17 tips to be a smarter web hosting shopper

Picking up a web host is like making friends. Pick good ones, they will enrich your life; make bad choices, and they will bring you down. It is extremely important to stay away from bad web hosts and stick with the trustworthy ones. In this article, I am going to share my version of web host shopping tips – hopefully it will help you to become a wiser webmaster.

Shopping for the right web host

1. Always go with the web host with live chat support

Afterall, who needs a phone line as live chat is the most efficient way for technical communication.

2. Test customer support (for real!) before you sign up

Don’t ask stupid pre-sale questions, ask technical stuffs like inodes and CPU usage limits to test the support’s knowledge.

3. Register your primary domain with a third party registrar

Just because the web host offers free domain does not mean that you should let the hosting provider controls your domain registration. Get your domain name registered on a third party so you can switch your web host anytime you want.

4. Always pay with a debit card to protect yourself

Trust me, there are crooks that will charge your card even if you have cancelled your subscription. A debit card will save your day when things turn bad, use a PayPal in case you do not have one.

5. Understand that most hosting review sites are affiliated to the web hosts

This doesn’t mean that all hosting reviews are unreliable; you just need to be careful with their advice and have the ability to read between the lines.

6. Track your web host from time to time

Employ a third party tracking system to check your ebsite uptime, anything below 99.5% for more than two months is unacceptable. In case you are new and not sure what I’m talking about, a free trial account at Pingdom should get things started.

7. Check your web host spam policy

Any host without a tight spam policy is a pass. We do not want to stuck with group of bad IP neighbor and get our sites blacklisted.

8. Does your web host come with black holed IP?

A quick check on Spamhaus Block List is always recommended. There’s a handy search tool provided at SpamHaus.org (see image) – If your IP address is listed on one of our IP blocklists; SBL, XBL or PBL (collectively known as the ‘Zen’ blocklist), the lookup tool will tell you which one and will give you a link to information on what to do.

9. If you plan to grow big, go with an “expandable” web host

Shared hosting plans are powerful nowadays; but for certain reason if you foresee that you need a VPS or dedicated hosting in the future, make sure you stick with hosting providers that can offer you those.

10. Avoid web host with short trial period

Any trial period below 30 days is a pass! Reputable web hosts like iPage and BlueHost nowadays are offering ‘Anytime Money Back’ Guarantees, why should you fit yourself into those with short trial period?

11. Be aware of web hosts with outdated software and web apps

No kidding! There are still hosting companies that limit their customers with PHP4 and WordPress 2.8. If you are unsure, don’t assume anything and shoot your questions to the live chat supports, make sure the web host supports the latest version of software and web apps.

12. Recognize unlimited hosting is impossible

Do you expect your web host to give you unlimited hosting resources for $3.50/mo? Come on, be realistic. You should understand that such unlimited hosting is only ‘unlimited’ because the hosting providers are managing their servers usage closely and avoid any significant shortage of hosting capacity. As a smart consumer, you should take time to learn about the issue and avoid over-trusting your web host.

13. Understand your web host’s refund policy clearly

How long is the trial period? Are there any special charges if you refund within the trial period? How much do you need to repay for the free domain when you ask for a refund? Does the web host allow a refund after the trial period? It is very important to understand your web host’s refund policy clearly so that you won’t get panic when things go wrong.

14. What is the backup plan?

Backup policy is another important thing you need to know clearly before jumping in. Yes, you should always do your own backup for safety purpose but you also need to know if your web host has a reliable backup plan. Check if your web host provides sufficient redundancy protection; ask questions like ‘Do you have redundant power supplies?’, ‘How many incoming lines do you have at the data center?’, and ‘How often does the web host backup its server?’

15. You need a checklist for the necessary hosting features

Unfortunately, there’s no one-fit-for-all answer for your hosting needs. Chances are you need a dedicated IP, or a unique CMS, or a special type of cart software, or a private SSL, etc. It’s always recommended to come out with a checklist and see if the shortlisted web host fit everything in the list.

16. Avoid web host with ridiculously long commitment period

Do not fall for those web hosts with extremely low price tag but extremely long commitment period. Some ‘fly-by-night’ web hosts will lure customers to pay 3 – 5 years upfront for a very low price tag and they will just flee away with the money 1 or 2 years later. The last thing we want to have is to stuck with crooks like these so any subscription period for more than 24 months is not recommended.

17. Stick with web host with reasonable pricing

From my experience, web host that is too expensive or too cheap is a red flag. Web host with a high price tag, chances are they are overpriced; web host with a too-good-to-be-real low price tag, chances are something is wrong with their backend. At this time of writing, prices ranging from $3/mo to $8/mo are reasonable for a cheap shared hosting; I wouldn’t say anything below or above it is bad but I will be extra careful with them.

Bottom line: You just cannot judge a book from its cover

It is impossible to know if a web host is good or bad from outside. Yes, reading TOS and user reviews do help filter out a few obvious bad apples but anything beyond need your own involvement.

The best way to know a web host is to test the web host yourself from the inside. After all, this is the reason why we register our domain name separately and go with web host with long trial period (see tip #3 and #10), right? Just keep track on the service quality for the first 30 days and do not hesitate to ask for a refund if you find anything fishy (that’s how you leverage the trial period!).