May 2009

Web Hosting, Part 2

Web Hosting plan prices range from “free” to over $200 per month. We would like to stress that the web host price is not the most important issue. The first priority is to make sure the web host plan you pick meets your requirements for your website to properly function now and in the case of expansion in the near future. For any web hosting you pay for, our advice is: Disregard the advertised price. You have to look at the plan you pay for to make sure it will accommodate all of your needs. Why use “free” and then have to pay for every additional function you need to add? This can add up pretty quickly and a needed function may not be available when you need it.

Web Host Pricing

When looking at the plans, find the actual cost of the plan, not the advertised price. Some web hosts will advertise, “$5.95 per month”, but when you look at the plan closer, you may find that “$5.95 per month” is good only if you pay for 2-5 years up front or contract for an extended period of time.

Most web hosts require you pay for a specific period up front, while others have you pay monthly. Check to see what the set-up cost is going to be since that will be an additional cost. Once you have the information you find for one web host, we would recommend that you check out at least 3 more. Then compare plans you have found and see who has most functions available at the best price.

Several Things to Look For

There are some basic things you want to look at. Some of these are, but not limited to: Applications, customer service, technical support, downtime, bandwidth, and storage space. We will cover these very briefly and what you want to look for.

Applications. For simplicity, these are “programs” that can be run or used on your website. Here are some things to consider:

  • If your website needs a shopping cart, is it available through the plan?
  • If you want to make some changes to your website, is a content management system (CMS) easily available and included?
  • Will you need to install applications yourself or does the web host do this for you?

Customer Service. Is customer service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? If customer service is only available Monday through Friday, you may have to wait until they are available when you have a problem. Having to call on Saturday, leave a voicemail and then wait for someone to respond hopefully on Monday is not a good idea if you are running a business website. Look to see what hours they are open as well. There is nothing like having to call at 6:00 pm because your account “dropped”, only to find out they are in a different time zone and not open until the next day or week.

Technical Support. Just like Customer Service, do they have limited days and times? Murphy’s Law says if they do, you will have your website break 2 minutes after they close. Another thing to look for when dealing with technical support is how they handle requests. If the only way they will allow you to contact them is to complete a “ticket”, that puts you on hold until they respond. Ideally, you want someone who is readily available 24/7, especially if their server goes down or if your website suddenly becomes unavailable for an unknown reason. They should have an easy to find phone number to call, an email address to send to, and their hours posted.

Downtime. There is a difference between maintenance downtime and sudden disappearances of your website. Ask if the web host will notify you in advance of maintenance downtime and if it will affect your website. Find out how often they shut down for maintenance, i.e., monthly, quarterly, etc. See if they have backup servers and where they are located. It would also be a good idea to ask about their security.

Bandwidth. The higher the bandwidth you can get in your plan the better, especially if you are going to have music or videos on your website or items your visitors can download. You want to keep in mind that you, more than likely, will have multiple visitors on your website at any given time. All of these eat up bandwidth. Just keep in mind that if you exceed bandwidth in your plan, you might wind up paying more money, or worse, get your website shut down.

General consensus says most websites and small businesses won’t require more than 1GB bandwidth. To be sure, check with your web designer, especially if you will allow visitors to download files. The items listed in “disk space” below can affect your bandwidth requirements as well. (We’ll post a blog on bandwidth shortly.)

Storage Space. This one is a little tricky, if you are going to store music files or a large amount of photos on your website. As a suggestion, here are some of the things you need to consider:

  • The total size of your website files added together, usually measured by kilobyte (KB).
  • Size of the applications you may install on your website now plus estimated size of ones you may add later.
  • Total of the estimated size of email files you are going to store online. (Keep in mind those attachments!)
  • Total size of the files you are going to upload or allow visitors to download.
  • Total of the sizes of photos you are going to upload on your website if not already included with your website now.
  • The size of your back up files, if you are considering backing up files online.

Note: The larger and more established web hosts backup server files on a regular basis and usually have each completed backup available to you for a limited time.

That covers only some of the basics to consider when paying for a web host. To save a lot of stress later, research and compare plans first. Don’t consider “free web hosting” as an automatic benefit, especially if you have to pay to add anything else. Ask your web designer for help and don’t be afraid to ask the web host questions before you pay. Simply make sure you know what you getting for your money.