Selecting a web host: Five top tips

Filed under: Web Stuff

Decision Time

You’ve created your website and are ready to share it with the rest of the world, but where are you going to host it? There are almost as many web hosts as websites these days, or at least it feels that way, so choosing a web host is not an easy decision. Hopefully the following points will help in making this important decision.

1. Know your requirements.

The starting point when selecting a web host is to clearly understand your requirements. Once these are known, it is much easier to evaluate any potential supplier by matching a suppliers offering against your needs. Here is a sample:

- Supports the programming language you’ve written your web site in (e.g. PHP, HTML or ASP)
- Provides the required number of email addresses you need. Also consider other required email services such as email forwarders, mailing lists and auto responders.
- Spam filtering is included  (a must with the rise of junk mail).
- Gives you your own control panel so you can configure everything yourself in real time.
- Provides sufficient disk space for your site, and ability to increase this if your site requires more.
- Provides sufficient databases for your site, and the right type (e.g. mySQL).
- Provides sufficient bandwidth for your site, with opportunities to increase this as your sites popularity increases.
- Provides web statistics so you can see how your site is performing

2. Start small, plan big.

It is all too easy to be sucked in to unlimited disk space and unlimited bandwidth offers, however the truth is most websites require very little of both, so don’t end up paying for services that you don’t need. Web hosts that offer unlimited resources are more likely to attract websites that need to utilize many of the servers resources and this could result in a poor experience for all sites large ad small sharing the same server.

More importantly, consider if the host offers support for a growing web site. Can you start with a simple low bandwidth shared account, add bandwidth and disk space over time as your site grows and maybe migrate to Virtual Private Servers when you are receiving significant traffic?

3. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

Web hosts are notorious for promising 100% uptime. However, this is something that is impossible to guarantee so instead of actually getting 100% uptime, you may get a refund if the service level is not met.

Perhaps more practical and meaning than looking for the holy grail of 100% uptime, is looking for steps that are taken to prevent a minor inconvenience becoming a major outage:

- Regular Backups
Does the supplier take daily backups of sites and keep this in a totally different data centre to where the server is located?Clients should be able to access the backups direct from their hosting control panel and can restore their site, or particular files and folders to any point in the previous 6 days should an accidental deletion occur. Of course, customers should always keep their own regular copy of the site.

- Multiple disk drives (RAID).
It has been reported that 1 in 10 disc drives will fail this year. If that drive is on a web server where your site is hosted you could expect an outage. However, some hosts, like QiQ, utilise RAID technology which means the content of websites on the server is mirrored across two disk drives. Should one drive fail, the remaining drive is utilised to serve the hosted content. In the meantime, the faulty drive is replaced.

- Multiple internet connections
Check your host places their servers in data centers with more than once connection to the internet. The should an over enthusiastic road digger cause havoc with some cables your site may not be impacted.

- Money-back guarantee
Whilst planning for the worst, check that your provider offers at least a 14 day money back guarantee so should things not work out as hoped for, at least you will not be out of pocket whilst you seek another provider.

4. Support.

Consider what type of support you would like. Is email support sufficient, or do you also require round the clock telephone support? From a web host perspective, it can be difficult to provide true 24/7 support. At QiQ, we provide support from both the UK and Australia, and thanks to the miracles of the world time zones, this means we offer near 24/7 coverage. We also insist a human answers all phone calls taking an email address so we can respond to queries efficiently.

5. Payments.

Paying for your hosting should not be a hassle. If your late with a payment, typically your hosting will be suspended so make sure your provider accepts payment types that meet your needs. At QiQ we took the decision to sell hosting requiring just one low annual payment. This reducing the chances of something going wrong with more regular payments and reduces the banking costs – which we pass on to our clients.

About the Author

Peter Harris is a self confessed Internet Geek. Peter owns and operates boutique hosting and internet consultancy QiQ Communications PTY LTD ( QiQ provide hosting and domain services to several thousand businesses around the world and also owns and operates, an online letter writing service with representation in 30 countries.

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