One of the main things that a cloud host or similar web service provider elaborates on is “uptime.” They’ll generally give you a number north of 99%, and many companies go on little more than just this number and the price when making their hosting decision. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with uptime, this guarantee may only extend as far as the availability of their servers — not necessarily the availability of your data to the public! Not only that, there are many other important factors that a contract with a web host needs to address — things like security, regular patching, ongoing monitoring and backups, just to name a few of the most critical.
So what should be in that website maintenance contract you’re about to sign? Today we’ll go over some of the key points to review.
You’ll need to consider not just your current storage and bandwidth needs, but whether a host can accommodate you as you grow. A rough way to estimate your minimum required bandwidth is to take an average page size from all the pages you commonly expect a visitor to view, then multiply that by your expected monthly number of visitors. Multiply again by the number of pages you expect each visitor to load to get your estimate. You’ll get a more precise feel as the site is up and running and you can use analytics tools to see exactly what visitors are doing.
Your site will either occupy its own server (dedicated) or share a server with a number of other customers of the web host and their sites (shared). Shared hosting is far more common and far less expensive, but comes with less storage space as well as operational and security concerns.
The majority of the sites on the internet are on shared hosting, and while it does introduce extra security risks, if your host is reputable and on-the-ball they will be handling your security and server maintenance work if you have an agreement in place. It is possible for a lot of traffic to another site on the server your site is hosted on to slow down your site’s performance. You may still be getting only 100 visits a day, but another site on that server may have released a new service or product and they have 1,000,000 visits in a day. This can deplete server resources quickly, making your site page loading crawl.
As with many other businesses, web hosts often like to get you in the door with a low initial price, and then raise it once you’re settled in. The cost in the first year can go up by double, in rare cases even triple in subsequent years. Make sure you’re aware of the true ongoing cost, not just looking at a low initial rate for new customers.
Are you bringing in a pre-built website, or having someone code one for you from scratch? If not, you’ll want to know what kind of site-building tools the host offers, and if they’re adequate to your needs. If you’re engaging in e-commerce, do they support all the functions you require, like a shopping cart and one-click ordering? The most critical thing to look for is an SSL (Secure Socket Layer, the “s” in the https in web addresses) certificate for secure web browsing and password entry when your customers are on shared networks (like public WiFi at Starbucks); just about every serious host supports SSL, but some may charge extra for a certificate.
Websites today require constant monitoring, updating and patching of their software so it does not become vulnerable to attacks over the Internet. Be aware that on top of hosting your site alongside thousands of others on that server, low cost hosting providers have no intention or service level established with you to update the software on your server. If you want MySQL or PHP updated, be ready for them to tell you no. Look for providers that provide LAMP support, or… Linux, Apache, MySQL and Php support. These providers will proactively patch and update these facets of your hosting environment so that you do not have to.
If your website has been constructed using a CMS or Content Management System, there is a good chance that your CMS software also needs both Core and Plugin updates. Popular CMS software like WordPress and Drupal are just two kinds of CMS systems that require this. Be aware, that if your hosting provider hasn’t said they are updating WordPress or Drupal for you, that it’s going to be your responsibility.
Though this isn’t 100% of what should be present in a web hosting contract, these are the most critical factors to begin with. Got more questions about professional web design, marketing and hosting? Contact us and we’ll be happy to explain how we can help.
Also published on Medium.