Practical Ecommerce

Hosting Companies: Many Options for eCommerce

It may seem like a daunting task to locate the right domain-hosting firm for your business, as there seems to be an endless sea of options. Wading through the many choices in the web hosting market can be frustrating and confusing.

Rather than looking for a hosting company that offers the lowest price, Remik Kolodziej, co-owner and founder of dotcomhost.com, a hosting company catering to ecommerce businesses, said ebusinesses should look for a host that best matches their needs before looking at price.

“Not all hosting companies are created equal,” Kolodziej said. “When people shop around for something, a house or a car, they can easily see a difference between available choices. But when it comes to hosting, people often assume all hosting companies are the same. Ninety percent of people shop for price first, then look at features. It should be done the opposite way.”

Kolodziej said ecommerce business owners should have a clear understanding of what services and support they need and then look for a host that can fill those needs.

“Start with the staff of hosting company and company that focuses on the needs you have with your company,” Kolodziej said. If your company has specific needs, needs assistance with certain applications or desires particular shopping carts and other features, select a company based on those criteria.”

There are several key items to consider in a web host to ensure you select the company that best fits your needs.

Technical Support

For someone with intermediate web skills (or less), it’s critical to have quality technical support functions at any web host. You’re going to want a resource that is available to assist you – preferably 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That may seem unimaginable to you at first, but you can count on something going wrong at 11:41 p.m. If your website is out of business, you’re out of business. If you have a website that’s not essential to helping you earn money to pay employees or put food on the table, perhaps you can justify spending fewer dollars on a hosting service that provides less support. Otherwise, technical support should be high on the priority list.

Thomas Gorny, president and chief executive officer of IPOWER, Inc. (ipower.com), a hosting company with 500,000 customer accounts in 100 countries, said their research indicates customer service needs rank higher on surveys of ebusiness owners than reliability and price.

“As a true component of customer service, we want customers to be able to call, get through on a call to a technical support person and have the support person be able to answer the customer’s question,” he said. Gorny said his company has dedicated resources to providing quick responses to technical support inquiries and 80 percent of calls in the first quarter of 2006 were answered within five minutes. His goal by the end of the second quarter is to be up to 95 percent of calls successfully answered in five minutes.

Kolodziej echos Gorny’s feelings toward technical support.

“Support is of great importance to the client and should be to the hosting company as well,” Kolodziej said. He noted that the better hosting companies offer multiple ways to reach technical support such as an online help desk, email, live online chat and by telephone.

Bandwidth (Data Transfer)

Data transfer is the amount of actual data that can be transferred from your domain’s server to the Internet browser of the person looking at your site. The amount of bandwidth you use is directly related to the number of visitors your site receives. It’s important to look closely at the details on the amount of traffic that’s allowed by the package you’re purchasing. Bandwidth is stated as a monthly limit in either megabytes or gigabytes. You’ll want to check what the additional fees will be if you go over your bandwidth limit for a month. If you plan to offer a significant number of downloads, audio or video, you’re certainly going to use more space and more bandwidth. According to Christopher Heng at thesitewizard.com, most new sites that are not software archives use less than 3GB of bandwidth per month. “Your traffic requirements will grow over time as your site becomes more well-known and well-linked, so you will need to also check their (domain hosting company) policy for overages,” Heng noted.

Kolodziej warns to be cautious of companies offering ‘unlimited bandwidth’ or ‘unlimited disk space.’ He says the fine print of those offers frequently traps ebusiness owners. “I see it all the time,” he said. “People have to be a little realistic and it should set off major red flags if someone promises unlimited bandwidth and unlimited disk space. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Available Disk Space

Though this is an important issue, it’s usually a bit overrated. Web pages are normally very small. Findmyhosting.com notes that, on average, a web page may be 40-50KB – that’s small. Unless your site boasts a robust database or it’s a site with many images, it’s unlikely you’ll need a large amount of space for your site. Findmyhosting.com also provides a handy “disk space calculator” a person can use to estimate the amount of space needed for a site. Many sites don’t even use 5MB of space.

Cost of Plans

Based on disk space, bandwidth, number of email addresses and many other variables, cost of hosting plans will vary substantially. There is a significant cost difference between selecting a shared or dedicated server, for instance (see related story). Cost is always an issue to consider but keep in mind the old adage that you get what you pay for. That applies to domain hosting companies, as well. You can get a quality, shared server host for about $9 per month, you can get a dedicated server for about $90 per month and a virtual dedicated server will be somewhere in between.

Email Options

How many email accounts do you want for your operation? 10? 100? Different hosting plans will accommodate different quantities of email accounts. Don’t assume there will be an unlimited number available to you included in the cost of your package. Most domain hosts are happy to upcharge you if you want to go beyond your allotted quantity of email addresses. You’ll also want to know if you have the ability to manage (limit) the size of an email’s mailbox, forward emails from the server, generate autoresponders, if it has a web mail function so you can get email from anywhere, etc.

Site Management with Control Panels

A control panel (see related story) allows you to manage the different components of your website from the ease of an online tool. Long gone are the days of having to contact your domain host to ask if they could set up a new email account for you. A control panel gives the domain owner or administrator the easy ability to manage customer information, establish and manage email accounts, manage billing and payment information, etc. Perhaps most importantly, many control panels can generate an extraordinary amount of charts and graphs noting traffic, unique users, etc. that can be used in marketing your site. Spam management functions are also important to be able to control with a control panel.

The Extras

If you plan to do business through your site, it will be important to check if your domain host provides shopping carts for its customers and if there is an extra price for that service. In addition, you’ll want to ensure they can handle Secure Sockets Layer protocol. SSL is a method of passing sensitive information, such as credit card details, over the Internet. All communication is encrypted to prevent ‘eavesdropping.’ An additional ‘extra’ to research is whether your domain host provides or can accommodate any type of database, message board or other third-party software your site might need.

You must do your homework. If you use specific types of software on your site, visit online communities specializing in those software packages to see what your peers and competitors are saying about their hosting companies.

Kolodziej at dotCOM host cautions ebusiness owners to ask an additional question: Does the hosting company you are considering using own its servers or are they “resellers” hawking the space on other companies’ servers.

There are many businesses marketing themselves as hosting companies that don’t own their servers. They are simply sales organizations. Using a reseller doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up in dire straits, but you may be dealing with a business that can’t quickly respond to your tech support needs because servers aren’t onsite. He said many resellers also don’t offer 24/7 support.

If you make a quick, unresearched decision on a domain host, you’re likely to regret it down the line as your site has increased traffic and success. For an ecommerce business, consider the domain host and its infrastructure the ‘foundation’ for a successful business. As with building a home, establishing a stable foundation for your ebusiness is critical.

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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