You’ve just returned home from a well deserved and relaxing dinner out with friends after a long hard week launching an extensive promotional campaign for your web site. Before deciding to call it a night, you can’t resist checking your e-mail one last time to see how many orders have come in over the last few hours.
When you click on your e-mail “Inbox” link, you’re met with a long pause….The message, “Can’t Connect to Server” finally appears.
A slight tingling begins in your fingers. You wonder how many important e-mails have been lost. You then wonder if the problem is with your connection, the e-mail server, or worse yet, your web site.
Sure enough. The web site is down. You call your web site hosting company. The voice mail message tells you that office hours will begin Monday morning. As suggested on the voice message, you submit an emergency support request by e-mail.
Suddenly, a feeling of complete helplessness comes over you. Suddenly, you realize that you are no longer in control of your own website.
This situation happens to many people around the world each week and always at the worst possible time such as a Friday night or right after a big promotion hits the streets.
It happened to me too more than 10 years ago. I discovered two weeks later that my hosting company was acquired by a larger, national ISP. Upon changing servers, they had mistakenly wiped out my account.
There I was completely dead in the water for 14 days. I had no one to call and no one to send an e-mail to (e-mail support wasn’t even popular then). The only action I could take was to wait.
I had always wondered what the most important component was about a website. Was it the graphic appeal? The functionality? The copywriting? The search engine rankings?
I learned that day that the most critical element of a website is accessibility.
If your website can’t be viewed by people, it’s useless. If your web server is down, your business doesn’t exist in peoples’ eyes. If people can’t see your products to order them, they won’t. If they’re visiting you for the first time and can’t, they won’t come back. If your web site goes down, time is critical.
It took another two years of trial and error with various web hosting companies; but I finally figured out the secrets to choosing a web hosting company so that problems can be minimized if not avoided all together.
Here are my findings and I hope they help you to choose a web site host wisely, the first time around:
Step 1 – Understand that cheapest is not always best – Hosting prices can range from being free to several thousands of dollars a month. Unless you have huge files, unusually high visitation or require database connectivity (such as PHP with MySQL), there are few reasons that would justify your need to pay more than $20 a month for hosting of your web site. However, there are definitely reasons why you should not try to scrape the bottom of the pricing barrel either just for the sole purpose of getting big company website hosting. The remaining steps are usually where the cheaper alternatives cut their corners and how to make sure you’re getting the most for your money.
Step 2 – Make sure YOU own your domain name – Some hosting companies will offer a “Free Domain Name” of your choosing if you sign-up with their hosting plan. If you want to pursue hosting with such a company, be very clear about exactly who owns the domain name once it’s registered. More specifically, ask them exactly who is listed as the Registrant. If it’s not you, you will not be the owner of the domain name. This could cause big problems in the event that you ever need to change hosting companies and/or desire to transfer your registered domain name.
My suggestion is always to register your own domain name at a registrar where you are totally confident that you own the domain name. Once I found that system for myself, I became a reseller of those services and now direct all my clients here BestDomainPlace.com (Yes, I do get a tiny commission if you buy domains through this system), and then select a web site hosting company.
Step 3 – Make sure the hosting company offers *AT LEAST* phone support or live chat – Many people who conduct business on the web love to make contact with their clients by e-mail. This is because responses to problems can be made at leisure. In the event that you have real trouble with your web site, you will want help immediately…not at someone’s leisure! Sending e-mails and waiting for support tickets to be responded to can sometimes take a week or more before the problem is solved. If getting problems solved quickly is important to you, demand a web site host that offers support by phone or at least live chat with a support tech.
Step 4 – Choose Linux/Unix hosting – As popular as the alternative might be, I’ve found that web sites with the highest percentage of up-time and lowest probability of being hacked are hosted on Linux/Unix. The operating system just seems to be more stable, pages deliver more quickly to the browser, and web-based functionality processes more smoothly in this environment.
The most popular content management system on the web today, WordPress, runs far more efficiently on Linux. So, if you plan on getting a new website in the next few years, most web masters will suggest your website should be implemented using WordPress.
Step 5 – Be sure you can update your site day or night – Whether you design or maintain your own web site or pay someone else to do it for you, it is critical that additions and changes can be made whenever they need to be made. Basic site changes are commonly made through some sort of software program like older programs such as Dreamweaver, Contribute or FrontPage but content management systems have definitely come of age and are the preferred tools for maintaining content such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal.
Be sure that access to your site files will not be denied on weekends or after business hours.
Step 6 – Know what features you need and why you need them – When you talk to a web site hosting company (and PLEASE talk to them rather than just conversing by e-mail!), they’re going to (or should) ask several questions about your intentions so that they help you choose the right hosting plan for your situation.
Will you be managing a forum or a searchable database within your site? Or, will your site be simple with just 4 or 5 pages of information for visitors? How many e-mail accounts will you need? Do you have any additional domain names that you’d like to point to this site? Will you require a shopping cart with online transactions?
Have a solid plan for your site before you buy-in to a web site hosting plan.
Step 7 – Be sure you are provided with detailed visitation statistics – It is so simple for a web hosting company to offer detailed statistics these days and knowing where your visitors are coming from is so important.
Many web hosting companies do not offer any type of visitation statistics. Some tell you they do, but they’re so limited or indecipherable that they’re really of no help. Others offer statistics for a small monthly fee.Occasionally, you’ll find someone (like one of my web site hosts) that provides detailed and graphical statistics down to the page level–for no additional charge. Here is just a basic list of what you should be able to track from your web site visitation statistics utility:– Number of unique visitors per month- Did they type in your domain name or enter a key word in a search engine?- What keyword(s) did they use to find you?- What search engines are people finding your site listed on?- What page are they entering and leaving your site?- Is there a day or time of day that most people visit your site?
Step 8 – Know if there are any e-mail limitations or violations – When you host a web site that includes use of a company domain name, it’s important to have your e-mail address associated with that domain name. If you have a hotmail account listed on your web site, it’s just not as professional. If your web site address is www.yourcompany.com, then your personal e-mail address should be email@example.com. For this reason, most hosting companies will include a certain number of e-mail accounts that will include your domain name so that you can have some more generic accounts such as firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org for example. What you name them should be up to you.
There are two important priorities with company e-mail accounts:
1) You should be able to access your e-mail from any computer and ALSO have the ability to pull those e-mails to your computer using Outlook Express or Firefox or whichever web browser you’re currently using, and
2) There should be no limitation (within reason) to the size of an attachment that you can send or receive.
Step 9 – Make sure they’re not on the “bad list” – Most web site hosting companies will not take the time to give you references. Even if they do, the references are usually hand-picked so you’re likely to not get a good representative sample of clients hosted by a particular company. But, a web site hosting company really has to tick someone off to get listed on a bad list. So, before you choose a host, check a few complaint sites and see if they’re listed. Here are a few that I use most commonly:– The Complaint Station– PlanetFeedback.com
Step 10 – Listen to referrals made by others – I’ve used web hosting companies from the U.S. to Australia and I can assure you that the best host I’ve ever used is “our own” web hosting servers. That’s right, HereNextYear has offered website hosting and email hosting since 2007.
My recommendation to you is this. If your web site has complexities of any kind, host your website with a local company where you can walk in the door to talk to the owner if you need to. Meet everyone you can on the support staff so that the next time you call or e-mail with a question or problem, you’re not just another complaining customer.
Your website host must be responsive to you. If your website has a problem, it’s your business and your reputation that is at stake and they must genuinely care with you about your success or it’s just a matter of time before a damaging problem results.
In Summary – To use the Internet to its fullest potential for your business begins with finding a web site host that will partner with you in your venture. You want a company that will be committed to your success and will not just see you as another account taking up space on a server.Most importantly, you don’t want to have to worry whether your web site will be “up” for people to see and use from day to day. You should be spending your time building your business.