Reliability and Speed:
Reliability is perhaps the most important factor; if your website is unavailable you’ve lost a vital part of your company’s operation. If you sell products directly online then this is even more important as all the time it’s down you’ll be losing orders. Internet users tend to have limited patience and if your site is down they’ll seek out a competitor rather than wait for it to come back.
Speed is almost as important. If your site takes too long to load or slows down during times of peak demand then again you’ll lose business as potential customers surf away elsewhere.
Bandwidth refers to the amount of traffic – the number of bytes of data – transferred from your site when people access it. Hosting companies often charge for bandwidth so you need to ensure that you understand what you’re paying for. If there’s a monthly limit – usually in gigabytes – make sure that this is going to be enough for your needs. If you’re expecting to see a sudden spike in traffic, as a result of an advertising campaign say, then make sure this won’t push you over your allowance and land you with extra charges.
Even if a host says it offers unlimited bandwidth there will usually be some sort of fair use limitation. Take some time to read the small print of what’s on offer to ensure that you don’t run into any hidden charges. It can sometimes be difficult to foresee bandwidth requirements so a transparent pricing policy will help you to manage your expenditure.
Most hosts offer packages that have differing amounts of disk space. You may find that you need less than you think, ordinary websites are quite small in size. The only time you’re likely to run into limits is if you’re hosting large numbers of music and video files. Again beware of fair use limits on ‘unlimited storage’ deals that may well trip you up if you exceed them.
Your website is a key part of your business so you need to be sure you can get support to help you deal with problems. Things often go wrong at the least convenient times so you need to make sure your chosen host offers 24/7 support. Check to see if their support staff members are available on public holidays too.
Scripting and Shopping:
Scripts are often used on websites to implement specific features, visitors’ books for example. Some hosting providers won’t allow you to install scripts without their permission so check to see if this is the case. It will slow down the implementation of a new site if you have to wait for the host’s approval before you can roll out changes.
If you’re planning on selling directly from your website then you need to ensure that the host supports SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to allow you to collect payments safely. Also find out if you’re restricted to using their shopping cart facility or if you can implement your own.
These are the key considerations but there are others too and it’s always worth checking reviews left by other users or asking the company if you can talk to some existing customers before you sign up.
Jann Webb is a freelance writer and former Web designer and recommends comparing several options for website hosting, Cape Town and other major cities should offer plenty of choice.