What to look for in a web host

Not all web hosts are created equal. When you set about choosing a web hosting service it can be tricky to work out which companies are deserving of your business. Plenty of web hosting companies will make big promises about what they offer, but it’s down to you to work out if that’s what you need. In this article we will help to guide you through some of the key considerations.

Posted on 20 April 2017 -
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Which web hosting types are right for you?

Before you even consider choosing a web host, you should give some thought as to the type of web hosting that is right for you. Is an entry level virtual private server (VPS) hosting package suitable, or do you need something that is more tailored to your organisation’s performance and security requirements? In that case, a multi-server private cloud hosting package might be more appropriate. This infographic will help to guide you towards the type of hosting that is likely to be right for you, but it is also worthwhile doing further research into the various options to make sure you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for.

It’s also important to think about what sort of website are you hosting? Which platforms and technologies will your website rely upon? Different sorts of websites need different types of support from the server behind them. For instance, a media website that gets bursts of high traffic when breaking a news story might need a private cloud with a content delivery network (CDN) to provide quick scalability, while an e-commerce website with low but database resource-heavy traffic caused by shoppers opening various items, zooming in on photos, and checking stock availability might be best served by a private cloud with a dedicated bare metal database server.

In which country do you want your server to be based?

Another consideration before you start assessing the relative merits of different web hosts is where do you want your server to be based? If you definitely want your data to be held in the UK, there is no point looking at hosts in other countries. Why does it matter where your website is hosted? There are a few reasons. Firstly, there are issues of data sovereignty and data protection. You might have corporate or insurance responsibilities to fulfil in this regard, or you might simply have preference for the legislation in one country over other.

There are also performance and page speed considerations. Your website is served to your customers by data travelling along wires from your server to their device. The shorter the distance the data has to travel, the better the user experience will be. With that in mind, it makes sense to choose a web host that is based in or near the same geographic markets as your customers.

Similarly, search engines tend to favour websites they think are relevant to people in a particular geographic market. So, if your website is hosted in the UK, your website is likely to rank better on google.co.uk than on google.com.au.

Read more on those and other geographical factors here.

What level of security do you need?

A personal blog is likely to have different security requirements than a multinational business, so make sure you pick a web host that takes security measures appropriate to your needs. One way of taking relevant precautions is to opt for a host that meets accredited standards for information security management. Learn more about ISO 27001 here.

You can also take additional security measures by opting for a host that offers secure types of web hosting. For example, some hosts only offer shared hosting, which is not as secure as private cloud or dedicated server hosting. Basic file permission errors might allow others to access your data on shared server, while the lack of security measures taken by your fellow customers might undermine your own efforts and compromise your data.

What’s included in the service level agreement?

What sort of support is on offer from the web hosts you are looking at? And does this tally with the level of support you need? Make sure that you choose a web host that can enhance and expand the technical capabilities of your in-house team. If you know there are gaps in your staff’s technical proficiency when it comes to matters of hosting, you will want the external support on offer to cover those gaps.

Check what support channels will be available to you, the opening hours for those channels and the response time after you get in touch. And don’t get sucked in by empty promises: make sure the level of support is down in black-and-white in a service level agreement.

What disaster recovery provisions are in place?

One of the things that should be included in the aforementioned service level agreement, but one that is worth picking out for further consideration, is a disaster recovery plan. All web hosts experience technical problems from time to time. Whether its a cyberattack, hardware failure, emergency maintenance or human error, your website could be taken offline. Equally, an error made by your staff could also break the website.

The questions to ask are: how regularly are backups saved, how are they saved, what happens when your website becomes unavailable and how quickly will you be back in business? More comprehensive disaster recovery plans are likely to be more expensive, but you might work out that it is an investment worth making. Again, check what you’re being offered and make sure the paperwork reflects this.

What is your prospective web host’s record?

You have a business and a reputation to protect, so don’t throw your lot in with a fly-by-night operation. Take a look at how long your would-be web host has been in business. Explore their track record, see what people have to say about them on social media and review websites, and take a look at their customer base to see who else is entrusting them with their reputation.

What is the flexibility and scalability on offer?

You don’t want to be paying for resources that you do not use, but neither do you want to have to tear everything up and start again if you’re planning to grow the website. See what your prospective web host offers in terms of flexibility and scalability to cope with a higher volume of traffic. If you’re tying yourself into a limited quota of bandwidth or storage capacity, explore any charges that will be incurred if you surpass those limits or need to upgrade.

What is your budget?

And so to the bottom line. It is no use finding a web host that meets the specification based on everything mentioned so far in this article if they charge more than your budget. As with most things in life, there is an element of ‘you get what you pay for’ in web hosting. Don’t forget that you that paying more per month might save you money in the longer term if it provides a service or services that benefit your business.

Explore different types of web hosting

Get more information on some of the various web hosting options available to you.

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