How to choose a Web hosting company

Written by Don Sangster

More and more entrepreneurs say their website is their best marketing tool. How’s yours working for you?

When evaluating the effectiveness of your website, don’t neglect to consider your Web host. After all, what good is a well-designed and well-written site if it frequently crashes and your web host’s tech support people use so much jargon that it takes a team of linguists to unravel the advice?

It may be time to choose a new firm to host your website. But that can be a frightening prospect if you’re like many entrepreneurs: strong on leadership and strategic planning skills; not as strong with tech matters. If you can’t tell a CGI from an ASP, then here’s where to start:

Service, not servers

First, relax. Don’t worry about the technical details, like trying to figure out what server platform to go with. You can leave that to the Web hosting companies, who should be willing and able to educate you about the tech stuff. “I really think the whole procedure should be painless because Web-hosting companies should be taking care of the technical details,” says Jeanie MacWilliam, a specialist in Web hosting for small business at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group.

Type of tool

When considering which web host to choose, first be clear on the function your website mainly serves. “What you want your website to do is very important,” says MacWilliam, “I don’t mean technically; I mean as a tool for your business. Is it a marketing tool? Is it a commerce tool?”

That distinction alone can have a huge impact on what type of service you’re looking for. A marketing-oriented site is easy to accommodate. An e-commerce site, however, takes you into a whole other realm of requirements — shopping-cart functionality, a secure server to handle credit-card transactions, database capability to track inventory and bookkeeping, and a number of other considerations. So it’s vital to know and understand your requirements before you even begin your search.

Talk to your peers

Ask your peers which companies they would and wouldn’t recommend, and what types of problems they’ve encountered with their web host. Specifically ask about reliability. How much down time have they encountered? Your site isn’t of much use if it lives on a server that is constantly breaking down and going off-line.

Ask about domain registration

Does the hosting company take care of domain registration and, if so, does it cost extra? “It shouldn’t be an added charge today,” MacWilliam advises, although it used to be. It’s extremely important that the host renews the registration on schedule or you could end up losing your established URL. Conceivably, one of your competitors could come along the day after your registration expires and register the same “” you’ve been using, thereby hijacking all the site traffic you’ve developed to date.

Money matters

Web hosting is relatively cheap nowadays and there’s no reason to pay more than $10 to $20 a month. By contrast, avoid the dirt-cheap services, as you’ll get precisely what you pay for — short on extras and long on aggravation.

Why settling can be unsettling

A mistake some entrepreneurs make, according to the head of one of Canada’s top Internet hosting companies, is settling for what’s most convenient. “A lot of companies end up going with their Internet service provider or with the people who designed their site,” says Dave Barcroft, president of Sarnia, Ont.-based Stormweb. This is not a good idea because in both cases, web hosting is a sideline and not the company’s primary focus, so you may end up sacrificing long-term reliability for what seems the hassle-free choice.

As for the major players, such as Bell Sympatico or Primus, they’re primarily ISPs, not hosting specialists. As well, the more familiar name brands come at a higher price.

Speed and support

Two final factors worth noting are speed of access and level of technical support. Sluggish performance indicates the host server either doesn’t have adequate processing (CPU) speed or has too many sites sharing a single server.

As for tech support, make sure there’s both an e-mail and emergency phone component available 24/7 so that even the most urgent problems can get an adequate response. Many hosts offer 24/7 support, but the quality can vary tremendously. The only way to know for sure is to test the troubleshooting capabilities first-hand.

Start short-term

That’s but one reason why the safest approach in enlisting a host is to avoid signing on long-term at the outset. “Many services have really good deals on paying for an extended period,” says MacWilliam, “but I go month by month in the beginning because I want to see what the hosting company is all about.” Many of the top hosting companies offer a 30- or 60-day money-back guarantee.

For an up-to-date ranking of the top Web hosts in Canada, visit

Read other pointers on How To contribute to your business success!

© 2004 Don Sangster

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