What’s next? You’ve gathered all of your content, Step Internet has designed you a beautiful website, we’ve then optimised the SEO for the search engines, and you’re ready to go live. Now the question is: What should I look for in my web hosting service? And how can I compare the range of web hosting providers available?

The answers to the questions above vary dependent on the specific needs of your website, where your audience is, how much traffic you expect and a whole bunch of other factors.

The four most important components for evaluating a hosting service are:

  1. Speed
  2. Reliability
  3. Scalability
  4. Security

So let’s take a closer look at each of those dimensions.

1. Speed: “How fast will my site load?”

Evaluating a hosting service’s speed means measuring how quickly your content loads in your site visitors’ browsers, no matter where they are. If your site’s files are hosted on just one server, in one place, then visitors will see slower and slower page loads the further they are from your server.

The solution is to store and distribute your assets in a content distribution network (CDN). A CDN distributes your files throughout data centres worldwide, then delivers them to visitors via the data centre that’s closest to them. This means snappy page loads for all your visitors, worldwide.

2. Scalability: “Will my site crash if it goes viral?”

Will your site be able to handle tons of traffic? Or will your server fall over when it gets too many requests? This is the core question for scalability: What happens when your site traffic increases?

The best services handle this by automatically spinning up servers as your traffic ebbs and flows, so you can handle any amount of traffic.

3. Reliability: “Will I have to deal with downtime?”

A website that fails to load is useless. So look for a service that guarantees 99.99% reliability, because outages are a pain (and damage your brand).

“Cheap” hosting can often be highly unreliable — and ironically expensive to your brand — since your files are often stored in shared hosting space, which can go offline if your server neighbours see unexpected spikes in traffic.

4. Security & HTTPS/SSL

Ever notice the difference between sites with a URL that starts with http:// and those that start with https://? That S stands for “secure,” and indicates that all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted with an SSL certificate. Today, some browsers may still show the “https://” part of your domain in the address bar, while others like Chrome will display a lock icon.

This is especially important for websites that collect data in forms, e-commerce sites, or really any website where personal information is exchanged. SSL matters for search, too. Google revealed in 2014 that sites without an SSL certificate will be subject to ranking penalties, making SSL a must-have for any serious website today.