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Grow Your Business Technology

Choosing a Web Hosting Service: A Buyer's Guide

Choosing a Web Hosting Service: A Buyer's Guide
Credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

Many businesses look at price when picking a website host, but there are other considerations that may make a pricier option the best bet for your business.

"Getting the cheapest web host is not always the best," said Joe Ardeeser, CEO of Jordan Crown, a Seattle-based website design company. If you are willing to pay $100 for a cell phone bill, he said, why not be willing to invest in something that has a definite impact on your business?

While price is a factor, keep these considerations in mind as well:

How much storage and bandwidth you need depends on your business model and what you do, said Kaumil Patel of GreenGeeks web hosting.

"Those businesses who require data storage and archiving are the ones that should look for larger storage options," he said.

If your website depends on a lot of high-resolution images or if you have a huge inventory, look for more storage. Bandwidth determines how fast information travels to and from your site. Therefore, if you have high traffic, videos or downloads on your website, you should look for plans that give you a lot of bandwidth. Be sure to include room for traffic spikes and growth.

Beware of "unlimited" plans. Often these plans base their claims on the average customer; if your website exceeds that average by a reasonable amount, you may find your site throttled, have extra charges added to your bill or get asked to move to a different hosting plan. Check the terms of service, which better define the limitations and consequences even for unlimited plans.

Security is a top concern for any website, but especially those having to do with eCommerce. "I was looking for security options more than usual, since my site would host an eStore," said Lea Schizas, owner of MuseItUp Publishing.

Most reputable website hosts are PCI/DSS compliant and have SSL encryption. If you are conducting eCommerce or need extra security, however, look beyond these basics. For example, many hosts only encrypt to 128 bits, but the more current standard for commerce is 256 bits, with the next level, TLS v1.1 or higher, becoming the Payment Card Industry Standard in June 2018.

As more and more sites migrate to the higher standard, those with lower encryption will become more tempting targets to hackers.

"The new date of June 2018 offers additional time to migrate to more secure protocols, but waiting is not recommended. The existence of the POODLE and Heartbleed exploits, among others, prove that anyone using SSL and early TLS risks being breached," said an article on the PCI blog.

Other security measures to look for are passwords and permissions that allow employees access to only specific parts of the website administration.

No matter how good the security the web host offers is, you must also make sure your software is continuously upgraded.

"With most sites being run on a content management system, it's critical that the business, no matter who its host is, has someone internally or externally take care of upgrades to the plug-ins, add-on modules and core software on a regular basis – at least monthly," said Erin Pheil, founder of website creation company Followbright. "Even if you are on a host with great security, if your software is not upgraded regularly, you can still get hacked."

Ardeeser said that a key feature to look for is regular (preferably daily) backups and easy, one-click restore.

Daily backups mean that if your website is hacked or compromised because of a programming or other error, you can get back nearly all your information easily. It can be the difference between an hourlong outage and one that lasts days as you recreate the website content. Plus, it's good for peace of mind. "Knowing it has been backed up every single day is comforting," Ardeeser said.

Make sure the host works well with your programming platform – PHP, WordPress or Drupal. These hosts are more likely to be able to help you quickly and competently if your site has issues. Web hosts that specialize in specific platforms can offer even more individualized service. Ardeeser's company, which creates WordPress sites for businesses, uses a WordPress-specific host because it does automatic upgrades and warns its clients about potential problems between plug-ins.

"If you go to a generic company, you get generic support, whereas, with a platform-specific host, support is more specialized and more technical," Ardeeser said.

Many small businesses prefer to create and modify their own websites.

"The building program's ease was a major factor to me," said Schizas. "I wanted the control to go in if necessary every day to update the website. I needed a simple enough program that would allow me to go in and add or remove pages."

Other website tools to consider include email addresses, advertising credit, search engine optimization tools and, of course, shopping cart integrations.

Many web hosts come with their own website creators. Look for those that match your skill level and provide the features you need. For a list of some of the top website hosts with creation software, check our sister site, Top Ten Reviews.

Whatever company you consider, be sure you can trust it to respond to your needs quickly and knowledgeably. Ardeeser said this is especially important if you are working with a small company or freelancer who also hosts. Freelancers in particular can get overwhelmed, he said. He has had clients who said that, as a result, they could not access their sites when they needed them.

Patel also noted that most businesses that have been around for a few years can probably be considered trustworthy, but beware of corporate consolidations.

"There has been a lot of consolidation lately, and many people don't know that when they cancel from one hosting provider and sign up to a new provider that they are actually signing back up to the same company," he said. "Do some research to see if your web hosting provider is independent."

For more information about choosing a website host, check out this Business News Daily guide.

Karina Fabian

Karina Fabian is a full time writer and mother of four. By day, she writes reviews of business products and services for Top Ten Reviews and articles for Business News Daily. As a freelancer, she writes for Catholic educational sites and school calendars and teaches writing skills. She has 17 published novels of science fiction and fantasy. Learn more at http://fabianspace.com