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Guidelines for Choosing a Web Hosting Service

You now have your web site built and are now confused as to all the choices you have in order to find a home for your site - a "host" to store the computer files that contain all the information on your sit, and keep that information connected to the Internet. It will live on a computer called a server. A server is typically a personal computer or a larger computer with a fast processor and a good size hard drive. The server is specifically configured to contain your Web site and deliver pages to visitors' browsers when called upon.

Companies specializing in web hosting abound, and enable even the smallest business to gain an online presence quickly and inexpensively.

It is good to make a right choice the first time, because if you have to move to another hosting service, it will cost you time and you may lose some of your valued customers due to the downtime setting up with another hosting company. You may also have to pay set up and hosting fees for a new account.

ISP (Internet Service Provider)

An ISP provides connections to the Internet via dial up accounts or high speed dedicated lines such as a DSL line (Digital Subscriber Line). Some ISPs will host your Web site as well. Other companies do not provide Internet access but will host your site. Do not confuse the two. You do not have to have your ISP host your site.

Here are some basic guidelines to consider when choosing a Web Hosting Service:

  1. Speed and reliability of the servers and hardware

    • Make sure they have a high-speed connection (preferably T3 or higher) to the Internet.
    • Effective Bandwidth Management - opt for unlimited bandwidth for your site.
    • Backup Systems - Do they store back-up copies of your site files on other machines that are ready to kick in the minute your main server fails - if it ever does.

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  2. Space and flexibility for room for growth

    How much space do you expect to eventually want for your web site? Planing ahead can save you lots of money later. If you expect to grow, look for a place that offers sites of 100 MB or more. Some services offer 500 MB sites for less money than others that offer only 30 MB. In the future you may need a database solution then your host must be able to accommodate the changes.

  3. Customer Service

    Make sure they offer 24x7x365 support-24 hours/day, seven days a week and 365 days per year with real people on the phone to help you without cost. You can test them by emailing them a question or phoning them and see how long their response takes and how helpful it is. You might also want to ask for:

    • Any BIG current customers that are hosting with that service.
    • Opinions of existing customers - ask for any testimonies of existing customers to get feedback from them concerning reliability and support.
    • Stability - you do not want your hosting service to go out of business (like what happened to many of the free hosts) and leave you stranded. Check how many years they have been in business.

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  4. Features

    Some of the basic features of a hosting service should include:

    1. Domain name registration.

    2. Space - at least 20MB of allocated space - for your site files.

    3. Unlimited bandwidth - to upload files, traffic to your site.

    4. Free Technical Support.

    5. POP3 E-Mail Accounts - they should offer at least 3 email POP accounts so you can start to create departmental email like sales@yourcompany.com.

    6. Email Forwarding.

    7. Email Auto-responders - these are programs that will automatically answer certain inquiries and email from your customers. Ask the hosting company if they support them and will provide them to you. Sometimes they will charge you for them.

    8. Email Aliases - allows you to create a number of different email addresses that will deliver mail to the same root email box.

    9. FTP Access (File Transfer Protocol) - This is the protocol used on the Internet for sending files. You must be able to manage and modify your site with no limit to the number of site updates or to the times of access via FTP transfer.

    10. FrontPage Support - if your site is created by FrontPage, look for hosting companies that offer FrontPage extensions so you can edit the site online using the program.

    11. Own CGI-Bin Access (Common Gateway Interface) - This is a method by which servers receive, process and transmit data. The result is sent to the user's browser. CGI is cross-platform, cross-browser compatible which means it is accepted just about everywhere on the Internet. The CGI program resides on your Web host's server and there is virtually no limit to the functions that can be in a CGI program. A common use of CGI is to take the data that your visitor has entered into a form, process it, and then send it to you. An example of this is a newsletter request. The host must allow you to run your own custom CGI scripts.

    12. Server Side Includes (SSI) - can be used to dynamically insert information such as local time, date or file information.

    13. Password Protection.

    14. Database support - such as access, MySQL, Oracle (depending on the type of databases you want on your site).

    15. Web Statistics - in order to monitor the traffic to your site.

    16. Secure Server - You should process online credit card transactions through a secure server so the credit card numbers are encrypted. Request SSL. SSL is a Netscape invention and is a secure technology protecting the use of credit cards online. SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a protocol for managing the security of a message transmission on the Internet using a program layer between HTTP and TCP layers.

    17. Shopping Cart Software - To enable eCommerce on your site you will need some type of method for processing orders online. Most large hosting companies offer a basic solution for this. Order processing - Do they provide you with free access to a secure server for order processing?

    18. Online Web Site Manager - This will help to make changes to your site, maintain your site, account information and emails.

    19. Search engine submissions.

    20. Virus Scanning.

    21. Reseller/referral program.

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  5. Types of Hosting Services

    Free Hosting:

    Free sites are for people whose sites are small and do not expect much traffic.

    Pros

    • It's free. Often the free Web hosting is bundled together with your basic monthly fee from your ISP.
    • For small non business sites

    Cons

    • You have to design the site yourself
    • No usage of domain names
    • Little or no flexibility when it comes to using software you to collect orders and payments, and to gather information about your customers
    • No guarantees about the quality of hosting service
    • No or Limited technical support when you run into problems
    • Unreliability of servers, software
    • Limited web space, technical support
    • Host may shut down due without notice

    For online businesses, free services like this are worth exactly what you pay for them. NEVER host an ecommerce web site with a free hosting service. These services are highly unreliable and could care less if your site goes down. Their main concern is with their advertisers. As long as their ads are up and running, for the most part, they could care less about you or your site.

    In addition, sites hosted with free services look very unprofessional. If you've taken the time to get your own web site designed and your own domain name, why would you risk your success and host with a free service? It's just not worth it.

    Virtual Hosting: (also known as domain or shared hosting)

    This is the most popular and cost effective form of hosting.

    Pros

    • Low cost
    • Great for the average business sites
    • Good technical support

    Cons

    • Multiple sites on server
    • Sometimes slow updates
      Limited security and control due to the large number of sites on 1 server
    • Use your own domain name (www.yoursite.com)


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  6. What can you expect to pay?

    Depending on what you want your site to look like, expect to pay ($5 - $50/month) for a small web hosting package of 20-50MB of allocated space for your site. This will be enough for up to 100 pages with a few graphics on each page. That's money well spent!

    • Look for hidden costs when comparing price.
    • Do they expect you to pay for a long term in advance to get a good price? Choose one that doesn't bait you with a low price that's only available if you make a long-term commitment.
    • Will they handle the registration of your domain for free?
    • If you're transferring an existing domain, will they submit the domain change to InterNIC for free?

When selecting a web host, you must look at the entire picture prior to making your decision. You may find a host that charges $5.00 - $15.00 a month to host your site, however, their technical support may be poor, or your web site may be slow or down a lot.

If you follow these basic guidelines, you will have a reliable, efficient and satisfying hosting service that will contribute to the success of your business for many years to come. Choosing an excellent service to host your web site doesn't have to require luck. Knowing what to look for makes selection simple.

If you would like any help choosing a web hosting company, or would like a recommendation on one, please contact Sue Studios.

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