The well-worn expression “You get what you pay for” was never more true than in the realm of web hosting. You may think of web hosting as something intangible, but if your business relies on its website to reach customers – and what company doesn’t? – it’s worth investing in. While priorities may vary depending on if your website is a personal blog, an e-commerce site, or the homepage for a growing business, there are certain qualities that are must-haves.

Hosting Provider Non-Negotiables:

1. Speed

Most people have a limit to their online patience. After about five seconds of waiting for a site to load, they’re gone. So something as simple as how many sites are hosted on a server may end up making a big difference to your visitor numbers and purchase conversions. While a shared server is usually okay for a low traffic start-up, if your future plans include hitting the big time, it’s important to have room to grow. Look for space and bandwidth that suit your current needs but keep a long-range view in mind; a solid web hosting company will generally offer upgradable packages (e.g. to a virtual private or even a dedicated server) as your website generates more and more traffic.

Latency plays a major role in server response time. You should always select servers based on your geographic region. For example, one of my websites’ major traffic is from UK, so I had selected a UK server from 1&1, that ultimately increased my website’s response time and reduced latency to a great extent. Remember, Google has already placed speed and loading time as one of their many ranking signals.

So speed is a must-have factor when you choose a hosting provider. If your website traffic is from two or three more regions, then you should choose a CDN or a reverse proxy like Cloudflare. A subscription structure that allows the flexibility to upgrade at any time is particularly helpful if you suddenly find yourself needing extra processor performance and RAM.

2. Reliability

Having the most in-demand product in the world won’t do you a lick of good when your website is down. An uptime score of over 99% is essential. Many claim 99.9%, but it’s worth searching for reviews to see how the hosting provider performed in tests. Those extra tenths of a percent may not seem like much, but they’re worth it.

3. Support

If you hit a snag, you need help and you need it fast. There isn’t a reputable web hosting company out there that doesn’t offer 24-hour support to get you back up and running. Some also supplement phone and e-mail support with a live chat option.

4. Security

If financial transactions or any kind of personal information need to be processed through your site, you need an SSL certificate. To protect your databases from hacking or loss due to a system crash, not only is the frequency of backup something to be aware of, but you should also know in advance what would happen in the event of an outage. If you manage e-mails to customers through your website, spam inhibitors provided through your web host can also be invaluable in establishing and maintaining your company’s online credibility.

Beyond the above prerequisite qualities you should look for in a hosting provider, there are other factors to consider depending on your long-range goals.

Hosting Provider Desirables:

5. Necessary hosting features

It’s important to know up front what comes with your web hosting service. A complete package of features such as FTP access for file uploads, SSI (Server Side Includes), .htaccess, PHP, SSH, Cron jobs, and website statistics are not simply nice-to-haves. Some companies also provide an in-house website creation suite to help beginners get started.

6. User-friendly control panel

Control panels are crucial when it comes to handling and maintaining website. A hosting service should be easy to use, so updating your site with cPanel (Linux-based) or Plesk (Windows or Linux), or a good in-house control panel is really essential. Cpanel and Plesk is a must-have for those who choose Linux and Windows hosting. WHM is very useful especially if you are planning to have multiple websites in a single server.

7. Add-on domains and e-mail accounts

If you’ve bought the .info .me and .biz versions of your company name for auto-redirects, it helps not to have to pay extra for them. Ditto for creating e-mail addresses for a growing list of employees.

8. Latest technology

If you’re really looking for an edge in terms of directing traffic to your site, using certain new features such as HTTP/2 and gzip can automatically improve your website’s performance in a Google search. Of course, knowing how to measure and optimize your website’s appearance in search results is also advisable.

With any undertaking, one needs to consider the question of price vs. value. It’s easy to get lured in by a free service and then discover that it comes with a catch: endless pop-up ads that distract and annoy readers. There are many affordable plans out there (and indeed some good free services if your needs are basic). So what do you need to know about paid plans?

Hosting Provider Price Plans:

9. Know before you buy

It’s important to know what you’re signing up for before you commit yourself to a contract you can’t get out of. It’s quite common to see prices rise after the initial sign-up plan, so be sure you ask about renewal price. Also, is there a trial period during which you can cancel without a fee?

10. Comparison shopping

Even if a web-hosting account isn’t a massive expenditure, it’s still worth shopping around. Luckily, the experts out there have already done some of the work for us. This guide from PC Magazine allows you to look for recommendations that list the company’s area of specialization as well as to compare price vs. value.

When you think you’ve narrowed down your choices, don’t hesitate to spend some time on the phone asking questions. An informed purchase is the first step to assuring the success of your new website.

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