Once you've selected a domain name and you're ready to get started, the next step is to find a web hosting company that meets your needs. They'll provide the technology you need to get your web site up and running - so you don't have to invest thousands of dollars on your own hardware, software, and heavy-duty Internet connection.
Your web site forms the very foundation of your Internet presence, and selecting a good web hosting company is not a chore to be taken lightly. Generally speaking, as with just about anything else in life you get what you pay for. Let's consider the options:
Option 1 - Free Web Hosting. A few megabytes of storage space, usually no customer support at all, slow servers, can't use your own domain name, and none of the features you'll need to make money.
Option 2 - Bargain Web Hosting. The bare essentials, little or no real customer support, questionable quality, often unreliable, lacking in features, not for a serious online business.
Option 3 - The Smart Choice. Tons of storage space, lightning-fast servers, live humans to speak with in case of problems, all the features you need to make big bucks.
If you guessed that we recommend Option 3 - you're right! The choice is obvious, yet in our experience nine out of ten online marketers aren't using a web hosting company that allows them to take full advantage of the Internet - and they're losing big money because of it. Here are the features that you should be looking for in a quality web hosting package:
Fast Servers - Quality hardware and redundant T3 connections or better. The speed at which your web pages load is directly proportional to your income, and there's no such thing as a server that's too fast.
Full Domain Support and Registration Services - Must allow the use of your own domain name. Most can handle the registration of your domain name for you, but the best companies work closely with Internic and can normally get things done faster than you can.
No Access, Bandwidth, or Hit Charges - These days there is no reason to use a web host that charges access, bandwidth or hit fees - not until you're getting 50k visitors a day anyway. The best companies offer unlimited bandwidth with standard hosting packages.
Unrestricted CGI Access - You're going to need to use CGI scripts at one time or another, so be sure that you have your own cgi-bin directory - and the ability to upload any scripts you want. Don't use a web host that limits you to the scripts they decide you can use.
Telnet Access and Cron Jobs - Telnet access is not absolutely required, but sure comes in handy for things like debugging CGI scripts. Cron jobs allow automation of behind-the-scenes activities, and this feature is also quite desirable from an Internet marketing standpoint.
Web-based Administration - These days most quality web hosts have some type of web-based admin interface which allows you to manage your server via the web. It's not necessary, but may come in handy for those who don't consider themselves to be the technical type.
Access to Raw Server Logs - You'll need access to your raw server logs in order to best analyze your web site traffic. Do not use a web host that doesn't offer this, you should have unrestricted access to your logs.
Secure Server Capability - If you plan on selling anything directly from your web site, you'll need secure server capabilities. Look for a web host with low or no additional setup fees, and a low or no monthly fee for SSL.
Full Email Services - Your web host should offer full email services, including POP mailboxes, unlimited email aliases, and unlimited autoresponders. Do not pay extra for these features.
Unlimited FREE Customer Support - With a good web host you shouldn't have many problems, but if you do you will want a live human to speak with on the phone. Definitely insist on unlimited customer support via both email and telephone - one day you'll be glad you did.
No Minimum Contracts - Don't ever sign a long-term contract, it's not necessary and by doing so you give up a lot of flexibility. If something should happen down the line and you decide to switch to another host, being locked into a long-term contract could be costly.
Money Back Guarantee - Our web host offers a 30-day money back guarantee, and so do many others. You should insist on it - just in case you're not happy with their services. It's the sign of a professional company that stands behind it's product.
There are a few good databases of hosting companies that you'll want to consult. Namely, TopHosts (http://tophosts.com) and the Web Host Directory (http://webhostdir.com). Each compares over 500 popular web hosting companies, is fully searchable, and gives you all of the info that you'll need to make an informed decision based on your needs.
The difference between a mediocre and an excellent web host is no more than $30 a month, so don't make the mistake of sacrificing quality and necessary features just to save a few bucks. The truth is that using an inferior web host doesn't save you money at all - you'll actually end up paying a lot more due to lost profits which are inevitable.
Originally published in IMC's Internet Marketing Chronicles.
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