by Karen Kleinman
It’s hard to tell what hosting provider is the best choice for your site is without digging into what all the provider does, weighing the cost of services, and figuring out what your site needs from a hosting provider.
So, what features should you look for in a hosting provider?
First thing to consider is how your website is going to be built. Are you having a professional build your site or are you going down the DIY road and doing it yourself? How comfortable are you with front end and back end coding languages? If you need to build your site yourself and are not comfortable with coding, you may need to consider using a hosting provider that offers a web builder feature such as GoDaddy, Wix, or Squarespace. The web builder is a program that these providers offer that allows you to visually drag and drop elements and/ or type into areas to create the content of your site. They are relatively easy to use; however, when using a web builder, you usually sacrifice an amount of creativity and a level of customization for the ease of use.
The next question you must ask yourself is how often will the content need to be updated and by whom? If your site deals with constantly changing information such as news, event bookings, or product sales or if many people are going to contribute information to update your site, you need to make sure that your provider can host a Content Management System.
CMSs are programs installed and setup on your provider’s server space that allows for different levels of control and editing of a website. There are many CMSs to choose from with the most popular being WordPress, Drupal, and ExpressionEngine. Some have a steep learning curve, others are very intuitive, some require learning a native tagging system. But all CMSs must be updated and maintenance to ensure your site stays secure.
If you are collecting any kind of sensitive information, such as credit card information, government identification information, or other types of information that could pose a risk to the person if someone gained access to that sensitive info, you will need an SSL certificate. An SSL certificate guards private information entered on a website by encrypting it. To tell if a website is using an SSL, the URL will start with https instead of http. In most newer browsers, there is usually a lock icon near the URL bar if the site is secure.
A site’s up time is crucial. If for some reason your provider’s servers go down, your website will also go down. When this happens and people are trying to access your site, they will see a server error message from their web browser.
If your site is very busy with lots of people accessing your site and information traveling back and forth across your site, you will need to make sure your provider offers an affordable bandwidth allocation. Each bit of information sent back and forth is measured, if the amount of traffic exceeds your bandwidth allowance, your site will become non-responsive, inaccessible to users, or even show an error.
You will also need adequate space. Every element of a website from the CMS, to the images and graphics, down to each individual letter of text is measured in bytes. Loading all of this data onto a server takes up hard drive space. A server is just a piece of machinery that holds many drives that holds information. In the case of shared hosting, you and other people are allotted a limited amount of space and everything that makes up your website must be within this amount of space. You will not be able to upload more than what you are allowed, and not having all the working pieces to your website may make it malfunction.
A lot of providers include with your hosting service, a one year domain name rental. Be sure to check exactly the terms from your provider, some companies give a free or reduced price domain for the first year only, then charge full prices for every year after.
Make sure your provider offers email services that are affordable. Most traditional hosting providers include email capabilities with their hosting packages. In some instances, with providers like GoDaddy or Wix, you will have to pay extra to have your email address at your domain name.
Some hosting providers offer Automatic Backup of your site. This is especially helpful if you run a CMS that must be updated and maintenaced often. Having to rebuild your website because of a failed server drive, a hacker job, or buggy update is a real headache, especially if you’re having to pay someone to do it.
One of the last things you should look for is contact information and customer support availability. Make sure that contact information is readily available and easy to find, and not buried in your hosting provider’s website. You want a point of contact that you can easily pick up a phone and call, and not just email or online chat, for help with technical issues as well as billing issues.
Look for a provider that offers 24 hour/7 day a week support. Test their support, if there is an online chat feature, initiate a chat to see if the company responds quickly and with relevant information rather than a bot that follows a set script depending on what you typed into the chat. Call and talk to a salesperson to set up your account and ask questions to test their knowledge.
The final test is to spend a few minutes doing an internet search on the provider for customer reviews. Don’t always trust the reviews posted on the provider’s website.
Choosing a hosting provider can be difficult with so many to choose from, but most all providers typically offer many of the same services and at competitive rates to get your business. It’s worth the time to investigate the providers you are interested in to save money and headaches down road.