Today we conclude the three-part series on choosing a web host provider. In Part I we looked at the cost factor as well as up-time guarantee claims from web hosting companies. In Part II we discussed a number of other factors that can mess with your site's performance in the search engines such as speed, bandwidth, server load monitoring, space as well as other necessities such as email and security. Finally, we'll look at FTP accounts, control panel access, tech support and both free and in-house hosting options.
If you plan on editing and updating your site yourself then FTP access is a necessity. You'll also want to check to make sure that you can create multiple FTP accounts for various individuals and/or portions of your site. Creating individual FTP accounts makes tracking user-created problems easier, as well as cutting access to one person without cutting it for anybody else. Check to see how many FTP accounts you can create and make sure you'll have enough for your needs.
A good control panel can make managing your web hosting account much easier and lessen the need for tech support help. Good control panel access will allow you to update, change, set-up, upgrade, downgrade or whatever else you need to do with your account. And it should be fairly easy to figure out without an engineering degree.
A good web hosting company will provide accessible technical support. If I can't find a support number on their website--or not provided access to one with the account--is a sure sign that your web host does not want to be bothered with your problems.
If you have call-in tech support, your wait time should be minimal. If you find yourself on hold for lengthy periods of time with each call, that's a big red flag. You should not be left on hold for more than four or five minutes before reaching a representative to help you. If you email a tech support issue, be sure your provider responds to requests quickly--within hours, not days--and is able to quickly and competently provide you a solution.
Free and in-house options
I don't recommend using a free web hosting service for anything other than a hobby site. The downside to using free hosting is just too much and the barriers, such as forced advertising and long, complicated URLs, are just too great for the benefit you receive.
Many companies are bypassing the web hosting providers altogether in favor of hosting their sites on their own in-house servers. There are some definite pros for doing this but I don't recommend going this route unless you have a full-time IT person on staff who is skilled at web server management.
I once flirted with hosting my site in-house. I have a rented in-house file server which comes with ongoing customer support. My tech sold me on the benefits of hosting my site in-house. After moving my site over I quickly realized that there was much more to web hosting than meets the eye. Days went by as I waited for my server tech to figure out how to set-up the email server and domain redirecting. After about a week with calls to the domain registrar, server tech, and programmer, all saying the problem is somebody else's issue, I return to using a real hosting provider.
In-house hosting also raises site access issues. When hosting your website in-house the ability for visitors to access and download your site is largely dependent on your local ISP and the connection speed you receive. Even with broadband DSL or cable, typical connection speeds are much slower than can be provided with a quality web host. This can increase download times and create a more sluggish site if you have many visitors at once.
In-house hosting also does not provide you with any kind of uptime guarantee, or, in my experience, quality tech support. Should your server go down or power goes out your website will be unavailable to your visitors.
In my experience, quality web hosting is difficult to come by, but is absolutely essential for any business that takes their online marketing efforts seriously. Be sure to research your potential web host providers carefully. Find out what services they provide for free and what you have to pay for. Make sure they provide sufficient tech support, guaranteed uptime, as well as a good reputation from others. If you need to, be willing to pay more for quality service. A little extra each month can help eliminate thousands of dollars in potential lost revenue if your website or email goes down at an inopportune time.
A few days ago I needed to re-evaluate the monthly cost I was paying for web hosting. I called my provider and within minutes was talking to a tech support individual. He walked me through various issues I had with my service, looked up stats, showed me how to make necessary changes and where I might find problems in the future with my service level. Ultimately, he spent 30 minutes helping me save $50/month on my hosting services.
I could not help but marvel at a company that let's their tech support people spend so much time on the phone with one customer only to help them downgrade. But I realized that this is one of the things I have always loved about my current web host and why I generally won't use any other. They have always put their customer's needs above their own. I like that in a web host provider!
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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