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Web hosting companies are the "silent partners" of every online business. A good partner makes going online a natural extension of your business. A bad one costs you time, money, and customers.
An important part of doing business online is finding the right web host - the company that provides you with the server space, database and internet connectivity you need to share a site with the world.
Location, location, location
From a customer's perspective, the geographic location of your web host provider isn't important. Whether it is located within 30 miles or 3,000 miles doesn't matter if it is providing a good connection to the Internet. National providers tend to create generic hosting environments to maximize their economies of scale. That means if your website doesn't require "anything special," you can often find cost savings with a reliable national provider.
From a business perspective, local web host providers offer some advantage - particularly if your company's knowledge of networking and Internet technology is limited.
Local providers usually provide their customers with higher levels of support and accountability than national providers. Local providers tend to have a more intimate business relationship with their customers. Local providers know what their clients' goals and objectives are for their web presence, and they can design, implement and support Internet solutions that better meet the needs of those clients.
National providers tend to be less personal and less responsive than local providers. It's not uncommon for it to take 24-48 hours before a support request is resolved.
There are many free hosting services available on the Internet. If you're designing a website for business purposes, never host your website with a free host.
Service, service, service
You can't overestimate the importance of service when it comes to selecting a location to host a website or an off-site server. If your website is complex or an essential part of your company's day-to-day business, it's probably the most important factor to consider.
"Service is everything in the ISP business," said Bryan Chan, president of SupraNet. "Internet services do not run by themselves. Your ISP should be passionately dedicated to the success of its clients."
The best way to determine the level of service that a web host company provides is to talk with other businesses that use its service. Web host companies should provide you with references of businesses that use their services that have similar needs to those of your company. It's important to call the references.
Ask the following questions: How long have you been with the provider? How many unscheduled outages have you had with your provider? How timely are technical support issues dealt with? How accurate is the ISP's billing? What procedures are in place when dealing with customer service issue? How long do you have to wait on-hold when you call for support?
Read the fine print. Specifically, read a web hosting company's service level agreement (SLA) to see what it is actually guaranteeing. Does its SLA go beyond network availability? Does it provide a service level for responding to technical or customer support issues? Does it monitor and evaluate your website's availability? Does it support complex or specialized applications?
Any competent ISP should be able to host the site in either the Windows or UNIX environment. However, there are some basic features to look for when selecting any web host:
24/7 technical support
Your own domain name (www.yoursite.com)
10GB or more of monthly transfer (traffic)
A minimum of 20MB - 50MB of server space
Unlimited POP email accounts - firstname.lastname@example.org
Unlimited email aliases
Access to SSL Encryption for secure transactions
MySQL or SQL Server Database
htaccess password protection
Server Side Includes (SSI) support
Unlimited free access to your server via FTP/Telnet
Easy access to your log files
Statistics on visits to your site
Live long and prosper
Stability and experience are important when seeking a web host. Web hosting companies with a history of providing reliable service and a health client list should always be selected over less experienced hosting providers. Experienced providers solve problems faster than inexperienced providers. They also cause fewer ones.
Ask several questions that help you determine the web host's stability: How long has the ISP been in business? Is the company profitable? Does it have enough clients to support its own infrastructure or does it oversubscribe its bandwidth in order to maximize profits?
In addition to requesting client references, it's often a good idea to request financial references. You can also call business contacts who are online and ask them who they use for web hosting services and how their experiences have been. That's a great way to find out about companies to be avoided based on the bad experiences that peers have had.
It can be a lot of work initially to find the right provider. However, the work you put in up-front will be offset by the service of a good web host provider.
Troy Janisch is president and founder of the Icon Interactive Group (www.iconinteractive.com
), an industry leader helping companies integrate Internet and other Interactive media into sales channels, marketing strategies, and overall branding. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.