5 factors to consider when selecting an email hosting service

In a world where technology is always evolving, email has become a primary source of communication for businesses large and small. According to this survey by digital magazine Windows IT Pro, 96.84 percent of survey respondents say that email is core to their day-to-day business. Regardless of industry—from health to education, retail to finance—most small businesses need an email and collaboration software that’s efficient and can help keep administrative costs down. But with so many email hosting services out there today, how can you find one that covers all of your needs?

To begin, consider services that meet the following five criteria:

1. Security

Keeping email content protected is a top concern for users looking into their next email solution, according to Windows IT Pro. Not only is it important to keep content secure, but proper email protection will help head off other hacking accessed through email. Companies that allow hacking leaks can land in a lot of financial trouble—because of the Sony email hack of 2014, the organization could lose up to $100 million. And though the loss from hacks of smaller businesses is often a lot less (an average of $8,700, according to USA Today), the risk of a larger loss isn’t worth it.

Small business owners should look for email hosting services that use advanced tools to protect information. Specifically, anti-malware, anti-spam filtering, and data loss prevention capabilities should be in place. To ensure your data is backed up properly, find a hosting service that has globally redundant servers, a team of experts that’s monitoring your servers and is available 24/7 and the ability to employ effective disaster recovery techniques.

In addition, it’s important for hosting services to maintain a number of security certifications and remain compliant with certain regulations. Specifically, select a host with HIPAA and FISMA compliance, which allows the email service to be fully acceptable for use in health care and government settings, respectively. Microsoft’s Office 365 is one of the top-ranked email hosting services for Exchange, a popular mail platform that allows users to make use of numerous helpful features. In addition to being HIPAA- and FISMA-certified, Office 365 is ISO 27001 certified, SSAE 16 certified, EU Safe Harbor compliant and EU Model Clauses capable.

2. Administration and ease of use

The best email hosting services provide you with complete—or nearly complete—control over your email environment, but also offer assistance when it’s needed. Reliable customer service is a required given, and that should include 24/7 email, chat, and phone support.

When selecting an email hosting service, you should be on the lookout for companies that offer web-based interfaces that are simple to use. For example, the Microsoft Exchange eDiscovery Center allows you to run In-Place eDiscovery across Exchange, SharePoint and Lync data from one interface. You can also remove confidential data from phones that have been lost, as well as create approved mobile device lists and enforce PIN lock.

An easy-to-use interface gives your small business the flexibility it needs to complete administrative tasks in a timely manner. When you combine that with excellent help desk support, you’ve got a winning solution on your hands.

3. Compatibility and flexibility

As a business owner, you know the value of productivity—and that’s why it’s vital to have an email system that works for you, not against you. Look for email hosting services that offer enterprise-level syncing with web-based applications and mobile devices. Whether your office has only two employees or two hundred, you will definitely want the ability to collaborate using global address lists, tasks, and shared calendars. As a host for Exchange, Office 365 brings compatibility with Outlook and Lync, as well as the ability to access your email, calendar, and contacts on all major browsers, across devices, wherever you are.

You also will want the freedom to choose what email options you need and what you can do without. Select an email hosting service that offers a variety of features and several service levels. That way, you can begin with the basics—a more affordable option for companies on the smaller side or just starting out—and expand without switching hosting services down the road once your business has grown or changed.

4. Availability

Because we live in an always-on world, even an hour of downtime—email or otherwise—can cost your business thousands of dollars. A 2014 report by IDC showed that 80 percent of small and midsized businesses lose $20,000 or more per hour of network downtime. Because email is a vital part of a business’s productivity and often contains company data, it’s important to find a hosting service that guarantees uptime of at least 99.9 percent.

In addition, find a service that keeps you connected. Office 365 brings you automatic patching so you don’t have to maintain your own system. Also, be sure you can access your email environment on mobile devices across brands—so whether employees have an iPhone, a Windows Phone, an Android or a Blackberry, they can get to their emails, no matter where they are.

5. Archiving and storage

There’s nothing worse than a cluttered email inbox that doesn’t allow for sorting messages easily. But there are some messages that contain important information you don’t want to delete. The solution is an email hosting service that provides adequate storage for archiving. Even better are the services that have an established archiving system in place.

Specifically, you’ll want to look for a service that keeps all your data in one place and gives you the option to automatically move old messages to the archive. In addition, the host should guarantee access to your archived messages and protect data with continuous backup and disaster recovery. Select an email hosting service provider that will help you manage your archived email within your inbox—and say goodbye to annoying locally stored .pst files.

You’ll also want a provider that can advise you on best practices for the development of an email retention policy and help implement it through your email system.

Because technology is always evolving, your email service should get better and better over the years. Look for a forward-thinking email host that is always improving its services. Ultimately, that’s the best way to know you’ve made the right choice.