Choosing a new web host can be a nerve-wracking experience. A bad web hosting company can be a nightmare for website owners. Downtime, lost files or poor customer service can all work to derail your online business. Fortunately, there are some questions you can ask that may help narrow down your choices and weed out the one that are troublesome and might not provide the level of service you need.
How Long Have You Been in Business?
A new webhosting company will often take out banner ads and offer phenomenal deals to gain new customers. However, the lack of experience from a new company can harm your own business as you struggle to stay online and keep your site up and running. If you cannot find a start date through the Better Business Bureau or on the company’s “About Us” or “Company History” page, don’t hesitate to e-mail them and ask them when they began hosting websites.
What Experience Do Your Technicians and Leaders Have?
Even if a web hosting company is new, if the company leaders and technicians have been in the hosting and IT industry for a number of years, you may want to give them a chance. People who are savvy with computers are the ones who choose to offer website hosting. They may have gained their experience through a large corporation’s IT department, for example. Having this information on hand can help you make an informed decision about whether or not they have the experience necessary to keep your site up the majority of the time.
How Are Package Upgrades Handled?
As your website grows, you may need to increase the size of your hosting package to meet bandwidth demands or to add more space. Find out how hard it is to upgrade to a bigger package. Is the process smooth? If rates go up, will you get the reduced rate since you are already a customer? Also find out whether they will automatically upgrade the package for you or if there is anything additional you need to do on your end. Finally, ask if they use billing information on file or if you’ll have to provide it again. These may seem like small points, but when you’re running a thriving business, every little detail that they can help you with is time saved that you can work on other things.
What Are Discounts for Paying Ahead?
The typical hosting package is paid on a monthly or quarterly basis. Some hosts – budget hosting services, especially – offer a discount if you pay for a full year. You may want to inquire about paying for two years in advance and see if you can get a further discount. One note of caution with this… Be sure that you love the host before you commit to two full years and keep in mind that the host you adore today can become the host you loathe tomorrow. If customer service changes or the host begins having downtime, you may want to leave. How would this be handled? How would the remainder of your money be refunded or would it?
Are There Any Setup Fees?
Find out if there are any setup fees to move to the new host. A fee of $20 to $50 for setup is not unheard of, but there are also excellent hosts that do not charge a setup fee. If the hosting company does charge a setup fee and you prefer not to pay it, tell them you are considering their competitors and ask if they would be willing to waive the fee if you choose them. It never hurts to ask as long as you are polite and respectful.
Are There Excess Bandwidth Charges?
Your hosting package allots a specific amount of bandwidth to your website. It isn’t likely to be a problem in the early days, but as traffic increases to your site, you may run into issues with going over bandwidth. Make sure you understand clearly what charges might be involved and find out if there is a way to upgrade to reduce these charges. Will the server let you know when you’re getting close on bandwidth or are you responsible for keeping track?
Is the Tech Department Available 24/7?
Webhosts will state they are available 24/7, but this isn’t always the case. The worst thing is to have a website that is down on a Friday night and not get a response until Monday morning. That can mean two full days of lost traffic to your site. Find out if the support is actually there for you around the clock by asking pointed questions.
How Do You Handle Site Security?
You only need to understand basic security terms, such as SSL and Firewalls to make sure they have some protections in place. However, you should also inquire about the backend of your site. Will other people hosted on your server have access to your files at any point? How will the web host ensure they do not?
Spam is annoying to everyone and we hope it is the last thing you’d ever do intentionally via your website, but what about a rare case where someone forgets that they signed up for your e-mail newsletter and accuses you of spam? Will your host allow you a chance to explain your side or will you be locked out of your site? Understanding their Terms of Service process will ensure you don’t run into a situation where you’re suddenly without a host.
How Many Customers Are on Each Server?
Too many customers on a single server can cause your website to run slow. Gathering information on how big the each server is and how many clients are on it can help you compare different hosting companies. Favor the one that has the least number of clients per server.
Do You Offer Support for Scripts Installed Through the cPanel?
Most hosting companies do not offer support, but a host with excellent customer service should be willing to point you in the right direction. Just as an example, my own web hosting company helped me understand how to better secure WordPress sites when I first started using them and got hacked. The tech support sent me links to articles to read and suggested specific plugins and things I could do. Was it part of their job description? No. They never promised to provide that service. One of the reasons I love my web hosting company is because they do go above and beyond and offer these types of perks.
How Often Is My Site Backed Up?
Look for a web host that backs up the site at least once a day. Also inquire about where backups are stored and whether you can access them through your cPanel.
Do You Offer Referral Bonuses?
If you love your web hosting company, you’ll want to tell your network. You might as well get a referral fee for new business you send their way. Some hosting companies offer this via an affiliate program.
What Is Your Average Monthly Uptime?
Uptime is important, but you want a figure for a full month to see what the uptime really is. Seek a 99.8% or better uptime (this site, WHSR is hosted on a 100%-up-server).
Where Is Your Home Base? Is Tech Support Also Located There or Outsourced?
There is nothing that says your host can’t be located in another country. However, if you can’t understand tech support because of a thick dialect, you may have a hard time fixing any issues with your website.
Do You Offer a Money-Back Guarantee?
What if you move your sites, spend all that time and energy and are extremely unhappy? Will they provide a refund of your hosting fees so you can take your money and move elsewhere?
Note: Some web hosts offer anytime money back guarantee (ie. BlueHost and iPage).
How Do You Handle Downtime?
If you have a 100% uptime guarantee and your site is only up 95% of the time that month, how does the hosting company handle it? Host downtime costs money. Are you given a partial refund or credit?
How Many E-mail Addresses Can Be Created with an Account?
As your business grows, you may hire additional workers who all need their own domain-specific e-mail address. Find out if e-mail creation is unlimited or if there is a set number you can create with your package. And also, learn about your choices in case your web host does not support email hosting.
Are There Any Penalties for Cancellation?
If you decide to leave at some point, you don’t want to pay cancellation fees or lose money you’ve already paid the host. Ask how they handle cancellations and if there is a minimum amount of time you are tied to the contract before you can move elsewhere.
What is unique about their company? They should have a clear reason why you should choose them over the competition. This could be excellent customer service, strong uptime records, or even that they want your business and will give you a discount to get it. Ask and see what types of interesting responses you get.
While you may be able to answer some of these questions with a bit of digging and research on your own, other questions will need to be sent to the customer service or sales department of the potential web host. How quickly they respond, how politely they respond and with how much information can be a signal to you about the level of customer service you can expect going forward. If it is lacking when they are trying to gain your business, what do you think it will be like once they already have your business?
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Lori Soard has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 1996. She has a bachelor's in English Education and a PhD in Journalism. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines, online and she's had several books published. Since 1997, she has worked as a web designer and promoter for authors and small businesses. She even worked for a short time ranking websites for a popular search engine and studying in-depth SEO tactics for a number of clients. She enjoys hearing from her readers.