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6 Questions to ask your Hosting Provider

9th December 2014

Peanuts and MonkeysSetting up a website can be daunting enough for anyone, and it’s not made any easier by the added hassle of finding a suitable hosting provider.  Web hosting is essential for any online business and if your provider isn’t up to the job, it can prove detrimental.

So here’s 6 questions to ask your hosting provider (or the designer setting up the hosting on your behalf) to make sure they are up for the job.

1. How much is the Hosting per Month/Year?

In this day and age, the cost of your hosting provider is one of the first areas to consider.  Naturally the cost of  hosting is important. An average business website should be looking at around £60-£120 per year for hosting.

If yours is lower than the above figure then well done.  However, on the same breath, are you getting what you are paying for?  Are you getting value for money?

Sometimes the hosting is cheap, because support is skimped on or the features on offer are basic or very limited.  To coin a well-known phrase, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

However cheap or expensive your hosting provider is, be sure to study the features of your hosting plan so you know what you are getting for your money.

2.  How Good/Efficient is Customer Support?

When something does actually go wrong or you need assistance, how easy is it to get hold of the support team?  Remember your website is at their mercy, so how seriously do they take customer support?

Normally an online support ticket is enough to alert your host to a potential problem (especially if your hosting provider is based overseas), but do they also have a contact number so you can talk to a human being?  0870 or 0845 are commonplace, especially for international companies and cost between 5-10p per minute.  Premium rate numbers (such as 090 and 091) were outlawed for  customer support use in June 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premium-rate_telephone_number#United_Kingdom

While we’re on the subject of support, how long does it take an issue to be resolved?  These can vary from a few seconds to a day.  If the problem is major, do they send you a polite email saying that they’re looking into the issue and will be back with you shortly?  Even better, do they go beyond your expectations?

If it does take more than a couple of days and the problem still isn’t resolved, then it’s time to look somewhere else.

3. Is the Hosting Compatible for my Website?

Websites that are built using software, for example for an online shop or a CMS website needs compatible web hosting in order to function properly.   Therefore the importance of selecting the correct hosting that’s compatible with the software goes without saying (but I said it anyway).  All software providers include a list of server requirements.  You (or your designer) should go through this list religiously.

For for ASP based websites, you would opt for Windows hosting and MS SQL database, for PHP based pages, you would opt for Linux and MySQL Database.  But be sure to check the versions of both, along with other security checks as this is vital for functionality as well as security.

Some hosting providers include one click installation of some of the most commonly used web applications, such as Softalicious or Fantastico.  This is a good indicator of software compatability.

4. What is the Server’s Uptime?

Realistically, no hosting company can guarantee 100% uptime for their servers.  You are more likely to see 99% (or similar figures containing 9’s).

Servers need regular maintenance, and updates.  So when does your hosting provider schedule their maintenance for?  Is it during the wee small hours, when no one is on the site or slap bang in the middle of your working day?  Do they notify you of any major maintenance work that will result in more downtime of the servers?  Posting a notice on in your control panel,  forum or just send an automated email to you, these are all nice touches that shows your hosting is focused on client satisfaction.

If you are fortunate enough to find a hosting company who does guarantee 100%, then read the small print as these can be quite amusing  They vary from “available 100% of the time (excluding scheduled maintenance)” to “credits off your server time for fixed amounts of downtime.”

5. What is your Security Procedure?

Security should really be included under the uptime, but remember all the potential security attacks and vulnerability breaches that have occurred in 2014?  (read http://features.en.softonic.com/the-7-scariest-cyber-security-breaches-of-2014 for a gentle reminder).  If any potential vulnerabilities are found in software, are they applied quickly?

If there’s a vulnerability in a software you have on your website (for example if you run an online shop or CMS site, are you advised to either remove it, update or do they remove it on your behalf to save you any potential attacks?

Extra points to any hosting companies who apply the patches long before the vulnerabilities were announced in the news!

6. Can I set up Email Account(s)?

Setting up email from your hosting account is an ideal setup for a small business.  Most hosting companies allow you to set up email addresses using your domain name with no problems.

But take the time to read up on what your hosting provider offers.  Some providers only allow a limited allocated of space for emails or a limited number of email addresses.

For packages meant for light use, for example a holding page or a microsite, email setup may cost extra.

So after those 6 questions, do you honestly feel that you are getting value for money from your host or is it time to look for a new host?  Please do feel free to leave a comment.


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