As a marketing tool, your business website is one of your most powerful assets. It promotes your company by showcasing your expertise and provides customers with a point of contact. If your website also has a blog (and it really should), it positions you as an expert in your field, as well.
A great deal of effort goes into the creation and maintenance of a website. It’s a business expense that can produce a significant return on investment. But businesses can undo these efforts by making a poor choice when selecting a web host.
Are All Web Hosts the Same?
There are lots of web hosting companies out there. You’ve seen the ads online, offering web hosting for a ridiculously low cost. It’s tempting to jump on that bandwagon – a big, multi-national hosting company has to be good, right? I mean, after all, they buy ads during the Super Bowl. That must mean that’s the way to go.
Most of these web hosting companies compete only on cost. What they offer in terms of cost is often offset by poor performance that can actually hurt your business. Shared hosting space on crowded servers is for those who want cheap web hosting instead of performance and stability. Over-shared hosting can affect factors such as uptime, speed, and security. A slow host can affect your SEO, your customers’ first impression, and your reputation as a company.
What to Look for in a Web Host
There are numerous factors to consider when choosing a web host, depending on your site’s configuration and your business needs. Two factors, however, should be at the top of every list:
Are the websites hosted by a particular hosting company up and accessible at least 99.9% of the time? Is Uptime monitored? How so? When your site goes down, will they tell you or wait for you to tell them?
Question: What is your uptime? How do you monitor uptime? Do you have an SLA?
How quickly do web pages load? Speed is an important consideration. Time-to-first-byte (TTFB) is a server-specific criterion, and Google recommends 200 milliseconds, particularly for mobile. Many economy hosting platforms provide this measurement in seconds rather than milliseconds, which is pretty telling. (As a comparison, a human eye blink is typically 100-400 milliseconds.)
Question: What server and site optimizations to you employ to improve page load speed?
Important Hosting Questions to Consider
It’s not just uptime and speed, however, that you need to consider. A good, reliable web host offers these qualities:
3. Location (Location, Location)
For SEO purposes, the location of the server hosting your website has some bearing on local search. Don’t be fooled by the term, “local,” however. When the server hosting your site is in the same country as served by your content, it is considered local. As a search signal, it’s a little weak, but since Google and Bing both display search results based on the geographical location of the searcher, it does factor into the search results.
Question: Where is the location of the server that hosts my website?
4. Site Performance
How quickly your site loads is important to people and your website hosting is one of the many factors that play into that speed. When one site on the shared server experiences a surge in traffic or gets taken down by a hacker, the other sites on that server can feel the effects. It’s kind of like a know-your-neighbors approach. With economy hosting you get to share in the good AND the bad. Just like a hard-to-reach restaurant doesn’t get much business, a hard-to-reach website isn’t going to get much traffic, either.
Question: Will I be on shared hosting and how many websites do I share the server with?
5. Responsive Customer Support
As nice as it would be to never have a problem with your website or the server it’s located on, sometimes things happen. When something goes wrong, is customer service available quickly? How fast can they get you back up and running? Are they even in your time zone? Can you stand in their hallway and ask questions about your site? (Don’t laugh, it happens.) There is a high incentive to keeping your customers happy if you are going to see them at the @SWINChamber meeting on Friday!
Question: Can I have your direct phone line?
6. Security and Updates
You want your web host to proactively monitor and apply security updates to your Content Management System (CMS), themes, and plug-ins. If you have to contact your web host to trigger these kinds of updates, the health of your site could be in jeopardy. No matter what, you should follow your web hosting company on Twitter to see if they send out any maintenance announcements.
Question: Who is responsible for CMS updates? Does that cost extra?
Many web hosting companies include backups in their package, but read the fine print. A good web host will back up the database and file system on a regular basis. So ask: What is the provider’s policy on backups? Is a robust backup plan available? Is this considered a “premium” backup package? Just as important as the backup, what is their policy on restoring your site from that backup? Free backups with no ability to restore your website after it’s hacked is not a good deal. A hosting provider that treats this as an add-on is one that is more interested in their bottom line than yours.
Question: What is the backup routine? How do you handles restores? Does that cost extra?
You wouldn’t buy a car based only on the low price.
Most businesses rely on their website as an integral part of marketing strategy. Choosing the right website host can impact your website’s performance in the eyes of your customers. Do your homework when making this important decision. Thoroughly vet your hosting provider options to determine if their service and pricing fits your goals. After all, how well your site performs is dependent, in part, on the hosting provider you choose. You wouldn’t put your hardest working salesman into a crummy motel, so don’t put your 24-hour hard-working website on a low-end web host.