Online Marketing Lesson 12: How To Choose a Web Hosting Company

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In the previous lesson, we outlined the several types of web hosting available. Even if you know what kind you are going for (most likely shared hosting, VPS or dedicated server), you will still need to choose the company that will provide it for you.

This part is actually tricky because choosing the right web hosting company can make a big difference in the success of your website. How so? Suppose you end up choosing a not so reliable company. It is likely that your site would suffer many downtimes, affecting your search engine rankings negatively. Additionally, the load time speed of your pages could also be slow, annoying most of your users causing some of them to never return.

There are many factors that you need to take into consideration when choosing a web hosting company, and below we are going to cover all of them.

1. Linux Hosting vs. Windows Hosting

Most web servers use either Linux or Windows as their operating system, and when shopping for web hosting plans you will notice that both options are offered. Does it matter which one you choose? Absolutely! Linux is hands down the best one. It uses the Apache software as web server, which is faster and more secure than the Windows alternative (called IIS). Additionally, Apache offers many advanced features that you will not be able to find on Windows based hosting, like the possibility to create .htaccess files to give custom instructions to your server.

Notice that the operating system of your web hosting plan has nothing to do with the one you use on your personal computer. Even if you use Windows or OS X you can get a Linux based hosting plan. You will be communicating with the server via FTP and other interfaces that don’t depend on the operating system.

2. Stay Away From Free Web Hosts

If you spend some time researching about possible web hosts you’ll certainly come across companies that offer to host your website for free. Should you use of them and save yourself some money?

Not at all. Going with a free web host is a big mistake. Most of these companies put their own ads on your website, clutter your design and driving visitors away.

Even if you find a free web host without ads the overall service quality will be mediocre. Your website will load slowly, and it will have many downtimes, the customer support will be inefficient and so on. As a result paying for a decent hosting plan is a must.

3. Don’t Worry About Disk Space and Bandwidth

Another big mistake that beginners make while choosing a web hosting plan is to base their choice on the amount of disk space and bandwidth that is being offered for a given price. That is, if company A is offering 5 GB of disk space and 30 GB of monthly bandwidth while company B is offering 10 GB of disk space and 60 GB of bandwidth for the same price, they would automatically assume that company B has a better deal and would probably sign up with it.

Why is this a mistake? Because disk space and bandwidth are commodities today. Even the smaller of the specifications that you will find around should be able to host your new websites without problems. A website that is mostly based on text with some images here and there (e.g., a blog or a business site), would probably need to receive over 200,000 monthly visits before it started burning more than 20 GB of bandwidth.

4. Speed and Reliability

As we mentioned in the previous point, disk space and bandwidth are not factors that should influence your decision. What factors then should you take into consideration? Mainly server speed (i.e., how fast the websites hosted with that company load) and reliability (i.e., average uptime on the servers of that company ).

How do you check for those factors? For the server speed, you need to discover a couple of sites that are hosted with the company. Those could come from some of your friends, for example. If you don’t know anyone hosted there, just write to the customer service department and ask them to provide you with names of sites that are hosted with them. Once you have the websites, it is just a matter of browsing around on them and checking how fast each page will load.

The reliability, on the other hand, is measured by the average uptime on a given time span. Usually, web hosting companies publish their average annual or monthly uptime as a percentage. The closer that number is to 100%, the better. If the company you plan to sign up with does not provide this information publicly, you should wonder why.

5. cPanel

The web hosting provider will need to have a site configuration and management application, where you will be able to log in and manage all the details about your websites (e.g., email accounts, databases, web analytics and so on). This will be the control panel interface of your web hosting, in other words.

The leading solution on the market is called cPanel. Its interface is user-friendly, it comes with many advanced features, and most hosting companies around the world use it. When choosing your hosting company, therefore, it would be wise to pick one that uses cPanel (and to avoid the ones that use custom or proprietary solutions).

Another advantage of choosing a host that uses cPanel is the fact that it will be easier for you to switch to another company in the future, as long as the new company also uses cPanel. Why? Because transferring a site between two hosts that use cPanel is very easy, while transferring out from a company that uses a proprietary software can be problematic.

6. Datacenter Close To Your Audience

Geographically speaking, the farther you are from a web server, the longer it is going to take to load a website that is hosted on that server.

An efficient way to make sure that your site will have a fast loading speed, therefore, is to hire the web hosting services from a company that has its data center close to your target audience.

Suppose you are from Italy, but you plan to build a business blog in English, and your core audience is going to come from the United States. Hiring a web hosting company from Italy would be a mistake because it would be far away from your core audience, slowing the load times of your site for those visitors.

As a rule of thumb, if you are going to write English content, or to create a business that offers services globally, get your web hosting inside the United States. If you are going to target a local market like the United Kingdom or China, on the other hand, hire a local company to provide the web hosting.

7. Check Client Reviews Online

If even after considering all the previous points you are still in doubt among some companies, your best call is to check client reviews from around the Internet. Search in Google for the name of the company you are considering plus the word “reviews.” So if you want to know more about Media Temple, search for “media temple reviews.”

One good place to find reviews and discuss general matters related to web hosting is the online forum Web Hosting Talk. Members of the forum tend to post very extensive reviews about the companies they tried in the past, and when in doubt you can also ask questions specifically about the company you are considering.

8. Test the Customer Support

The final step before closing the deal is to test the customer support of the hosting company. However good their services might be, sooner or later you will come across some small problem, and having a fast and friendly customer support service is essential for this part.

On the homepage of the company, you should be able to find the email of the customer support department or a page where you can file a support ticket. Go ahead and send them a message asking some detail about their hosting service. Then just check how long it will take for them to answer, and if the explanation will be clear and accurate.

Action Points

  1. You probably signed up with HostGator to join our course, and their hosting plans meet all the guidelines we covered in this lesson, so you are set.
  2. If in the future you decide to change your hosting plan or to get a new one from a different company, just refer back to this lesson when making your decision.

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