May 6, 2010
Online business operators have a tendency to forget that the company hosting their store is the foundation of their business and a successful business needs a strong and reliable foundation. When looking for a web host, remember that finding the company with the cheapest price is not the goal. Paying a higher fee for better service and more dependability is ultimately the smartest decision. Conversely, the most expensive company is by no means going to be the best either.
When launching a new e-commerce business, finding the best web host for your needs can be a tremendously daunting task. There are simply so many web hosts out there and it is a tiresome and grueling process to separate the good guys from the bad. Many folks looking to start a website begin by checking out web hosting review sites and directories. On these sites, you can read what clients have to say about their current and former web hosts.
However, there is a bit of a problem with many of these hosting review sites – bias. The majority of these websites are actually owned by web hosting companies and most, if not all, sell advertising space. In theory, if a host has a big marketing budget then they can buy their way into the marketplace. A review site is not generally going to give a negative review to a company that is spending thousands of marketing dollars with them.
However few and far between they may be, unbiased review sites do exist. A great place to start when searching for a new web host is Web Hosting Talk (http://www.webhostingtalk.com/), a very informative site with great, impartial forums. On this site, you can gain priceless, valuable insight into the web hosting and e-commerce industries by discussing, conversing and learning the opinions of the experts. Another review site that has been noted for its impartiality is HostJury.com (http://hostjury.com/).
When searching for a host, do not be suckered into buying into gimmicks. Things like “unlimited” plans may sound appealing, but there is really no such thing as “unlimited.” When a company says unlimited, that means that your site will be generally placed on an overcrowded server where you will be forgotten about. It’s important to research the history of the company and find a reliable host with great technical support.
Your Host Dramatically Impacts the Performance of Your Store
There are a variety of major ways that your web host impacts the performance of your online store including:
- Uptime and Downtime
- Technical Support
- Site Speed and Page Load Times
- Management of your account including data, email, backups
- Virus Protection
- Defense from Hackers and Malware
- The ability of your hosting to grow with your business (you should be able to increase hard drive space with one quick, simple call)
- Your host should aid with the technical aspects of accepting credit card orders, including setting up a payment processing system.
- Hosts should help you find developers or modules to make your site function properly.
No Such Thing As Good Downtime
Choosing a reliable web host and the correct plan for the amount of traffic your site will generate is of the utmost importance to the success of your online business. Site uptime and downtime are perhaps the most important components of how web hosting affects an online store’s performance. Downtime can really break an online business quickly.
Simply speaking, when your site is down and inaccessible then customers cannot make purchases and you cannot make money. Furthermore, potential customers cannot peruse your site. Let’s face it – people shop online to save time and money. If your site is continuously down, then you will not be able to make it in the competitive marketplace of the Internet.
The industry standard for web hosts regarding downtime is a 99.9% uptime guarantee. Never sign up for a hosting package that does not guarantee at least 99.9% uptime because this will surely negatively impact the performance of your store. To put it in more practical terms, with 99.9% uptime, your site should never encounter more than around 45 minutes of total downtime per month.
Sometimes there might be a situation where your server has a critical error and your site may not be online for 99.9% of the month. In any such case, it is your host’s responsibility to credit your account with the pro-rated amount you owe for that month’s charges.
Quality Support is a Must
Reliability and good technical support go hand in hand. When choosing a new host, make sure that they have an excellent support staff. When you first call them, go with your gut instinct. Do they sound knowledgeable and easy to understand? Are they polite? Ask detailed questions and make sure you get well-informed responses. You want to have the comfort of knowing that in any instances of malfunction your issues will be resolved quickly and correctly. A solid web host will have email and phone support available 24/7/365.
Looking, feeling and operating professionally are critical components to running an e-commerce business. Having a sub par web host will toss professionalism out the window rather quickly. It is imperative to establish trust between you and your customers in order to successfully sell online. Customers will not feel safe spending their money with a site that seems unprofessional in any manner.
A Speedy Site is Essential
Another manner in which your web host can impact your store’s performance is your page load times. This can even affect your ranking within Google and the other search engines as they begin using site speed as a factor to determine page rank on the results pages. Having fast load times is imperative not only for the sake of ranking well with search engines but to make your customers happy. No customers like a slow site and chances are that if your site is not performing well, they might just click on over to your competition.
A Solid Web Host + A Good Business Model = Happy Customers + Success
Unsatisfactory web hosting can directly impact the customers of your store. Therefore, it is imperative that you choose a quality web host that will not play a part in your store functioning inadequately. Studies have shown that approximately fifty percent of consumers will leave a preferred site if they are experiencing technical problems. All it takes is one unhappy customer to begin the process of bringing down your business. If a customer is not happy, the following results could occur:
1. They may never return to your store as a shopper again (this is especially traumatic to your business if they are repeat customers)
2. Word of mouth is a big deal. Unhappy customers have big mouths and they will most likely vent their frustrations with others.
3. A dissatisfied customer may leave a negative review regarding your business on a forum, message board or review site. One bad review can stick with you and your business forever so you must go to all lengths to avoid them.
If it does happen, be proactive about it and try to squash it as soon as possible. Try to explain your side and apologize to the customer (remember, the customer is always right). Offer the person a discount or their money back to appease them. With today’s social networks, news travels fast. One tweet could go viral and your brand and image can be quickly tarnished.
Forrest Yingling is the Marketing Director for WebNet Hosting, a Premier Partner with Miva Merchant and providers of Basic Web Hosting and Business Web Hosting solutions.