It used to be that choosing a web hosting company for your small business web site was a difficult and confusing exercise. Thankfully, those days are long gone. Today you can do an online search for web hosting companies and be presented with a fantastic selection of cheap hosting packages, all of them offering a wide range of features.
Choosing among all the alternatives still takes a bit of research. Many people focus on impressive technical specs - available bandwidth, storage capacity, number of email addresses, and so on. But the truth is, web hosting has gotten very inexpensive. You can now get cheap web hosting for as low as $1.95 per month that includes many of the features you find in much more expensive plans.
So how do you go about choosing a hosting company? Here are some suggestions.
**Determine what you need
If you have a bit of web experience, choosing a host can be fairly simple, but if you are without experience, then it might be a good idea to discuss your requirements with a friend, business colleague, or a consultant.
There are also lots of good articles available online that can help. Or you might try contacting the support or sales staff of the different hosting companies on your short list. Tell them what you want to do and ask for their recommendations. Then compare notes after talking to three or four different companies.
Bandwidth, and storage capacity requirements may seem critical, but in fact, it is more important to find out if you can upgrade your service if and when you need more capacity. Every reputable hosting company is prepared to sell you more services when you need them, so don't make this the determining factor in your search.
Determine what “extras" you need. These could include extra space for storing lots of photos. Or you may want database support so you can run a blog, a photo gallery, a forum, e-commerce software, or any number of other add-on programs.
**The Basics to look for in a web host
* 24/7 Live Support by e-mail and Live Chat - There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to get quick response from the technical people at your hosting company. Every reputable host has 24/7/365 support by email. Many now have 24/7 Live Chat as well.
* The ability to easily upgrade your hosting plan - As your business grows you may need to upgrade your plan. This should be a simple, transparent process that does not involve any downtime.
* A web-based control panel - You need this to add or modify email accounts, work with databases, change site configuration, and do basic editing of files.
* 24/7 FTP access - You will want to make changes to your site at unpredictable times, so you will need FTP access to the site at all times.
* Web-based e-mail - Your colleagues and employees will want to pick up their email from anywhere, not just from their primary computer. Webmail is the easiest way to give that feature.
**Extras to take you beyond the basic business web site
1. Shared space or dedicated server - As your online business activity increases your web site will have more traffic, and may require more space. That is when you may think you should move from shared space - where your site is hosted on the same server as potentially hundreds of other sites - to dedicated space, where your site has its own dedicated server.
Since making this move can be very expensive, it is something you should discuss with your host provider. They may have an intermediate solution with a limited number of sites per server. For example, some business packages (see below) limit the number of sites per physical server processor to 50. This gives you something much closer to a dedicated server, with a huge monthly data transfer rate, but without the high cost.
2. e_Commerce capability - Shopping carts let you display your products to customers and allow them to purchase items online. Some hosts provide free shopping cart systems with integrated payment “gateways", that let you get your online store up and running for minimal cost.
3. Other Extras - Some hosting packages include free scripts such as blog software, content management systems, forums, picture galleries and much more. One of the best free packages is called Fantastico. It contains more than 40 free programs, each of which can be quickly installed from within the site Control Panel.
Choose a web hosting company you can grow with
Price and features are important, but they are only part of the story. Find a web hosting company that has a solid track record, offers reliable, technically advanced services, and gives you room to grow in the future.