by Preeti Pradhan and David Walsh
Having a good relationship with your hosting provider is perhaps not crucial, but pretty darn close to it if you want to maintain a fully functional website. Remember that even though you are the client, you still need to abide by the beloved ToC (Terms and Conditions) of your hosting provider. You should also research hosting plans to prevent future quagmires. Listed below are ten points to think about before signing up with a Web host and what to do if you already have a provider.
1. Do Not Go Blind Staring At The Price
One of the best and easiest ways to maintain a happy relationship with your hosting provider is to not go blind staring at the price tag. We know it’s easy to do, but remember that in most cases you get what you pay for. Cheap Web hosting can, of course, be top-quality and sufficient for small websites, but it can also be really poor and get you off to a bad start with your new host. Make sure you look at what features are included in the hosting package.
We once found a great cheap little plan, but we wanted to have others domains hosted on the same account. Turns out, that was not possible, and we had to upgrade our plan and pay extra. Had we looked at all of the plans, we would have found something better for a few dollars more. Make it a rule to always begin by comparing the different hosting plans being offered. You will quickly notice that for an extra buck or two every month, you will get features that could be well worth it.
For example, these features were not included in the most basic plan:
- Daily backups (compared to weekly backups)
- SSH options
- 99.9% guaranteed uptime (compared to 99.5%)
- More payment options: monthly, quarterly, yearly
- More MySQL databases
- Additional sub-domains
- Multiple FTP accounts
- Parked domains
- Easy One-Button Fantastico
- WhoIs Privacy
- Money-back guarantee for 90 days (compared to the standard 30 days)
2. Make Sure You Get Great Uptime
This is perhaps the most difficult point to know in advance, but statistics should be available. Look at websites that provide these numbers if the host doesn’t do it itself. The most ideal situation would be a host with 100% uptime, but that is not realistic because acts of God cannot be stopped. The industry standard is 99.9% uptime, which means that downtime should come out to eight hours over one year. If you experience hour-long breaks, it could be time to start looking elsewhere for a hosting provider. One great website that provides website testing is www.pingdom.com. It costs $9.99 per month, but the program does an amazing job of tracking your website.
With the advent of social media platforms, you should find and follow your hosting provider. Below are some providers that post on Twitter. Many announce downtime or grid failure right away.
3. On A Shared Web Hosting Account?
Know Your Server Mates
If you are on a shared hosting plan, your website will share a single server with thousands of other websites. It is important that you find out what these websites are, for several reasons. Say that one of these websites is sending email spam. This could lead to downtime for you because the server hosting your website will be getting heavy traffic.
Also, websites offering Torrent files are bad neighbors because they take up much of your bandwidth and could possibly get your server banned. Yes, shared hosting involves some risk, and if that risk affects you and your website, it might time to change hosting providers. You can check your IP address via Live.com. If you have serious concerns that unscrupulous websites are sharing your IP, contact your provider.
You Are at the Whim of Your Provider
You are at the mercy of your Web hosting provider on a shared account. Implementation of software and security is server-wide, and if your website is not configured properly or able to accept upgrades, then you’re in trouble. Sharing a hosting account, then, has its disadvantages.
What to look out for:
- Server upgrades (e.g. PHP 4 to PHP 5)
- No dedicated IP address (e.g. 126.96.36.199)
- HTTPS is not well supported
- Security vulnerabilities recur
- Installation of programs by the user are not allowed
- Misconfiguration on the server-side that would allow for major screw-ups by the user
4. Check Out Their Reputation
This is one of the easiest and best ways to tell whether you are likely to have a happy relationship with a hosting provider. Ask your friends and read what other people say about their hosting providers on Web hosting forums. No Web hosting provider gets only positive comments; that would be plain weird. But overall good reviews are what you want. Knowing as much as possible about your host in advance tells you what to expect from it in future.
Remember not to trust the testimonials that appear on the websites of hosting providers themselves. In some cases, they are bought or fake. Companies will only display positive comments, making them pretty worthless. Go to the Better Business Bureau website and search for the hosting companies you are considering signing up with. You will get information on everything from business management to customer complaint history.
Lastly, writing your own review and rating the hosting company on a hosting review website is a good idea. Remember, user opinions are most important when buying any product. Be objective and do not flame; people want the facts clearly portrayed.
5. Grow With Your Provider
One reason for having a website is to one day become popular and make it to the Digg front page (okay, we dream). In the beginning, you will have limited needs because the traffic and number of visitors will be low. But as time passes, you may have to upgrade your account. Make sure in advance that the host you partner with allows an easy way to do this. If you begin with a shared hosting account, the process of upgrading to a dedicated server account should be easy.
Likewise, if you start a website and expect it to grow, check that upgrading is possible. Some hosting companies offer just a basic plan because they want to specialize in one service. While a great idea, this is not good for customers who want scalability and flexibility in their hosting.
6. Demand Outstanding Support
Can you contact the support team if your website experiences an outage? Can you get ahold of it 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? We are not talking about phone support that is available only for part of the day. The easiest support is online service, which many hosting providers have. Online conversations are easy to document, so if the provider promises you something, you can keep a log copy and show it to them later.
Online support is also great because both you and the service representative have to be clear when writing. No more funny business of “He said, she said.” These are important questions you should ask yourself before signing anything. Email support is a must, and all good Web hosts offer it.
7. Don’t Get Fooled By Myths
Many hosting providers are clever with words, and it is not uncommon for people to get fooled by their sneaky little tricks:
There is no such thing as unlimited bandwidth. The reason they can make this false promise of unlimited bandwidth is because you will probably never reach the maximum amount anyway. Pay no attention to “unlimited” anything.
Unlimited disk space
This is pretty much the same as the first myth: there is no such thing as unlimited disk space. Web hosts that claim this probably offer much less disk space than you think.
24/7 email support
We have found this pretty amusing for some time. Yes, you will be able to send your host an email anytime, day or night, 7 days a week. But it is not working 24/7 to answer your queries. Find a host that provides live online 24/7 support with a live representative; you’ll be able to reach someone soon then.
99.9% uptime guarantee
This is the industry standard, and most hosts guarantee this. Do not get fooled by some hosts’ sneaky way of making it sound like they have no downtime, though. Wikipedia has a good list of uptimes and downtimes, down to 0.001%. As mentioned earlier, 99.9% uptime is possible, but check the terms for what exactly the “guarantee” is.
Sign up, pay by credit card, and boom, your website is online and ready to go. Not so fast, cowboy. It can take up to 48 hours for all DNS servers (located around the world) to update their databases. The fastest we have seen one of our websites go online is one hour.
Transfer your website in just a couple of steps
Those “couple of steps” always turn out to be several yards. Don’t switch Web hosts over a couple of dollars. Do your research and find out if the new provider’s service really is that much better than your current host’s.
Unlimited email accounts
Your email accounts have mailbox size limitations. While you can, in theory, create dozens of email addresses, the mailbox size of each will be quite small. Exceeding your limit with one email address can be expensive.
We should mention at this point that the remaining points, numbers 8 to 10, come from interviews we conducted with representatives of Web hosting providers. While these points may seem a bit tired, they were at the top of their list of problems. Please read through and keep these points in mind.
8. Be Nice To Customer Service Reps
No matter what the situation, we can all picture ourselves ranting and raving at a customer service rep about a problem we are angry about. This, however, is not necessary; keep your cool. Yes, your website may be down, and all hell is breaking loose, but you are still speaking to a person at the other end of the line. As one manager of a hosting company told us, “Tech support representatives have feelings and emotions, too.”
Some people threaten to cancel their contract to get something for nothing. Often, hosting companies will give it to them, within reason, just because. No need to threaten to cancel to get your way and force tough decisions upon them. You may get what you want now, but later on the customer service rep may not be so friendly or accommodating of your hosting needs.
9. Don’t Be Stupid
Repeating what everyone should know becomes tedious: customers who violate the terms of service will be caught, and their contract will be nullified. If you in any way host pornographic websites, spam, share torrents or upload illegal content, you are inviting trouble. In the end, violators are always caught; but the time and resources that companies could have spent developing new ideas and services are spent dealing with these issues. What a waste.
Doing something you are not supposed to be doing is a surefire way to: 1) get your contract terminated, 2) increase the cost of services; 3) make the system cumbersome.
Finally, the hosting industry is, admittedly, a confusing jungle. Fly-by-night and unscrupulous operations are not uncommon. Learn who the major players are, do your research and stay on good terms with your provider.
Written by Preeti Pradhan and David Walsh from Web Hosting Search