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Questions you didn’t know you can ask potential web hosting providers

Looking for a new web hosting company to deal with? I am guessing you’ve already looked through tens of same old articles and same old advice suggesting what to ask prospective companies of your choice or what to watch out for. Stay away from promises of unlimited resources. Verify the age of a company you are interested in. Ask what 24/7 technical support really means. Review company’s uptime statistics. Check the warranties and guarantees. Find out how many websites/clients are hosted on each server. Test their download speed. Read the reviews and feedback!

I am certainly not discrediting any question you were told to ask. All of these hold value and must be asked. In fact, we think the most essential questions are so important that has been recommending them for years. However, if you are looking to make your provider aware they are not dealing with just anyone and make them prove to you why they are worth your money, here are the 6 questions you might want to add to your list:

1. Promises of unlimited resources (like bandwidth and physical drive space) continue to pop up like mushroom. In fact, I see them grow crazier every passing week. Anyone who is serious about this industry understands the concept of “unlimited” as a non-existing factor (suggestion: Go to your local computer retailer and ask for an unlimited hard drive. Then step back a little and watch store clerk’s reaction) and accepts it as nothing more than a marketing ploy. However, there is no escaping from companies that choose to market their hosting plans as “unlimited”. Most of these vendors will always accompany such plans with small print in their terms of service that would warn about consequences of running a resource-intensive website that might monopolize server resources. But just as often they will also never provide the specifics. So, if you really happen to like a company that offers the almighty plan, ask them for a clear definition of a resource-intensive website. Preferably in numbers. Let them tell you what particular data will make them believe your website might be the scapegoat, out of the hundreds more domains they probably nest on the same box with you.

2. Know who has the actual control of the server. Ask the company who manages their servers: their own employees or a third party. Most companies that do not operate their own data centers choose to work with qualified DC personnel for a simple reason: they are always on location. Truth be told, just because a company has no direct touch with their machines, that does not qualify them as any less knowledgeable or capable to deliver great service. It is, nevertheless, always good to know who manages company’s server(s), as it will give you a certain level of expectation in regard to response time in fixing issues. That brings us to the next question.

3. Ask what company’s response process is – from the minute you report a problem – who gets the message and how fast is someone on the task to fix it. Ask the company if the reported issue is beyond the knowledge or capability of the first line support team, how fast is the second-tier level personnel alarmed? You will probably also want to know whether the highest level support members are on duty around the clock or during the normal business hours only. Knowing this will help you estimate the response time of how fast to expect help at 3.45 AM when your website goes down due to a software/hardware failure.

4. Obviously every webmaster wants his/her website hosted in an environment that is healthy and secure (from a techie point of view), so no unplanned hardware crashes or software corruption errors keep them awake at night. Unfortunately not all hosting companies prepare for the worst, so more often than not they neglect to keep servers in good shape. For this reason, ask the company what their security assessment policies are. Make them explain to you how exactly they maintain their machines, what is done to prevent, minimize and prepare for a potential hardware/software failure(s).

5. Ask the company to explain why their network provider (and their data center) is better than others of similar size/magnitude. Here is why it matters. If you, as website owner, serve a particular geographical region: a town, a state/province or a country, then you’d want to have the servers of the company be located in a data center within that region (or at least close to the network backbone), as it will result in faster connectivity for your website visitors. Investigate your local market of network providers and ask why your company’s choice is better than the rest. Here are one of the most common network providers you can choose to bring up as comparison (popular in the North America): Qwest, Level3, Global Crossing, Peak 10, AT&T, Equinix, Peer 1, Internap, Cogent, Videotron, Tata Communications.

6. Inquire about how many paid employees a company has. The more people are on payroll, the more successful the company is from a financial point of view. Nothing to do with quality. I know companies with hundreds of people on payroll that are feared immensely by many of their ex-customers. Nevertheless, if a company has full-time and/or part-time employees, it is a sign of a growing and a healthy company, which should give you a piece of mind in at least two respects: (a) someone will always be made available to serve you, and (b) disappearing act is unlikely.

These questions are not designed to intentionally complicate companies’ sales process. If you sense a level of frustration, incomplete information or sales talk instead of actual answers to your questions, then it will probably be a good enough sign to move on. Keep in mind that the size of the company (or the power of their brand) should never be a decisive factor in picking a provider. The hosting industry is a highly competitive marketplace.  With thousands of web hosting companies out there, you ought to find at least a few in your search that will be glad to answer any of your questions with the time and attention you deserve – something the largest companies don’t always have.

In fact, I dare to say any professional operator would be happy to recognize a potential customer who really cares about the well being of his virtual property, and would rather deal with someone who recognizes the technical challenges than someone who jumps on unlimited-bandwidth-and-space-for-only-$1.95-month type of deals without asking any questions and then expect the world of high-end service. So, apart from portraying yourself in a positive light, one of your questions might also motivate the company to pursue/review some of the policies in order to improve their service, or help better prepare for that Plan B scenario. While it is ultimately your choice and your money, when it comes to web hosting, my advice is – you still don’t have to throw them away.

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One comment for “Questions you didn’t know you can ask potential web hosting providers”

  1. I can say “unlimited’ since we will never limit you based on a price point. We do not project the illusion that space is valuable based on supply and demand.

    Posted by Stephen Michos | Friday, May 4, 2012, 1:30 am

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