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Look for dependability and trustworthiness

You need a hosting provider (or 'host') to make your website available on the internet. They will host your website on their server(s), making it available to anyone browsing the web. Without a good host your business could be in trouble, so choosing one should be more than a last minute decision.

A good hosting company will be your partner throughout the life of your business, ensuring that your site is always live and available to visitors, and dealing with any problems promptly.

Lots of choice

Don CookeSearch the internet for hosting services and you'll find thousands. So how do you find the right one? Try and get a personal recommendation first.�Failing that, you’ll need to do some research.

Don Cooke, Technical Director of Computer Assets Ltd knew exactly what he required from a hosting company: "Choosing the right provider comes down for us to reliability of service and the relationship and support the supplier gives us. Although all the hosting providers we have looked at do provide more or less the same service, we opted to pay a little more to a local hosting company we had a prior relationship with and that choice has, for us, paid dividends in effective response to issues which have arisen during our contract."

Although he is pleased with the service, Don does have regrets: "In retrospect we did not do enough research and therefore did not get the cheapest deal going, but overall we have been satisfied with the service we receive."

Wrong choice

Andrew MichaelAndrew Michael, CEO of hosting company Fasthosts says that the implications of choosing the wrong hosting company can be very serious: "Making the wrong choice could end in thousands of customers either being shown unwanted advertising, being shown a page error due to server downtime, or worse still, never actually finding your site in the first place.� Some hosts will advertise on your site and email and some have recently been known to link farm too.

Link Farming is where less scrupulous hosting companies�link all their customers' sites back to their own to boost their search engine rankings. This can result in their site, and their customers' sites, being banned from search engines altogether.

Andrew suggests going with a known, reputable provider: "after all, your site may well become the main customer-facing part of your business.�The power of the web is that it's up and running 24/7 – make sure your site is too."

Get it in writing

When choosing a host, insist on a Service Level Agreement (SLA).�This is where your hosting company sticks its neck out and tells you what percentage of the time you can expect your site to be up and running and how quickly they will react if something goes wrong.�Don says, "I would recommend a formal SLA from the outset.�I would also make a point of asking for reference customers who can vouch for the quality of their support when things don't go according to plan."

Both Don and Andrew recommend choosing a provider who can grow with the business.�Don says: "So far we have grown our website within the technologies provided by our hosting company.� Whereas it seemed initially that some of the features we signed up for were overkill, during the relationship our requirements have grown to exploit the features that came as part of the package."

Andrew says: "Your needs might start simple, but they could soon grow to include a fully scripted application driven by a database back-end that has thousands of hits a day. Furthermore make sure the host has a breadth of offerings – the last thing you want is to outsource your email to one provider, get your broadband from another and need to go elsewhere for dedicated server hosting."

What next?

You can search for a suitable hosting provider in Microsoft's directory.

Read about how to choose a domain name for your website.

Sign into Microsoft Small Business+ for free web-based training, online chat help and software support.

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Quick tips

Ask for a service level agreement - know what your hosting provider will do for you.

Find out how equipped the company is to grow with your business.

Saving pennies might not be economical in the long run. Ensure that savings don’t mean skimping on service.

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