As soon as you decide on the type of an eCommerce web hosting that matches your company’s needs you move to the next important step – choosing a web hosting provider. With thousands of them on the market it’s hardly an easy choice to make. Whether you are looking for the eCommerce web host for the first time or want to migrate from an existing one there are a number of things you need to know in order to maximize the benefits for your online business. In this blog post I will tell you about the most important criteria in evaluating a prospective host and the best practices that are used in the industry to provide great website performance.

1. Hardware

Fast and reliable hardware is the foundation of any quality hosting solution. Despite the fact that hardware by itself cannot guarantee you an excellent website performance it is the first step in that direction.

Data Center Tiers

There are 4 types of data centers based on their infrastructure’s ability to provide a certain level of website performance throughout the year. Tier 4 data centers are the most reliable through their full redundancy and can guarantee up to 99.999% uptime annually (read more about data center tiers here).

Number of Data Centers

The more data centers your eCommerce web hosting provider has the better. Why? Through duplicating critical data and storing it in different data centers the web host minimizes the chance of any data center’s failure bringing your website down. Moreover, back-ups saved in multiple data centers significantly decreases the data recovery time in case of any data center destroyed by flooding, fire or other natural disaster.

Data Centers’ Geographic Locations

One factor affecting the content delivery speed is the distance between the user requesting the data and the server sending it. Data centers’ geographic diversity increases page load, video/audio/image download time as well as customer satisfaction and sales.

Through having data centers in multiple geographic locations, the host reduces the risk of losing a few of them simultaneously as a result of any natural disaster. Hence the possibility of your website performance being affected in such a situation is minimized.

Latest Hardware

Something that was great for your online business 5 years ago will not necessarily be great or even good enough for it nowadays. That is why it is extremely important for you to follow e-commerce industry trends including such things as the fastest hardware used by hosting providers. Make sure your prospective host uses it – i.e. the fastest hardware – in order to optimize your website’s performance. Older hardware is usually slower and also less reliable. You definitely wouldn’t like your website to be slow or even go down because of the hosting provider trying to save money on hardware.

2. Software

There are many different eCommerce hosting solutions to choose from nowadays. They vary from small businesses-oriented ones to enterprise-level solutions and everything in-between. Make a choice based on what YOUR business’s size and needs are. If you are a start-up company then cheap hosting can work for you. However if you’ve been in the market for a while and expect your business to grow in the nearest future I’d advise you to invest in software that offers numerous e-commerce optimization tools and can support your company’s growth.

Some popular cheap e-commerce software are reviewed and compared on the Top Ten  Reviews website. If you are looking for an enterprise-level hosting solution there are such well-known ones as Oracle/ATG Web Commerce, IBM WebSphere, Magendo, Hybris that you can start with. However, remember by the end of the day there is no perfect solution for each and every business. Make sure that the choice you make is what is best for YOU!

3. Support

Expertise

As soon as you know that a prospective eCommerce web host has good hardware and software it’s time to find out if it also has qualified people to use all those resources to deliver excellent service. A team of experienced administrators and developers decreases the time of production environment delivery, can prevent many  problems that could occur along the way and much more.

Availability

24/7, 365 days a week support is a must! Many companies offer it as a part of their eCommerce web hosting solution. However what you get in real life can be very different from what you’ve been promised. Before choosing a hosting provider check if it’s easy to contact its support team during the week, weekends and holidays. Do they pick up the phone/answer via online chat or do they put you on hold all the time? When you have a question how fast they can respond to it?

If you are satisfied with the answers then you can add one more tick in your check list. If not remember that there are many other hosts to choose from.

4. Happy Customers

Find out how the prospective host treats its existing clients. If those clients are unsatisfied then what makes you feel it will be better for you?!

There are a couple of ways to gather the necessary information on that topic:

– Visit the hosting provider’s official website and read clients’ success stories and quotes;

– Contact existing clients and ask about their experience with the host;

– Google the host. Remember unhappy clients are twice more likely to share their opinions on products/services (according to the survey). Hence, if the host has serious problems with customer satisfaction you might find out about them online.

In case you are facing a problem of not finding any information about clients’ experience with the host or cannot get client contact information from the host, go for another one. There is a high possibility that an absence of  positive feedback from clients on the website is a sign of poor services. If you have any positive comments from your existing customers wouldn’t you share them with prospective ones? Exactly!

5. Guarantees

Service Level Agreement

Service Level Agreement (SLA) is the main document that guarantees you a certain level of services. Read it carefully before signing. It should be clear what uptime and level of support is guaranteed, and what the penalties for their violation are. Remember that the host can promise a lot, but only the SLA obliges it to do certain things.

PCI Certifications

One of the most important data security guarantees an eCommerce web host can provide is its PCI DSS Certification. There are 4 levels of PCI compliance based on the volume of secure Visa transactions a company can sustain per year. The bigger the eCommerce business you have, the more online transactions that happen regularly, the higher PCI Compliance level your web host should have. Hence, if you have significant traffic to your website PCI Level 1 Compliant host is the best choice.

6. Scalability

You might be fully satisfied with the hosting solution you are getting right now. However, the e-commerce industry changes as fast as your business probably does. Make sure that the host will be able to meet your future business needs by easily adding/canceling extra services (additional servers, CDN, etc.).

7. Flexibility

Keep in mind that the hosting provider works for YOU and should make it as convenient as possible for YOU to use its services. For instance, some hosting providers lock their clients in deployment windows that means very strict time frames for website content editing. Keep this in mind as you would definitely prefer to schedule content releases when it is the most convenient for YOU.

8. Pricing

Even the best hosting solution can lose all its value if its cost is higher than an expected increase of profits from its implementation. Hence, when choosing a hosting provider evaluate each hosting solution’s cost-effectiveness.

There are many things to consider when choosing a hosting provider. I tried to cover the most important ones in this blog post. But please, if you feel like I missed something essential just leave a comment and let me know about it.