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Performance: The el-cheapo $15-a-month plans often have you sharing a server with 200 (yes, two hundred) or more Web sites. This usually affects both performance and stability of the server—and not for the better. You can get your own dedicated server, but the cost is usually $500 or more per month. Ask how many sites share a server on the plans you evaluate, and whether you can request to be switched to another server if performance degrades because of a busy neighbor. Remember, though, that your choices in Web-site design can affect performance. Graphics are great, but if you use too many or they're too large, you will produce sluggish Web pages.
Support and maintenance: Find out what's included with your plan. Does the service include data backup, or is that your responsibility? Do you get toll-free tech support? What are the hours? How quickly will the support staff respond to e-mail and phone requests? Several large Web hosts promise only 48-hour turnaround for e-mail requests, which can be an eternity when your problems prevent customers from buying products or contacting you. Telephone support can be better for those emergencies, but it often requires long waits on hold.
Uptime guarantees: Most Web-hosting services make bold claims about their reliability, but fewer provide a written guarantee. If a service does, make sure you understand what it's saying. For example, a 98 percent uptime guarantee might sound good, but when you work out the numbers, you'll see it means your site could be down for 14 hours in a month before the host owes you anything. In some cases, the downtime clock doesn't even start ticking until you point out the problem to the host. Even if the company refunds a month's hosting fee, which is the typical compensation, it won't make up for the lost business.
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