Web hosting has grown into a highly competitive business arena, with different companies offering a wide variety of different services. So much so that it’s starting to look like the mobile phone industry, with so many bundles, plans, packages and contract options it makes your head spin.
Of course, the truth behind the marketing glitz is the same as in any other service industry: it’s all about the service, because there is very little variation in the product, at least among reputable dealers. The real question is what you need to know to identify a reputable dealer.
There are some very standard services that reputable Web hosting companies should offer, and these ten questions will help you find out if the company you’re considering is up to snuff.
- Can You Offer Me a Money-Back Guarantee and/or Trial Period?
Web hosting companies that are confident about the quality of their services have no qualms about offering money-back guarantees and trial periods. After all, Web hosting service isn’t something you can steal or break; if you don’t like it, you should be able to say so without having to pay to find out.
- Do You Have a 24-Hour Service Hotline?
Expecting a company to have someone on staff 24 hours a day may be asking too much, but the best of the best in Web hosting firms will offer this service. At the very least, there should be support staff available during business hours to help you with issues and answer questions.
What you want to avoid are Web hosting companies who only offer support via email. Some people will tell you this is not a problem, but if you try to imagine how much of a problem it is for you when you actually need help, you’ll probably see things differently.
- How Much Are the “Extras?”
This could be regarding the aforementioned 24-hour service hotline, overages, cancellations or any other issue. You always want to know how much room you have to maneuver in your contract before you start incurring additional fees.
Some Web hosting companies will ease you in with a low fee only to explain later that all the features you want cost extra. This bait-and-switch scheme is unfortunately a somewhat common occurrence, and you can protect yourself by asking what you need based on your plan/product, and then asking how much that is going to cost.
- Are You Going to Put Junk On My Website?
This is a question directed more at those people shopping for a “discount” Web hosting site, but it doesn’t hurt to ask it in any situation. Some sites will often offset the costs of offering cheap services by placing banners or ads on your website.
“Free” Web hosting companies like to ply the waters with this tactic, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing for some people. Reputable fee-based Web hosting companies do not do this, however, but it never hurts to ask.
- Do You Have Any Specials?
It’s the first thing you ask when you call your favorite pizza joint, and it should be the first thing you ask when you approach a Web hosting company. Web hosting is a very competitive business, and you should make that work for you.
Web hosting companies will often waive setup fees, or offer extra space and bandwidth to get you to sign on. Find out what they’re willing to do for you. It can help you save money, as well as give you an idea of what kind of service you can expect in the future.
- How Big Is Your Operation?
It may go without saying that bigger is not always better in what is ultimately a service industry, but nowhere is it truer than in the Web hosting business. It’s a double-edged sword, because big companies can afford to hire the best techs and run on the best servers, but at some point they get too big for their britches and service starts to suffer.
The best technology in the world is not going to help you if you have a problem and your call is rerouted to Kerplakistan, and you end up spending an hour trying to explain your issue – especially when you may not even understand what it is.
- Are You a Reseller?
A Web hosting reseller can be either a subsidiary of a larger corporation or a “middleman” that is passing along the service to you. This in itself does not have to be a bad thing, but it can compromise service.
Plus, some people just want to know who’s running the show. For example, there are probably a million PETA members out there who use a subsidiary of the GoDaddy.com Web hosting company, and have no idea they’re buying the bullets Bob Parsons uses to take down elephants. The point is, at the end of the day, it never hurts to know who’s working for you.
- How Long Have You Been In Business?
This question goes to the heart of expertise. Web hosting companies who have been around have experience. It’s as simple as that. The Web hosting industry is evolving at the speed of light, and if a company has been around it has proven it knows how to roll with the punches, and keep up with the times.
It also in an indicator of brand loyalty, which tells you other people trust the company. It’s actually relatively easy to start a Web hosting business. The hard part is staying in business.
- Do You Feel Your Prices Are Competitive?
This is one of those on-the-spot questions that will tell you two things: 1) whether you can trust the company, and 2) how they feel about their own services and products. If they waver or hesitate, maybe you should move on.
You can approach this as it pertains to your specific hosting needs, or you can take the service-by-service approach – or both. Find out as much as you can about their pricing and compare it with their competitors.
- Finally: What Do I Need?
Hopefully you made it this far, because this is probably the most important question. You should be able to describe what you’d like to do with your website (e.g. how many pages, graphics, colors, animation, embedding, blog, etc.) and get an honest response about what level of service you’ll need and how much it will cost. For more on what exactly you need for a quality blog hosting we recommend you check out the Blog Starter site. If you are looking to do something more unique with your website you should be able to call the company (see #2) and get a personalized response.
If you can’t get a straight answer to this one, you know the drill.