There are a lot of things to consider before purchasing a hosting service and most of it depends on what type of site you are running and for what purpose.
If you just want to run a small web site for family members to keep in touch and share pictures with, speed and reliability may not be high on your list. You may be more interested in something cheap as it won’t be that important if the web site stops working for some reason.
If you are looking to build a web site for your business or an online shop, speed and reliability are crucial - customers just won’t tolerate having to wait for an ecommerce store to load and if you are a serious business, surely you would invest in something so crucial to your success? Customers will also consider this as one of the trust factors as to whether they decide to buy from you or not - would a trustworthy, reliable business really use a cheap, slow, unreliable web host?
Backups are also an important factor. We all know how important it is to backup but we rarely do so a reliable, automatic backup is crucial. You’ll need a host that backs up your data at least once a day and one that keeps a couple of weeks’ of backups for you so that you can go back and restore from a variety of backup files if needed.
E-mail spam filters are crucial as well. You will soon get annoyed if your host does not use any spam filtering software. There are various types of systems available and personally I’ve always found that SpamExperts is the best. That’s the one we use on our hosting service (www.hostingmatters.co.uk
) where we combine it with our own in-house system to ensure our customers only receive genuine messages.
Support is also vitally important. Many of big hosting companies keep getting bought out and combine with other, even larger hosting companies. You may be surprised that most of the hosting companies that you can think of right now are likely owned by just one or two bigger players in the industry. In my experience, when these mergers happen, support levels drop. Companies that were known for offering excellent support to their customers suddenly cause upset as cuts and changes to the way they do things, because of the acquisition, means that they no longer offer anything near like the support they used to. Make sure you find a host that responds quickly and effectively to support requests.
Finally, if you have a big or complicated web site ask the company to test it on their servers. This is something that we do for customers from time to time - it means that the customer can see the actual speed that the site will run on our server without having to commit to buying a hosting package before and running their own tests. Good hosts are happy to do this for you and configure the server to ensure your site runs as fast as it can.
I hope that helps.