Probably one of the most challenging thing you will face as some point in time is finding a reliable and quality web host provider that will not fail you. Let's face it, when you perform a Google search for web hosts, you will soon realize just how saturated your choices are, but are they all good hosts?
A History of my Experiences
I've been online with various websites over the years and the one thing they have all in common is that each one required a web host provider. If I didn't have my sites on a web server, no one would know my sites existed, so this was important right?
There were less hosts back in the 90's...doesn't sound like it was that long ago, but remember this is 2015 and 1990 was like 25 years ago! As the old saying goes, time flies when you're having fun! Anyway, there were less choices back then, but still enough to make the selection of a quality host difficult. In total, I believe I tried 5 different web hosts, and all but one I finally settled on (but more on this a bit later).
Changing hosts can be a real hassle, especially when you need to have the confidence to move your website files to a new host and server. Not easy for many because it means you have to use an FTP program, go into where site files are, not to mention knowing how to setup a new database on your new host. Now imagine if you had more than one website, and one with members! There's also the joy of being offline for a while when you finally do move your website, the new host servers have to propagate across the net so that other servers will know your website moved. It's like when you move to a new apartment or house, you need to change your mailing address and have to let everyone know you've moved.
All that aside, I've had experiences of my web host being down many times, I've had my web host get sold to some other company where things went downhill from there, I've had prices change, features changed or removed...and a few other joyful things happen. One other item that you may encounter is the fact that not all host control panels are alike. Many can be downright confusing and hard to do even the most simple of tasks while you worry if you just destroyed your web site.
If You Need a New Web Host
Let's get to the important aspects of finding that right host for your website. I hate to say this, but you have some homework do perform, so don't rush into it, otherwise you may miss something. I will go through what I feel are important factors in making your choice...
- Website Quality
- Check out the host's website. Is it professional looking; does it look like someone's child made it, or does it look like they are using a template from Ma and Pa's Budget Templates for $1?
- Age of the Webhost
- I would recommend checking out how long have they been in business for. For some people, a new untested web host could be a risk should they fail.
- Read About Us
- Always important to find out a little about the company by reading their "About Us" page. You should be able to get a feel of who they are and what they represent.
- Are they an Affiliate Host
- This may or may not be a risk, but you should find out if this web host provider is was setup by someone who is an affiliate of another company and simply has a website as a third party seller of host packages.
- Search the Web for that Company
- This is something I would strongly recommend. If there's any history (good or bad) about a particular host, you will more likely find out by doing a Google search. Watch for keywords like "complaints", "dispute", "rip off", etc. Don't forget to read about any good things that you find too.
- Check the Better Business Bureau
- Whatever your country has that monitors businesses, whether it's a business organization such as the Better Business Bureau here in North America, there should be records of any complaints filed by past customers.
- What kind of Services do they Offer
- Most hosts will have similar services that they offer. The key point here is to make sure the host offers eactly what you need. Even more so if you are running scripts or content management systems like Joomla, Drupal, and of course, WordPress.
- NEVER Register Domains with the Host
- I've seen this happen where customers/clients of mine in the past have registered their domains with the host company they used, only to end up with hosting issues and bad services. When they move their website to a new host, you also have to try and deal with transfering your domain to a new registrar. I remember two different instances where one host caused problems for one, while another was not letting the domain go. I seriously believe if you get a domain name, do it through a reputable and accredited domain registrar.
- Terms of Service
- This is really really important! I know it's a pain in the butt to sit there reading through a mile long page of terms, but doing so could save you a lot of pain and anguish down the road. Specifically look for clauses that talk about refunds and closing your account because many often lock you into a term, and any talk of closing your account early could mean no refunds, or worse, cancel fees on top of losing your refund.
- What Support Resources are Available
- Support is very important, so I strongly recommend you find out what kind of support do they offer. You basically want fast support should anything go wrong. Do they have Phone support? Better yet, do they offer 24/7 phone support? Is it just email or forum based support? Do they offer real-time chat support? Do they offer extensive and easy to understand text documentation and/or videos?
- Test Their Support
- This is something many don't think about doing, but give the host a few tests. Contact their customer service with some questions and they wait to see how long it takes them to respond, but also determine if their response offered good answers. Contact their tech support if you can and put them to a test. Ask them technical questions, something like does your servers support a particular service for your website's requirements.
- Price is Not Always Important
- I know that most people make their decisions based on price. However, this can be a dangerous method of choosing a host because cheap doesn't always mean you get it for a low price. Watch out for the hidden costs, make sure the price you see is for the life of the account or is it just temporary? Also be aware that low prices could mean they are desperate for customers, or that they are needing volume to maintain services. In relation to low prices, make note of the "Terms of Service" point I made earlier because of possible hidden costs or other clauses that benefit's the host only. Think about this....what do you feel your business and website are worth to you should something go wrong? Is it worth $5 monthly hosting? In case you are wondering what a typical "good" price would be for a shared hosting account, I'd say something around $20 per month. If you cannot afford that, then you should rethink the importance of your online business.
- Don't get Suckered into Promotions
- Again, this relates to prices but also terms of service (or conditions). Always read the terms of the promotion and watch for the small print.
- Never Agree to Terms or Contracts
- I would strongly recommend you avoid signing up for long-term packages, for example, a full year; even if it's a low price promotion. Again, read the terms & conditions. The reason I hate term based packages, is that they often lock you in, but what happens after a month you decide the host is not right for you or you experience problems? I always recommend to go monthly for at least a year because then you can gauge how the host performs for both service and support. Personally, I still opt in for monthly and never for a term based package. If after a couple of years, everything has been perfect without issues, then I might consider it if the offer is reasonable.
- Make sure they have somewhere around a 99.999% uptime.
- Scalable Hosting
- This is something you should consider when choosing a host because if your website grows over time, you will need to upgrade and add services to maintain your site's expansion and requirements.
- Control Panel
- Find out what kind of host control panel they use. This is important because you want to feel comfortable when you log into your control panel to make changes to something, add databases, adding domains, subdomains, etc. I've seen some that are an absolute nightmare and this creates stress. Make sure it's easy to find things, to implement changes, etc.
- Talk to Others
- Talking with friends, colleagues, and business associates is important. If they have websites, they should be able to give you some insight as to whom they use and get their feedback.
- Who are their Customers
- Generally this is something that is kept private from the public because of privacy concerns. However, there are some well known hosts out there who will list "brand name" companies that uses their services. Personally, I feel that weighs a lot for the host with popular name dropping because to the general public, it shows trust and quality if you recognize those names.
As you can see above, I've written a lot of factors that should help you to find a good quality web host. In a nutshell, look for the history of the company, look for issues by doing an internet search, don't base your decision on price only, and most importanly, make sure they offer reputable quality support. When signing up, make sure you do it monthly for at least a year.
Who do I Use?
I get asked this often, and normally I don't like to make recommendations of any particular host, but I will make an exception here. I use Media Temple, and have for several years.