Choosing a host for your website can be hard work; choosing an ecommerce host for your budding online business can be even harder! An ecommerce hosting package can simply be thought of as a regular hosting package with various features and functionalities added on to save you money and make your online business easier to build and run.
This checklist is designed to help anyone with a basic understanding of web hosting find their perfect ecommerce host.
1.Don’t rush into anything – this is going to be a long-term relationship and possibly quite a big investment on your part; don’t rush into the first hosting contract that comes your way – research is vital!
2.Look for Specialists – most hosts will mention ecommerce hosting somewhere on their site, but you want to be looking for a host that features their speciality prominently, ideally on their homepage.
3.Are you a newb? If the answer is ‘yes’, are you willing to put time and effort into learning more about hosting? Answering these questions honestly will help you work out what kind of level of support you’ll need further down the line.
4.Uptime – this is the metric used to start any search for a web host, not just an ecommerce host. Look for a guaranteed uptime of at least 99.99% – remember that if your online shop is down you’ll actively be losing money.
5.Bandwidth/data transfer – again, this is a starting point in choosing a host, so make sure not to miss it off your ecommerce checklist just because there’s so much other stuff on there!
6.Competitive price – at the end of the day, the cost of a hosting package is going to be one of the biggest deciding factors. Remember however, ecommerce hosting packages will often have lots of extras included (that will save you money in the long run), so don’t just choose your host on sticker price alone.
7.Jargon spot check – even if you’re completely new to the world of hosting and/or don’t have an interest in learning more about it, you’re going to have to understand a few terms and phrases so that you’re able to choose a good host. Here are a few to get you started: SSL, shopping cart software, merchant account, payment gateway, MySQL, PHP, ASP, Control Panel.
8.Online Transactions – taking money online isn’t always that straightforward. If you’re setting up a business to sell products online, you’ll need to get hold of a merchant account and a payment gateway. Some hosts will help with this, so make sure to take a look at the specifications to see what’s on offer.
9.Shopping Cart Software – this is one of the most standard offerings in an ecommerce hosting package, but it’s still worth checking to see a) if there’s a choice of software available to you, and b) if there are any hidden costs associated with the software (eg. expensive upgrades or monthly fees).
10.Cost Check Point – keep an eye on costs as you proceed through this checklist. A good idea is to imagine you’re going to stick with a host for three years – you can then start to work out what the ongoing costs might be compared to the up front costs. This will stop you going for a cheap looking hosting package that will ending up costing more!
11.SSL – a Secure Socket Layer is essential for secure transactions on a website. Some hosts will charge an extra fee per month for this certificate, so make sure you check where you stand.
12.Analytics – you should be able to install analytics yourself once you’re site is up and running, but it can helpful to have an easy install option provided by a host. Analytics will help you understand your customers better and therefore improve your online business.
13.Customer Support/Tech Support – if you’re just starting out with an online business then you’re going to have a lot of questions and might need help at the most unexpected moments. Customer and technical support can be one of the biggest let downs for an otherwise top-notch host. There’s no way to be completely assured of quality, but reading reviews and testing pre-sales support with a few questions can be a good start.
14.MySQL and PHP Support – This should be a standard feature of any ecommerce hosting package, but, again, it’s always worth double checking.
15.Custom Error Page – A nice extra feature that will add a lot of professionalism to your ecommerce site. It’s possible to build your own custom error page from scratch, but a handy plugin will make the experience much more enjoyable!
16.Data Backup – it’s definitely worth checking out what kind data backup your potential ecommerce hosts offer: some will include regular back ups free of charge; others will only offer one-off back ups at an extra cost.
17. Email – your email is going to be very important to your online business, so better make sure you get the right hosting features for the job. Look out for POP-3 email addresses, aliases, free forwarding and auto responder functionality.
18.Community – many of the bigger and/or better hosts will have a strong online community, which may well become invaluable in helping you succeed with your ecommerce site. Check out which of the following your potential hosts have (and how robust they look!): forums, FAQs, social presence (blog, Facebook, Twitter) online support, a ‘Knowledgebase’.
19. Reviews – it’s well worth doing a bit of research around the web to find out what existing customers think of your potential ecommerce hosts. Beware though, it can be a challenge to find legitimate reviews – there are lots of fakers out there so take everything you read with a pinch of salt.
20. Your Gut – there are lots of solid things to check out for a good ecommerce host, but don’t sign anything without getting a ‘vibe’ for the company first. Do you like the look of their site? Does their sales pitch make you feel uncomfortable? Can you find any genuine positive reviews online? Have they made an effort to explain the different features in each hosting package? Are their terms and conditions comprehensible?
We hope this checklist helps you out on your ecommerce adventure.