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Choosing the Right Host for Your Site

Written By: Johnathan Brandon

When choosing a host for your website, there are both subjective and objective aspects to consider. Many of the objective aspects are covered in the hundreds of articles that have already been written, but less often will you find the subjective aspects; those that are driven more by feelings and perception or your specialized needs.

There are many characteristics that you should generally expect all web hosts to include:

1. High Availability: All the features in the world are worthless, if your site is not available when your visitors try to access it. This incorporates many different components. Do they use quality servers and hardware? Do they have multiple redundant connections to the Internet? Do they have a lifecycle management program in place to ensure that you are not being hosted on a server built in 1987? (Most data centers plan for servers to have a 3 4 year lifecycle.)

2. Guarantee: Dont settle for them telling you that they have the best hardware and networks; ask them to back it up. Most hosts include a money-back guarantee of some sort. Given that it takes time to register or transfer domain names, develop your site, and upload it, make sure that the host you choose offers you enough time to really evaluate their services. Thirty days is a pretty common guarantee. Be sure to test the speed of their support responses during this period (and during different hours of the day), even if you dont need it immediately. You do not want to find out too late that the host doesnt quite live up to your expectations.

3. Support: Your host should ideally offer support 24-hours/day. Some hosts offer this via e-mail or live chat, and others offer telephone support. Keep in mind that there is usually a financial trade off for different types of support, as they each involve different costs to the host, which will inevitably be passed on. If you are the type of person, who needs to talk to someone on the phone to resolve an issue, make sure your host offers that as a support option, and be willing to pay a little more for it. Also, as stated in number two, be sure to test your host before your guarantee expires.

4. Growth: Make sure your host is growing. A host with low or negative growth numbers may be an indication that they are not attracting many new customers, or quite a few are leaving. There are some great search tools on the web, which will give you an idea of how many sites are pointing to various hosts servers. This should give you a starting point. But dont be afraid to ask also. It is very reasonable to expect that a host should take the time to answer your questions prior to you signing up with them.

5. Backups: Pretty self explanatory, but make sure that your host is backing up your data each night, and ideally provides a way for you to back it up on your own. Whenever you are going to make significant changes to your site, make a backup, and be sure to always keep a copy of your site on your local PC. I cant tell you the number of people Ive spoken to who didnt have a local copy of their site, and lost their site on the hosts server for whatever reason.

There are also some subjective aspects to choosing a host. These are the types of requirements which are based on your personal preferences and needs.

1. Your Market: Many hosts choose to focus on specialized markets, either because of personal interest, or a specialized skill set. For example, if you are looking to host a church web site, you may look for a host which focuses exclusively on churches. They are probably better suited to address your specific content needs. Keep in mind though, that you should not expect to give up on the items above for subjective requirements. A church focused web host is useless if they cant keep your site up and running.

2. Hosting Plans: With the cost of hardware and network connectivity coming down every day hosts are increasingly offering more and more features. The bottom line, and something that all hosts know, is that 99% of the customers will not use even 1% of what they are allocated, so dont over emphasize features you dont care about. Spend some time determining what you truly need for your site and then look for a host that meets those needs. If your site is 10 MB, does it really matter that the hosting plan includes 2000 MB?

3. Community: If you are the type of person who likes to interact with your fellow webmasters, you will probably prefer a host which offers an online forum for interacting with other customers. This gives you a great place to ask questions, read announcements, and discuss features with people who are with the same host as you.

The list of considerations could go on, but the key is to find a quality host which meets the needs of your site. To that end, I recommend documenting your needs BEFORE you begin looking for a host. Estimate your space and bandwidth requirements, determine what features you need, and look for a host which meets your needs at a price that meets your budget.

About the Author

Johnathan Brandon is the President and CEO of BeGlobal, Inc., a web hosting and Internet services company. BeGlobal owns Be-Hosted.com ( http://www.be-hosted.com) and HostBetter.com (http://www.hostbetter.com).

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