A hosting company is one that provides the space on which your website resides online. There are thousands to choose from, some very good and some very bad, some hugely expensive and others costing very little while still offering excellent customer service.

For anyone new to having their own websites outside of eBay, it’s easy to think all hosting companies are reliable, with friendly and efficient customer service departments, and very little to choose between them. So how do you find the perfect hosting company for your needs?

In fact choosing the “right” hosting company for their websites is one of the most important tasks facing new and established Internet marketers, and rushing to choose that company is a good way to lose money and see your business fail before it’s even got off the ground.

The perfect hosting company… what to look for

Basically, what you’re looking for is a company that will host your website, or more likely several sites, without charging excessive amounts of money for services you don’t need and which aren’t reliable anyway.

The “perfect” hosting company is one you sign up with, pay for their service, and you get on with uploading and managing your websites, without ever suffering downtime (it means problems at the hosting end which makes your sites inaccessible), and without facing hidden charges or waiting hours to reach customer support.

Because I’ve only ever been with two hosting companies; (one I hated, one I love, and after more than 10 years of selling online I hope my experience of choosing a reliable hosting company might benefit my readers also.

Starting with:

• Cheap is not always best. And free is usually best avoided at all costs. You’ll find thousands of hosting companies offering free hosting space for your websites, usually with their own promotions featured top and bottom of your site. How professional does that look? Moreover, customer service is usually very poor. What these firms are doing is giving you free web space and hoping the traffic you work hard to generate will make more money from their own advertisements than the website makes for you!

The same cannot be said of most companies offering free hosting space to people buying their domain names. Sometimes you’ll be offered a lot of space, sometimes very little, and with good customer support usually thrown in for good measure. So it’s pretty safe to say, if you’re contemplating having just one small website you might find free hosting space from your domain name supplier is all you ever need.

• Research several companies before choosing one to host your websites. Before you make decisions you’ll regret, go looking for user reports on good and bad domain name and hosting providers. Try keying something like “review + company name” into the search box at Google.com to read about other people’s experiences. But don’t be swayed by just one or two bad reviews, which are more likely the work of vindictive and very difficult customers, than genuine reviews. Instead, look for multiple mentions of similar problems and check what is actually being said. That’s because sometimes people complain about events over which a hosting company has no control. A good example was recently when most mainstream servers in Scotland and northern England went down for about half a day and business opportunity forums were rife with tales of sabotage by staff from a major named UK hosting company. The reason was extreme bad weather, nothing more, nothing less!

• If you buy a domain name and hosting space – free or paid for – from the same company, choose one that renews your domain names automatically, so you don’t risk losing the URL of a business it’s taken you years to build. This happened to me several times with my first hosting company, where the method for keeping sites active was to phone staff to renew your domain name and hoping they wouldn’t forget! Which very often they did! Avoid the problem by choosing a company where your domain names will be renewed and paid for automatically from your credit card or PayPal account unless you choose otherwise.

• Look for companies with user-friendly websites and low in aggressive selling. Some companies have complicated sites with advertising messages that pop up unexpectedly as you try to manage your account and which sometimes confuse you into buying services you don’t need and don’t want. Go Daddy is one such site where, as you progress through picking a domain name and paying for it, you’ll receive numerous offers of add-on services and related domain names. It gets very confusing and unless you are very careful you will end up making mistakes. That said, Go Daddy is also a very inexpensive and reliable service provider, and well worth working a little harder to master. To illustrate, Go Daddy typically charges around $10 for a “.com” domain name for one year (currently just over £6) while I know at least two companies in the UK that charge £75 per name!!!

• If you plan on having several websites look for a company where you can host unlimited sites for one basic fee. But if you’re only ever expecting to have one outside eBay website it may not be worth the extra costs involved. Instead look for packages providing space for one name only and sometimes free of charge with your domain name or costing just a few pounds a month.

• Check how much diskspace (sometimes just “disk space”) and bandwidth you’ll be getting and whether penalties apply if you exceed your limit. If you’re planning more sites later or you want to add unlimited products to one website, you should opt for companies offering unlimited space even at a slightly higher-than-average hosting fee. Diskspace refers to the space provided for your sites and is usually measured in megabytes.

No, I don’t know much about megabytes either, but I do know my hosting company allows me unlimited space so I’ll never find my sites being removed or being invoiced for excessive amounts for exceeding my limit. Generally speaking, the more images and text you have on your web pages, also the more files you have uploaded for customers to access, the more diskspace you need.

Bandwidth is the amount of data your site can transfer and it’s best viewed as the number of hits and amount of traffic you are limited to each month. One review I read today gives this useful advice: “An easy way to calculate your bandwidth needs is to multiply your average page file size by the number of hits you expect per month. So if your average page size is about 100kb, it would take 5 million hits per month to reach the 500 gigabyte limit.” (Source)

• Look for a company offering good “uptime” and instant access to customer support. Uptime is the amount of time the company’s servers are functioning properly, compared to “downtime” which represents the time your sites are inaccessible online. Bigger, more professional companies boast better uptime rates than smaller companies, as well as usually offering support 24/7 even during holiday periods.

The industry standard “guaranteed” uptime rate is 99%, meaning you have to expect problems sometimes, although in reality uptime is closer to 100% for most professional companies. Check uptime by studying user reviews in Internet marketing forums, and also by contacting customers whose testimonials feature on individual hosting companies’ websites.

Study sites for the type of support offered and prefer companies offering live chat and telephone as well as email support, over others offering email support only. Double-check what you read in forums and on Internet review pages by taking out a free trial with one or two hosting providers and use their support service several times, even if you don’t have a problem and you haven’t even uploaded your sites yet. See how quick they are to respond, check how knowledgeable their support staff seem to be and how well they answer your questions.

Some companies, in the UK and overseas, offer 24-hour telephone support as standard. One thing though, you’ll find some 24-hour support staff are based outside the UK, often in India and other parts of Asia, and you may sometimes have difficulty understanding what they say. But be patient and you will always find help ready when you want it. As far as overseas hosting companies are concerned, be sure you don’t have to pay excessive telephone rates to contact their support centre because that’s the way some bogus companies make their money. If you’re unsure, stick with UK-based hosting companies.

• If you’re not familiar with website design and you don’t want to pay high website designer fees, look for companies offering free design software, usually built into the system so you can design all your sites online. But be sure you can download those sites to your desktop in case your hosting company goes out of business or you want to move hosting companies later.

For lots of choice key something like this into the search box at google.com:

“free + website + design” “free + website + templates” “web + site + hosting + templates”

• Consider what features may be required as your business develops but which are not needed from day one. We’re looking at SSL or Secured Socket Layers, for example, if you want to take credit card orders directly from your website, and FrontPage extensions which some people find easier to use than ftp (File Transfer Protocol) for uploading their websites. Also, if you might want to add a forum to your site a few years from now, or you fancy adding a shopping cart, then take time at the outset to find firms offering those features and check how prices compare between companies.

• Look for companies offering unlimited email accounts, especially if you want a different email address for various departments in your business, or if you choose to open several eBay accounts where each requires a unique email address.

I hope these tips help you choose a hosting company that proves just as reliable for your business today as it will many years from now.