CHOOSING THE BEST WEB HOST FOR YOUR SITE
Web hosting has become an increasingly competitive industry. There are thousands of companies competing for your business - but some won't definitely have you or your best business interests at heart. Price isn't a good guide of quality either, there's just as many incompetent expensive hosts as there are cheap ones - it's a confusing world of solutions, smoke and mirrors.
Web hosting traps and pitfalls
The frenzied levels of promotion have forced a number of hosts to use questionable marketing tactics and hundreds of lines of activity-restricting fine print in their contracts. Many web-hosting companies don't aim to make profits by establishing a loyal customer base, but rather by having a high turnover in accounts. The more customers they can have signing up and then dropping off, the more dollars they make in setup and cancellation fees.
Thankfully, not all web hosting services take this attitude and there are some honest companies around who respect and encourage their clients. These are the companies with the big picture in mind, offering their clients wider and more specialized services as they grow and working on word of mouth from satisfied clients to promote their services.
Hosting Service Recommendation: ThinkHost applauds their clients efforts and provides flexible packages that can grow as your site does. There are no penalties for changing plans mid-stream. Visit? ThinkHost
Hosting review strategies
Finding these good companies amongst the bad is a huge challenge. Some webmasters have to change hosting services 3 or 4 times a year! The downtime involved prevents them doing what they do best, to maintain and develop their sites and attend to core business.
Many hosting companies offer the world in their solutions, but actually deliver little. Sifting through the fine print of their various "terms and conditions" is a huge task and most of us don't have weeks to go through all the information.
Regardless of how great any hosting service may claim to be or how they represent themselves, the only way you'll get to understand what they are offering is to ask questions - and then to archive the answers for comparison later on. Look for user forums on their sites to get a vibe of how other clients are finding the service.
Creating a template email to send out to companies is the most efficient way to cut through the hype
Asking web hosts the right questions
But what questions should you ask a hosting company? A great deal depends on the type of web site you have. For the purpose of this exercise, we'll use an example of a typical small business who won't be looking for streaming-media support or hosting large files in the short term. Even if your site is only a hobby web site, or community oriented - you never know when things may change. It isn't an uncommon for a well-designed and targeted site to grow from a few visitors a day to a bustling online destination in a short space of time.
Hosting in your own country?
The Internet has compressed distance greatly. There is now no need to have your web site hosted in the same country as you are - and it could be very damaging to host domestically depending on the communications infrastructure in your own country. The best web hosting deals are usually found in the USA.
When in doubt - email!
The first step in locating the most suitable web hosting company for your needs is to use your favorite search engine? to locate hosting sites and directories. Start collecting email addresses of the various companies. Briefly look around the site to see if their offer seems interesting. If their site doesn't function correctly, it would be wise to move on. Take a look at the company profile, if there isn't one that details the company itself (rather than how good they claim to be), don't bother about adding them to your list! The rest of your initial enquiries can be handled via email.
Hosting Service Recommendation: ThinkHost uses a excellent email support service that makes telephone support look positively antiquated. Test it out for yourself and ask them some pre-sales questions!
Be honest when you send out your note to the hosting services, let them know that you are shopping around. You can make this clear by putting all the company addresses in the CC field of your email. This ploy will quickly identify the companies who genuinely want your business and also allow you to easily run through an initial round of eliminations. It will also save you many valuable hours in research.
Not all web hosting solutions are equal
The criteria for the first cull is easy - if they don't respond to your enquiry within 24 hours, delete them from your potentials list. This also applies if they just send you links to promotional material without any personalized message text. To make it more interesting, send your email late on a Saturday night - wherever the hosting company is in the world, it will be the weekend.
The logic behind the 24 hour strategy is this - if a company can't respond to pre-sales questions quickly, it may be an indication of what their customer support is like overall. Also, many hosting companies don't see the "big picture" - a fatal mistake. You may be starting out small, but who knows how many other clients you will refer to their service? A forward thinking company recognizes this and reacts appropriately.
Don't make it too hard on the hosting companies in your email to start off with, you can ask more detailed questions as you reduce the list of potential partners. The following is a template that you might like to use.
The template email:
This example would be suitable for most personal and business start-ups for initial enquiries. These questions are not highly technical and any hosting service should be able to answer them confidently, competently and rapidly.
I am currently searching for a reliable web hosting service with excellent customer support and you are one of a number of companies I am reviewing. I have taken a quick look at what you have to offer on your site, but with so many services offering so many different packages - it can be pretty confusing. I would greatly appreciate you responding to a few questions and your recommendations for a plan that would suit my needs.
Here is a list of my basic current needs:
* At least 50 megabytes of server space (change to suit)
* At least 1 gigabyte of monthly bandwidth (change this to suit. 1 gig is plenty for most to start out with - be very suspicious of hosting services offering unlimited bandwidth - discussed later in this article)
* At least 20 email addresses (change this to suit)
* FrontPage 2002 Extensions (even if you don't use FrontPage, handy to have)
* PHP 4 (even if you don't need this initially)
* Perl 5 (for running scripts)
* MySQL (database capabilities)
* FTP access
* Server logs access (for security issues that may occur)
* Web site traffic monitoring reports (not essential, specialized 3rd party monitoring is usually more accurate)
* Easy to use admin interface
* (Any other specific needs)
What would you recommend, bearing in mind that I'll need to be able to easily and economically upgrade as the site grows? Please also send the URLs of the suggested package and upgrade options pages. (Many of your questions will be answered on these pages, links will save you from having to hunt around on their sites)
* 1. Do you charge a setup fee?
(A setup fee is not necessarily a terrible thing, it just needs to be factored into your budget)
* 2. Can I upgrade my plan at any time?
(A good hosting service will allow you to change your plan at any time without penalties)
* 3. What are your excess bandwidth charges?
(Although unlikely you will get excess traffic during start-up phase, it's important to know how much you will be charged if you use over your allowance. Data transfer or "bandwidth" refers to the amount of data going in and out of your site e.g. publishing up information or requests from visitors for information including page views.)
* 4. Is there a minimum contract length?
(Some web hosts offer excellent prices, but when examining the fine print you may discover that in order to get good prices you must take out a contract for a year!).
* 5. How often will my site be backed up?
(In a number of cases, you'll find that the cheaper the price, the less likely your site will be backed up on a regular basis)
* 6. Do you offer secure server and ecommerce capabilities (shopping carts etc.) as an upgrade?
(You may not want this in the beginning, but it's handy to have)
* 7. Do you offer an affiliate program or a customer incentive program?
(If you settle with a host and you are happy with the service, you'll tell others. Why not benefit from that - it can subsidize the running of your site or even turn into a good revenue stream for you!)
* 8. Is your free tech support available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? What is your average response time?
(A VERY important point - many offer this but sometimes all you'll receive is a recorded or autoresponder message during weekends or in the early hours of the morning. Telephone support is not a necessity - a good email support system is actually better than the phone as it provides a record for both parties. Many helpdesk telephone support people have very little technical knowledge - they tend to rely on "wizards".)
* 9. Just how large will my web site be permitted to grow while with your company in terms of hard drive space and bandwidth?
Thank you for your assistance
These questions are just to get the ball rolling and will help you in weeding out the undesirables. An experienced customer service person should be able to answer the questions within a couple of minutes. Always be polite when asking questions as the answers will be provided by a human being who has feelings as well. By asking questions in a polite manner, you will get the relationship off to a good start.
When composing the email, skip a couple of lines between each question to encourage the person responding to put their responses under the relevant question. This will create a record that is easy to refer to. Don't forget to respond to each response with a brief thank you note.
The Unlimited Bandwidth Myth.
A number of web site hosting companies offer huge (or unlimited) bandwidth allowances at rock-bottom prices. Be especially suspicious of these companies as all bandwidth has to be paid for. The host is charged for each megabyte of transfer by their upstream provider.
Companies make the most profit from hosting small, bandwidth friendly (low traffic) sites. Some companies offering huge bandwidth allowances incorporate interesting "load balancing" techniques once your site does start experiencing heavy traffic. The end result is that if other web sites hosted on the same server need resources, your web site loses them. It's also not unusual to hear stories from people where the hosting service has closed their account without warning once they start to actually use the bandwidth offered.
Hosting Service Recommendation: ThinkHost offers generous and GENUINE bandwidth allowances with each of their packages. Visit ThinkHost today!
Web site hosting is a strategic partnership
If you receive incomplete responses to your email enquiries, arrogant remarks etc - no matter how good the offer may look on the web, give it careful consideration. It would be disastrous to open an account with a company who really doesn't care about you or your business. The sales process is where the company should be on their best behavior!
Choosing the right hosting company is crucial to the success of your online presence - it should be viewed as an important alliance between both parties.
Article prepared by:
ThinkHost - Simply the Smart Choice!