“Horses for courses” is a common saying in business. It applies to web hosting as well. What suits a corporate site may not be the best solution for a community forum or for an online sales site. To find the best web hosting ‘horse’ to win the e-commerce ‘course’, a number of factors come into play. An ideal starting point is a solid business or marketing plan that allows you to forecast the number of visitors and the functionality and levels of service that they will expect. But uncertainties in your market may make it difficult to be precise in your estimates. In that case, pay attention to the points below as a minimum.
Size and Space
The more products or services you want to sell, and the more information on each product or service, the more web hosting disk space you’ll need. Disk space is decreasing in price all the time, but that’s no reason to ignore this factor. You don’t want to be caught short on space if you decide to add extra offerings or features.
Processing Power and Network Bandwidth
These two quantities may be in shorter supply, compared to disk space. That’s particularly true for network bandwidth. If you can’t figure out how many visitors will come to your e-commerce site per month, week or day, then at least tackle the problem the other way round. For a given web hosting configuration, calculate the maximum number of visitors it is likely to support, given reasonable assumptions about the number of pages they visit and the information they might download. If ‘max_visitors’ is less than ‘sales_target’, rethink your web hosting.
E-commerce site visitors have typically be trained to be suspicious. Not only does your site need to be secure anyway, but it also needs to be seen to be secure. Any additional help from your web hosting provider such as authorized use of logos from recognized and trusted payment gateway providers can mean the difference between a visitor who clicks and buys, and one who simply clicks to leave.
It sounds obvious perhaps, but if your e-commerce site isn’t up and running, people cannot buy from it. Worse, they’ll buy elsewhere and they won’t come back to your site either. Check the track record of your web hosting provider. If you can talk to real current users of the service for their objective views on its quality, that’s even better. Then preferably pick the service that has the highest availability.
If your e-commerce site experiences massive success, will the web hosting provider offer an easy route to boost capacity and performance? You don’t necessarily want to pay for a huge installation now. But you want to know you can have it if you need it.
Shopping carts, online catalogs and payment processing gateways are all essential parts of the online shopping experience. If you don’t have these items, can your web hosting provider bring them to you? Or if you do have them, is the provider flexible enough to let you use them in conjunction with the rest of the web hosting facilities offered?
Another obvious statement – you need to spend less than the sales income you generate, if you’re going to make a profit. Check that web hosting costs are compatible with your business model. And watch out for any big jumps in pricing as you increase disk space, etc. They might cause cash flow difficulties just when you’re trying to expand.
Finally, web hosting solutions for e-commerce sites can range from ‘bare metal’ (you get access to a computer, but must install everything else) to a completely managed solution where you only have to enter your product descriptions and prices. A very specific e-commerce set-up might push you towards the first solution. A realization that you can make more money by focusing on your marketing and letting a competent provider do all the rest might encourage you to use the second. Check your objectives, your needs and your available resources – then you should have a good idea about which type of e-commerce web hosting solution to aim for.