A Homeowner association’s guide to choosing a website host

Date Published : Jan-11-2021

Written By : Kim Brown

A website is a simple yet effective way to keep your HOA connected and informed. A clean, accessible website allows owners to easily locate HOA news, announcements, resources such as forms or surveys, member directories, and more. It may also serve as an effective marketing tool and can attract buyers to your community. Almost every HOA will benefit from a good website.  

Some HOAs might be apprehensive about creating or paying for a website. However, they shouldn’t worry too much. Building a website isn’t as challenging as it once was. There are software programs designed specifically to make this task easy, and many DIY websites can be completed for little or no cost.

 

Website hosting

In many cases, web hosting is offered along with website building, but you can opt to get these services separately. For example, if you’re building a customized website or using a website builder that doesn’t include hosting, such as WordPress, you will need to find a web host. Hosting is a service that provides the infrastructure that allows an HOA (or any person, business or organization for that matter) to publish a website.

There is usually a recurring fee for website hosting. This fee may cover things like the cost of your domain name, storage for your web pages, and a server that allows for general access through the internet.

 

Finding a host

Every website needs a web host. But selecting a host can be challenging, especially if you’re not familiar with web hosts or the services they provide.

The first thing you will need to do is identify your HOA’s website requirements. Consider factors such as speed, storage, price and technical capabilities. If you’re only planning to build a basic website that will help the HOA facilitate communications, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a server that can cater to your needs. However, if you want to enable online payment processing or will be adding video tours of the HOA to the site, you will need to find a host that offers particular functionalities. You may want to partner with a trusted and established host, or choose a company, like us, that builds and hosts websites exclusively for HOAs and condos. 

 

Features to consider

When choosing a web hosting service provider, there are over a dozen features to consider. Beyond checking for features like security, storage and uptime guarantee, the HOA must also consider the quality and the reputation of the service. Think of this new relationship with your web host as a long-term business partnership. Expectations should be clear on both ends, and there should be trust between you and the host.

Each company should have a service-level agreement (SLA) available, and it is important that you read it. SLA agreements are contractual agreements that detail the level of service you can expect from the service provider; in this case, the web host. SLAs generally include specifications concerning time period of service, response time, issue resolution timeframe, etc. Essentially, it ensures transparency and fairness on both sides.

We invite you to look at some of the most critical features to consider when selecting a website host, but please feel free to add your own items to your requirement list.

Storage. There are various levels of storage to choose from. This includes unlimited and unmetered storage. A small HOA with five or six pages has drastically different storage needs than a large HOA with a blog and dozens of pages of content. 

Security. On average, 30,000 new websites are hacked every single day. These 30,000 sites are largely legitimate sites that have difficulty defending themselves from predators. A web host should have the means and resources to provide you with secure website infrastructure, complete with the latest updates and security protocols necessary to guard against the onslaught of daily cyberattacks. Security features, guarantees, and expectations should be negotiated as part of the SLA.

Scalability. Some HOAs will require a web hosting service that can scale performance quickly when needed, and scale back when usage diminishes. Perhaps there are a lot of owners trying to make online payments or view statements at the end of the month. This is an advanced feature that only select web hosts can provide. 

Uptime. Uptime refers to a measure of reliability, expressed as the percentage of time the website is working and available. In a perfect world, websites would be running 100% of the time, but no web hosting service can guarantee that. Most providers can commit to 99.9% uptime, which is very reasonable. 

 

Type of server

The servers provided by web hosts are generally classified into one of four categories:

Shared. This is probably the most common option for small to mid-sized HOAs. Shared hosting means that more than one website is stored on a server or piece of hardware. Shared servers are less expensive, but the speed and performance are slower.   

Dedicated. When a single server hosts a single website, it is called a dedicated server. This configuration allows all of the power of that server to be concentrated on the website it is hosting. Dedicated servers are more expensive than shared servers, but that extra cost can be worth it when performance is paramount to success.

Cloud hosting (VPS). Similar to shared servers, virtual private servers (VPS) allow multiple websites to be hosted on one cloud-based server system. The key difference is a VPS can offer customers more features.

WordPress. WordPress servers are unique in that they can be hosted by any one of the three previously mentioned options, but they are specifically designed and optimized to serve WordPress pages. These servers are often used by bloggers, writers, journalists, and other content creators.

Cost. In addition to the initial signup cost, be sure to inquire about renewal rates and additional fees. While the most expensive option doesn’t necessarily equate to the best option, don’t partner with a host just because they offer the lowest price. Aim to find a host that can offer value for the cost of their services. 

Management settings and ease of use. If you or someone from the HOA will be responsible for managing and updating the site, make sure it’s easy enough to make the majority of changes without requiring assistance from the web host. Most popular web hosting services can be accessed from a standard web browser, meaning you can update your content, view traffic, and more, relatively quickly.

If you need to add special scripts, code, or more complicated items, you will need to inquire about how accommodating the host will be to those less common requirements.

Domain names. There are literally millions of registered domain names on the web right now. Finding a memorable, unclaimed domain name that works with your HOA’s name may take some time. Once you do find the perfect domain name, don’t lose it!

Your web host can register the name for you. In many cases, the host will do this for a minimal fee, but be sure to read the fine print to ensure they will continue to provide the service three or four years down the road. Domain names must be renewed annually, and there is always a fee for that, so make sure you are clear about who is responsible for filing the annual renewal paperwork, and how much it will cost.

Support. When something goes wrong, you want to be able to get help right away. Customer support is an essential factor when trying to decide which web host to work with. Find out if they are available 24/7, if they are available by email or phone, and what happens if the issue isn’t a quick fix. 

Cancellation policy. Finally, if the partnership doesn’t work out, what is the host’s cancellation policy? Make sure you know the answer before you purchase their services.

 

Conclusion

If your HOA is going to build a website, it will need a reliable, high-performing web host. Take your time before making a final decision, and if in doubt, ask for recommendations from other HOAs.

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