6 Must-Have Hosting Features

6 Must-Have Hosting Features

With more hosting providers and options than ever, figuring out which hosting features are absolute must-haves can be headache-inducing, to say the least. Most hosting providers offer a fairly standardized set of features with variations in number, amount, and price, but do you know what to look for? Do you know which features you really need, and which ones are just nice to have?

Making sure the host you choose offers at least these six features will start you off on the right Web publishing path.

#1. Multiple Domains

Most hosting plans are pretty reasonably priced, especially shared hosting and lower-level virtual private server (VPS) hosting plans. But imagine if you wanted to run several sites, and had to pay the same amount for every single website you wanted to build. It would add up very quickly, and possibly become cost-prohibitive.

Choose a hosting provider and a hosting plan that allows you to host multiple domains on the same account. These are called addon domains, and while they fall under your primary domain’s account, they will appear to visitors to be completely independent domains.

For example, if your primary domain is myprimarywebsite.com, and you add the domain newwebsite.com to your account, the site will load as newwebsite.com rather than newwebsite.myprimarywebsite.com. The ability to add multiple addon domains to your account allows you a lot of freedom to build numerous sites without the added hosting expense.

#2. Email Addresses

Having an email address attached to your domain is especially important if you’re running a business. Think about it. When you received email from someone claiming to be from XYZ Company, don’t they seem more credible if their email address ends with @xyzcompany.com instead of being a Gmail, Yahoo, or other Web hosted address?

Once you create an email address on your domain, you can either check your mail via the webmail option in your control panel, or you can set up a forwarder so you receive all your domain-addressed mail at an address of your choosing, including Gmail, Yahoo, etc. You can then set up that Web-based mail account to be able to respond to messages from your domain address. You get convenience, and your customers feel more secure.

#3. Uptime Guarantee

Few things can damage a website more than being down when people are trying to use it. This is especially true for e-commerce sites, and even more so at high-volume shopping times. What if your e-commerce site went down on Black Friday? Or Cyber Monday? You’d miss out on a lot of traffic and sales, and you may never get those disappointed customers back.

Most hosting providers guarantee their server will be up and running at least 99% of the time, although some do go up to 100%. This may seem impossible to achieve—servers go down for a multitude of reasons, and it’s not always possible to either predict or prevent it.

As an alternative to an uptime guarantee, you may want to consider a hosting provider that offers cloud hosting. Usually, this means all the same data is stored on several networked servers so that if one server does go down for some reason, the other servers can pick up the slack, and there is no loss of data, and little to no downtime. For some, this can be a more reliable environment than having everything on one server that can either go down without warning, or need to be taken down for maintenance.

#4. FTP Access

At first, you may think you don’t really need file transfer protocol (FTP) access as long as you can add content to your site. Some hosts give you editing ability through a Web interface. This does make it easy for beginners, or those who would just rather not mess with the back end of things. But if you have any plans to branch out or add certain functionality to your site, you can’t do without FTP access.

Say you want to start tracking visits to your site with Google Analytics. In order to do that, you need to verify your site, and one of the easiest ways to do this is by uploading an HTML document to your root directory via—you guessed it—FTP. Or, if you ever decide you’d like to make it possible for your site’s visitors to download a document, your host’s interface may allow this somehow, but having FTP access gives you more control over the document.

Overall, though, not having access to your site’s files is a hindrance if you plan to grow your website at all. Make sure the host you choose offers this option.

#5. Control Panel

To add domains, create and manage domain email addresses, gain FTP access, and do just about anything else with your website, you need a control panel. Most hosting providers make at least one control panel option available to you, one of the more popular being cPanel. This control panel is a common selection because it’s powerful and easy to use, even for beginners.

If, for whatever reason, you’re not comfortable with or just don’t like cPanel, you can look for a host that offers a cPanel alternative such as DirectAdmin, Zpanel, Webmin, among others. Most of them offer pretty much the same functionality as cPanel, but may vary in ease of use, and in price.

#6. Technical Support

While not an actual function of your hosting account or website, tech support can be one of the most important features you take into account when choosing a host, particularly if you’re a beginner, or have no Web development or programming skills. Those who are more tech savvy and know their way around a server can address issues themselves, provided they have access to the server.

But if you either lack that knowledge, or you’ve chosen a shared hosting plan, having tech support available when you need it can mean the difference between addressing problems quickly and keeping your site running, or experiencing an outage and possibly losing data, not to mention customers.

Check the hosting providers’ technical support options. Some can only be reached via trouble ticket, which can be slow. Being able to call or participate in a live chat with your host means you can get help more quickly.

Of course, some hosting features may be more important to you depending on the type of site you have, the type of hosting plan you select, and your level of knowledge. Every website is different, although they all have some of the same basic needs. Always check out a hosting provider thoroughly before signing up to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, and to help avoid problems down the road.

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Image cropped from Datacenter Work by Leonardo Rizzi. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
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