Choosing a Website Hosting Provider for Your Law Firm
Chris Dreyer | January 14, 2014
Choosing a law firm web host1 is a key part of building a website. Even though it is one of the less exciting or seemingly unimportant parts of the process, making a bad choice can screw things up for your online marketing. Even though most hosting is a commodity at this point, 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.
Lets start with something simple and easy. The website that you build or have built 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 accompany different packages.
When you buy a personal PC, space is often important. When choosing a host, a vast majority of attorneys are not going to 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 why you may want to consider disk space more seriously when comparing companies.
• You plan to store large files like video, massive amounts of audio or images, or other large files
• You are planning on building a website with many hundreds or thousands of pages
• You plan on hosting many websites from the same host
Typical attorney websites2 may 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.
As long as we are talking about CMSs, if you plan to use one 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 communications needs with unique requirements. You may need a lot of space or have a lot of employees that 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 life saver when something goes wrong that you cannot figure out on your own. The leading hosting companies typically have pretty responsive support but be sure and investigate this. For example are they available 24/7? Are you able to chat with reps instead of calling them? Do they have negatives like 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 on configuring 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 web pages
• Increasing page load speed7
• Securing your website from unwanted bots and other visitors
• URL re-writing
• 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 that they have some sort of backup option for you. There is nothing worse than having some kind of catastrophic data loss only to have your host say “sorry 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% up time but anywhere in the high 90’s is good. If they do not have it published and are reluctant to tell you (or just don’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 less, 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 they have had with their host.
What hosting providers do I recommend?