One of the most important decisions you'll make as a Web site owner, Internet marketer or Webmaster is choosing a reliable Web hosting service. Sorting through a multitude of hosting companies and making sense of the various service plans offered, can certainly be intimidating.
Knowing what to look for and the kinds of questions to ask will help you to make an informed decision that ultimately saves you money and grief. The aim is to find the provider that best serves your particular needs. And there lies the key -- your particular needs.
You should have a clear vision of your Web site's purpose.
- How is it going to be used?
- What do you intend to accomplish with it?
- Will you be selling products, or simply providing information?
- Will there be interactive forms on your site for subscriptions, referrals, surveys and so on?
These answers will be useful in helping you decide on the best hosting package for your type and size Web site.
A smart way to begin your search is by soliciting feedback from friends and associates who already have a Web presence. Their responses will usually be candid and insightful, and you could then followup on your own.
Another approach is to visit discussion boards and online forums like WebHostingTalk, where you'll find informative posts and discussions complimenting reputable providers and griping about unsavory ones.
Host directories is another resource you could utilize. Simply typing "host directory" (with quotation marks) into your favorite search engine query box will return thousands of pages for you to investigate.
The next step is to compare service plans, features and tools. Here are areas you need to look at closely:
Technical Support: This ranks at the top of my list of priorities. You must have help when you need it. Support should be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and should be accessible by telephone, email, online forum or even live chat. The size of the support staff and the number of customers they service are also good information to have.
Customer Service: It should be prompt, professional, courteous and effective. The quality of this service will play a major role in developing (or destroying) a mutually beneficial business relationship. Test this yourself by calling or e-mailing the company and making note of how they handle your query.
Storage Capacity: You will need to know how much hard drive space you get and how much it will cost if you need to increase it. The amount of space you need depends on the size and type of your site. Generally 25 to 35 MB is more than enough for a small site. If your site is an art gallery or music site, for example, with lots of image and mp3 files, this area will be particularly important to you.
Bandwidth: Bandwidth refers to the amount of data that can be transferred per month. Pay attention to the limits allowed under the different plans. Recognize that as your site gets busier, your bandwith requirements will increase. Most hosts charge additional fees for usage that exceeds the normal allocations, so be sure to read the fine print.
FTP and Telnet Access: File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is used to transfer files to and from servers on the Internet and allows you to manage your web site. If your site permits visitors to download software, see whether you can set up an FTP site exclusively for downloads. If you have large files for download, find out if the FTP site permits the resumption of interrupted downloads. Most FTP programs can accomodate this today.
The Telnet protocol is one with which many users are not at all familiar, but it is still used extensively. It's useful for troubleshooting CGI scripts and changing server configurations. Not all servers allow Telnet access.
Platforms UNIX / NT: UNIX is the most popular platform in use today on web servers. It is reliable, easy to configure and flexible. Setting your own file permissions is a snap. It supports scripting languages like Perl and PHP. Most of the free scripts available for download are from the UNIX platform.
Microsoft's NT is favored by the next largest number of hosting providers. Scripts that work on this platform are not as readily available as with UNIX, and NT users often require assistance from their Web Host Administrators to set file permissions. NT supports MS applications such as ASP, Access, Front Page and scripting languages such as Perl and Cold Fusion.
E-Commerce: A robust Web hosting company should be facilitating your e-commerce needs with shopping cart software, merchant account setup support, secure real-time credit card processing and so on. They should have a library of scripts to accomodate forms, statistics and guestbooks on your site. Support for Real Audio, Real Video, VRML, Java, Shockwave, Cybercash, secure transactions and other utilities should also be available.
Some Other Considerations.
* E-Mail Boxes & POP Aliases: Are you permitted a limited or unlimited number of e-mail addresses?
* Autoresponders: A powerful on-line marketing tool for putting your promotions, sales letters, brochures or catalogs on autoreply. How many are you permitted and are they sequential?
* E-mail Forwarding: Self-explanatory and convenient.
* Mailing Lists: You must have the ability to develop your own mailing lists. This feature is essential to successful Internet marketing.
* Web Mail Access: Allows you to retrieve e-mail from any computer connected to the Internet.
As you can see, several factors ought to be seriously considered when selecting a company to host your Web site. This is an important decision. Be diligent. Do your homework and be prepared to be flexible.
Choose a host that has been in business at least a few years, and who offers features that can be upgraded as your Web site expands. Your company image hinges on the reliability and service of your web host.
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