Selecting an Email and Web Hosting Company

How should you pick an email and web hosting company? There are literally thousands of web and email hosting companies out there. How can you make an informed choice? This article lists some of the factors to consider when selecting an appropriate email or web hosting company.

This article is the third in a series about setting up email and web hosting for a new small business. The first article explains terminology. The second discusses how to register a domain name.

I’ve put together a table which lists some email and web hosting criteria which I’ve found are important to many small-office/home-office companies. My PDF table lists a handful of hosting companies and how they compare. Hopefully this table will help you develop a set of important criteria to find a hosting company that is well matched for your needs.

Let’s talk about each of these criteria in turn.

Cost

It seems that too many people select a hosting company by looking only at the cost. Maybe this is because they don’t know what other factors they should be considering. Costs can vary considerably so it should be a factor, but far from the most important factor. Many big hosting companies try to attract customers by offering low monthly costs like $5/month or less! The adage, you get what you pay for sometimes rings true in such situation. I tend to recommend paying a bit more for web hosting to get better service. For example, Big Mountain offers affordable web and email hosting plans that start at $10/month on their Linux-based email and web servers. If you want integrated calendars and contacts within your email account then Big Mountain’s Kerio Connect server is a bit more expensive, but still affordable option for a start-up business that only wants 1 or 2 email accounts. Another option is Rackspace, a large hosting company. They have affordable email hosting, but not web hosting. Rackspace offers 1 Exchange email account or 5 IMAP email accounts for $10/month. (More on email accounts below.)

Company Size

If you prefer to work with smaller companies where you might be able to develop a personal relationship with the hosting company, you should check out Big Mountain Internet. Big Mountain Internet is owned by a husband and wife and run by a small team. HostGator, RackSpace and Intermedia are all large companies with hundreds or thousands of employees. Your experience with them is less personal, but companies of this size can build networks that have greater redundancy and thus offer higher guaranteed uptime, which is an important factor to keep in mind.

Mac Knowledge

If talking to Mac-knowledgeable and Mac-friendly people in technical support is important to you then consider Big Mountain. For a large hosting company, I’ve been impressed by Intermedia’s Mac knowledge even though I know that only a small percentage of their customers use Macs.

POP and IMAP access

If you want to check your email account from more than one computer then you’ll want to use IMAP to access your email. IMAP can synchronize your Inbox and other folders across all devices. I’ve talked about the appeal of IMAP in a previous Tech Tip article. I only list hosting companies that offer IMAP accounts. Note: I’ve previously expressed my dislike for GoDaddy and I’ll point out that most of GoDaddy’s hosting plans do not include IMAP access.

Storage Space

If you’re going to use IMAP to access your email account, you’ll care how much storage space is provided by the hosting company since your Inbox and other folders will live on the mail server using up that storage space. These days it’s pretty easy to use up 1 or 2 GB of storage space after a few years. All of the hosting companies in my table provide a minimum of 5 GB of storage space. If you’re willing to spend a bit more money and work with one of the larger hosting companies then you can easily get 25 GB or even unlimited storage space.

Integrated Calendars and Contacts

If you want your calendar and contacts to wirelessly sync between your Macs, iPhones and iPads, you might want to look at a hosting company that offers Kerio Connect or Exchange accounts. Another appeal of these Kerio and Exchange accounts is the ability to have a company-wide calendar or contact list and the ability to share your calendar or contacts with other people in your company. Kerio and Exchange accounts cost more than a regular POP/IMAP email account, but BigMountain offers affordable hosting with adequate storage space. They offer accounts with 2 GB of storage space for $5 per account per month or 10 GB or storage space for $10 per account month. If you need even more storage space or some features which are only available from Exchange servers, you should consider Rackspace, Intermedia or Microsoft. Intermedia specializes in Exchange hosting and Microsoft has recently started offering Exchange hosting accounts. Their prices undercut the competition at $4 account per month for 25 GB of storage space.

Spam Filtering

All of the hosting companies offer some decent spam and virus filtering, but many charge extra to get premiere filtering.  Rackspace and Big Mountain both include their top-tier spam filtering as part of their base package.

Guaranteed Uptime

Many hosting companies advertise a guaranteed uptime. While this detail is important, it can also be confusing or misleading. This Wikipedia article gives greater context than I can provide here. Briefly, the higher the uptime percentage the better. However uptime does not mean the same thing as availability. In other words, a mail server may be up and running but not available to you due to a network outage somewhere. Despite Rackspace listing 100% guaranteed uptime, this doesn’t really mean that their mail servers will always be up. Every company suffers from equipment failure or earthquakes or hurricanes. Rackspace and others simply provide you a written guarantee which states that if their servers are not up and running then you’re entitled to some sort of refund of your hosting costs.

WordPress

Web sites can be built using a variety of tools, but WordPress is a free and popular web site building tool that I recommend to many of my small business customers. If you use WordPress already or plan to use it, you’ll need to make sure your hosting company offers it. MacHighway and HostGator both include it as part of their base package. Big Mountain and Intermedia both offer it for a small additional amount of $10 or $15 per month. RackSpace offers it, but it costs a few thousand dollars per year. I was flabbergasted when I read this. It appears that their WordPress hosting is scalable and is intended for larger companies. The last article in this series will talk about other affordable ways to build a professional web site for your business.

Hosting companies are not all the same. A small business owner should think about their email and web hosting needs, then find a hosting company that is an appropriate fit. I hope this article has helped you to better understand some of the differences between hosting companies.

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