Starting something new? Get ready for “The Learning Curve…”
There are new words to learn and new concepts to understand.
… and that’s what you can expect when you look for a home for your website.
To make sure we’re on the same page, let’s first cover some necessary ground!
Let’s start at the beginning; shall we?
The most obvious question…
What is a webhost, and why do you need one?
Assuming you own a website for your practice or coaching business, you need a place to host your site, aka a webhost.
What does it mean to “host” a website?
Your website consists of your domain name and tons of individual files that live on a server. When someone types in the URL of your website, files are accessed and show up on their monitor as your website.
So hosting refers to the space you rent on a company’s server (essentially a computer) to host your website. In a nutshell, hosting allows for storage of your website files and for the access of your website.
Why not “host” your website files on your own computer?
While it’s possible to host your website on your own computer, it takes technical expertise, equipment, and time to manage it all… if you want your website to stay online.
That’s why utilizing the services of a webhost makes more sense. They have the technical expertise, the equipment, and the staff to manage the operation.
But not all webhosts deliver the same degree of service or value…
And that’s why choosing a quality webhost may be one of the most important things you’ll do for your business website and your business.
After all, your website is more than just a collection of files. It’s a valuable tool to help you market your practice. It works for you 24/7, every day of the year… as long as it stays online and is accessible to those searching for you or your services.
But before you can pick the best webhost, you must first translate unfamiliar jargon. Because unless you understand the basic building blocks of most hosting products, you can’t make an informed decision.
When it comes to hosting, here are some essential terms you must know and understand.
You already know what domain, webhost, and hosting are; but there is more jargon you must know.
It refers to the amount of data transferred between your site (on the server) and your users. Bandwidth is consumed whenever your site is accessed.
You need to have enough bandwidth so that your site responds quickly to requests for data. If your site is small or new, it won’t use much bandwidth at first, but consumption will increase over time.
There are hosting companies advertising “unlimited bandwidth” with some of their plans. Since you’re paying for bandwidth, the term unlimited is misleading. Nobody will give you truly unlimited bandwidth.
The term “unmetered” is more accurate. When a company advertises unmetered, it means you’re free to use bandwidth” up to a specific limit as often as you’d like.
While bandwidth is essential for large sites and high traffic sites, it’s not as critical when first starting out or for a moderate size website. Chances are, you won’t go over the limit.
However, you still should know about bandwidth and what you’ll be paying for it.
This simply refers to creating backups, copies of your website.
Is the webhost providing regular backups of your website? Is it included with the plan you’re considering? How often do they back up? Do they also restore your site if it needs to be restored?
The control panel provided with a hosting plan simply refers to software, allowing you to access and manage the files stored on your website. The control panel is an interface. It also allows you to set up and manage email, check your analytics, install scripts, and much more.
The two most commonly offered control panels are cPanel an Plesk. I have only used cPanel and cannot speak to Plesk. In my experience, the cPanel interface is easy to understand, learn, and work with. Once you have a basic understanding of the interface, it’s easy to manage your web files.
The amount of disk space available with a particular hosting plan refers to the size of storage to house and access your website files. It includes the files that make up your website, all the software programs you use, and all other files added over time, such as videos, images, and text. There should be enough disk space to do the day-to-day work and allow for growth.
A company registering and managing domain names, accredited by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Many companies offer registration services alongside their hosting plans.
I don’t recommend your host both your domain name and website with the same company… too many eggs in the basket!
Individual services packaged and sold together as a plan. Plans can vary greatly in the type of services included and in price.
Potentially damaging software installed on websites to steal information, inflict harm, or take control of a website.
Shared server… These are basic hosting plans that divide disk space amongst users, which means many websites have to share disk space (not always a good thing).
Many hosting companies offer a range of plans, from basic hosting on a crowded server to hosting on a server shared with a few other users.
Dedicated server… the option of leasing an entire server for your website or company, without having to share space. Dedicated servers are far more expensive than shared hosting and probably more than most would ever need.
Virtual Private Server (VPS)… a server partitioned into different sections, that act as standalone server housing websites.
SSL stands for “secure sockets layer.” Essentially, it’s a way to encrypt data in an attempt to make the web safer. In the past, encryption primarily was used by sites handling financial data or other sensitive information.
Today, Google and other organizations encourage and enforce implementation of SSL certificates across all websites. When there is an SSL certificate installed, the address bar will display a “lock icon” in front of the URL.
The SSL certificate signals to users that information passed between the browser and the server stays private. While not necessary for informational type websites (at this time), SSL certificates are a must for any site handling financial or sensitive information.
Many webhosts offer free, basic SSL certificates with some of their hosting packages.
The Best Webhost
Now that you have the necessary vocabulary under your belt, it’s time to pick the best webhost for your business.
Here are 5 steps to help you find the one that best suits your requirements and pocketbook.
#1 Determine what you need
This is your starting point…
What is it you need from a webhost?
How many sites do you want to host: just one, or do you want the ability to add more websites later on?
Most hosts offer upgrade options, making it easy to move to a higher capacity plan at any time.
Do you want basic, shared hosting? Or do you prefer another type of hosting?
Does the hosting plan include the option to help with the transfer of your website from your current host to the new one?
Do you require a bit of hand-holding? If you do, the type of support offered by the company is crucial. Do they offer chat, email, or phone support with the hosting plan under consideration?
Is the support 24/7/365 or limited to extended hours only? Is there a phone number or do you have to log into a help desk?
How fast are they picking up the phone when someone calls? If they only provide email support, what is the promised response time?
Remember, your website is much more than just a collection of files. Your site markets your business for you non-stop. And while nobody can promise your site will be up 100% of the time, frequent or lengthy downtimes – because you can’t reach support – are not acceptable.
Are there any bandwidth restrictions? Some hosts cap the allowed bandwidth per month. If your site is rich in graphics or videos, it could add up fast.
How much disk storage space do you need? Is the space offered adequate to allow for growth down the road?
Do you need your site backed up? Do they offer site backups, or are they available only with higher-priced plans?
Do you want some protection from malware? Do they perform regular malware scans?
Does the hosting plan include free SSL certificates? Not all hosts provide them at no extra charge.
Do you require special scripts to run on your site? Are they available and supported with the hosting plan? Read the fine print and talk to the company to find out.
Do you require a HIPPA compliant hosting plan? Most hosting companies and plans are not HIPPA compliant. Most websites, even when clinical, do not need to be HIPPA compliant, as long as there is no confidential patient information exchanged or stored.
Since most practices utilize a HIPPA compliant EMR, HIPPA tends not to be an issue for most. However, if you must have a HIPPA compliant webhost, they are available.
#2 Only consider reputable companies
What is the company’s reputation?
How long have they been in business? How many websites do they host? What is the reported downtime for the webhost?
Do they specialize working with the “entry-level” market, which requires fewer resources? Or do they focus on offering higher-end hosting, to established and experienced businesses and individuals?
Do they use heavy sales tactics? Are you pressured to make a buying decision when all you want is information?
Do they make promises you know no one can keep? 100% uptime, no limits on anything, 24/7 phone support… for next to no cost.
#3 Compare companies and hosting plans
Once you’ve selected a few companies for consideration, compare their hosting plans.
Try to compare… comparable plans. Not always easy! If you can’t compare apples to apples, at minimum be sure that your “Must-haves” are part of the comparison.
And be aware of introductory pricing! Frequently hosting plans are sold at steep discounts for the first year and go up in year two. Make sure you know what will happen when the introductory price ends.
Also, be aware that what you see advertised may be annual pricing, and not month to month, which tends to be the highest.
#4 Check online reviews
While online reviews are not always reliable, they’re well worth a look. Many consumers feel free to complain, often holding back nothing.
While you may not be interested in the nitty-gritty complaints, look for patterns. Do customers consistently complain about slow response times or frequent downtimes? And what has the company done to work with their customers to resolve ongoing problems?
Of course, ask around. Check with colleagues, friends, and family about their hosting company and their experiences with them.
Try to find out as much about the company before you sign on the dotted line.
#5 Call support, read the fine print, make your decision
Chances are you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.
If you haven’t done so already, call or email support. How easy is it to locate the contact information and how long does it take them to respond. Ask them what the typical response time is, what you can expect.
Next, read all the details about the hosting plan under consideration. Do you understand everything, or do you need clarification? If you do, don’t be shy; ask questions until you have all the answers.
So, there you have it… 5 steps to help you choose the best company to host your website.
If you’re still with me, it means either you found the article intriguing (unlikely), or you know it’s in your best interest to understand the big picture, even if you have no intentions to manage your own cPanel or website.
Where you host your website has the potential to impact site performance, reliability, and speed. Picking the right webhost for your business is a critical decision.
Here are two hosting companies we have used or are currently using to host our various web properties. We’ve had positive experiences with them and recommend them both.
Join the conversation by leaving a comment below; we’d love to hear from you…
By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, LAc, regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog.