Friday, March 7, 2008

How To Choose The Right Web Hosting Plan For Your Business

by Jeremy Gislason

Any business, whether they're brick and mortar establishment or an online business, needs a website. A website needs a host. A web host stores all the pages of your website and makes them available to computers connected to the Internet. Like most internet services, there are a lot of options. Web hosting is no different. When it comes to choosing a web host, you have two basic options, do it yourself or choose a hosting plan.

For the small to medium-sized business, hosting your own website quite likely has too many hurdles to be worth the effort. The initial costs for purchasing, setting up and organizing all the necessary hardware, licensing the software can be overwhelming and time consuming. Not to mention the recurring costs of a stable and reliable Internet connection. For most companies, except the very largest of firms, hosting your own website just doesn't make sense. That leaves the second alternative, finding a hosting company and choosing a plan. Let's begin by taking a look at choosing a hosting company.

Choosing Your Hosting Company

There are literally thousands of web hosting companies to choose from and evaluating them can be difficult. The first question you will want to ask a potential hosting company is what types of hosting plans they offer. There are likely to be several choices from starter type packages to the platinum version with all the bells and whistles.

Here are a few basic criteria to examine:

Service and Support: Money Back Guarantee. Finding a web host is an investment but you don't want it to be a risky one. Look for a host that offers a guarantee.

24/7 Technical Support: This is important. What happens to your business if your web host crashes? If you have an online business, you're dead in the water. Know that not all technical support is created equal and just because someone offers 24/7 customer service doesn't mean they're actively available. It may mean that you get to leave a voicemail or stay on hold for hours and they'll get to you when they can. Testimonials and references can be extremely useful. Find out if other customers are happy with the hosting service; and

Ease of use: A Control Panel is your central hub of information. It is where you find all of your statistics and are able to manage all of your account features. If your host's control panel is too difficult to navigate or doesn't offer the tools your business needs, then it is best to look elsewhere. Your website is your business and your control panel needs to be easy for you to use. You don't have time to spend searching for the information and tools you need. You will probably want to upload scripts for message boards, email forums, set cookies, and the like. . If this is the case, you will want a web host that allows you to install and run scripts. Most hosting companies offer CGI, Common Gateway Interface, a protocol that allows web pages to interact with scripts on a server. You will want to have email accounts for your website. For example, admin@ yourcompany.com and sales@yourcompany.com, etc…A POP (Post Office Protocol) Email Account is an email account hosted on your site and you will probably want more than one. Most hosting companies offer packages with different levels. For example, a beginner or starter package will have 1-5 email accounts, a middle of the road type account may offer up to 50 and a full business package may have unlimited email accounts available. Website construction tools and/or Microsoft FrontPage extensions. You need to be able to design and develop your website. Many hosting companies offer templates and design tools. In addition they may offer FrontPage Extensions. FrontPage is a website design software program that is fairly easy to use and if your host allows you to upload your website onto the server.

Features: Do you want to know who is visiting your website? What about what pages they visit or how long they stay online? What about click through rates? Any effective marketing plan or website plan needs to evaluate these statistics. This means you must find a hosting company that not only tracks this information for you but makes it easy for you to access and understand.

Marketing features like autoresponders and mailing list management are a fantastic feature but not all web hosting companies offer them. Take a good look at what your business needs before you sign on with a company. Sometimes a hosting company includes marketing features in your package and sometimes they are offered ala carte.

Security is important too. Look for a SSL, Secure Socket Layer, Secure Server. SSL is a protocol that allows for encrypted transmissions online. If you are collecting private information from your visitors, you will want this and you can include it in your privacy policy.

Some hosting plans offer shopping cart software integrated right into your account. This isn't a must but it will save you a step if you offer products for purchase on your website Members only areas require passwords but not all hosting companies offer this feature.

Choosing Your Hosting Plan

Nearly all hosting companies offer different types of hosting plans, including "shared" hosting and "dedicated" hosting. In addition, some hosts also offer a "virtual private" hosting option. Here are the details and benefits of each.

Shared Hosting: Shared hosting or "virtual" hosting (which is different from "virtual private" hosting described below) is when the hosting company hosts your website on its own physical servers for a monthly fee. In this type of arrangement, the hosting company will also be serving other companies' websites from the same physical server. The hosting company is responsible for the technical details relating to keeping your site up and running, including server setup, bandwidth management, backups, and security.

Price is perhaps the primary advantage of shared hosting. Since you're only using a portion of a single server, your costs are less than those for dedicated hosting. Also, since you are not directly responsible for management of the servers, you don't need to commit as many resources to routine maintenance of your website. This also means your hosting company will handle many of the security matters for your website; you don't need to make any direct investment in the software and hardware needed to secure the site.

However, because your website is on the same server as other clients, you have no direct control over the server as a whole, and certain site administration tasks may be more time consuming as compared to a site that is on a dedicated server.

Dedicated Hosting: Dedicated hosting means your Web server is sitting on its own box, owned and managed by the service provider. Dedicated hosting means you will have more direct access to make different types of changes to your site compared to a shared hosting plan. The degree of host management depends on what exactly is offered by the service provider. Most providers offer special managed dedicated server programs that ensure continuous monitoring of server performance as well as routine tasks like data backups.

When you have a dedicated hosting solution, your website resides on its own server. This means that your company can directly control the machine and determine which Web applications are running on it. This also means that it is less likely that activities of other websites on the same physical server will negatively impact yours.

In addition, because the server only responds to client requests for information from your own website, there is likely to be a faster response time for the same amount of traffic across the server. If your server has a dedicated IP address, it will likely be easier to handle certain anonymous FTP and SSL encryption activities. Dedicated hosting arrangements are generally favored for high-traffic businesses. Because your website is the only one on the server, however, dedicated hosting costs are generally higher than with a shared hosting plan.

Virtual Private Hosting: Virtual private hosting means that the server software is "virtualized" to permit the hosting of multiple websites on a single physical server (as with shared hosting), but each has its own copy of the operating system and permits greater customer access to the server (as with dedicated hosting). Virtual Private Hosting is generally available at a lower overall cost than traditional dedicated hosting, but provides the customer with much greater control and access to the website.

About the Author

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