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Questions To Ask A Web Host

by J.J. Ralph
The web hosting industry has become increasingly competitive and there are a myriad of companies out there battling for your business -but some won't definitely have you or your business interests in mind. Cheap web site hosting definitely doesn't mean the best hosting and neither does signing up with the most expensive companies guarantee you the best service - it's a confusing world of solutions, smoke and mirrors.

Competition's a great thing, but the frenzied levels of promotion has also forced a number of hosts to use questionable marketing tactics and a heavy load of activity-restricting fine print in their contracts. Many web-hosting companies don't make profits by establishing a solid customer base, but rather by having a high turnover. The more customers they can have signing up and then dropping off, the more dollars they make.

Of course, not all hosting services take this attitude and there are some solid companies that respect and encourage their clients.

FINDING THE RIGHT HOST

Finding these gems amongst the rot is the 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.

Regardless of how good a 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 file the answers for comparison later on. Find out about what others are saying about them too; but bear in mind that if a hosting company has been around for a long time; they won't have a 100% satisfaction record - it's just not possible given the thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands of clients they've provided services to over the years. Approach the review process holistically.

Creating a template email to send out to hosting companies is the most time efficient way to cut through the hype and allow you to make apples to apples comparisons.

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

But what questions should you ask a hosting service? A great deal depends on the type of web site you have. For the purposes of this exercise, we'll use an example of a typical small site that may perhaps be receiving up to a few thousand visitors a day. Even if your site is only a hobby web site, or community based - you never know when things may change. It isn't an uncommon situation for a well-designed and targeted site to grow from a few visitors a day to hundreds, or even thousands within a short space of time.

The first step in tracking down the best and most affordable web hosting company for your needs is to use your favorite search engine and visit web hosts. Briefly look around the site to see if their offer seems interesting and their ideals and ethics in line with yours. Take a look at the company profile, if there isn't one that details the company (rather than how good they claim to be), run like hell! The rest of your initial enquiries can be handled via their support system.

Be straightforward when you submit your questions to the hosting service, let them know that you are shopping around.

NOT ALL HOSTS ARE CREATED EQUAL

The criteria for the first cull is simple - if they don't respond to your enquiry within 24 hours, delete them from your contenders list. The same goes if they just send you links to promo 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 rationale behind the 24 hour deadline is this - if a web hosting company can't respond with pre-sales questions within an acceptable time frame, it may be an indication of what their customer support is like. Also, many web hosts don't see the "big picture" - which is a fatal mistake. You may be starting out small, but who knows how big you'll become and how many other people 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 possibilities. The following is a template that you might like to use.

SAMPLE EMAIL TEMPLATE:

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 quickly.

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Dear Sales,

I am currently in the market for a good web hosting service with excellent customer support and you are among a number of hosting services I am reviewing. I have taken a quick look at what you have to offer on your web site, but with so many services offering so many different options - it can be pretty confusing. I would greatly appreciate you answering a few questions and your recommendations for a plan that would suit my purposes.

Here is a list of my basic current needs:

At least 500 meg of Hard Drive space (Note: change this to suit) At least 2 gig of Bandwidth per month (Note: change this to suit. 2 gig is plenty for most to start out with) At least 20 mailboxes (Note: change this to suit) FrontPage 2002 Extensions (if you use it) PHP 5 (even if you don't need this initially) Perl 5 (for running scripts) 2 MySQL (database capabilities - with so many popular applications needing MySQL databases, it's best to get an account that has multiple db's) FTP access Server logs access (for in-depth web site traffic studies later on) Web site traffic monitoring reports Easy to use admin interface (Any other specific needs) What would you recommend, bearing in mind that I'll need plenty of room to grow. 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)

Questions:

1. Is there a setup fee? (A setup fee is not necessarily a terrible thing, it just needs to be factored into your budget)

2. What is your uptime record? (Look for at least 99.9% uptime over a month. )

3. Can I upgrade my plan at any time? (A good hosting service will allow you to change your plan at any time)

4. 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 and above your quota for data transfer. 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.)

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.) included or 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 referrer bonuses? (If you settle with a host and you are happy with the service, no doubt you'll tell others. Why not profit from that - it can subsidize the running of your site or even turn into a good earner for you!)

8. Is your free tech support available 7 days a week? (A VERY important point - many offer this but sometimes all you'll get is a recorded or autoresponder message during weekends. Telephone support is not a necessity for most people - a good email or online ticket based support system can actually be 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. Why should I choose you over other hosts offering the same sorts of features and pricing?

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions

Me.

These questions and points are just to get you started in the reviews process and will allow you to weed out many of the fly-by-nighters. It may seem like a lot to ask, but an experienced staffer should be able to complete the questions very quickly. Always be polite when posing questions as the answers will be provided by a human being with feelings as well. By asking questions in a courteous 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 remarks under the relevant question. This will give you a good record to refer back to in the future. Always respond to each response with a brief thank you note.

Author: John J. Ralph website: http://www.thinkhost.com/?p=6268bb7d

 

About the Author

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Thursday, May 8th, 2008