Once you've decided to get
your business online, you need a web site that is accessible to the general
internet public. This means that you need web pages on a computer that is
connected to the internet which can "host" your domain, hold your pages, and
have the proper programs for feeding the public your information 24 hours a day.
This is what web hosting
companies do and selecting the right host is important because you can waste
valuable time and if you don't get it right your customers may have
problems accessing to your domain. With this simple overview you can avoid many
of the pitfalls and make finding reliable web site hosting companies a more
First let's look at our web hosting choices
Free Web Site Hosting Companies:
- Often requires displaying of some of the host company's advertising
- Might not allow your own domain name
- Usually allows little space and the amount of data you can display in a
- Typically does not include your own IP (needed for secure certificates)
- Little to no support
- Usually geared to up-sell into higher priced hosing
- Best for personal pages and some club or casual sites
See our "About free web site hosting services" page
for more information.
Discount or Budget Web Site Hosting Companies:
- Usually free setup and very low cost monthly fees
- Usually makes offers of the same type of features as full service web
- Usually geared toward up-selling or marketing other items to site owners
- Usually limited space and transfer allowances
Full Service Web Site Hosting Companies:
- Competitively priced within group
- Full time support (24/7) either via phone or live web chat or both
- Tools for managing site such as creating email accounts, statistics,
- Additional applications like calendars, message boards, and shopping
- Usually clearly defined packages designed around tools, support, space
and transfer requirements
Why Select A Full Service Web Site Hosting Company?
The answer to that question is clearer when you think in terms of a
successful business... both yours and the web hosting company's. Budget
and free hosting companies are in the business of marketing upgrades or other
items either to you or to your customers. Free hosting companies rarely allow
the professional image you will need to establish credibility with your
customers and their support rarely, if ever, come close to their claims.
Even though there are good uses for free and discount services (like personal
hobby sites), if you are looking for the lowest costs you should be sure to have
the lowest expectations. As a business owner you may end up frustrated and
spending more money to hire your own contract support.
Budget Web Hosting Company Longevity
We recently reviewed budget sites that were promoted on one
of the popular web host bulletin boards. These sites were promoted in August
2002. Nearly half of them are currently not available. We consider our sites too
important to trust to a company that is web site hosting as a loss leader.
Some budget and free web site hosting companies promote special features such
as unlimited bandwidth. Be wary of any hosting company that
promotes unlimited bandwidth. Bandwidth is the amount of data that gets
transmitted to browsers ( web pages, graphics, audio, etc ) and bandwidth costs
the web hosting company money. Ask them if you will need to upgrade if you have
10 gigabytes of transfer.
Full Service Web Hosting Companies
Which brings us to full service web hosting companies. Full
service web hosting companies are so competitively priced these days that there
is not much reason for serious businesses to ever consider the budget hosts. We
recommend that you start right out with a professional host that focuses their
business on satisfying your needs rather than having you go through the lengthy
learning process of transferring from one host to another. Merchants not willing
to invest a little time and money to get things right may be better served by
staying within the bounds of their "brick and mortar" real world storefront.
Business owners need stability in their hosting. Switching web hosting
companies is not the end of the world but it is also not something you
want to have to do. We want to find a hosting company whose primary business is
web hosting and doesn't just host web sites to lead people into other avenues of
their business. We want stability in a web hosting company so that we can focus
on making our site a success.
Picking the right web site hosting company:
Since Our answering system is
geared toward answering questions for "merchants", we will focus on professional
full service web hosts. This still leaves us with a mind boggling number of
What to look for in a web site hosting company:
- Operating System and Program Language
Capabilities - Most web site hosting companies allow front page on
either a unix or windows based system but if you need .ASP files you will
need to be on a windows based server. Likewise, some windows packages may
not allow programming languages such as Perl. Many companies provide both
windows and unix based hosting though their package rates may differ.
- Full Management tools
including email setup, file management, web based security (to password
protect areas of your site), FTP support (to transfer files), and online
page creation. See if the web hosting company includes an online demo of
their web site manager tool.
- Additional applications that
can easily be added to your web site, like bulletin boards, shopping carts,
calendars, and banner management
- Fast connections to the
internet (T3 connections or better) so the public can get to your pages
quickly. T3 would be acceptable with small hosting companies though OC-x is
- Competitive pricing - Todays
hosting environment is very competitive but be sure to select a company that
can sustain itself. Be sure to review available add-on costs looking for
items that you expected to be included in the basic pricing. We've had the
most success with web hosting companies that have straightforward pricing.
Hosting with a company that has additional price add-ons can end up costing
us much more than the price we expected.
- Physical location of the servers.
Are the servers in the same country as your customers? Is the location prone
to natural disasters or political instability? Are there any other factors
that are involved with that particular location?
- Excellent support and reliability. Some hosting companies
actually *do* know that they make their money by keeping their web site
hosting costomers happy and well supported. Find out how their support
works, the reliability of their servers, whether or not they are the actual
hosting company or if they are reselling someone elses services. Do they
have a disaster plan?
The first 6 items can be
done by checking the web hosts information pages and testing their online demos
of applications. The last, however, is a little more difficult but you can do
some testing by finding the support number on the company's pages and giving it
a call to see how prompt the response is. You can be straightforward and tell
them you are a potential customer and are testing their support availability.
You may even have some questions that you can ask.
Though support and
reliability of web site hosting companies is last on our list, we've found that
most sites moving from one hosting company to another are based on
dissatisfaction with support (typically unanswered questions and recurring or
unresolved issues). It is very important to be reasonably comfortable with the
level of support and competence you expect from your prospective hosting copmany.
One of the best ways
to find a good web site hosting company is to talk to people you know
(vendor/customer relationships, friends, etc) that have web sites and ask them
about their experiences with their current web hosting services. You should be
able to get candid, reliable responses.
And finally, we've put
together a list of web site hosting companies that we are familiar with and
comfortable with the level of support they provide. These web site hosting
service providers can help you through every step of getting your e-commerce web