UPDATE: This web hosting services post was first published on 28 September 2018 and updated on 30 June 2021.
In the digital age that we live in today, every business must have a website. In fact, it’s as essential as a business card, a brochure or a logo. But after you create your website and web pages, these all need to be stored somewhere, where everyone can access them, around the clock. That’s where web hosting services come in.
This article will explain what web hosting is, and how you should choose a suitable hosting company for your business website.
A quick definition
To explain the concept of web hosting services, we are going to relate it to a common analogy in which the internet is like one large country.
- Each website must have its own plot of land in that virtual country.
- Every plot has an address, so others can find it easily.
- These plots exist on various web servers, most owned by web hosting companies like GoDaddy.
- The web hosting company that owns the server rents its plots for a fee.
Like finding a rental space for your startup, finding hosting for your website requires a bit of comparison shopping.
How to choose a web hosting services company
There are different kinds of hosting plans — some designed for very large businesses, others for startups with basic websites.
Depending on the nature and scale of your business, you could choose between shared or ‘classic’ hosting, dedicated hosting, a virtual private server or cloud hosting. Read more about the different types of hosting here.
Now for our checklist:
1. Server location
It’s best to have the web server nearest to your customers; the closer your customer is to the server, the faster your website will load for them. Load time matters to your business, as most people will wait just three or four seconds for a page to load before clicking away.
As you survey hosting companies, ask yourself these questions:
- In which country is your target audience?
- Does the hosting company have a server in that country?
- If you serve customers globally, do they have servers in multiple countries?
By answering these questions first, you can rule out any web hosts who don’t meet your needs.
Go with a reliable and trustworthy web hosting service. Check how long they have been in business. Do they own the servers or are they leasing from another company? Look for the kind of brands and customers they are serving. All of this will tell you if they are worthy of your business.
Of course, this may be a key consideration. Do they offer flexible pricing plans with different features? The option of monthly or annual plans, and paying only for the features you need, will help control costs.
4. Storage space
How much storage space does the plan offer?
A simple website needs far less storage space than a photography or gaming website that stores many large files or uses resource-heavy applications.
Be sure you get enough storage space for your needs.
You should also ask about the process to increase the storage when the need arises. An easy process is better, since you may need to respond quickly to a sudden traffic surge.
5. Backup and restore policy
Are backups included in the plan or do you have to pay an additional cost? How often does the web hosting service back up (daily/weekly/monthly)? And what is backed up?
Daily backups are a standard good practice — even more so now that ransomware is so prevalent. In this scenario, hackers take control of your website and hold it hostage until you pay them a hefty sum.
6. Ease of migration
In spite of your best efforts, you might change your mind about your web hosting service. You could be dissatisfied with your web hosting company and want to move your website to another server (at another company).
Some web hosting companies make migration very difficult, for obvious reasons. So, check their migration policy in advance.
7. Control panel
The web hosting company usually provides a control panel — basically a dashboard for use by your website developer or manager. But how much control do they give you? Do they provide full access to the hosting control panel? Involve your website developer in the evaluation of this feature before settling on a host.
8. Uptime and bandwidth
Uptime refers to the amount of time in a day that your website will be viewable on the internet. If your website is unavailable, visitors will see a ‘404 error’ which is a code for unavailability of the page.
Most people who receive a ‘site unavailable’ message will assume your website no longer exists.
That’s why it is important to have maximum uptime. This can only be guaranteed if your web hosting service offers good bandwidth and has a strategy (and architecture) to prevent downtime. Can the web site company guarantee uptime? To what extent? Typically, it will be a percentage like 99.9 percent uptime.
You should also find out how they handle scale and high traffic. If they do not have good infrastructure, then your website could crash if too many visitors come to your site. Do they have regions, zones and mirror sites to handle scale?
As I mentioned before, websites do get hacked — even small websites. Hackers will:
- Change the content on your web pages, posting embarrassing or alarming content.
- Change your access password and lock you out until you pay a ‘ransom.’
- Mount DDoS attacks that make your website inaccessible to your customers.
That’s why it is important to check what kind of security certifications and standards your host supports. Try to find a reputable host that offers 24/7 monitoring and protection against DDoS attacks.
10. Reliable service and support
There should be a good, responsive system for service and support. Good hosting companies offer multiple levels of support like chat, email, calls and WhatsApp. How quickly do they respond when they receive a query? If there is a technical problem, it should be resolved at the earliest.
Good luck as you search for web hosting
I have listed 10 considerations in this article, and I know that there are some more. But the ones I haven’t listed are the very technical ones.
For most business owners, the considerations listed here should suffice.
I strongly recommend that you read the customer testimonials and reviews for any web hosting service you’re considering. If possible, talk to some customers of that hosting company. What has been their experience, especially with uptime, service and support?
You do want to focus on your core business — and not worry about the downtime and security of your website. Find a reliable and trustworthy hosting company and let them take care of that.