When launching a new website, deciding on a hosting provider can be a complicated sea to navigate. Hosting providers are a dime a dozen, and determining which option is best for your firm can be tricky. There are a variety of factors to account for, some more technical than others. We break down the main factors to consider and discuss which questions to ask a potential provider.
WHAT IS WEBSITE HOSTING?
First, let’s break down the two main elements of a website: domain name and hosting. Your domain name is registered and purchased through a domain registrar, such as GoDaddy or NameCheap. It’s basically where your domain (or URL) lives. Your website hosting provider, however, is where your actual website lives. The hosting provider stores all of the code that makes your website look the way it does, and houses the information associated with the website. Think of it this way: if your website is a house, a domain is like a home address pointing a visitor to a specific location. The land under the house is the hosting provider.
WHAT FACTORS SHOULD I CONSIDER?
When choosing a hosting provider, one of the first questions always asked is, “How much?” There is a wide range in pricing when it comes to hosting, anywhere from $3.99 per month to $1,000.00 per month. This is one service where you absolutely get what you pay for, as well. The pricing is ultimately dependent on a multitude of factors and range of services provided. Here are the main items to consider:
The most important thing to consider is server reliability. The server hosting your website should have an uptime score of 99.5%; anything below 99% is unacceptable. (Uptime refers to the amount of time the website is up and running and available to visitors.) Put it this way: if the server hosting your website is down no one can access your website, so ensuring a hosting provider has a reliable server and network is crucial.
Having a backup of your website is also absolutely essential. Many hosting providers will provide a rolling 30-day backup of the website, ensuring there is always a copy of the most recent blog posts, additions, or changes made to the site at all times. With new malware and viruses always popping up, having a backup is a safety net in case anything attacks or infects your website. Some hosting providers include this in their monthly cost, while others charge an additional monthly fee to provide this service.
Speaking of malware and viruses, one question to ask a potential hosting provider concerns its security measures. Any number of things can cause your website to ‘break’ including malware, viruses, hacks, Brute Force, and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. Make certain your hosting provider utilizes firewalls and intrusion prevention systems to protect against potential attackers.
As with any service provider, having customer support available to address any issues or questions is a must. While most providers claim to offer 24/7 support, try calling or submitting a support ticket inquiring about pricing. It’s a great way to assess response time, quality of the customer service, and level of technical know-how the provider expects from its clients during interaction.
THE TECHNICAL NITTY-GRITTY
Now let’s dive into a few of the more technical aspects of website hosting, and some of the questions you should consider before selecting a provider:
Type of Hosting
There are four main types of hosting:
- Shared – many websites reside on one web server
- Dedicated – leasing an entire server not shared with anyone else, which allows for full software customization
- VPS (Virtual Private Server) – a hybrid between shared hosting and dedicated hosting, with the actual physical server shared but running its own copy of an operating system
- Reseller – a company or person who purchases a host’s services at wholesale cost and then resells the space to customers
Shared hosting is the most cost effective solution, and generally the best option for small to medium-sized law firms. Dedicated hosting starts around $450.00 per month and generally isn’t necessary for most law firms.
Essentially, bandwidth allocation is a term used to measure the maximum data that can flow between users and your website. On a basic level, the higher the bandwidth, the better the speed, network, connectivity, and systems of the hosting provider. A lot of hosting providers promise “unlimited” bandwidth, which can be deceiving. The provider is operating under the assumption your website will not use more than a certain percentage of the resources, and if your website exceeds those resources, the website can be temporarily disabled or taken offline. It can make sense to work with hosting providers who offer scalable solutions to offer the bandwidth you need.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE CHOOSE?
As mentioned previously, the price range for hosting providers is wide, and choosing the best option for your law firm can seem tricky. While the idea of hosting with a service like GoDaddy, Bluehost, or HostGator is definitely cheaper (starting around $3.99 per month), you do end up paying more than the flashy advertised price as many of the options (such as security and backups) are added on to the monthly price a la carte. When using one of these hosting providers, make sure to ask about additional services to ensure you have the best possible package. Conversely, hosting with services like RackSpace can be pricey at $200.00 to $500.00 per month and usually require more technical knowledge to interface with customer service representatives, but are equipped to handle large traffic volume. There are great middle ground options, as well, such as WPMuze, which offers most of the items in our list for $99.00 per month.
Ultimately, asking questions of a potential webhosting provider is the best way to assess the options it provides, determine customer support levels, and find the right package for your law firm. Ask for references from the company, and thoroughly investigate its reputation before committing to a provider.