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7 Tips for Finding a Web Host

Recently we encountered a problem with one of our client’s websites and contacted their web host. This was the beginning of a six-hour email ping pong match that never resulted in a winner and concluded with the client leaving his host.

“A good web host is a like a good car mechanic—if they are great at what they do you’ll never see them.”

Racks of Servers

Your Website lives here:

Web hosts are companies that provide space on a server for their client’s websites. They run the gamut out there—in terms of price and quality and this client had chosen his host based on the low price. Unfortunately he didn’t take into consideration that a low yearly rate would also mean poor quality customer service and this eventually cost him more time and money than if he had gone with a higher priced competitor.

Hosting can be one of the most confusing topics people ask us about, but here are a few tips to help you unravel the ins and outs of how to pick a good host:

1. Don’t start with the price!

To think that the cheapest host is the best, is a “false economy”—an action that saves money at the beginning but which, over a longer period of time, results in more money being wasted. Also, if you are paying a web designer to deal with host issues those savings will evaporate in no time.

“You should pay at least as much for monthly hosting as you’d be comfortable paying for a shrimp dinner.” ~ Mark Jaquith

2. Quality of service

A lot of hosts sell the same basic services at a similar price, but they provide very different customer services. For example, can you talk to a real person when you call? Is there a phone number on the website? Can you respond to email support directly or do you have to log-in to your online account? Can you contact a manager if the situation escalates? And can you give feedback on the advice received?

Also, some companies now provide live chat for support issues (and we love live chat) but this is no guarantee that the suggestions offered will be good ones.

3. Can you get a backup of your website?

If you have ever had a computer die, you know how important it is to keep a backup. If the host won’t let you download a tarball (a compressed folder of your entire site), we suggest finding a new hosting provider.

Graphic of a tar-ball of your site ready to download

A typical tarball backup from site5

4. Do you have to go through them to make every little change?

Just because you don’t know how a car engine works, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be allowed to drive. Same goes for your website: You may not be a web developer, but you or your web designer should still be able to access and adjust your settings. This kinda goes without saying, but we have encountered one host that requested all changes to be sent to them as technical support requests and another that charged $250 a year but didn’t permit the client or his staff to change their settings. If you can’t log in to your folder on the server, then it’s not really yours.

5. Do they offer a live feed of how their servers are functioning?

One of the reasons why we love our host Site5 is that they show their servers online and by name so you can see if there are any issues that might be affecting your site. We like this open, honest and time-efficient approach. Thank you, Site5, you rock.

6. Are they an all-in-one?

There are some companies out there that you can buy your domain name from and also get your hosting with. We prefer to keep these services separately—purchasing domain names with one company, and web hosting with another. While we understand the appeal of a single point of contact, untangling these services can be a pain if you ever decided to change hosts or domain name providers.

7. Can you make changes to your account later on?

Savvy hosts will offer scalable solutions, easily allowing you to upgrade or downgrade your plan when the need arises. They will also provide you with a refund if you cancel your services.

There are a lot of great hosts out there and we are happy to recommend a few if you contact us. Hopefully these tips will also help you weed out the bad ones and find a host that is as great as our is.