How important to the success of your E-commerce site is your choice of hosting service? Pause for a moment and consider: Without reliable and secure web hosting, you don’t have an E-commerce site in the first place.
The standard talking points of uptime and cost aren’t entirely unimportant to your site’s hosting equation, obviously. Server uptime is a central consideration – but technology has progressed to the point that almost any service that manages to stay in business can claim impressive uptime statistics. Even more important to an E-commerce operation is the host’s error rate and error handling process.
E-commerce stores seldom ‘crash’ these days – but if they’re improperly (or inattentively) hosted, they may throw critical errors that prevent your customers from completing their transactions. An experienced E-commerce host should have a very low error rate, and should also have a process in place for flagging errors when they do occur so that their technical staff can quickly run them down and correct them.
The simplest way to avoid a slew of technical issues is to select a service that has experience in hosting other stores that run the same E-commerce engine as yours. That insures that their hosting supports both your store’s chosen development language (such as ASP or PHP) and any specific server-side components that your E-commerce engine may require.
It’s a mistake that’s more common than you think. I am frequently contacted by customers AFTER they have signed up for some sort of hosting account – and more often than not, it’s a hosting account that won’t support much in the way of E-commerce and doesn’t offer advanced security features. Essentially, they’ve wasted their money because the hosting they’ve paid for won’t work for their business.
Be careful out there
Security is an equally important concern. Ideally, your hosting company will be in compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard – a security protocol that establishes hosting requirements for network security mechanisms, data handling and storage and the handling of security certificates and encryption. All but the very smallest E-commerce stores should be hosted in an environment that maintains store data on a separate database server isolated from the actual ‘web’ server that is open to traffic from the Internet. This arrangement makes it very difficult for any type of security intrusion to gain access to your customer information or any other sensitive business information in your store’s databases.
A quick side note: You should NEVER maintain customer credit-card information or other sensitive personal data (like Social Security numbers) in your store’s databases. Even in the most secure hosting environment this is an enormous financial liability for your business, and it’s a business practice that needlessly exposes your customers to identity theft and/or financial fraud. In fact, hosting companies that adhere to the requirements of the PCIDSS won’t allow retention of such sensitive information on their servers.
The personal touch
Finally, one of the biggest differences between ‘budget’ hosting and a full-service hosting company is the level of support that they provide. Your E-commerce site is a money-making operation, and you should select a host that treats your company’s bottom line as a priority. With a good hosting partner you shouldn’t need a lot of technical intervention, but when you do you should be able to contact a technician personally in order to get your questions resolved. A good E-commerce hosting partner will also have procedures in place to monitor your site for errors and correct them quickly when they occur.
More than anything else, when you pay for a ‘premium’ hosting partner most of what you’re paying for is that personal level of service. Since the difference in cost between budget and full-service hosting is frequently less than $60-$70 a month, that seems like sort of a business no-brainer to me.