RELIABILITY AND UPTIME
You really want this to be top of the list. If you host on a server that is only online 50% of the time then you’ll be losing half your visitors, business and income! Your web host should guarantee its uptime. You won’t ever find a host that has 100% uptime – but look for web hosts that at least guarantee a minimum of 99.5% uptime. Also check out the host’s redundancy – ask them what resources are available in the event of a utility failure? For example, a backup generator and uninterruptible power supply (UPS).
Following on from your server’s reliability, it’s a good idea to look for a host that will provide great, timely customer support. Customer support need not be via phone – email support is just as good as it provides a thread should an issue need to be escalated. Your website’s server and network should be monitored 24/7 – that includes public holidays!
Choose a company that backs up your files. Then if the unforeseen happens, your website can be restored. Find out how often your server will be backed up. Remember, you should always archive your website files on your own hard drive in case of that meteor strike!
FIND OUT WHERE YOUR SERVER WILL BE BASED
Find out the physical location of your web host’s servers as many South African Web Hosting providers host their servers offshore, usually in large data centres in the Germany. If your target audience is local, then South Africa based servers are a good choice. You’ll find your host easier to deal with if both the support team and data centre are in the same time zone. It also means faster access for your visitors making their visit to your site more enjoyable!
You may just be getting your business off the ground but it’s always good to look for a web host that will allow you to easily upgrade your plan in the future. This may include increasing disk space, number of email accounts or extra data traffic allowances as your business grows.
DISK SPACE AND DATA TRANSFER
Don’t cut yourself short on disk space and data transfer (bandwidth/traffic) when picking a plan. Most websites consume a very small amount of disk space, but you should allow room for growth, and space for email storage. Investigate if the host provides warning emails as you approach critical limits and ensure they won’t surprise you with excess fees for exceeding your monthly bandwidth traffic allowance.
The operating system of your server may determine the types of scripts you can run. Whether you require a Linux or Windows server will depend on what you plan to do with your site. Linux servers are often cheaper and more stable, but if you need to host ASP scripts then you have no choice but to look for a Windows web host. Check with your host to ensure these minimum features are available with your plan:
- FTP, SSH
- PHP, Perl, CGI
- Statistics and logs
- FrontPage extensions
Think about how many email accounts you will require and how you’ll access email sent to your domain name. When overseas or away from your computer, WebMail is handy and allows you to pop into an internet café to check your mail. Other features to consider when choosing your host include:
- Number of email aliases included in your plan
- Is email forwarding available?
- Can you setup auto-responders?
- Is there a catch-all account included?
- POP3 and IMAP access for checking mail on your mobile.
EASE OF USE / CONTROL PANEL SITE MANAGEMENT TOOLS
Choose a host that allows you to manage the different aspects of your web and email account yourself. An easy to use web based control panel should be provided. Ask to see a demo of the host’s control panels. This way you can get a feel for how you’ll be managing your website’s server.
Check your host’s payment plans, as many will allow you to choose the right plan for your sites budget and needs. Don’t be forced to pay for a year in advance if you don’t want to. The impact that your web hosting provider has on your business is quite critical. You need to be happy, so before handing over your credit card details, test them out by sending an email to see how fast they answer, how friendly they are and their degree of knowledge. It’s better to spend the time now checking them out rather than having to switch later.