When it comes to selecting a web host, there’s a lot to choose from. It’s possible your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may have its own web hosting capabilities, and it’s not a bad place to start. However, more than likely you’ll need an independent host that can specifically address your own unique needs, such as database requirements, storage (hard-drive) space and bandwidth demands.
“There are literally thousands of options, so making that decision, which is a very important decision, can be challenging,” said Dane Jasper, CEO of the web hosting company Sonic.net. “I think that shopping around for the features and a price that are going to satisfy the needs of your website, number one, and that features question is an important one. And is the website going to require a Linux host or a Windows host? That’s a very fundamental question.”
Jasper said other key questions to address during a web host search include potential database requirements and how financial transactions will be processed, including if a unique IP address is required, which means even if a web server hosts several sites, each will have different IP addresses. This allows for a unique secure server certificate for your domain name, and an IP address that is unique to your website.
Specialized features aside, Jasper also recommended that people contact a web host’s technical support and/or customer service before making any decisions.
“Once you’ve set aside those technical concerns and you’ve narrowed that field down a little bit, I think calling tech support is very useful,” Jasper said. “Figure out if you’re speaking with someone who you feel like you can communicate with, someone who’s able to address the questions that the prospective customer has at a level that that customer can understand. You don’t want to reach a tech support that is so technical that you can’t understand what they’re saying and you don’t want to reach a tech support that is totally clueless about what you’re trying to accomplish. Having a five or 10 minute dialogue with tech support about what you’re trying to do and getting their advice about how that might be implemented in their environment can really tell you a lot about the organization.”
As far as where to go to find a hosting company, Jasper said he wasn’t aware of many credible resources. “There are web host rating sites, but I have trouble determining which of those are legitimate and which simply stack the deck,” Jasper said. He recommended a Google search as well as word-of-mouth endorsements.
Steve Mizrahie, CEO of Insiderhosting.com, a web hosting company, said where to search for a host largely depends on whether or not a website is constructed. If your website is built, Mizrahie said to be sure that you contact companies that are able to host your specific files. “For example, if your shopping cart has a backend of Microsoft Access, you wouldn’t be able to host that on a Linux machine. I would start from there because that determines if you’ll actually be able to serve your files from their equipment.”
In addition, Mizrahie said he would recommend contacting prospective hosting companies and asking them what they specialize in. “There are some that specialize, like we do, in essentially mission critical, 100 percent up-time hosting, where your sites are not down at all, and that’s exactly what you need in terms of an ecommerce shop.”
Mizrahie also said to be sure of what that hosting provider sells, including what specifically is provided in each of their packages, particularly if the option to upgrade is available. “If there’s no upgrade path, then maybe they’re not the right one for you. It’s a very personal thing choosing a hosting provider. But I would definitely make sure that there is some type of upgrade path that is available so you can consistently see your site grow and evolve and being bigger and stronger.”
Online there are a number of sites that rank web hosts, including Hosting-review.com and Best-webhosting2007.com. Mizrahie recommends Whreviews.com, noting “That company provides unbiased reviews in that they aren’t recommending companies and getting paid for it. I would also suggest the yellow pages and the local chamber of commerce as better options.”
Whreviews.com was created by Dan Lemnaru and touts itself as a “reliable hosting shopping guide.” It includes a number of resources, including ways to find reputable web hosting. Lemnaru’s site even features an “Honest Host” section, which includes 16 hosts, complete with reviews and/or threads on each.
Lemnaru recommends those in search of a host visit open web hosting review forums, such as Webhostingtalk.com, which offers a forum that includes “discussions on all aspects of web hosting, including past experiences (both negative and positive), choosing a host, questions and answers, and other related subjects.” Other forums Lemnaru recommends are Hosthideout.com, Hostingdiscussion.com, Resellerboard.com and Sitepointforums.com.
Additionally, Lemnaru suggests using web hosting directories such as Findmyhosting.com and Webhostingratings.com. Findmyhosting.com offers, among other things, a basic guide to web hosting, as well as information relating to how to find, compare and evaluate different hosting companies, whereas Webhostingratings provides an independent guide geared towards selecting an adequate web hosting service for personal or business use.