15 tips on how not to get screwed by your web host

As a smart consumer, you must be aware that every web host are in the business to make money. Therefore, it’s necessary for web owners to put up certain level of defense against their own web host (even if they are trustworthy and efficient).

Web Hosting Pitfalls

To get you started, here are 15 ways to protect yourself from a bad web hosting deal.

1. Register domain separately from your web host

Just because your web host offer a free domain doesn’t mean that you should let the hosting company controls your domain registration. Personally, I prefer keeping my domain names with a large registrant (in my case, GoDaddy) and separate them from the web host. By doing so, I can change my domain DNS anytime I want and avoid myself from being locked with a particular web host.

2. Test customer service before you sign up with a web host

A web host customer support department can be your savior or, nightmare. As most hosting companies provide 24/7 online chat support I suggest you to talk with their staffs at least once before you purchase. Ask questions to test the quality of their services and only go with those that provide satisfying answers.

3. If possible, pay with a debit card or PayPal

Lousy web hosts do not play gentlemanly when you are leaving them. I once had my website hosted with Network Eleven (which is a terrible hosting company) and they refused to stop charging my credit card when I unsubscribed my service. Eventually, I have to cancel my credit card in order to stop them bullying me. Moral of the story, always go safe when it comes to money. If possible, always pay your web host with a debit card or PayPal account. Just in case your web host turn bad, you can stop your subscription easily.

4. Learn the basics in web hosting

One good way to avoid from being fooled by the web host personnel is by educating yourself. Even if you are a non techie, make time to learn the basics in web hosting. You should at least understand the differences between various types of web hosting, pros and cons for different web host operating system, as well as some fundamental knowledge about hosting bandwidth.

5. Avoid web host with black-holed IP

Does your favorite web host allow spam activities? Is your website sharing the same server with a porn sites? All in all, is your hosting provider listed on Spamhaus Block List? Many hosting companies care little about what their clients are doing with the hosting as long as they get paid. Sharing same IP with such spammers will bring you nothing but troubles (imagine if your emails can only be found in your recipients spam box – terrible!).

So before you make any purchase decision, make sure you run a quick check with SpamHaus Block List.

6. Check your web host spam policy

I can’t stress how important it is to avoid hosting your website at a spammy web host. In fact, checking on SpamHaus Block List is not enough. A web host that isn’t black listed now doesn’t mean that they will not be blocked in future. To be safe, check out your web host’s spam policy in the FAQ section. A responsible web host will normally have clearly written guidelines in fighting spams. For example, as in my recent post about Lunarpages, there’s a policy where unsolicited bulk emails are forbidden with all Lunarpages accounts.

7. Understand the meaning of overselling

Overselling might not be a bad thing as it cuts down web hosting cost. However you have to be clear about the meaning of overselling. A manged-overselling is acceptable; but overselling without proper planning is simply rubbish and you should runaway from such hosting services as far as possible. To learn if your web host is well prepared for overselling, check your server load regularly. Do not hesitate to complain or even switch host if things look fishy to you.

8. Make sure your web host offer long enough trial period

Following up on the overselling issue, it’s important to work only with web host that offers long enough trial period. This is to ensure you have sufficient time to test out the servers without any risk of losing money.

9. Understand that unlimited hosting is NOT unlimited

Accept it, unlimited hosting is limited – the deal is only unlimited when you are not using too much of the hosting capacity. All hosting services are offered based on series of limited resources – how are you suppose to get unlimited hosting capacity with just $3.95 per month? So be wise, if you foresee your website will attracts crazy volume of traffics, a dedicated hosting is the way to go.

10. Ensure that your web host provide clear refund policy

Does your web host provide full money return if you choose to refund your service within trial period? How about the refund policy after the trial session? It’s important to know your web host refund policy in-and-out so that you won’t panic when things go wrong. A point worth noting is that some good host (Bluehost and iPage, for example) provide pro-rated refund even if your trial period is past. Needless to say, web host offering such benefits is always recommended.

11. Find out what others have to say about the web host

When it comes to web host shopping, it’s important to get opinion from your experienced friends. These friends can be your neighbors, Poker buddies, favorite bloggers or even Internet friends you met on FaceBook. User reviews are always helpful when it comes to picking up the right host!

In case you need my opinion, here’s my list of reviewed hosting and my Top 5 Web Host Recommendations.

12. Read and participate in related forum discussions

As said, nothing’s more important than getting yourself educated. If you are into website hosting, make sure you visit frequent enough on related forums. Web Hosting Talk and Webmaster World are the two best places to visit. I suggest all of you mark them down on your favorite list and visit them from time to time.

13. Make sure your web host runs on with a redundancy protection plan

When dealing with smaller hosting merchants, make sure they have their own data centers and more over, have the data centers fully protected with redundant power supplies and connectivity. “How many lines do they have coming into the facility? Do they have redundant power to the servers? Do they have an on-site power generator? What sort of security measures do they have for the network?” – these are the basic questions to be asked.

So go back to tips #2 and test their support!

14. Do your own backups regularly

Even if your web host provides sufficient redundancy protection, do not trust them 100%. Your website should be backed up always. Utilize cPanel’s cron job and backup features to ensure backup works are done regularly without fail.

15. Always keep your option open

Last but not least, always have an open mind in term of your web hosting choice. It is, after all, simple to switch your website from one host to another. So why stuck with the same old lousy host? If they don’t appreciate your business, someone else will. ;)

More guides in web host switching, read: Moving to a new hosting: Checklist guide.