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How to choose a good small business web hosting service and avoid nightmares!

By Moto Gel

Three years ago, I started my grand campaign to profit from the Internet gold mine. I was buoyed by the statistics of increasing online spending, and was convinced that some of those trillions circling the globe should come my way. So the perfect way to start, I reasoned, was to build an online store stocked with the right products. Now the trick was to find out how on earth to get "on" the Internet.

One of the first things I had to do was to find a small business web hosting service. The Web expands every day, and so do our choices. Just how do you find a small business web hosting company to meet your business needs? There are literally tens of thousands, each one with a different focus and services designed for a specific segment of the market. As you study your different small business
web hosting, you might consider the following tips from a battle scarred entrepreneur:

How much should you spend on small business web hosting?

When I started out I (like most persons) was initially mesmerized by the "free" small business web hosting services. After all, why pay for small business web hosting when you can get it "free". I realized in time that this was a very poor move on my part. I'll tell you why:

Strike 1: Free small business web hosting services are quite suitable for personal, family or hobby activities. However, if you are looking to establish an online business or become an affiliate and earn commissions, free sites often limit your flexibility in terms of real time credit card processing, choice of shopping cart, and use of customized scripts (for order forms or other interactive data gathering from users).

Strike 2: Many affiliate programs will not accept persons who are hosted on a free small business web hosting service. Additionally the constant barrage of advertising by the free service, will lure your customers away and eventually hurt the sales-effectiveness of your site.

Strike 3: Free sites don't get treated with much respect by the Search Engine spiders, and your site is almost certainly not going to be listed. Here's what Danny Sullivan, the most well-known Search Engine guru on the Net, had to say about free hosts in the August 18, 2000 issue of THE SEARCH ENGINE UPDATE...

"... get your own site, under your own domain, rather than doing it within Tripod.com or any place offering "free" home pages. Sites offering free home pages are often looked upon with suspicion by search engines, because search engine spammers also make use of them. It's like sharing a house with bad roommates. Move out, get your own house, and you'll probably do better with search engines."

We have all seen those Internet hosting advertisements that offer massive amounts of data storage for truly ridiculously low prices. Always remember that you get what you pay for. Data storage is generally cheap and easy to supply, however it is much more difficult to provide customers with uninterrupted high-speed access, quality customer care, technical expertise, and guaranteed uptime.



It is important to make sure of exactly what you need, and what you are getting, before you jump at a bargain. Choose a provider offering prices commensurate with the range and quality of its services. In general, the typical hosting package for most small companies requirements will cost about US$25 per month. A small price to pay for your online store monthly rental.

What operating system is best for your web site?

An operating system or "platform," such as Microsoft's Windows NT or DOS is the basic set of commands that tell your computer how to open applications and store files. In the early days of Internet activity, most servers operated on a UNIX platform, an extremely powerful and flexible system that requires considerable technical expertise to administrate. UNIX is still as popular as ever, but today you have a choice: Windows NT and UNIX variations such as Sun Microsystems Solaris, Silicon Graphics' Irix, and Berkeley's BSD.

Experts offer significantly different opinions as to which platform works best for web sites. In the end, the choice depends largely on what you want to do with your site. UNIX servers are compatible with certain Microsoft extensions and applications, for example, MS SQL (a database program) or Microsoft Front Page (a web authoring tool). You might however, be more comfortable operating your site on a Windows NT platform, as most persons using a PC are familiar with the windows interface. On the other hand, many engineers prefer the flexibility, security, and control of UNIX servers. UNIX also allows for more web sites per server, lowering the cost of hosting per account.

As your site grows in size and complexity, in all likelihood you'll decide that a particular platform is desirable. It's best to anticipate this contingency and choose a web host that offers different operating systems which are scalable and backs them up with technical expertise.

Eight attributes you should expect from your web sitehosting provider.

1. Your Own Domain Name

With most hosting packages you will have to purchase your domain name separately, however, your host should have the capability of searching and registering your domain name. A domain name e.g. www.mycompany.com gives your site instant credibility. New customers will have a good first impression, and returning visitors don't have to remember where your site is hosted in order to reach you. It's like having a direct phone number rather than an extension.

2. Data Storage (Disk Space)

In order to have your web files served to the world, you need to have a generous amount of disk space on servers where you can upload your pages, images, sound clips, etc. and store them. As a general guide, a 100 page site will easily be accommodated on 50 Megabytes of server space.

3. Bandwidth (Data Transfer)

Bandwidth is the amount of data transmitted or received through a unit of time. In web hosting, bandwidth is consumed when visitors make requests for files on your web site and download them to their personal computers. When you add up the total of all files downloaded off of your site in a particular month, your total should be lower than the amount of bandwidth allotted with your hosting plan. If it is not, your file sizes may be too large or you may be generating a lot of hits - in which case you may need to upgrade to a larger hosting plan or to a dedicated hosting server. Plan to use at least 50 Megabytes of bandwidth for every 1000 visitors per month.

4. POP3 E-mail Accounts and Auto-Responders

You should be able to send and receive mail through Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) accounts, so that your e-mail addresses end in your web site's unique domain name. Additionally, e-mail aliases and forwarding arrangements allow you to set up names@yourdomain.com that forward to a POP3 e-mail account that you may already have (from your ISP). This allows you to check multiple aliases by downloading mail from one e-mail account. Auto responders are also a great feature with hosting accounts since you can automatically respond to customer e-mail's sent to a particular address with a standard message, like "Thank you for contacting our Support team. We will be have a technician responding to your queries within 24 hours."

5. Technical Support

Weather you are a newbie or veteran on the Internet, you will want your hosting provider to have great technical support online. This way, when you have a question or concern you can find the help you need in a timely manner and have the ability to find the information in the format you wish to receive it.

6. Redundancy/Reliability

This is a term bandied about in the hosting industry. Essentially, no matter how excellent the equipment, or the expertise of the engineers, technology fails occasionally. A web host with multiple servers, high speed connections, and UPS systems with backup generators can provide consistent, high-speed access and guarantee at least 99% uptime.

7. Security

It takes many layers of Internet security, from password protection to fire wall barriers, to prevent determined hackers from wreaking havoc with your Web data. Make sure the hosting company you choose has enough security measures in place to ensure that your data is completely protected.

8. Speed

Web hosting companies typically connect to the Internet through T (Transmission), OC (Optical Carrier), and DS (Digital Signal) lines. Many smaller web hosting providers still use T1's to connect your site to the world at a rate of 1.544 megabits per second (Mbps). The best hosting companies use redundant lines to ensure that customers' sites remain responsive even if their primary Internet connections are temporarily unavailable. It's a good idea to determine which providers offer backup connections fast enough to maintain your site's performance in the event of a primary line failure.

In addition to offering the fastest network connections, a host should provision its lines and circuits to use less than 50% of available bandwidth. Overburdened network connections will inevitably result in poor site performance. In fact, a lightly used T1 line will transfer data faster than an overused T3 connection.

Where to find good hosts
OK, so now you know what to look for. Where can you find a good host with all the above qualities. Two very comprehensive sites are available: www.zoneindex.com and www.phphostsearch.com. These allow you to enter your own requirements for a web host.
Alternatively, you can choose from their list of top 25 hosting companies. These lists are derived from a combination of account features, technical support, and customer feedback. Good luck in your search!


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