I've been through this a few times-looking for a good web hosting company. First two times I didn't even know where to start. So first two web hosting companies I went to were GoDaddy and iPower. First one was GoDaddy because at that time it was the only one I knew after their notorious Supwerbowl commercials. I heard about iPower from a colleague-we did domain name registrations with them, and I learned that they also offered cheap web hosting. Right around that time we needed to host a few websites so I signed up for iPower virtual private server which was only $35 per month.
To make this story short, since that time I changed a few hosting companies. With some of them I ran into a lot of headaches and frustration, but some are really good. I'd like to share a few things I learned during the process, as well as give a few tips for choosing the right one for your business. To help you select, here are the main criteria to consider:
Uptime, service monitoring and backups
Uptime guarantee is crucial if your business website brings you customers and revenue. How would you feel if your site was down because of the hosting company network problem or a server where your site is hosted goes SNAFU or FUBAR? What if you lost all your data? You'd start losing your customers and revenue. That's why you have to look for a company who offers best uptime for their hardware and network. Additional questions to ask the company is about their premises security and bandwidth redundancy.
Secondly, you have to know if they monitor their service of if they find out about a problem only after you call tech support.
And finally, you have to know if they offer daily backups. If server with your site goes down, and trust me, this can happen-it happened to me-then you risk losing your site and most importantly, your data, especially if you have an e-commerce or content website with all data being stored in the databases. Ask hosting company if their backups are on-site or off-site. Off-site backups help keep your data more secure.
Good and quick tech support is extremely important, and I would say, vital. In this area you have to get answers to these questions: Is their support proactive or reactive? The difference is, reactive support is taking care of the mess once it happens. Proactive support is making sure mess does not happen. Secondly, what is the availability of the tech support? Is it normal business hours 8 till 5 EST Monday through Friday when you live on the West coast, or is it 27/7? Trust me, there might be cases when you will need tech support awake late at night. And lastly, you have to have an idea of how long do you would have to be on hold in order to speak with tech support specialist and how quickly do they typically respond to support tickets.
Location of the datacenter
If your target market is concentrated around a certain geographic area then one factor you might want to take into consideration is where the datacenter is. The idea is that the closer datacenter is to your site's visitors – the faster pages will load. Below I will explain why I went hosting in LA.
Here you would have to start with assessing your web site's requirements and your budget. Is your site a simple static one or does it use web applications and databases? How much traffic to your site do you anticipate? How much hard drive space do you need to host your site? Do you need Windows or Linux hosting, or it doesn't matter? And lastly, how much can you afford paying for hosting, because hosting plans can range from around $4 to hundreds of dollars for a managed dedicated server. If you have a static 12-page site and you don't attract thousands hits a day then basic hosting will suit you. It will cost you only $4-$10 per month. If your site will serve dynamic content, especially media content such as audio or video, you will need a more advanced hosting plan. In general the idea here is to have all the necessary features and more then enough included bandwidth, and stay within budget or even consider a higher budget if you need to.
Control panel allows you to perform multiple tasks related to your hosting account, such as managing email accounts, editing DNS settings for your site, managing FTP users, passwords, view system performance and bandwidth reports, etc. Most popular control panels today are cPanel and Plesk. I've used both and I prefer cPanel, but I'm comfortable with Plesk. Control panel choice is really up to the person who will manage your site -yourself or your IT personnel.
Prices and fees
I already mentioned that when choosing hosting company and plan you have to take into consideration your budget. But there are some thing you must learn about the hosting company first, such as set their up fee, bandwidth overage fee and you got to know if they will charge you for every little thing you ask them to do or will they do minor things for free? Otherwise you might end up signing up for what seems to be a cheap plan but then you'll end up paying more then you anticipated when all other fees add up. Also, find out if the company offers money back guarantee. If they do then you can walk away from them within first couple weeks if their service does not suit your needs.
Hosting with your web design company
Usually hosting offered by your web design firm is a rip off. They charge for their hosting service a lot more then a web hosting company would and they don't offer any extra benefits. You'd be better off subscribing to a hosting plan on your own-this way you have more control over your cost, your web site and your data.
Now, I'd like to give you a few practical tips for selecting the right company.
Thing to do before you subscribe
- Do a research: read reviews about different hosting companies. A great on-line resource about web hosting is WebHosting Talk. Don't trust testimonials on the hosting companies sites-ask current clients.
- Try their tech support: it's okay to call their tech support line. Why would you do that? Well at least you will get an idea of how long you would have to wait to get a live person. With some companies it can be under 2-3 minutes, with others-sometimes over 30 minutes. With iPower I could spend even over 40 minutes waiting.
- Test speed: there a few ways to get an idea about how fast a certain hosting company's servers are-you can ping or traceroute them, or do a speed test.
- Try them: a lot of hosting companies offer 7 – 30 day money back guarantee. Don't hesitate to subscribe for their service and test it, and take your money back if you are not satisfied.
Finding the right hosting company is an extremely important step in building your business's online presence the right way. When not done right it can cause a lot of frustration and even cost you time, customers and money. At the other hand, the right hosting can keep you worry-free. Secondly, as with all other purchases, you are looking for the right balance between cost and value.
And finally, here's a short list of of my favorite hosting companies.
- Shared hosting: Elief.com. Because we are in the Los Angeles area, my main criteria for the hosting company were geographic location (their datacenter is in LA, so visitors to our site from the area get a great download speed) and attractive packages. Also, Elief is not a huge company so you get a more personal service. And their tech support response time is really good.
- Virtual Private Server or Dedicated server: for these I would undoubtedly choose Liquidweb.com. I've had their dedicated server for about two years now and I was almost 100% satisfied with their quality of service. Their hardware is great, they have two safe datacenters with off-site backup. And most importantly, their support has been always excellent-proactive service monitoring, ultra quick response to support tickets, almost no hold time on the tech support phone line. Highly recommended!
- Colocation: if I needed a colo, I'd go with ISWest.com. First of all, this is because we're in LA and both ISWest datacenters are in LA. I've visited two of their datacenters and was impressed by their infrastructure and safety measures. They are not cheap but are definitely worth it.