What to look for in a provider
There are a number of other factors to consider when choosing a hosting provider. Backups are vital, for example. Web hosting providers generally provide regular backups either by default or as an option. If your site is regularly updated, you’ll need to ensure the backups occur at least daily. But check that everything your site needs is backed up. Most CMSes keep content in a database, so you’ll need to ensure that database is regularly backed up, as well as images, the design template and other files that are uploaded.
Another factor to consider is where the hosting company locates its servers and support staff. Overseas servers are normally cheaper than those in Australia, but visitors may experience slightly slower access. Speed issues can become very apparent in the event of disruption to the submarine cable that would normally carry the traffic in and out of Australia – page load times can increase significantly as the data flows are rerouted.
Stewart recommends onshore hosting, but is reluctant to endorse specific providers due to extensive and recent changes in the Australian market. “Go with someone who gives good support” and responds promptly to requests, she said.
Sibbing agreed that the availability of technical support via phone or email is essential. But “everyone oversells” their capabilities, including the quality of support, he warned.
As a general rule, “you get what you pay for in terms of contact with humans,” but “you don't really know about [the quality of] hosting until you've had a problem,” and that doesn't happen until after you've signed up. In Sibbing's experience, good pre-sales support generally indicates a company that can provide good ongoing support.
While many providers offer 24x7 support, you are likely to find that only first-tier staff are available around the clock – if there is a serious problem with your site, you may have to wait until normal business hours (in whatever time zone the staff are located) before someone with sufficient technical skills is available to put things right.
However, he suggests businesses think about how mission-critical their website is going to be. A busy ecommerce site is losing revenue whenever it is down, so it is probably worth paying a premium for reliable hosting and quick turnaround when problems do arise. On the other hand, it is hard to justify spending extra for a lightly-trafficked site that is little more than a brochure for the business.
The choices you make will probably involve compromise. “There is no perfect hosting company, and no perfect CMS,” warned Stewart, so don’t simply go with the first you look at, talk to several other businesses and web designers and find out what works for them.
Web design tips
Here are some closing tips, for ensuring you get the right design:
- When designing the site, make it consistent with other branded items such as your business cards and brochures, according to Stewart.
- If you engage a web designer, “communication is the most important thing... you need to be on the same page” so they know what you want, says Sibbing. Keep in mind is that web design is at “the intersection of design and technology,” and most practitioners tend to lean towards one side or the other.
- A content-rich website is essential for a robust social media strategy that inspires trust and confidence in your business, according to GoDaddy. Promoting your content through social media channels can encourage interested people to visit your website.
- Use a professional photographer if you can afford one. “Everyone thinks they are a photographer,” but professional quality shots make the job easier for your designer, Sibbing says.
- Most importantly, make sure your site works well with mobile devices as well as computers. Most web designers and providers offer this by default now, but it’s still worth checking that your web design will be what’s called “responsive” (flexible, so it looks good on all screen sizes). This is not only important for the convenience of site visitors but also because not having a mobile-friendly site harms your Google ranking.
In the second instalment of our series on building and improving your business’s online presence, we look at how to get started with search engine optimisation.