What do I need to know before I choose a web hosting service?

To be publicly available, a website needs to be stored on a  server that is constantly connected to the internet. These servers can attract large amounts of traffic and require dedicated management and maintenance personnel.

Some things you might find useful to consider when choosing a hosting service provider include:

  • Guaranteed uptime. You want to be able to trust your web host to keep your website live. If you are running a business website, a hosting failure can lead to lost sales. Look for hosting services with a 98% or higher uptime guarantee and find out if your potential hosting service will financially compensate you if your site goes down.
  • The amount of  server space and  bandwidth offered. The more data you want to store on your website and the more visitors you want to be able to accommodate, the more it will cost to host your website.
  • The level of security—that is, the protection of the data belonging to you and your clients from unauthorised access, modification, loss or damage.
  • Additional services, for example the number of mailboxes that you can set up with your domain (see more about email).
  • The ease of managing your own website information. This includes things like facilitating  DNS (domain name server) transfers for assigning your  domain name to the hosting provider and  FTP (file transfer protocol) tools for uploading your website files.
  • The availability of support when you need help.
  • Environmental considerations, such as energy efficiency or strategies to reduce power use.
  • The duration and terms of the hosting contract.
  • Cost-effectiveness.

It is important to shop around to make sure you get the best price for the level of service that you require from your hosting service provider.

DigitalIQ tips

Can I use a free hosting service?

In most cases, the answer to this question is ‘No’. A free hosting service might be a good option for a personal site, but it is unlikely to be enough for a business or large organisation. A free hosting service could provide you with around 50 megabytes worth of storage. This will generally not be enough to hold all the data you are likely to want for running a business website. Free hosting services may also place their own banner ads on your website, which can detract from the professional look and feel of the site

It is important to keep a backup of your website

It is common practice to insure an organisation against things like fire, theft and natural disasters. Backing up your website works on a similar principle—it is your insurance against viruses, hackers, hardware failures or damage to hosting servers. If you are using a content management system (CMS), the website for your CMS should provide you with instructions for creating a backup copy of your website. If you are not using a CMS, keeping a backup is a matter of maintaining a copy of the site’s source files on another storage device. You may need to discuss this with the developer who built the website. For extra insurance, find out if your web hosting service provides a backup service. This may cost money, but it could be a worthwhile investment, especially if the loss of data would affect your organisation.