What about Availability and Reliability?
A good Web hosting company "should guarantee a certain level of uptime or site availability," said Walter Wimberly, a Web developer and the owner of Walt Design. "And a small business owner needs to know how this is measured. Some hosts only start counting if they are down for longer than a given period of time, which is no good."
Wimberly (as well as many other Web developers) suggests you look for a Web hosting company that guarantees a minimum of 99.7 percent availability (meaning that being down .03 percent of the time is acceptable). He also advises small business owners to check how often the Web hosting company performs backups.
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Similarly, don't be shy about asking Web hosting companies if they have a disaster recovery plan -- and what it is. "Every hosting company should have a backup emergency plan, in the case of fire, flood, earthquake, etc.," stated Matt Sadler of StartUpMe, a blog for entrepreneurs. Stuff happens. Servers get damaged or fail. It's up to you to make sure your Web site is protected if the worst happens.
Can Your Web Host Grow with Your Business?
While your business may be small now, that may not always be the case. So be sure to go with a Web hosting company that can grow with you -- i.e., allows you to easily upgrade to a different plan.
"Maybe right now you need shared hosting, but in the future you may want to upgrade to VPS hosting," explained Jordan Saniuk, who founded his own Web hosting company, Saniuk.net. "Will you have to look for a new host or can you be accommodated?"
On a related note, beware of Web hosting companies that sell you more space or services than you need (for more money). Knowing what features and resources your business actually needs -- and finding a Web hosting company that allows you to start with a basic plan and then move up as you grow -- can save you a lot of money and hassle.
Beware of Hidden Fees
No one likes hidden fees. So before choosing a Web host, "don't just ask 'what do I get,' but ask what is not included," advised Lahle Wolfe, the president of LA Wolfe Web Marketing Services. For example, is a shopping cart and other ecommerce applications included in the Web hosting plan you are considering or does it cost extra?
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Marc Mackenzie of Just Eyewear also suggests finding out if there is a fee to restore a backup; a limit on the number of files that can be stored (even though the plan claims "unlimited"); and a limit to the number of FTP accounts and/or MySQL databases.
Other Important Features
Other features to look for in a Web hosting company:
Email: How many email accounts are allowed with each plan, and what is the amount of email storage? Also, check that spam filtering is included.
Add-on and Sub-Domains: How many add-on and sub-domains does the Web hosting company provide -- and are they free? If not, how much does it cost to add a domain or sub-domain?
Site Building Tools: Do you need help building a website? Check or ask if the Web hosting company provides free site building tools -- or what they charge to help you build and design a website. Note: Many small business owners are increasingly choosing Web hosting companies based on their site building tools.
However, "many of these site builders use proprietary tools and content management systems that build sites that only work with that particular company," said Wolfe. "In other words, if you try to move your site somewhere else, it will not work properly, or it will be converted, say, from a .asp or .php site to a .html site, meaning you lose all your old page URLs and end up with a big mess. So ask 'If I use your tools to build my website, is it 100 percent portable?'"
Ecommerce Support: Does the Web hosting company offer shopping carts and other ecommerce features, like SSL certification, merchant accounts and PCI compliance (for credit card processing) – either as part of the Web hosting package or for an additional fee?
Full Access to Your Web Hosting Account
Many small business owners hire Web developers or agencies to create and manage their Web site, which is fine. But if you go that route, make sure you have full access to your hosted account, in the event you want to switch agencies or decide to manage your website in house.
"Small business owners should own the hosting account and, if necessary, simply grant access to external developers," argued Eric Salerno, who runs Red Ember Marketing -- and has worked with several hosting companies. Too many small business owners, he said, "don't know a thing about their Web site hosting -- or their Web site -- because it's controlled completely by their marketing agency, or worse, not controlled at all," and wind up paying for it.
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff writes about IT and small business issues and runs a blog for and about small businesses.
Web Hosting Providers Comparison Chart
|BlueHost||FatCow||GoDaddy||InMotion||Yahoo||Price/Month||$3.95||$5.50||$5.59 (for Windows Deluxe Plan, if you
purchase 12 mos.)
|$7.95 (for Power package)||$7.46 for first 3 mos.,
$9.95/mo. after, if you
purchase 12 mos.
|Setup Fee||None/Free||None/Free||None/Free||None/Free||None/Free||Disk Space/ Bandwidth||Unlimited||Unlimited||150 GB/2 GB||Unlimited||Unlimited||Uptime Claim||99.9%||99.9%||99.9%||99.9%||99.9%||Add-on and Sub-Domains||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited||Up to 100 included||Up to 1,000 included||2,500 POP3/IMAP accounts||Unlimited POP mailboxes||500||Unlimited||1,000||Customer Service||24/7 phone, email, live chat||24/7 phone, email, live chat||24/7 phone, email, Web||24/7 phone, email, live chat||24/7 phone, email||Ecommerce/ Cart||Free/Included||Free/Included||Free/Included (though SSL Certificate is an extra $29.99/yr)||Free/Included||$99.95/mo. For Yahoo
Standard Plan, which
includes Web hosting
|Site Builder Tools||Free/Included||Free/Included||$8.09/mo. For Deluxe 10-page website if you purchase 12 mos.||Free/Included||Free/Included|