Meredith is the owner of a niche site that sells clothing and accessories to charter boat captains and other mariners. She sells dozens of products – from shirts, pants, and jackets to jewelry, knives, bags and belts. Sales are strong and continuing to grow. Customer service is fast, personal, and conscientious. Marketing has been fine-tuned to deliver a predictably good ROI for every dollar spent.
All those pieces of online success are helpful, but they aren’t enough to keep Meredith’s business growing. She has become more aware over the years that people expect impeccable user experience from her site – and that starts with her infrastructure. After unscheduled downtime that left her feeling that she had put her trust in the wrong outfit, she became more thoughtful about her choice of web host. She switched to a server provider that she felt had the knowledge, experience, security, and support that she needed.
In fact, anyone can have difficulties with their website’s performance that can be extraordinarily costly; when Target’s site crashed on Cyber Monday in 2015, they both missed out on a huge influx of sales and paid for the gaffe heavily on social media.
Online retail sales will hit almost $2.5 trillion by 2018, so having a comprehensive plan for web growth is increasingly critical. To properly address e-commerce, you need a server provider that has the stability and scalability to impress everyone who visits your website.
Here are a few of the criteria that you can use to compare different web hosting companies and find the one that’s the best fit for your business:
You hosting service should allow you to get a fast resolution of any support problem. However, there is a huge range of response time between different companies. The difference between a 3-minute response and a 3-hour response can be, in certain scenarios, a difference of 2 hours and 57 minutes of hair-pulling stress, along with thousands in lost revenue.
The fact is, it can be a bit difficult to determine how quickly a hosting service will respond until you test them. When Web Hosting Talk user tnedator first switched to a new hosting company to manage his servers, they started by hardening and optimizing them. An issue with one of his sites resulted in load spikes that made his server unresponsive. The team at the server provider would attempt to connect, ask for a reboot (through a third-party datacenter), make sure the server was live again, and try to determine what was causing the load issue. The “fast and thorough” ticket response, already evident in the first 30 days, gave him confidence that he had made the right choice.
To better understand this kind of ticketing response time in context, tnedator signed on with the new hosting provider specifically for their server management. Unmanaged service can be difficult, as he experienced; although you can still get configuration information from your vendor, you can’t get direct, case-by-case answers from your systems manager.
In other words, tnedator was benefiting, in part, from transitioning to a server company classified as a managed services provider. These hosting companies check that your configuration settings match what is needed for your load; monitor for potential vulnerabilities and breaches; backup your system; conduct patching; and handle similar ongoing responsibilities.
You need all your information to be backed up periodically if you want your site to be secure. That’s a fundamental business continuity concern: if your site gets hacked or your data otherwise becomes lost or corrupted, that backup gets you back online rapidly. Know that your hosting company is as concerned with backups as you are.
As the CFO of a small Chicago manufacturing business, Pamela was well-versed on proper security practices. Nonetheless, at some point, malware was introduced to her computer, and it represented a very real danger to her company. Whenever Pamela put the web address of a financial institution into her browser, the malware automatically redirected her to a fake site mimicking the bank. A bogus message prompted her to call customer service. After speaking with the agent, $300,000 was immediately transferred out of her account. Acting quickly, they recovered the money. Disaster was averted.
These stories, of course, don’t always end happily, which is why security is critical for your firm. Intrusions can knock your site offline and cause compromise of sensitive user data – an impossibly expensive incident for many businesses and the reason why 60% of small businesses that get hacked are bankrupt within 6 months.
When you look at server providers, select a company that is compliant with internationally respected protocols regarding control of information handling. The gold standard is Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE) No. 16, a set of parameters for hosting companies and similar services developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
Beyond SSAE 16 compliance, one simple question to ask web hosts relates to password storage. Make sure they are not stored in plain text. Also avoid shared hosting, which can mean that your site gets taken down because of the misbehavior of other users.
No one wants to see limitations to their ability to grow, but any hosting plan will include them – either transparently or otherwise. For example, a hosting company might try to attract your business by giving away “unlimited” bandwidth or storage for a surprisingly reasonable monthly rate. In these cases, read the fine print. For cheap hosting with “unlimited” promises, expect your server provider to either shut down your site or throttle it once you hit a certain level.
The web hosting company you choose needs to offer the software and equipment that allows it to run and serve your site and content management system installation (WordPress, etc.). You should know that certain features are available through your server provider, by asking these questions:
- Do they offer the programs and services you need for your site? What are the main pieces of software you need? What are the system requirements for your CMS?
- Does the web host offer additional services? For instance, do they provide database management, email hosting, and transfers (so you know you won’t have to go out and shop other companies for related services)?
- Do you have access to cPanel or a similar control panel? Is installation of WordPress or any other CMS straightforward?
- Does the company help with migration? What is the cost? What types of terms are involved? Will the company give you free migration to move to their company, or will simply switching providers become an unexpected expense?
You want more customers, but you obviously don’t want that to mean that your site crashes. Find out about your potential server provider’s uptime; third-party services should verify that the service has recorded uptime that’s greater than 99.9%.
Check carefully online for reviews from real customers, legitimate hosting industry professionals, or IT publications that can give you a glimpse into the quality of service. Many reviews are actually advertisements with links to affiliates of the company; so be skeptical in this analysis.
Are you in need of a reliable, fast, and secure server provider? DeWayne Whitaker described Total Server Solutions on Facebook in October 2016: “No matter the time of day, our ‘average’ response time to support tickets is usually under three minutes,” he said. “Support reps are not Level 1 type support, rather they are highly qualified system admins each and every time.” Explore our platform.