Editor’s note: This is a contributed post by Jerry Low, founder of webhostingsecretrevealed.net, a web host review site for hosting shoppers. As a geek dad who lives and breathes SEO, he enjoys writing SEO and web marketing guides. You can connect and get more from him on Google+.
When it comes to choosing a website hosting company, you may feel slightly overwhelmed at the plethora of choices available. It seems that there are as many fake positive reviews these days as there are authentic reviews, so it’s difficult to know if you can trust the buzz about a particular host.
At the same time, choosing the right website host is vital to running a successful website. Small Business Computing finds that some of the most common complaints against web hosting companies include bad customer service, site downtime and hidden fees.
Recommended Reading: Busting The Myth Behind ‘Unlimited’ Web Hosting
Nonetheless, choosing the wrong host may bring about much, much worse problems, such as:
1. Loss In Revenue – When your website goes down that means time that people cannot visit your site to purchase your products. You’ll lose revenue, or worse, customers to a competitor’s website.
2. Slow Website Loading Speeds – The quality of your web hosting impacts the speed of your website, which in turn, affects every metric you care about: bounce rate, search rankings, and conversion rate. Research indicates that an increase of 1 second in page load time can cause a 7% drop in website conversion rate.
3. Site Security – Even the most secure website is not safe from hackers and malware attack. However, a good web hosting company will have safeguards in place to prevent these attacks, or react quickly to right any security issues, while a poor hosting company may mean that your site is down for weeks. A non-responsive host will not help fix the problem at all and you might have to rebuild your site from scratch on a new server to get rid of the issues.
Choosing the right web host
Even armed with the knowledge of what happens when you choose the wrong host, you may still feel overwhelmed and uncertain on how to choose the best host for your needs. Fortunately, there are 15 simple questions you can ask that will help you make an informed decision.
1. What are my hosting needs?
Figuring out your hosting needs is essential to decide the type of hosting plan required. What type of website is being built; will it be mainly text-based or will it utilize other forms of media? If your site will use a lot of bandwidth, a shared hosting plan may not be right for you. Instead, you may want to looking into dedicated hosting solution. On the other hand, if security is a concern and you won’t be using a lot of bandwidth, then a VPS may be a better choice for your site.
Do you need Windows technologies for your website, such as ASP, Microsoft Access or Microsoft SQL? Perhaps you need Unix-based hosting to utilize technology like WordPress, PHP, Perl and MySQL. Beginners will want a simple shared hosting account on a Unix-based server. This is the easiest to use and will fit your needs as a beginner. However, ensure that the host has the option to upgrade.
2. How long am I tied into the contract?
Some hosts offer a huge discount, but you have to pay 2 years in advance. Even if the company offers a guarantee, you may have trouble regaining the funds you’ve already paid out. It’s probably best to opt for a month-to-month or at the most a quarterly plan with a brand new web hosting company until you’re sure you want to stay with that company for the long term.
3. What are the renewal prices?
Cheap hosting companies use a low price tag to entire new customers to sign up, but then raises the prices when it comes time to renew. To avoid unpleasant surprises, ask what the renewal prices are upfront, and make note of it as you do your research for a new website host.
4. What will cause Suspension Of hosting account?
Does the hosting company you are looking at claim to offer “unlimited” hosting? "Unlimited" hosting has a limit. Ask questions to find out what bandwidth usage will get your site slowed down or suspended. This information will not be readily available, so you’ll have to contact customer service and ask them point blank how much the “unlimited” plan truly comes with.
Even then, you may have to rely on reviews to uncover the truth as some hosting providers are covering the marketing fib of “unlimited” by suspending accounts with high usage for various TOS violations.
5. What does the hosting plan come with?
At a minimum, you’ll want a company that supports FTP, PHP, Perl, SSI, .htaccess, SSH, MySQL, and Cron Tabs. If you’re a beginner, you’ll want an easy environment like CPanel and if you’re an advanced user comfortable with installing your own software on your website then you’ll want to be sure you have the support to accomplish that easily.
6. What is the refund policy?
Keep in mind that many cheap hosts will claim to offer a money-back guarantee to get your business but to actually collect that money when you have an issue with their service is a totally different matter. If your site is down 10 days out of 30, will they give you a credit for those days? What about if their uptime and space guarantees are not met? Will they let you out of your contract and issue you a refund of any unused money? Ask the right questions.
7. is the hosting environment Easy to use?
Ask to see a demo if one is not already available and see how easy it is to point a new domain to your site, add folders, upload files and do other everyday tasks. These tasks will vary based on what type of site you own, so you’ll need to make sure the tasks you complete regularly are simple to access and use.
8. Will the host Help With Site Migration?
If your site is already built and you’re looking for a new company, ask if they will migrate your site to their server for free. This saves you a lot of time and aggravation as all you’ll need to do is change the ISP for your domain name instead of moving your site, databases and other information.
9. Does the server offer email hosting?
While most website hosting providers do offer this feature, it isn’t a given. I was caught by surprise during a host switch to find that my new hosting plan did not include email hosting service. An email hosting feature allows you to send out an email and receive email from an address like firstname.lastname@example.org. It helps create a professional appearance for your business. It would be great if your new hosting plan offers it.
10. Is there A backup in case Of A crash?
Knowing that the server keeps a backup (in case you forget) can give you peace of mind. Accidents happen, and while you can’t prevent that, you can minimize the impact from it. Also, in case of a hacker getting into your site, a backup copy can help restore your site to a time before the attack.
11. What kind of tech support is offered?
Murphy’s Law dictates that your site will go down on a Saturday at 3 in the morning. If the web hosting provider doesn’t offer 24/7, 365-day support then your site will be down until regular business hours, which is also known as "too late". In addition to 24/7 tech support, look for a provider that offers multiple ways to contact them, such as e-mail, website live chat and via telephone.
12. What is the hosting company’s uptime record?
Nothing below 99.5% uptime is acceptable. Don’t just trust what the host says their record is, as a lot of different factors come into play. Read real web hosting reviews that provide uptime details and track your own site uptime using free tools like Uptime Robot and Pingdom.
13. How easy is it to upgrade The website?
If you think your website is going to grow significantly, you’ll want to find a hosting company that will let you move from a shared hosting plan to a VPS seamlessly and then onto a dedicated server one day. Make sure the hosting company has this capability from the start.
14. How stable is the company?
Run a background check on the company on your own, and try to stick with a hosting provider that has proven itself rather than one with a vague history. The older the company, the more visible their track record. That isn’t to say that a new hosting company can’t be valuable in many ways, but if you are in this for the long haul, you need to find good company along for the ride.
15. Is ecommerce software provided?
If you plan to offer products, you may want to implement ecommerce on your website. Some common software that web hosting companies provide are OS Commerce, SoftCart and CubeCart. There are others, but these are fairly simple to use and common. Get the details on what the host provides, and if you are uncertain about the brand, ask for a demo.
Quick Wrap Up
These questions will help you see on paper whether or not the hosting company offers the basic features you need to run your business website. However, you’ll also want to factor in reviews, support forum discussions by current clients (if you can access them) and trust your instincts when listening to the answers you are provided.
Always have an exit strategy in case you wind up with the host from Hades. However, if you do your research, you’re more likely to end up with a website hosting company that will meet all your needs and expectations.