If you run an online business, choosing the right web host is one of the most crucial decisions you will need to make. Your websiteâ€™s performance, reliability, security and many of its background features are controlled by your host and so making the wrong choice could have disastrous consequences. So, to make sure you know exactly what to look for, weâ€™ve put together a list of sixteen essential things businesses need from a web host.
1. You need expert technical support
There will always be times when website owners, even ones with their own dedicated IT departments, come across issues they cannot resolve on their own. When this happens, you need a web host with the expertise to provide the right solution.
This has become increasingly more important as businesses begin to move their entire IT infrastructure into the cloud. If you are running large, complex systems and using highly sophisticated applications on your hostâ€™s servers, you need to know that when a glitch happens, your web host can put it right â€“ and quickly.
2. 24-hour support
Besides expertise, you also want your web hostâ€™s customer support to be available 24 hours a day. As your online business operates 24/7, you canâ€™t afford to wait until the next morning if your website goes down or your email system stops working. Every minute youâ€™re offline could cost you a sale or create a dissatisfied customer. A good web host should provide constant, high-level support whenever you need it.
Backups are an essential part of any disaster recovery operation and it is crucial that your host provides the facility for you to schedule backups of all your data. This includes making sure that your backups are stored remotely on different servers to the ones on which your site is hosted.
Failure to back up your data can have enormous consequences â€“ it can result in the loss of all your customer information, the entire contents of your website and the resulting loss of income whilst your site is offline. And you can add to this the cost of rebuilding your site and the reputational damage caused by the downtime. If a web host doesnâ€™t provide a backup service, then itâ€™s too risky to go with that host.
4. Web host backups
In addition to being able to backup your own data, you also want to know that your web host is backing up their servers too. If one of the servers goes down you need to know that they have their own backup (and backup backups) available and that they have tested the backup to make sure it works. This way you know that all the software the host needs to run the server, as well as all the data stored on it, can be put back online quickly.
5. Guaranteed uptime
The shift to cloud technology is making it far less likely that websites will go offline should there be a server fault, however, for those who are have not chosen cloud hosting, a server going down can be a big problem. To ensure guaranteed uptime, you should look for a host that has mirrored servers running at different locations so that if one goes down, the others will continue to maintain a service. This way, your site can always remain online.
Before choosing a host, you should check out what their customers say about their uptime reputations.
6. Security options
Website hacking is constantly in the headlines and the number of attacks on business websites of all kinds continues to rise. In this environment, it is crucial that you choose a web host that can provide a range of security features to protect your site. Look for hosts that will scan your site for malware and vulnerabilities and can detect and protect against intrusion. In addition, you also want email scanning and spam removal, SSL certificates and remote backups.
7. WordPress support
WordPress is the worldâ€™s most popular platform for building websites and although exceptionally versatile it has a few unique requirements that not all web hosts fully cater for.
Even if you are not currently using WordPress to build your website, it is still worth considering a web host who has WordPress expertise â€“ you may decide to create a WordPress website in the future or you may choose to add a WordPress blog alongside your existing site.
Blogs are powerful content marketing tools and are used by thousands of leading companies to help build customer communities and drive sales. Companies which use WordPress include Disney, Sony, Toyota and many more blue chip enterprises.
If creating a blog now or in the future is part of your strategy, make sure your web host fully caters for WordPress sites.
8. Room to grow
When you launch an online business, it means that when your business grows, you website is going to grow too. What might start out as a small website with a few pages, a handful of products and a few thousand visitors a month can soon become a dozen websites with thousands of products and millions of visitors. In addition, you may also have to run various background applications that require large data storage and huge processing power.
When you choose a web host, you need one that can offer you the capacity to grow â€“ but at the time and rate that best suits your company. When you start out you may be on a tight budget and need low-cost shared hosting; as you grow, you may move from shared to VPS to dedicated managed servers. Eventually, you may want to move to cloud hosting.
Ideally, you should choose a web host that can offer all these types of hosting and who can help you move from one type of hosting to the other seamlessly and without complications.
9. Scalability for spikes
As you grow bigger, not only may you need to upgrade to a larger hosting package, but you may need to look for a host that offers flexible scalability to help you handle spikes. Spikes (periods of dramatically increased traffic or demands on your system) can happen for many reasons, for example, a mention of your business on the news or social media that sends your website viral, or having seasonal products which generate high volumes of traffic only for a few weeks or months of the year.
If you think you may have significant spikes, you need a web host that can provide the capacity to handle the spikes and, when the spike is over, let you return to the less expensive, lower capacity usage you normally require. This kind of scalability is found with cloud hosting. Make sure your host offers flexible scaling as part of their cloud hosting packages.
10. Website Builders
One service that is always worth looking for in a web host is a website builder. Many business owners wrongly consider building a website to be a highly technical process and spend a great deal of money paying a web developer to build one for them. In reality, the vast number of websites which businesses need can be built very easily using an automated website builder.
Website builders are programs which let you design how your website looks and what features it has but take care of the coding for you. Thereâ€™s no need to know about HTML, CSS or PHP. You just focus on choosing page layouts, colours, fonts, etc and then inputting the content. Modern website builders come with an array of templates, images and features that allow you to create a professional website and customise it to suit your brand.
If you choose a web host who has a website builder, you can save a great deal of money designing your website and have the ability to change the way your website looks at any time.
11. Easy control over your own website
When you start your online business you will be given access to the back-end of your website from your web host. Accessing this area will allow you to take control of a number of different administrative settings: emails, software, security, etc.
Navigating through the back-end of you website can be difficult if the interface you are provided with isnâ€™t user-friendly. For this reason, you should choose a web host that offers with CPanel or Plesk interfaces. These offer easy navigation around the backend of your site via a single dashboard with features arranged into categories. In addition, many of the settings changes, updates and software installs can be achieved in just a few clicks.
12. E-Commerce features
If you are setting up an online business, then you will need to provide customers with the means to pay for your products. One of the most important features you will need is a shopping cart. To make this easy, look for a web host that offers e-commerce tools that accept third-party shopping cart programs such as WorldPay, ZenCart and PayPal.
Different shopping cart providers charge different rates and have different features, so you want to be able to choose the one which is best for your business.
13. SSL to protect your customers
When you sell online, it is possible that credit card details can be intercepted by hackers during the payment process. The safest way to protect your customers and your business is to make sure that this information is encrypted during payment, this way even if details are intercepted, hackers would not be able to unscramble them. To enable encryption, you need SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). SSL changes your website address from HTTP to HTTPS and when people visit your website, a padlock icon appears next to your URL in the browser. This lets visitors know your site is safe to use.
SSL is available from most good web hosts. If you are selling online, make sure your web host provides this service.
If you are moving to a new web host and already have a website and apps in place, you do need to make sure that they will be compatible with the hardware and software used by your host. This is especially important if you are currently running legacy software on older servers.
You should speak to your new host prior to taking out a contract with them and ask them about compatibility. Even if somethings are not compatible, there may be alternative solutions that the host can put in place to help you.
15. Easy to leave
When you choose a web host, probably one of the last things you will be considering is leaving them, so it is unlikely that youâ€™ll read the small print about what happens if you decide to end your contract. Whilst most hosts make it fairly easy, some others make it more difficult to move your domain to a different host. Before signing up to a host, always read the small print of your contract to make sure that if you want to move, you can do so without any issues.
Weâ€™ve left pricing until last, and deliberately so. For many start-up online businesses, pricing is often the first thing they will look at. However, when your entire online business depends upon the quality of the host you choose, price should not be your number one priority. You should think of the money you spend on hosting not simply as an overhead, but as an investment in the future of your business. This does not mean you should go with the most expensive host or with the cheapest. Instead, you should choose the host that best provides the services you need. Once you have found that host, you should look at the different packages they offer and pick one which is in the price range that is right for you.
After reading this article, you should be far better informed about what to look for when choosing a web host both in terms of their range of services and the features that their packages offer.