I have operated a successful web hosting company for about two years now, and I find myself giving the same advice to people repeatedly. I get asked how to differentiate the good web hosts from the bad ones, and believe me there are a lot of bad ones (and also a lot of good ones).

The answer to this really depends on what you, the consumer, requires out of your web host. Obviously if you have a simple blog that you update once a week, your requirements will be different than if you are running a complex ecommerce site that processes transactions 50 times an hour.

The four most important things to consider when looking for a web host are:

Customer service - This is number one because you should always discuss with a potential web host what your requirements are and if they will be a good fit for you. Based on their responses and level of service, you will get a good idea if they will be around to help you in the future if you require any assistance.

Reliability - What good is a web host if their servers are always down - which means your website will be inaccessible to visitors and potential customers. Most web hosts will guarantee 99.9% uptime, which is now the industry standard. Though sometimes there are unavoidable circumstances where the server may go down, the overall uptime should be 99.9%. If you find your site is constantly going down (I’ve seen some hosts where their customers’ sites go down at least once a day or week!), it’s time to jump ship.

Security - Your data is important. Hackers are real. I have had many of my own personal sites hacked and replaced with malicious code or data. Trust me, this sucks. It is important for your web host to always be on top of security and update their end with the latest and most effective protection. Keep in mind however that your site can never be 100% safe from hackers so make regular backups of your data. Don’t rely on your web host to do this for you as most of them make backups for their own purposes. When something goes wrong, their backup may save the day, but why put your fate in someone else’s hands? Always back up your own data.

Price - This is not really important. Market prices are pretty competitive and you really do get what you pay for. Determine your web host by their other merits, not price. If price is the only factor in your decision, go with a free web host - just don’t expect anything spectacular.