When owning an e-commerce business, choosing an e-commerce web host is one of your most important decisions – here are some factors to help you choose the right one!
One of the most daunting choices a potential e-commerce business owner faces is choosing a web host. Here at Pure-Ecommerce we completely understand and we would like to share with you some of the most important characteristics you need to find in your new e-commerce web host. The variables are overwhelming and often so confusing that it becomes easy to settle on a hosting company based on a friend’s experience or how well-known the company name is.
LOTS FOR RENT!
Real estate is a very useful analogy when explaining web hosting. Securing a hosting account is similar to leasing a lot for a brick-and-mortar business. You may not own it, but you have the freedom within your space to create nearly any business you’d like. Are there zoning laws? Sure, but if you’re looking to build an honest business with ethical practices, there are many web hosts that will suit your needs.
It’s true that all hosting accounts have lists of services and features included. The truth is, they’re all relatively similar, but what does it all mean? Here’s a quick rundown of the top terms that matter:
- Operating System – The building code. You’ll have the options of Windows or Linux, and each system will dictate what you can and cannot build on your space. In short, the answer is Linux because of the popularity and flexibility you’ll find for e-commerce systems.
- Webspace – This is the size of your lot. Unlike real estate, you can upgrade to more space with a few clicks, so don’t be afraid to start small. A starter package of around 1000MB seems to be a perfect launching package for sites with around 800-100 products.
- Bandwidth – This is your traffic. The higher your bandwidth, the wider your roadways. Small bandwidth limits the amount of traffic you can handle at one time while higher bandwidth increases it. What happens if you exceed your bandwidth? You’ll have a traffic jam and you’ll get no traffic whatsoever. For a business just starting out, 5GB (approx 5000MB) is more than enough. The good news is that you can easily monitor your bandwidth usage from your control panel, and it resets monthly.
- Email Accounts – How many post office boxes do you need, really? Be sure they give you at least five, but if they also offer “email aliases” then you can setup many other addresses that forward to your primary address, so don’t sweat it. More isn’t always better.
- FTP Accounts – This is a service entrance. FTP (file transfer protocol) is a method of quickly transferring files and folders from your computer to your hosting account. If you asked your builder always to enter through the front door, your project would take a very long time. FTP is an absolute must for designers and developers who will be working on your site, but I’ve had clients for years who have never used it. In any case, you need at least one FTP account. I prefer to have the option of a second account, at the very least, to offer to third party developers/designers who may need temporary access.
- MySQL Database – This is the core of your work. It’s your computer hard drive, filing cabinets and phone book combined. You’d be hard pressed to run a thriving online business without a database behind it. Your database will house your catalog of products, your content, your customer database, sales records, and much more. Ideally, plan on one database per software installation. One is sufficient, but more will allow you to add more software down the line. If you don’t see MySQL as an offering from your Linux host, dig deeper or move on.
Those terms are top on your list of necessities. But what about the plethora of other features these companies are offering? We could liken it to a real estate listing luring us in with offers of walls, running water and door knobs. Some features we should naturally expect to have and not feel the need to seek out or compare.
Most Linux hosts use cPanel interface, and it’s loaded with features. I promise that you’ll never use most of the features, but they do look great on a potential host’s résumé! To save some time, click over to http://cpanel.net/website-owners/feature-tour/ and take a look at what cPanel offers right from the developers themselves. If your host offers cPanel, they probably offer everything you see on this feature list.
UNLIMITED AND UNMETERED
These words the all-you-can-eat of hosting companies, but be cautious. There’s always fine print, and there should be. If you’re using your web space as you should, you would never need unlimited space. Having a ceiling on your space isn’t something to dread, it’s a realistic limit to protect web hosts from abuse. Sharing server space with other users who abuse the limits means you could get stuck in a “bad neighborhood” which will ultimately lower your traffic and reduce trust in your site.
Unlimited bandwidth tends to be more flexible for hosts. Sites will vary in traffic, and having unmetered options lets the host have an “open range” tactic with their clients. If your host offers unmetered traffic, it doesn’t mean they don’t watch for abuse. What it does mean is that they trust you to use ethical methods of driving traffic to your site. If something raises a red flag, they’ll let you know.
Your building inspector, always a drag but definitely serves a purpose! If you plan on accepting credit cards, your site will need to be PCI Compliant. PCI stands for Payment Card Industry and you can find out more about it by reviewing the frequently asked questions at PCIComplianceGuide.org. This means your methods of collecting funds will need to adhere to rules and regulations put forth by the credit card industry. Non-compliance can mean heavy fees and penalties. Ask your web host how they would handle a failed compliance scan and help you become compliant.
On most web hosting sites, you’ll see touting of 99% or 100% uptime. That sounds incredible, doesn’t it? The reality is that the uptime means something entirely different from “your website will never go down”. If you read the fine print, or even Webster’s dictionary definition, you’ll note that this only means their machines will be operational and, in the hosting scenario, connected to the global internet.
All servers will have issues and maintenance, the same way your building may need construction or spring a leak in the restroom. I’m not suggesting that a business owner lower their expectations of exceptional service. I only suggest reasonable consideration that all technology is imperfect.
Your plumber, electrician, and handy-person. The people who we pay to do what we can’t (or shouldn’t) do ourselves, hosting support is one of the largest expenses for a hosting company. If your host offers solely email or help-desk support, it doesn’t mean you’ll get poor service. Consider that tech support workers are most efficient while concentrating on the issues, not while on a phone call. As much as you’d love to sit it out with a support tech on the line, it’s not necessary and often not very fruitful for bigger issues. While we all adore the option of a phone call or live chat, the best litmus test for your hosting support falls on response time, follow-up and results.
They exist for a reason, but check for caveats that may make your life difficult down the line. Some examples:
In the future, are the files and folders on your web hosting account readily available and transferable to another hosting company?
If you secure your domain through the host, or get a “free” domain as a perk, can you transfer it to another registrar at any time. If so, ask what the waiting period is. It should be no more than sixty days.
SEEK THE EXPERTS
Support and sales staff of hosting companies are your internet real estate agents. If you’re not sure if their packages will meet your needs, just ask them. Do you know what type of structure you’ll need (or, shopping cart software, in this case)? You can easily obtain a list of requirements from the software developer and compare to what hosting companies are offering.
There are many other venues you could refer to in your quest for the perfect hosting scenario, and that’s where e-commerce consultants and development teams are invaluable. The experts at Pure-Ecommerce have the experience and know-how when it comes to the e-commerce industry. We are here to help you at your comfort level, whether it be baby steps or leaps and bounds.
Your e-commerce presence will be your baby; an extensive investment of time and dedication. Choose quality over quantity for your business, your hard work deserves the very best!