Avoid eCommerce Hosting Horror

There seems to be a lack of information on the subject of Web hosting. It amazes me, because the Web host is literally the backbone of your site. If you get stuck with a shoddy host your site won’t appear on the Net. Your email won’t come through. Your shopping cart won’t function. Without a dependable Web host… your online business would be out of business!

So how do you make heads or tails out of the bandwidth, megabytes, POP3s, FTPs and SSLs? Due to the lack of information available, most site owners make one of two choices: they pick the least expensive package, or they choose the one that offers the most features "just to be safe".

Allow me to define a few of the more common terms that you might hear in your search for the ideal host. I’ll also offer some guidelines to help you make a knowledgeable decision about exactly which features you really need.

The Basics

Storage Space

This is the amount of space you lease on the host’s server, and it’s measured in megabytes. So how much do you need for your site? Well, on most Websites, one page with limited graphics and some text would take (on average) 5 kilobytes (Kb). If you have heavy graphics, photos, etc. your pages might require up to 30 Kb.

Multiply the number of pages by the number of kilobytes to calculate a rough estimate of how much space your site currently needs. Also, don’t forget to account for space that will be used by other things you’ll store on the server. eBooks take up an enormous amount of space, as do Flash movies. They’ll also be stored on the host’s server, and need to be included in your estimate. Try to anticipate what you’re likely to add to the site in the future, and include that in your total — you’ll want to allow some room for growth.

A quick tip: just look at the file index on your computer to see the size of each page, ebook or Flash presentation.

Bandwidth

When files are transferred from the host’s server to the site visitor, they use up bandwidth. When pages are clicked and displayed on the screen, when ebooks are downloaded, when shopping carts are put to use, bandwidth comes into play. The more "active" your site is — the more there is for the site visitor to do — the more bandwidth you’ll need.

Email Accounts

There are two primary types of email that Web hosts offer. Web mail is email that can be accessed online using your browser. You pull it up and view it just as you would any other Website. POP3 email is that which can be used with email software (called an email client) such as Outlook Express, Outlook, Eudora or Pegasus.

Where you need to be careful is in determining how you’ll manage your email accounts, and what charges are involved with each alternative. Some hosts offer a limited number of POP3 addresses and then charge you for additional ones. Others may not offer a "control panel" for the maintenance of your email addresses, and might charge you to process any changes you need to make.

The Extras

Now let’s consider a few items that you’ll probably have heard of, and see how they can help you run an online business smoothly.

Autoresponders

One additional service that will come in very handy is that of an autoresponder. This will allow you to send an automatic message to people who email you. You will find this service useful when you’re on vacation, or when you want to reassure customers that their message has gotten through, without having to make a personal reply to this effect every time you receive an email.

FTP and Front Page

FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. This is the protocol used to upload your Website to the host’s server. Most Web design software includes an FTP application that incorporates Dreamweaver and Go Live. Note that Microsoft’s Front Page does not include FTP. It also has some other special considerations that make it necessary for your host to specifically support Front Page, if that’s the softare you use — check with your potential host for more details.

SSL (Secure Socket Layer)

This is the process that allows the secure, encrypted transfer of data. Some confuse this with the acceptance of credit cards. Although most shopping carts and online merchant accounts use SSL, it does NOT mean that your host includes a merchant account with your hosting package.

In addition to payment options, SSL can be used to collect sensitive data from your site visitors, to ensure that your emails are not intercepted online, and to provide a sense of security for your customers.

"There’s More?!"

Yes! Choosing a Web host is a serious process. A few other questions to consider during this decision-making time revolve around the function of your site.

  • Are you going to offer purchases online? If so, you’ll need a shopping cart.
  • Are you going to provide an ezine or newsletter? If so, it would be beneficial to find a host that offers list servers. If not, you can find a free one (which will include advertisements) or you’ll have to pay for this service from another provider.
  • Do you want to track your site visitors? That would be very wise! Be sure to view the types of traffic statistics the host offers. Unfortunately, some don’t provide very detailed information. At a minimum you’ll want to see the referring URL (where the visitor came from), the number of hits per month and the pages on your site that are receiving the most views.
  • Think you’ll have questions from time to time? Then it would be an excellent idea to find a host that offers 24/7/365 tech support via chat or telephone.

And last, but certainly not least, be very sure to check out the "up time" and security of the host. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, if the host isn’t dependable, your business will be out of business! It’s imperative that your host has measures in place in case of crashes or outages. Likewise, you’ll want a host that offers security for the information you’ll be storing on his/her server. Find out about firewalls and other security precautions they’ve taken.

Knowledge is power! Knowing what to look for can save you a lot of money, time and aggravation. And it can keep your business IN business.

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