For small businesses, finding the right web hosting company isn’t all that different than renting space from a good landlord. You’ll want your web host to be reliable, honest and there when you need them. And, of course, you’ll want it all at the lowest price possible.
A web host is the company that “hosts” your web site on its server, making it visible to everyone else on the World Wide Web. And, while it might sound simple, good customer service and dependability are not always a given. Whether you’re using your site for marketing purposes or to sell products (called e-commerce), you’ll want to make sure your host is reliable.
Web hosting companies differ in a variety of ways. Some offer shared servers, others offer a variety of more private server arrangements. [MORE: Best Web Site Hosting Companies Reviewed and Rated]
Many web hosts offer other services, as well:
- Domain Name Registration
- Web Site Templates
- Custom Web Site Design
- Shopping cart functions
- SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) for E-Commerce
- Compatibility with a variety of open source and paid programs that will allow your site to function as you would like.
Depending on which of these features you need, the price for web hosting can vary widely. Prices can range from $3.50 a month to $20 a month for hosts that offer shared hosting. Sites that offer dedicated servers exclusively for you can cost hundreds of dollars a month.
There is also the issue of bandwidth. Bandwidth will determine how many customers can visit your site at the same time while still allowing it to be functional. You’ll want to make sure that your host offers the bandwidth to serve your needs. If you’re just promoting your business with your web site, you won’t need as much bandwidth as you would if you were selling products. The other key issue to consider when choosing a web host is whether the amount of bandwidth available to your site is flexible.
"Let's say you're a small business and you don't need a lot of bandwidth," said Rick Whittington, President of Rick Whittington Consulting in Richmond, Va. "Then, suddenly, you get featured on Oprah. You want to make sure that sudden increases in traffic don't keep people from being able to access your site."
Whittington also suggests that you make sure your web host offers nightly backups. This means that if you accidentally lose or delete something from your site, your host has a backup copy available to you.
Customer service is also key. Figuring out which hosts give the best customer service is probably best discovered by asking around and reading customer reviews. Experts advise that you make sure your host has customer service reps available around the clock.
"Good customer service is very, very important," said Jacob Morgan, Principal at Chess Media Group, a consulting firm in San Francisco. "It's easy to pick the cheapest service, but it may well end up costing you more in the end."
Morgan said that being able to call any time and get a problem resolved is especially important if your site's problems are keeping your customers from buying.
Protecting your site from security breaches—i.e. hackers and viruses—is important, too. Morgan suggests you review a web hosting company's policy regarding the level of responsibility they are willing to take for security problems.