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In Depth
Choosing Your Website Host (IHP)
By Ahmed Saad, Technology Matrix Group - Copyright 2001
Since there are many Internet Hosting Providers (IHP) out there, all competing for your business, you need to evaluate their offerings and choose the one that best matches YOUR needs.  The IHP that is suitable for one person may not necessarily be good for another. 

Taking people's recommendations is an important factor in your decision but is far from being the ONLY factor.  The following is a list of important issues that you will need to explore before you decide who to go with.  If you have other criteria, or special needs you should address them too.  If you feel that other criteria should be included on this list, please e-mail us at suggestions@MivaHelp.com

General Criteria to consider:

bullet_depth.gif (138 bytes) Availability: Is the shopping cart of your choice offered?

Not all carts offer the same features, and if you have researched the available shopping carts and made your choice, it is best to go with an IHP that offers your cart than to go with the cart that your favorite IHP offers.  This is because hosting has become a "commodity" and the IHP market is extremely competitive.  The IHPs outnumber shopping cart packages MANY fold.  There are many IHPs with good service and hosting packages within a reasonable price range.   The same is NOT true when it comes to shopping carts.  Issues of features, price, support, and add-ons vary widely between one cart and another.  (Click here to see more about choosing shopping carts.)  Of course, if you are technically able to install and support your shopping cart software, then you can choose your IHP independently of your choice of shopping cart. 

Other specific software that you may need should be explored too to make sure that you will either have it available, be able to rent/lease it, or be able to install it on the IHP's server.  You must also make sure that the host is offering you a server that runs an OS compatible with the software you need (i.e. Unix, vs. Linux, vs. NT).

bullet_depth.gif (138 bytes) Price: What fees do you have to pay?

There can be all sorts of fees involved and you need to ask about them.  You should ask about both the setup fees, the  recurring fees, and any other fees that individual hosting services may have.  Some hosts will have an extra charge to point multiple domains to your hosted space, some don't.  Some will charge you for mailboxes, extra disk space, extra bandwidth used (bytes transferred), etc.  

bullet_depth.gif (138 bytes) Support: Will they help you when you're in trouble?

This is often the single most important feature that differentiates IHPs.  The reason it is listed third, is that you only need to research the support after you have established that the vendor has what you want at a price you can afford.  That said, you should explore the level of support your future IHP offers.  Check with colleagues, friends, discussion group members, and print & online trade magazines.  Do not take only one person's opinion, and evaluate each person's story objectively.  People may complain of an IHP when the problem was really that customer's fault.  Others may praise their IHP because they have never had a problem with them before.  While that may be a good sign it does not evaluate support. 

You need to know who to call, or e-mail.  What are their "business hours"?  Do they offer support 24 hrs.?  How long do you stay on hold?  How fast is your average problem resolved?  Can you call a toll-free number or is it long distance?  We tend to be contrarian in our preference regarding toll-free numbers.  We prefer a long distance phone number for support since it "weeds" out the calls for "my computer is not booting properly" and other less urgent calls.  This way the hold time for serious calls is minimal as opposed to sitting on hold for a half hour.  Still, if you feel strongly about not paying long distance charges for support make sure that a toll-free number is available. 

exclaim.gif (988 bytes) Call the tech-support department of your future IHP and see how long you stay on hold.  E-mail them and see how fast they respond.  They may e-mail back saying "who are you?" or "what's your domain?" but that will give you a feel of how fast they respond.

Don't write-off e-mail support since what is important here is the response time and how long it takes to solve your problem.  If your IHP will acknowledge your e-mail (e.g. ticket number issued) and the turnaround time is comparable to the seriousness of your problem (immediate if the site is down), then e-mail support is a great feature and should not be considered inferior to phone support.  That said, we believe that you must have access to phone support if the need arises.

bullet_depth.gif (138 bytes) Accessibility: How can you access your site?

Do you have ftp rights? Telnet/SSH? E-mail accounts access (POP3, web based, both?), etc.  Even if you don't currently use these features, you (or a professional you hire) may very well NEED them in the future and should definitely ask about their availability.

bullet_depth.gif (138 bytes) Stability and level of service:

Think of this as the customer/tech support that you never get to see.  If the IHP is stable, and knows their business you may very well never need their support and that is just perfect.  It is hard to evaluate this point unless you are an actual customer and this is where you can check with others who are using the same IHP.  We suggest you ask the IHP to give you the URL of other sites hosted with them.  Make sure that you ask for both e-commerce sites (sites with Miva Merchant running) and other non commerce sites as well.  Go check how fast the sites load, and how professional they look.  While the look of the site is a function of the site owner, the more professional the site looks, the less likely they are to tolerate bad IHP service.  Another side benefit is that you get to see how other people designed and configured their shopping carts.

exclaim.gif (988 bytes) Take the time to go and check the registration record of the domain name and make sure that the DNS is pointing to the IHP's Domain Name Servers (DNS).  Some sites will use outside DNS services but it is a lot less common than letting the IHP take care of it.   i.e. if the DNS points to the IHP then it is a sure indication that they are hosting the site, but if it is not, then it is likely that they are not hosting it even though there is a possibility (albeit small) that they are, and the DNS is managed by an external service.  Alternatively, you can run a trace-route (tracert) to get the host of a given domain.

To see a list of some good IHPs click here.


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