Host Hunting: Knowing what to look for

...go back to page 1If you search the Web, you'll find hundreds of Web-hosting services.

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If you search the Web, you'll find hundreds of Web-hosting services. To narrow your search, first look for a host that specializes in e-commerce, so you'll have access to the latest merchant and shopping-cart tools. (For a sampling of e-commerce Web hosts, see the table "Hosts Serve Up E-Commerce.")

Next, determine your needs. Be as clear as possible about how you'll manage your catalog, collect orders, and process credit cards—so you'll know whether a particular feature offered by a hosting service is of real value to your business. No doubt you'll want the ability to accept credit cards, so look for a hosting service that provides pointers to e-commerce-friendly banks, where you can apply for a merchant account, or one that does the account setup for you. Make sure to compare the fees before you sign on; they can vary considerably from host to host. Then look for bundled site-building software. Many Web hosts include catalog software, such as Miva Merchant or ShopSite, with their e-commerce packages. Before you choose a host, try out its e-commerce software demos, and be sure you like the results.

Most services' specs are adequate for a small Web store. Disk space among the sites we looked at ranged from 40MB to 500MB. A safe rule of thumb would be 1MB of disk space per item, so if your store had 50 items, 50MB would be adequate. Monthly data-transfer allotments ranged from 1GB to 20GB among the services we examined. A small Web store may generate an average of 50K per page access, amounting to about 20,000 page views for 1GB of traffic. If you sell one product per 20 page views, or 1,000 sales in a month, 1GB of monthly bandwidth transfer would be adequate. Monthly fees for these services generally range between $25 and $50. It's the less-tangible things that can come back to bite you later.

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