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Are you considering setting up your online business or are you just not happy with your current provider?

Where you host your website is one of the most important decisions you will have to make when setting up your online presence.

Your online presence can be as effective as your bricks and mortar store front. If you don’t have a bricks and mortar store front, then your online presence may be the best means for your customers to get in touch with you. A poor hosting provider may mean that your online presence is intermittent, slow or just not available for a percentage of the time. This would be like having a closed store front when your customers came to visit or not answering the phone – doesn’t leave a good impression for the customer base. A good provider ensures that your online presence has high availability and great response times – leaving a much better impression for your customers.

The focus of this article is to help business owners decipher some of the technical jargon and work out what questions should be asked when choosing a hosting provider. As a business person, you are generally focussed on the core aspects of your business – what do you have to do to bring money through the door? You really don’t want to be burdened with translating techo-jargon to business speak.

Unfortunately, many web hosting companies are more than happy to quote statistics and tech specs at you without telling you what they really mean to your business. On top of all of that, the pricing for services varies greatly and, without knowing the right questions to ask, there is little chance of differentiating the offers and ensuring you’re getting the best deal for your business.

When embarking on setting up your online presence, be clear about the purpose of the site. Do you want it to be an “online brochure” or do you want to be able to process sales? The requirements for a “brochureware” site and an “E-Commerce” site vary greatly, as does the price. Most hosting providers have a progression through their hosting accounts to allow customers to migrate from a “brochureware” site to and “E-Commerce” site.

The other questions to consider are:

1. How many domain names will you want to use for the site? It is not uncommon to register several domain names that all point to the same site. This is a way of protecting your brand and not allowing competitors to “steal away” your customers. Examples of this are: yourbusiness.com.au, yourbusiness.com, yourbusiness.net.au, yourbusiness.net. Using any of these addresses will provide the same website – this is known as Domain Parking.

2. How many SQL databases can you have? SQL databases are used for Blogs, Content Management Systems and the like. The ability to have more databases, the better, even if you are running a BrochureWare site.

3. Does the server have scripting support? To run Blogs, Content Management Systems and the like, you will need the webserver to have scripting support (php etc). Most servers come standard with php support, but it is worthwhile confirming this.

4. Applications Vault. Fantastico is a great add-on that automates the installation of web applications to a website. There are more than 50 applications that have Fantastico scripts associated with them, including Web content management system, Blogs, Wikis, Photo sharing and Shopping Cart software. This will save a lot of time and money for any organisation.

5. Email accounts. Whilst you may initially think you only need one email address, the ability to have separate addresses for different functions is a major bonus. Again, the more email accounts the better. In fact, with the increased functionality of Google Apps, you should also consider whether you can configure your webhost so that you use Google Apps Mail.

6. The ability to “forward email domains”. If you do decide to register multiple domains that point to the one site, you should also ensure that email to any of those domains is receivable. For example, your primary email address may sales@yourbusiness.com.au however, if a visitor tries to email sales@yourbusiness.com, without domain forwarding, the email will not be received. Email domain forwarding will divert email from one domain to the primary domain, thus making you more contactable.

7. SPAM filtering. There is nothing more annoying than receiving SPAM in your email inbox. You should check what level of email SPAM and virus filtering the webhosting company provides. Check how often the definitions for the filters are updated – some update monthly, others update hourly. Spam is generated minute by minute, a filter that is updated monthly will allow a lot more SPAM emails through than one that is updated hourly. Is the SPAM filtering device separate to webserver, or is it a function of the webserver? If the SPAM filtering is performed on the webserver, this takes up valuable processing resources that should be used to present your website to visitors in a more timely fashion. A separate SPAM filtering device is preferable.

8. Web Mail. Is it possible to access your mail from anywhere on the web? Whilst it’s fine to configure your desktop PC to download mail to your email client (like Outlook), there will be times that you are mobile and don’t have access to your PC. In these cases, you should be able to use a web browser to access your mail box from Internet Cafe or a remote office.

9. Level of Support provided. What type of support does the hosting company provide? Is it business hours only or phone support only? Do they provide 24 hours a day, 7 days a week phone, email or Live Chat support? Does the hosting company actively monitor their services and rectify problems as they occur, or do they wait for a customer to call them? As a business, your online presence should be available 24 / 7 – if there is a problem, you want it dealt with quickly and effectively. If you need to talk to someone for assistance, you should be able to.

Because our members have had positive experiences, Women in Ecommerce™ recommends the following webhosting services:

WECAI Domains Need a Domain name or hosting solution?  Domains starting at $8.77! With every domain get: forwarding/masking, change of registration, parked page w/domain, domain name locking, total DNS control!  Visit today!

IX Webhosting has one of the best customer service programs of any webhosting platforms we have researched.  Their Personal Support Hero Program gives you a persona support agent that you can contact directly with any questions or issues you have. You can try IxWebhosting for a full week for free and see.  Cost effective, customer centric and full service.

Note: Women in Ecommerce™ provides resources and information we feel are of value to our audience. Occasionally we make a small commission on the resources we recommend. WE ONLY recommend those resources we would and/or have successfully used ourselves and when an affiliate program is offered, we participate.  We appreciate your support of our mission to help you do business on the web when you do make a purchase.