Web Hostess With the Mostest

By Adam Stone | Posted June 09, 2004

Searching for the right Web hosting company is not easy task. Like any good hostess, a company that provides a home for your Web site should offer attentive service, but proper hosting involves more than a friendly welcome.

Small-business owners often risk their company's financial well-being when choosing an appropriate Web hosting company. Make your choice without performing due diligence, and you could suddenly find yourself without a Web site, no e-mail and a Web-hosting company that's pulled up its virtual stakes and left town.

The Perfect Hostess
Web hosting fees vary greatly, starting as low as free, although as Alex Kahl of Kahl Consultants in San Rafael, CA points out, "You definitely get what you pay for. There are companies that offer much lower charges, but they're cutting corners somewhere."

Kahl recommends looking at several key areas, amount of space, transfer rate and overall service. "Look at the amount of space allotted for your Web site. If you are posting large files such as videos and PDF files, you might need 200MB or more," says Kahl. "Another important factor is transfer rates. Faster is better, especially if you have a very popular site. Then there's the question of service — perhaps the single biggest concern in picking a host. If you're changing your Web site or dealing with e-mail issues, the company should be available so you can call and bug them about it."

Tina Gangel, director of marketing at Web hosting company ViaWest, concurs. "You want to talk to a real live, experienced person to help you solve technical problems, not an under-trained, minimum-wage worker," she says. "A help center should be that: A help center."

That help ought to cover not just your problems, but also emergencies that the host company experiences, too. "What if there's a power outage, or a natural disaster or, God forbid, a terrorist attack, and the building that hosts your server is no longer up and running," says Gangel. A perfect host will have the capacity to have your site co-located or backed up in a second data center, "preferably across the state or in another state."

Technical Tangibles
Check with hosting companies to make sure you have access to your site's behind-the-scenes technology. In order to develop your site there will be certain directories that you'll need to access. For example, does your host provide Telnet access — simplified remote admission to the directories where the host stores Web-page fundamentals —, in order to make changes to your site?

Does the host provide a graphical display of raw log files so you can see how many hits or how many visitors you had? How about an easy way to uploading forms to your site? Find out before you decide on a provider.

Breaking Free From Bigger is Better
The size of your Web site depends entirely on how you plan to use it. You don't want to lose a customer order because your Web site's reached its capacity, but how much space do you really need? A simple brochure site might take just 5MG, and most experts say 60- to 100MGs is more than adequate. A Web site should have room to grow as business increases, so figure that a small business will likely be fine with 200MGs. The point is that except in rare cases where you're dealing with oversized digital images or video, a small business rarely needs the 400 or 500MG capacity pushed by many Web hosting companies. Why pay for what you don't need?

Avoid Fly-By-Night Hosting
A hosting company's financial stability is a major factor. If the vendor goes belly-up, you could find yourself a site at all. Find a vendor that's been around for a while, ask how many customers he has, and also, be sure to ask for references and talk to them to see if they're satisfied.

Good Hostess Hunting
References from owners of comparable businesses are always the best bet. After that, the Internet offers innumerable Web host directories and hosting information: hostanalyst,hostreview, hostindex are just a few of the starting points.

Adam Stone writes extensively on business and technology issues. He makes his virtual residence at inkbiz@yahoo.com and his physical home in Annapolis, Md.

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