If you’re looking to start a new business, develop a new website, or even upgrade your current website to a new one; this is a question I’m sure you’re wondering about.
Some hosting companies advertise cheap prices for $5 – $20 per month that do not include everything you’ll need, so it can be difficult to make accurate comparisons and have all the information. Other providers have web hosting plans that include bundled services and features that may be more expensive when compared to others.
Keep reading to learn about the things you will want to consider in hosting options for your website when researching options and talking with providers. While there is no one fee that is standard across the board, you need to be armed with some information so you can ask the right questions and accurately compare prices. This helps you determine a better website marketing or business budget and not be surprised by hidden costs that will very likely come up later.
Shared or dedicated host?
This is something not always advertised. Most inexpensive options will be in a shared environment, meaning your website will be included with others on a server. This isn’t a problem, but you will want to be sure that the server is not blacklisted with Google and other search engines.
Free address check tools are provided by http://whatismyipaddress.com and http://www.yougetsignal.com/tools/web-sites-on-web-server/ and can be used to determine what your web server IP address is, what other websites are on the same server as yours, and whether these other sites are blacklisted or contain questionable content. You will also want to check that shared hosts provide proper load balancing to handle traffic spikes.
Storage and bandwidth
You’ll want to check any storage and bandwidth limitations on any hosting plans. This can come in the form of disk space, which is the amount of storage space your website is allowed to have; and bandwidth, which in simplified terms is the number of visitors that can come to your website. More popular websites will need more bandwidth to handle peak traffic. Small sites can get by with 100MBs or so of disk space and 1GB of bandwidth, and larger sites may need 1GB of space and 10GB or more of bandwidth.
Web pages typically have small file sizes, but be sure to think about and media files you may be hosting such as large images, documents, and videos. Again, check that the provider has load balancing to handle traffic spikes. Some smaller website plans may limit content by the number of pages you can have or the kinds of content you can include, so look out for those limitations and consider your content needs.
Just about all hosts allow you to have a custom domain name with your website, but some cheaper plans limit this, so be sure to check this is allowed. (This means having something like yourwebsite.com rather than hostingprovider.com/yourwebsite or yourwebsite.hostingprovider.com.)
Support of website features
Be sure you scope out the features you need for your website before shopping around. Some hosting packages support content management system (CMS) options such as WordPress and others than come with a number of features, making it easier for you to update your content and even add functionality to the pages. When they do, be sure to ask about the following:
- What specific features are included?
- Do you provide future updates to the CMS to include new features and enhancements to current ones? Does the hosting plan include the work needed to test this new functionality to be sure it all works together?
- How much customisation is allowed to the pages the CMS generates? Can I easily do the things I want to do, which may include adding social icons, contact forms, etc? Can I (or my web designer) customise the design to my exact specifications?
- Are there any marketing features included, in particular for SEO friendliness and tracking with Google Analytics?
If they do not come with a CMS, you will likely need to add one. Be sure that the hosting setup supports the CMS you would like to use. Your chosen CMS will usually have the server requirements you need, and the host will typically market plans for the chosen CMS. WordPress and Drupal are popular options.
Some hosts also market their own CMS solutions as well, which can be designed more for business websites and be a great option. A CMS can also have features or be designed for a specific type of website, such as an ecommerce site with a shopping cart and product management features, or a membership website with member sign-up and password protected areas. If you need help selecting the right system, talk to someone who is experienced in the industry. Feel free to contact us for a free consultation on what type of system may be best for your needs.
Ease of maintenance and full access
This is important and usually missed. How easy will it be to update your page content and use the needed functionality? Can you easily add text, images, and links to other pages? Can you collect a list of those that have filled out your contact form, as well as get an email when someone does? Is the HTML/page editor easy to use? Can you easily find the page you want to edit and edit that part of the page quickly? Adding content is critical to marketing a website, and you will want to be sure YOU or someone on your team can easily do this without being stuck in an expensive support agreement with someone with more expertise.
Will I have full access rights to make all the changes I need to make, or will I need to go to the web host for changes? Which ones? Can I easily change the look of the site, add new pages, or add new features where I would like them? If I want to take my website to another provider, how do I get access to all the files to be able to move to another host?
This is an area where many get stuck with a broken website. What level of support does the hosting plan come with? Email and phone? 24/7 or during business hours? Does it cover making sure everything works together properly, including any functionality that the plan comes with? If there are features I need to add, such as a WordPress plug-in (usually required for many business features), is support for the plug-in included? Will I have to make my own software updates, and what expertise is required? If not, can this be included, and for how much? Does the hosting plan include the work needed to test this new functionality to be sure it all works together?
Security, availability and backups for recovery
This is also important, and very often overlooked. Does the hosting plan include monitoring and security patches to the hosting server software? If it comes with a CMS, is this also patched? Much like the security monitoring and updates you need to regularly make to your PC, server security patching is also important to prevent your website from getting hacked, which can then lead to it getting blacklisted with search engines.
What is the hosting environment forecast up-time? Most will advertise 99% availability, which allows for some brief downtime for planned maintenance windows. Check for redundancy in the hardware (actual servers, power grids, HVAC cooling, battery backups, generators with on-site fuel, etc.) and the network connection to the internet they provide (such as redundant OC3 fiber backbones). Server environments will fail occasionally for various reasons, so having redundancy in these areas helps ensure your website is still available.
Finally, what steps do they take for ensuring security and recovery? Is my data stored redundantly? Are there multiple on and off-site backups? Is there limited access to the server room with physical security on site?
Research and ask before buying
These considerations are not meant to overwhelm, but to be researched against any hosting options so you can be sure you get a better picture of what you are committing to and that your specific needs will be met.
You will see higher prices as more options become available, but you should find very affordable options that include all of the above. These may be in the $30 – $60 range, rather than the $5 – $20 range, but will be worth the investment for your business. The options that seem a bit more expensive will save you time and money in the end.