The overall "tip" here is that you need to get accurate information to make comparisons among hosts. Therefore, each individual tip is another, separate aspect of the hosting relationship that you need to investigate. You should take them all seriously.
1. Traffic ("data transfer" or "bandwidth") - These terms refer to the amount of information, measured in bytes, that is delivered from your website to visitors. Although you will hear about "unlímited bandwidth", check to see if the same terminology used for marketing purposes is reflected in the contract. In other words, read the contract before signing on the dotted line. Unless you will be uploading photo archives or using your site to swap large files, your small- to mid-size website should normally use no more than 3GB of bandwidth monthly. Watch out for "overage" charges (per additional GB, usually) and consider upgrading your account if the site traffic increases.
2. Disk space - Apply the same skeptical approach to the "unlímited disk space" deals, as you did to the claims about traffic above. Again, the majority of small to mid-size sites need 10-20MB of web space at most, so unless 500MB or "unlímited space" is part of the basic package, don't bite. You can easily determine how much storage you need by checking your file sizes and adding them up - all the HTML pages (which are small) plus all the images (some of which can be big).
3. Uptime ("reliability") – The minimum figure for uptime should be 99%. Today, in fact, that is the minimum advertised amount, as 99.5% or more is referred to all the time. Many people would consider this the most important consideration.
4. Tools and security (FTP, PHP, SSI, etc.) – Some hosts require getting prior approval to install various scripts like CGI or PHP. You would be less constrained with a host that does not make you wait for approval. To properly maintain databases, set up security measures and otherwise customize your site, you need the full tool set. Once you find out what you get in the way of tools, press a bit further and find out about restrictions on their use, if any.
5. Email – What's the use of having a custom-named domain for your business if you continue using Hotmail or other web-based mail applications? Every hosting plan will include e-mail services, allowing you to look and sound like a "real company" with its own e-mail addresses. The quality of such add-ons as auto-responders, mail filters and mailing managers will vary among potential hosts. Don't forget to verify that you will also have "webmail" (web-based access to your mail server) and make sure to evaluate the anti-spam tools that are available.
6. Technical support – As things often break down at the worst possible times, you want tech support available as much as possible. Sometimes "24/7 support" is more like "12/5 support", so find out about coverage on weekends and holidays. It is also important to speak with a human being rather than be stuck in a circle of FAQ pages and e-mail service requests. If you face an emergency that threatens your business, you also want to know that the tech staff is knowledgeable. Ask about their training.
7. Remote controls – It may be called your "control panel", it may be called a "tool kit", but every host will give you utilities with which to manage your account. Often, there is a certain web page established from which to do this. Managing your e-mail, mail accounts, passwords and anti-spam tools are all basic chores for webmasters. With a powerful set of tools, the important control over your business stays in your hands.
8. Server architecture – There are numerous reasons for choosing one type of server over another. If you want to use the ASP web programming language, for example, it is only available on Windows servers. However, cost-wise, it is often better to use a Unix system running Apache server software, which is stable, dependable and lets you manage error pages, block specified IP addresses, stop email harvesting and more, without waiting for your host to approve anything. Also, if yours will be an e-commerce site, you will want to get SSL (Secure Socket Layer), MySQL and shopping cart functionality.
9. Costs and payment plans – Price, quite obviously, is an important factor, but the most expensive hosts are not always the best ones. Consider cost, of course, and beware of dramatic price differentials on what are really quite similar plans. You can pay via annual or quarterly payment plans that will discount the monthly rate, and the more you pay at once (and upfront), the less you will pay per month.
10. Reputation and reviews – Search the Internet and talk to all of your business colleagues. Track down both complaints and praises about your potential hosts, but remember to consider the source of the comments.
You will save yourself a lot of frustration if you do your homework. If you are unclear or uncertain about any of the particulars, ask someone you know who has more expertise for assistance. You can also take the bull by the horns and use the Internet as your school, to learn what you need to know about hosting companies and how they work.
About The Author
Amy Armitage is the head of Business Development for Lunarpages . Lunarpages provides quality web hosting from their US-based hosting facility. They provide a wide-range of services from dedicated server hosting and managed solutions to shared and reseller hosting plans.