The web hosting industry has become increasingly competitive. A recent search on a popular engine with relevant criteria returned millions of results from thousands of organizations offering site storage solutions. There are thousands 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.
Watch out for the host sharks!
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 Internet hosting services take this attitude and there are some brilliant solutions companies out there who respect and encourage their clients. These are the companies with a long range plan and tend to diversify into other areas as they grow, offering their clients wider and more specialized services such as domain name registration and site monitoring facilities.
Hosting reviews strategies
Finding these gems amongst the rot is the challenge. I know of a number of webmasters who 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 any domain 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. Look for user forums on their sites to get a vibe of how other clients are finding the service.
Asking hosts 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 Internet start-up who won't be looking for streaming-media or hosting large files in the short term. Even if your site is only a hobby web site, or community based - you never know when things may change. Taming the Beast.net began as a hobby site in 1996 and only served to assist my clients with driver links etc. - but all that changed in 2000. Traffic grew from a few visitors a day to currently, a few thousand....
Distance is no barrier on the Internet.
The advent of 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 actually it could be very damaging to host domestically. An example I wrote about recently was for a quote provided for the hosting of Taming the Beast.net and associated interests. To have our sites hosted in Australia with a very well known and respected local company would have cost me nearly US$500 a month! We were paying around 10% of that price at the time by hosting in the U.S.A - needless to say, the thought of switching never crossed my mind!! We were getting all the benefits of an A grade company for a fraction of the price!
Not all Aussie web hosts are involved in highway robbery, but the overall picture a few months down the track in Australia is generally unchanged. Many other countries fall into the same category. The best web hosting deals in my opinion are still to be found in the United States.
When in doubt - email!
The first step in tracking down the best and most affordable web hosting company for your needs is to hit your favorite search engine and visit web site hosting firms. 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, best to move on. 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 email.
Not all hosting solutions 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 template email:
This example would be suitable for most personal and business startups for initial enquiries. More complex and technical points for consideration will be covered in the next article in this series. Annotations are in brackets & accompany each question.
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)
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions
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.
The Unlimited Bandwidth Banshee.
A number of web site hosting companies offer huge (or unlimited) bandwidth allowances at rock-bottom prices. Be wary of such offers. All bandwidth has to be paid for by someone. The fact is that most hosting services make the most profit from small, bandwidth friendly (low traffic) sites. Some companies offering huge data transfer quotas incorporate interesting "load balancing" techniques once your site does start experiencing heavy traffic flows. The end result is that if other web sites hosted on the same server need resources, your web site loses them and your site visitors may start experiencing massive slowdowns or other mysterious happenings. This topic will be further explored in the next article in this series.
Web site hosting is a strategic partnership
If you receive incomplete responses, curt remarks etc - no matter how good the offer may look on the web, give it careful consideration. There would be nothing worse than to open an account with a domain hosting service who really doesn't give a damn about you. The sales process is where the company should be on their best behavior!
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In Loving Memory - Mignon Ann Bloch
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