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This article was written and provided courtesy Michael Bloch of ThinkHost and is reprinted here with permission. Opinions are those of the author, not necessarily of our company (Answers 2000 Limited).
Disclosure: Our company may receive a payment if you purchase products or services from ThinkHost after following a link from this website.
Choosing the Right Web Host
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 have 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 trustworthy companies out there who respect and encourage their clients. These are the companies with a long-range plan, offering their clients wider and more specialized services as they grow.
Internet hosting reviews strategies
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.
Many personal and commercial web site hosting companies offer the world in their solutions, but actually deliver little. Sifting through the fine print of their various "terms and conditions" is a huge task. Many site owners and webmasters may not have weeks to pore through all the information offered them.
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.
Creating a template email to send out to domain hosting companies is the most time efficient way to cut through the hype
Asking Domain 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. 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.
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. The best web hosting deals 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.
Be straightforward when you send out your note to the hosting services, let them know that you are shopping around. You can make this clear by putting all the company addresses in the CC field of your email. This strategy will quickly weed out the companies who genuinely want your business and also allow you to easily run through an initial cull. It will also save you valuable hours in research.
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 rationale behind the 24 hour deadline is this - if a web hosting company can't respond to pre-sales questions quickly, it may be an indication of what their customer support is like. Also, many web site 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.
The template email:
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.
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:
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
These questions and points are just to get you started in the reviews process and will allow you to weed out many crooks and poorly resourced solutions. It may seem like a lot to ask, but an experienced hosting customer service person should be able to complete the questions within a couple of minutes. 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.
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 as 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!
In the next article we will delve a bit deeper into reviewing web hosts and solutions before signing on the dotted line with some further questions to ask and more technical/economic points to consider.
Choosing the right web host is crucial to the success of your online presence - it should be viewed as an important partnership/alliance between both parties. The benefits to the hosting service are long term, in the form of referrals from you and the purchasing of other services offered by the company.
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