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The Small Business Guide to Choosing a Web Host

I remember waaaaay back when, after I built my very first website (and registered my first domain for a lofty $50…ouch) realizing that I was going to need some place to host it.

So, the search began.

In my eagerness to get things rolling, I typed into Google what is possibly one of the most outrageously overwhelming search phrases out there – ‘webhosting’. For a non-web techie (which…I suppose I was back in ’96),  the myriad of options were staggering. Virtual? Dedicated? Unlimited Domains? How much bandwidth DO I need? What the heck is phpMYadmin? WILL I be offered Frontpage Extensions?? (inside joke for you old-timers)

My decision was ultimately based along the lines of doing that ‘spinny finger thing’ on the computer monitor with my eyes closed, till a voice in my head said ‘STOP! THAT ONE!’ – With this type of expert decision making, what could possibly go wrong?

Sound familiar?

Granted, plenty has changed in the field of webhosting over the last 15 years, and great hosting is much more plentiful and cheaper to come by than ever before.

However, for your Small Business hosting needs, not all hosting is considered equal. Even if you do EVERYTHING ELSE right, crappy webhosting will ruin the party for everyone.

On with the show…

Where am I going with all this? Well, as a guy that’s used over 40 different webhosting companies over the years (finally settling on a great Dedicated host for All of Adster’s Clients), I’ve found out quite a few things the hard way.

And so – here’s your ‘ole Pal Dave’s list of 5 things you must consider when selecting a hosting provider for your Businesses needs (and a teeny bit of unproven speculation).

Priority One – Uptime

Although it seems like a no-brainer, choosing a host with solid ‘up-time’ is one of the single most important factors listed here (along with speed). “Sure” you say, “I check my site a couple times a month and everything seems in order – What’s the issue?”

Issue being, my friend, this internet thing is a 24/7 kinda deal – and small numbers can make a big difference.

Here’s why: A couple years back I used a service called Pingdom to monitor my 40+ hosting accounts for a few months. The results were mind blowing.

Unbeknownst to me (and escaping all my little ‘spot checks’), almost HALF of the companies I was using had a 98% OR LOWER up-time – with some as low as 95%. Only 3 of these companies were true to their 99.9% up-time claims, with one alone running a full 100%.

What does this mean for you? And more importantly, your business?

Consider that over the course of a year,  95% up-time will result in your site being offline for OVER 20 DAYS! Even at 99% uptime, you’re looking at close to 96 hours (4 days) of downtime per year. These numbers are nothing to sneeze at, as many websites generate small businesses hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of leads and prospects per day.

Takeaway? Think twice before signing up for that $6/month hosting plan. It’s probably costing you a lot more than it’s saving you.

Priority 2 – Speed

We live in a society that is increasingly focused on wanting it all, and wanting it NOW. The same goes for the delivery of your web content.

I kid you not, almost every day I browse the web for research and ‘consuming’ purposes alike, I am stunned at the lack of many businesses website speeds.

If you seriously expect that I will sit patiently waiting 15 seconds for your sweet ‘spinny intro thing’ to load or your plug-in riddled WordPress install to render…well…I won’t – and neither will your potential new prospects who have already clicked to one of your competitors.

To complicate things, some hosting companies are notorious for ‘overloading’ certain shared hosting accounts. So, even if YOU are using resources efficiently and have optimized your code….it doesn’t mean the 400 other users on your account feel the same way. Guilt by association? Boo!

What’s more, is search engines like Google have publicly indicated that website speed is a Ranking Factor. It makes sense: Google wants to deliver search results that are good for users, and websites that load quickly are good for users. Simple.

Takeaway? Similar to uptime, a slow website is bad for your users, bad for search engines…and bad for your bottom line.

Priority 3 – Support

This one is pretty easy to figure out. Simply put, if and when the ‘caca’ hits the fan, you’re going to want to know that someone will be around to answer your questions – and answer them PROMPTLY (downtime = $$$).

Typically, the larger companies (with the super cheap monthly rates) I’ve dealt with have a pretty quick ‘response’ time to a question, but their ‘action’ time in solving a complex problem leaves something to be desired.

Think of it this way: If you were offering your customers a service for $5 a month, how much of a priority would you place on ‘lightning fast’ support and hi-tech service? Didn’t think so.

Takeaway? Choose a company known for their support. It may cost a little extra, but the speedy turnaround will pay for itself in more ways than one.

Priority 4 – Features

As mentioned, most modern web hosting services – even at their lowest price points – are going to offer everything you’ll need ‘features’ wise. Forget ‘unlimited’ domains, emails, disk space and bandwidth – It’s rare for ANY small business to host more than 1 domain, and disk space and bandwidth for typical small business websites are minimal.

What you ARE going to want to look for though, is basic email service with forwarding, support for Databases (to install a CMS like WordPress, Joomla, FLEX, etc), and a plan with at LEAST a Gigabyte of disk space and 25gigabites or so of transfer. (unless you’re planning on building a YouTube clone or some other monstrosity).

Takeaway? Ignore the ‘salesy’ bells and whistles. Small businesses need up-time, speed, and support – not hosting for 10,000 domain names.

Priority 5 – Extras and Goodies

There’s a few other things that could be mentioned that add value and make life easy, like companies that feature ‘one click’ installations of popular software, offer Dedicated IP addresses, and standardized platforms like CPANEL and DIRECTADMIN.

Now…HOW and WHY you use these features is venturing more into that ‘nerd’ territory that is better suited to someone like Chris.

On a final (and highly speculative) note, I will say that I HAVE found a minor correlation (NOT to be confused with CAUSATION) that certain Geographical factors (Canadian Data centers, Canadian IPs, .CA domains) MAY influence search ranking factors.

I mean, I suppose it makes sense – why serve your Edmonton customers their website content from Great Brittan, right? (and don’t say because we’re a Colony).

Takeaway? Doing your homework and selecting a  Local (Canadian) hosting company may provide subtle benefits to your online efforts.

Conclusion:

Let’s face it, despite this monster post, webhosting is not one of the more glamorous elements of web design and online marketing – but it is of great significance nonetheless.

If you’re serious about your web presence and growing your business online, choosing a fast, reliable web host with quality support should be the first item on your checklist.

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