A recent client of mine wanted me to design a web site for his event. I gave him several choices of hosting companies, yet he chose to go with a very cheap alternative. “It’s owned by a friend of mine and he’s giving me a great deal,” the client said.
I shuddered a bit as past experience with cheap web hosting companies had really screwed up client web sites at the worst time possible. To help confound problems, the client emailed me on a Thursday evening to say he’s moving up the event and needed the site uploaded and ready to go by Friday night. It seems the event was now going to take place on Monday morning.
As the event was originally suppose to be a week later, I told him I would need to spend a sleepless weekend working to get it done and up Sunday night at the latest. We agreed on a few shortcuts so the site could be uploaded by Saturday night and then have a few additions made after the event.
I asked for the web host information and then got some more great news from the client – the host company’s help desk hours was Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM, Pacific Standard Time. No night or weekend hours.
Knowing Help is a Call Away
There are many considerations for choosing a web hosting company. One of my big concerns is being able to get help right away with any problems. Uploading a site is one thing but then debugging it is another. Every host has a different dashboard for customers and while most are intuitive and can be figured out with a little time and patience, some just need a handy help desk person to hold your hand and walk you through set up, upload, debugging, updating, etc.
As a web designer, I have repetition as a crutch when it comes to working with a host’s dashboard but the small business owner who may purchase a pre-designed site or work with a template, uploading can be a nightmare. A friendly help desk is very important!
More importantly, what do you do when your site goes down, is hijacked or injected with malware? I’ve known plenty of top sites that have experienced these problems. Can you afford to have your business site down or blacklisted for more than 24 hours?
Hackers and automated bots infect websites with malicious computer such as malware. Security companies, search engines, browser manufacturers, and others will prevent or warn users from visiting these compromised sites in order to protect those visitors. Hacked websites may also be used to launch spam and phishing campaigns. For example, a compromised site might try to convince Internet users to visit a fake banking page, buy products, or something similar. This can cause sites to be blacklisted, too. Once your site is blacklisted, it’s a tremendous pain and extremely time-consuming to set things right. All the while, you lose business… and reputation.
A great help desk will jump on problems right away and solve the problem for you. It’s all about customer service.
Naturally, most of these problems are not traced to the hosting firm. If you pick a weak password, have an insecure FTP connection or use third party add-ons that harbor vulnerabilities, you are just asking for trouble. When in doubt, ask your friendly help desk associate and they will make suggestions that will assure you of a functioning and safe site.
Service Comes in Many Forms: What Do You Choose?
24/7 services is just one factor you need to consider when choosing a hosting firm. Coming back to support issues when it comes to working with your files and the host, even if you’re the least tech-savvy person in the world, there are some things – installing WordPress, setting up email, setting up FTP accounts – you should be able to do without calling your hosting company’s support line. Does your provider use cPanel or Plesk to make updates and modifications easier, or do they use some clunky interface that no one can figure out? You’ll most likely be the one working with it, so if you can’t figure it out, then that’s going to be a problem.
Another problem with hacking, that is on the hosting side is server level vulnerabilities. A large number of web servers on the Internet run vulnerable software, such as easily hackable FTP software. You might have to do a bit of reading (or question-asking) to get to the bottom of what hardware and security measures a hosting company has. Does it have properly configured firewalls and uses SSL data encryption for all of your website information? SSL data encryption changes sensitive data from plain text into a code that will make it difficult for hackers to access and steal.
What kind of machines does your hosting company use? Are they top-of-the-line, out-of-the-box new machines, or are they stuck together from what might be spare parts and chewing gum? If the hosting company doesn’t say what kind of servers they use, you’ll want to ask, since hardware can affect the entire performance of both their servers and your site.
Sometimes, even though website and server administrators know about vulnerabilities in the server software, they forget to patch these security holes—leaving them vulnerable to hacks. These issues are primarily related to server setup and configuration. Improper permissions settings can give malicious hackers access to your files. It’s another area to ask and/or read about before choosing a host.
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Price is the aspect most people will look at first when choosing a hosting provider. Don’t be fooled because it shouldn’t be the deciding factor. When you see price differences it’s helpful to remember that you get what you pay for. Things like non-outsourced support and quality hardware cost money, and a hosting company that has the lowest monthly charge probably won’t offer these features. Take a closer look at the features that each host provides, and THEN you can compare prices. Your site is the first part of your company customers will see. It speaks of your brand, which represents your professional standing and reliability.
Price isn’t just VALUE. A big part of your choice has to be – What makes this hosting company special? What extra incentive do they provide to make hosting your site with them more attractive to you as a business? Whether it’s multiple data centers, energy-saving practices, or additional features such as regular data backups or free domain privacy, hosting companies often offer more than just servers. If you see one that offers something you need or find important, that can be a good indicator that you should look into using that company.
As with the neighborhood you choose to live in for your lifestyle, not all web hosts are right for all different kinds of customers. Some offer great shared plans but don’t have solutions that are good for a growing business; while others have great enterprise solutions but aren’t the right fit for someone with a small personal blog. Look into a company’s specialty or area of expertise before you book their service. Go with one that understands your particular needs as a customer. You want to stay with one hosting company as changing your site from service to service is like packing to move your home. It’s a pain, disruptive and stressful.
Will your site continue to grow and evolve? You need to consider this very carefully. Figure out what you want it to do and where you want it to go in the future. If you’re hoping to host a blog, an e-commerce site, rich content, and videos, then you shouldn’t go with the cheapest hosting package you can find. A cheap hosting plan probably won’t have the RAM, processing power, and disk space to serve all these needs, and you’ll spend more time dealing with downtime or load issues than you would like. Look to see what you are getting with the cheap host and what features are included in the cost. Do they charge for additional domains, support, backups, etc.? Your site is a business cost and a tax deduction. Don’t skimp when it comes to your business.
Email contact/management is one of the important elements of your site. How many email addresses will your host allow? Do you want one address for yourself, one for billing, one for information, etc.? Does the host allow for tie-ins with email solutions such as Constant Contact? Does it allow list building and management?
What happens if your email address is hijacked and used for spam? Does the hosting company provide an adequate solution to stop it and/or investigate who has stolen your email? Spamming can bring huge fines, so you don’t want to be left alone without a support system through your host. Look into or ask about your provider’s spam solutions and general email practices.
Reviews from customers are a good key to how satisfied you’ll be with a web hosting company. Sure, a company may put lots of information on their site and make lots of promises when you call to ask questions but response time to help tickets, security issues, the use of popular web features like WordPress blogs or Joomla content management system and other special features, along with flexibility and growth potential are big considerations.
Some Final Thoughts
First of all, as with the opening example in this article, never schedule a website launch on a Friday. Because there are so many technical details (and risk of error), do not plan “go live” dates for the end of the week. If there are going to be problems when DNS modifications are made, you want to be there to address them right away. Otherwise an entire weekend can go by before you can fix a problem. If you are a business that wants to launch on a Monday, aside from needing a hosting site that has 24/7 technical help, you may need to pay weekend rates to a design firm to have them put in weekend hours to make sure everything will be ready to go.
It’s a better idea to just plan to get your site up and functioning and THEN announce it to your customer base. Have your marketing plan in place; go live with your site and you’ll have all elements ready. If you fail to plan and rush at the end to make a hard and fast date, don’t be surprised if things go wrong.
The web changes almost daily with evolving technology. Will your hosting choice be able to handle it? When it comes to finding the best Web hosting service, there is no right answer. Choosing a web host is a little like choosing a phone company, there are many plans to choose from and you need to carefully consider how you plan to use your phone before you can find the plan that is best for you.
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If you’re a small business, you need to consider how you will service your site, add updates and monitor analytics, comments (if you have a blog) and handle any problems that may pop up. Can you do it yourself, do you need an active help desk or will you have a web master on your staff?
If you are a web designer, will part of your service be to line up and recommend or book a web hosting service for your client? Can you make them happy with a higher fee for hosting so their site will run smoothly? Will there be one site with which you can create a strong working relationship for multiple sites and clients?
All of these are factors that you must consider. Once you have chosen a hosting site, you should plan on being with that site for a very long time, so choose wisely based on your immediate and long-term needs. If you find the host you have chosen isn’t working out, you may have a 30, 60 or 90-day escape clause. Act quickly if there’s a problem. Trust your gut if you feel you’ve made a mistake. The purchase of a web hosting contract is one of the most important business decisions you will make in marketing and advertising your business.