Choosing a law firm web host1 is a key part of building a website. Even though it seems like one of the less exciting or less important parts of the process, making a bad choice can screw things up for your online marketing. Most hosting is a commodity at this point, but lawyers should still make sure the service provider they go with can help them accomplish their goals.
This post is meant to be a guide. Not all lawyers will need the same sort of hosting features or require the same caliber of company. Instead, we will help you consider some important factors when shopping for a hosting package.
Let’s start with something simple and easy. The website that you build is essentially a group of files. On computers, files are just data, and data takes up space. Hosting companies will often promote the amount of space that comes with different packages.
When you buy a PC, space is often important. When it comes to choosing a host, most attorneys do not need a ton of space. Some of the most basic hosting packages provide more than enough space for a website. Here are a few reasons you may want to consider disk space more seriously when you compare companies:
• You plan to store large files like video, massive amounts of audio or images, or other large files
• You plan to build a website with many hundreds or thousands of pages
• You plan to host many websites from the same host
Typical attorney websites2 have several dozen pages at most, and even if you are blogging3 on a weekly basis, it may take you a long time to eat up enough space to warrant spending a lot of money on a premium hosting package. In other words, if a host is offering 100 GB of storage, that is more than enough for most lawyers. Many hosts will upgrade you to unlimited storage for very reasonable prices.
This feature of a hosting provider is a little trickier to remember to ask about. Many websites are written using an HTML framework or rely on HTML and CSS for much of their structure and style, but they may also use server-side processing languages like PHP.
Not all hosts support the use of PHP, and that can be a problem for many modern websites. For example, if you run a CMS like WordPress4, Joomla or Drupal, your host must have the most recent version of PHP installed for a website to work.
If you plan to use a CMS to build your website, your host needs to support the use of databases. Most mainstream hosting providers do have this feature; however, there are some smaller hosts that either charge extra for the service or do not offer it at all.
Many hosts offer email services along with hosting. Many firms end up using these services for professional email.
Your business may have email communication needs with unique requirements. You may need a lot of space or have a lot of employees who need email addresses. Space is more sensitive for email services because it can be used up quickly.
Consider how many people you will have using email addresses, what kinds of messages you will be sending routinely, and storage requirements. Basic hosting packages often do not have enough or any email services. Attorneys who need email service should look for a higher-tier hosting plan that has unlimited storage.
Good support is a lifesaver when something goes wrong that you cannot figure out on your own. The leading hosting companies typically have responsive support, but be sure to investigate this. For example, are they available 24/7? Are you able to chat with reps instead of calling them? Do they have negatives, such as only one way to contact support?
One of the most annoying support functions I have ever seen is when a host only allows you to submit support tickets via email and will not let you call or chat online with a representative. This is where reviews can be a big help. See what other customers are saying about a host before you sign up.
Now we are getting a little technical, but if you plan to configure the server that your website resides on, your host must provide support for configuration files like .htaccess5 or web.config6. You or your web developer might use these files for a host of tasks, including:
• Redirecting webpages
• Increasing page-load speed7
• Securing your website from unwanted bots and other visitors
• URL rewriting
• Protecting directories
There are dozens of other important functions performed by server configuration files, and if your web host does not support their use, it leaves you at a disadvantage.
When you look for a host, check to see whether it has a backup option for you. There is nothing worse than having some kind of catastrophic data loss, only to have your host say, “Sorry, but we don’t have a backup of your site.”
Many leading hosts have backup features, but not all of them are free. In fact, some hosts may charge you a couple hundred dollars to retrieve a backup of your site if you do not have a package that includes it to begin with. Also, you could incur a ton of extra charges if you have to pay someone to rebuild your website from scratch all over again.
Many web hosts publish this number, and you should watch for it. If you don’t see it, ask someone before buying a package. No host has 100 percent up time, but anywhere in the high 90s is good. If a web host does not have it published and is reluctant to tell you or just doesn’t have an answer, it would probably be wise to look elsewhere.
Keep in mind that if you have a basic site with text, images, video, and several dozen pages or fewer, you probably do not need the most elaborate web hosting plan available. If you are using a CMS, you will need a host with support for popular server-side scripting languages and databases. Your best bet is to talk to someone who already has a site and see what kind of experience he or she has had with the host.
What hosting providers do I recommend?