Some cheaper hosting sites also have limitations that may affect you down the road, such as what file types you can upload, size limitations. You don’t want to get down the road and find out that you can’t make necessary additions or changes to your Website. Those limitations may also come in the form of reliability, speed, and bandwidth, so do your homework.
There are also hosting companies that will advertise on your Website in exchange for inexpensive (or free) hosting. This can come in the form of pop-up ads, advertising frames around your Website, and banners throughout. Make sure this is something you are okay with, although we recommend avoiding it altogether.
Servers – dedicated vs shared
Many small businesses are looking to shared hosting as a solution for their Websites, which basically means that you are sharing server space with dozens, if not hundreds of other sites (depending on the provider). The benefits of this are much lower rates, while the drawbacks can be a little more complicated.
If something happened to another Website hosted on your same server, your Website and it’s traffic could be impacted. Likewise, when your Website takes off, that increase in traffic may crash the server and knock you offline, not to mention everyone who’s sharing your server. One of the major factors in determining Website speed, and ultimately where you rank on Google, is how quickly that server is able to work. For that reason, it may be beneficial to fork out the additional money for a dedicated server, sometimes referred to as Virtual Private Server (VPS) or Virtual Dedicated Server (VDS). Another option is to scale up to a VPS as you see the amount of traffic to your Website increasing.
When shopping for a hosting service, make sure there are flexible tiers available based on the amount of traffic you are getting. When your Website takes off, you want your hosting to be able to handle the spikes in traffic and not crash the servers. Additionally, you want to make sure that the spikes don’t cost an outrageous amount for “excess usage”.
Email, POP3/IMAP, Mail Forwarding
Many companies will include at least one email account as part of the hosting package, i.e. [email protected] (we recommend a company that includes unlimited email addresses). Do they provide the ability to receive email on your email client? Your phone or tablet? This is done through POP3/IMAP protocols and your hosting provider should provide you with the tools necessary to do that. They should also provide the capability to access mail via your browser, such as webmail like in Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo! Perhaps you only want to check your personal email account but want the domain to match that of your Website; your hosting provider should allow email forwarding in this regard.
Like bandwidth allocations, some hosting companies use disk space as a method to draw you in. The caveat being that most Websites need less than 1GB of space, so don’t weigh your decision too heavily on “unlimited disk space”. Consequently, if you plan on hosting numerous videos and other large file types, make sure you’re not opting for 5MB packages or other small varieties.
No one can prevent glitches 100% of the time nor predict when they occur. Having 24/7 phone support is highly recommended when choosing a provider. The last thing you need is your ecommerce site to go down and not have any support available to you.
Another thing to watch out for is outsourced support, which often gets farmed out to other countries. While the technical skill may be there, you always run the risk of language barriers, so we recommend finding a hosting company with support local to you.
SSL, otherwise known as secure servers, are designed for Websites where privacy is of concern for the end user. If any sensitive and/or personal information, especially financial information, is exchanged on your Website, you will need SSL. Even with third-party payment gateways, such as PayPal or Google Checkout, having SSL gives your customers a sense of trust (this comes in the form of the “https://” prefix to a Web URL rather than “http://”). Furthermore, recent algorithmic changes to Google search indicate that SSL will continue to be an important factor in search rankings, regardless if your Website collects sensitive information.
SSL generally comes at an additional cost, but make sure the Hosting company you choose at least allows you to set it up if you are ever planning on taking payments on your Website. Note that SSL is generally provided by a third party, but you should be able to purchase it through your hosting company.
A control panel, or cPanel, is the medium for managing backend aspects of your Website, such as adding or deleting email addresses, performing backups, changing passwords, installing and updating platforms (like WordPress), getting FTP access, etc. Avoid any hosting provider that requires you to go through technical service to do these things.
Multiple Domains and Subdomains
If you have intentions of hosting multiple Websites, you will want to make sure a hosting company has this option. Oftentimes, a hosting package might include up to 5 or 10 domains under one account. Likewise, if you are considering having any subdomains (like shop.yourdomain.com), you want to make sure the option is available, if not included with your hosting package.
Some hosting companies are resellers of an actual hosting company, meaning they are selling a service on another company’s behalf. With that, you run the risk of a technical team that knows very little about the system they are selling. This can cause issues when a technical concern does arise and your support ticket has to go through multiple levels of transmission. Although there are some good options out there for hosting resellers, we recommend saving yourself the risk and avoiding this option.
Some hosting companies offer free data backups. Although we do not recommend relying solely on hosting services to do your backups, it’s a nice feature to have. If ever you accidentally erased one of your directory files or had another catastrophe resulting in your Website going offline, having quick access to automatic backups could get you back online in minutes instead of days, weeks, or months.
When you want to secure your branding by capturing the .com, .net, .org, misspellings, etc., you want to make certain that you can park the domains with your hosting company (and have them redirected to your main domain). This ensures that you do not miss out on any potential traffic.
FTP (file transfer protocol) is the quickest and easiest way to make changes to your Website files. It gives you direct access to your server and allows you to transfer files from your computer to the network in a drag-and-drop manner. This is essential for any Website and access should be included with your hosting package.
Solid State Drives (SSD)
SSD’s are drives that offer higher performance than traditional drives, some upwards of 20x faster. For visitors to your Website, this means having your content delivered to them that much quicker. Many reputable companies offer SSD’s; however, only a select few will include them with their hosting packages. In fact, most companies won’t even offer them under shared hosting packages, so be sure to research your options with your hosting company of choice.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one Website and hosting, otherwise known as Website-as-a-service, options like Shopify and SquareSpace offer great solutions, but lack the control some companies like in hosting. Website-as-a-service is an animal in and of itself, so we’ll go in greater depth in a subsequent post down the road.
There are many great options out there for Web hosting. One of the biggest keys is finding the company and service that are right for your Website or blog. If your business depends on your Website being up, we recommend taking extra precautions in making sure it’s up and running when you need it most. At ONtrepreneur Academy, we have had great experience with InMotion Hosting. Not only has the uptime been great (99.999% guaranteed), we couldn’t be happier with the impeccable customer support when we needed it most – like when we needed to scale up our servers at a moment’s notice. The bottom line is that you generally get what you pay for and Web hosting is not an area you want to shop haphazardly for.
Where can I sign up?
We’ve had such a great experience with our InMotion Hosting family, that we decided to partner up with them to give our tribe an exclusive ONtrepreneur Academy rate on your first year. Just click on the link below:Sign Up for InMotion Hosting
Also, check out the writeup we did about our experience with InMotion Hosting.
Thank you for taking the time to read our post. As always, feel free to contact us at support [at] ONtrepreneurAcademy.com with any questions. If you haven’t had the chance to take our course on Business Model Design, head on over HERE to check it out! And if you’re looking for exclusive offers, online business tips, and more, be sure to sign up for our free newsletter below.