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A Guide to Choosing a Hosting Provider

Shawn Purdy On May 3, 2015

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There is many different ways to choosing a hosting provider. A lot of the choice comes down to what your website(s) need in order to function. A lot of people don't put too much thought into which provider they should choose. A lot of times people choose based off marketing, advertising they see on TV or across the internet. Some people look at web hosting review websites and choose based off reviews. The idea of this article to educate some people in some of the marketing tactics that are used to capture customers as well as some pointers to finding a good hosting provider.

So what is a good host? you may ask. A good host is one that doesn't have ridiculous fees, or usage policy's. A Good host is not a host that promises unlimited resources. A Good host cares about it's customers, and their success.

There is no such thing as unlimited resources. While a lot of hosts are obvious in how they market their services, so spotting bad hosts can be fairly easy, some do hide the important information in Terms of Service and acceptable usage polices. Quite frankly most people wouldn't read it anyway. You don't need to read the entire policy or TOS unless you plan to host with a host. So scan through it and look for fees or limitations. We will go into some more detail about some of the shady practices that many hosts implore below.

Unlimited Hosting

Unlimited hosting has been around for awhile. The idea that you can use an unlimited amount of disk space, or bandwidth for only a few dollars. Should for most people make alarm bells go off. Yet a lot of people fall for this scam. Some hosting providers will limit other resources on the host server like CPU. To such a low amount like 2 or 3%. That there is no way you can use even 10GB of bandwidth before your website will be offline. They put in limits on disk resources like inodes. Which limit how many physical files you can have on your hosting. So you can never use too much disk space. Hosts that offer these types of plans will cram a server full of accounts in order to make money. Knowing that on average most websites won't use much resources. The problem is there is a very high demand for resources because of the amount of accounts on the server. Most of these providers will have extremely slow systems that are overloaded.

This brings me to another newer kind of host....

High Disk Space and Bandwidth Hosts

There is a new marketing tactic that has been replacing unlimited hosts. Where they offer a ridiculous amount of disk space for only a few dollars. Like 10GB for $2 and on top of that. Some of them even offer expensive SSD hard drives to boot. Sounds like a good deal? Well it's not. A lot of hosts offering SSD drives are limiting the I/O speed to something like 2MB per second. Which is typical of regular hard drive hosting. So you personally will gain nothing by using it. Since you are still limited to the same 2MB per second. It doesn't matter if you have SSD in this case. The only person it benefits in this case is the Hosting Company. They have more headroom, and it means they can cram more websites onto a server.

The idea you can pay only $2 for 10GB of disk space is crazy. its not a cost effective business model. There is no way at this price point that a hosting company can:

  • Pay for hardware
  • Pay for Software Licenses
  • Pay Employees
  • Pay for Advertising

Or any other business expense. This is a failed business model that would never work. if every hosting customer uses all of it's resources. That company will go out of business.

Than why do hosts offer it? They are again banking on the fact most websites will not use all of those resources. There is a lot of competition in the Shared Hosting business that keeping prices as low as  possible, is the only way to gain new customers. That is another false statement. Really what it is. Is most companies are too lazy to create a product/service that is worth spending extra money on, that it is easy to copy every other provider that is offering junk. It doesn't take much to look around at some providers that are doing a good job. To see that they have higher pricing, but they also have happy customers.

Free Domain Name Scam

A lot of hosts offer a "Free" domain name when you purchase a hosting package. Usually some conditions apply. Like you must order a full year of hosting. The idea that it is free is a marketing tactic. It is not free. It is no different than offering a 20% discount. It is a promotional tool. That some hosts just offer indefinitely. Like some hosts list a price of $4.99 and regular price is $6.99. But if you look 2 years later the price is still $4.99. It is almost never the regular price. So offering a free domain should be looked at as a hosting provider up selling you on some other service. That you really probably don't actually need.

Some hosts take this a step further. They actually don't want you to stay hosting with them. They actually want you to ask for a refund. So they offer you a "Free" Domain in order to make money. This is actually where they make most of their money. Domain names cannot be refunded, because once they are registered you are basically stuck with them. So some hosts limit the hosting package so much that you can't even put 10 visitors on your website before it shuts off because it is using too many resources. After a few hours or days you realize this is garbage, and decide to cancel your hosting. You find out that they will refund you all but say $25 of your payment. So they are now charging you for the so called "Free" domain name. You can buy a domain for around $11. If you have a domain merchant account you can get it cheaper. So they are making at least $14 each time they do this, and they can do this and it doesn't cost them a penny. They don't need support because they have no intention of keeping clients, and they don't need a server administrator. No payroll. All they need to spend on is marketing a service that doesn't really exist. Some are even more nasty and add on setup fee's cancellation fees. They make a butt load of money and you end up with nothing. These types of hosts are completely scam artists and should be avoided. You can avoid hosts like this by looking at what fees they charge. It will likely be hidden in the Terms of Service. Some of these hosts will mention nothing at all and just nail you. Best way to avoid it, is to avoid Free Domain providers.

This is why we don't offer domains with our hosting because we believe if customers are not completely satisfied with the hosting. They should leave without being completely angry at us because domains can't be refunded. Plus it is important in our opinion that a customer retains control over their domains. A lot of companies don't care if a customer is angry when they leave. They assume that person will never come back. That is completely false thinking, but on top of that, angry past customers usually want blood. Why create problems that can be easily avoided by treating people with basic human respect. It really serves no purpose to create problems. Besides all this we actually provide hosting, and want to service our customers. Transparency is important for a successful business in our minds. So Personally I would avoid hosts offering Free domains, or if you do find one that interests you. Ask if you can not have the free domain as you don't want it.

Other Free Stuff that is useless

Some providers offer things like Free SEO, and Marketing. 99.9999% of the time. This is completely useless. It isn't even worth the pixels it was written on. Sure you get some software or add-on that is suppose to do SEO and Marketing for you. But it will have if you're lucky zero effect. If you are unlucky. It may actually make you lose some of your good rankings, that you may already have. No one can promise you marketing and not for only a few dollars. Many small business owners spend hundreds, if not thousands on marketing. If you think a $5 package is going to put you ahead of those guys. It won't. This is just another giant Red Flag. If you still like a hosting provider that offers things like this. That is perfectly fine. My only suggestion is to not consider these as a reason to purchase.

Fake Reviews

If you use a review website to find a hosting provider. I hate to break the news to you, but 99% of those sites are fake, and most of the reviews are as well. A lot of bigger providers pay a lot of money to show at the top of those lists, and fake reviews and shilling is common practice in this business. For example an employee of a company pretending to be a happy customer in order to trick people into ordering. The tactics used in this industry go to the extreme low. Chances are if you think of something nasty a company could do. Hosting companies probably already do it.

How do you avoid it?

Best way to avoid hosts using shady tactics. Personally I would say go over to WebHostingTalk. While not every host that posts in this forum is a good host. There is plenty of good ones to choose from. You can learn a lot about the industry as well by reading posts and being active in this community. With some of the pointers outlined in this post, you will be better prepared to spot the shady providers.

Do Some Real Research

If you find a host. Make sure they have a few basic details:

  • A Real Address
  • A Phone Number
  • Other Contact Information
  • They been in business for a reasonable amount of time.
  • Do a Whois search on their domain name.
  • Read their terms of service and Acceptable Usage Policies. (If you don't like them, don't host with them, same if anything seems overly unreasonable) (Hidden fees, setups fees etc)
If they pass those tests, and they have services you need. Than add it to your list. I would say to make a list of 5 hosts.

After you have your list

Once you have compiled a list of 5 hosts. Now is the fun part. You get to grill each hosts sales department with questions. No question is a bad question. I will not post a complete list of questions to ask because it may vary a lot depending on what you are looking for, but there should be some basic questions.
 

  • Where are your servers located? (The point of this question is to see if the location is good for you)
  • Do you offer ssl without the need for a dedicated ip address? (The point of this question is to see if the servers are maintained, and also because an ip address costs extra. With SNI there is no need for an dedicated ip address anymore)
  • Do you have resource control systems in place like CloudLinux? (To see if they try to keep the system stable)
  • If you have CloudLinux what are the limits on your hosting packages? (You need to know if the limits are reasonable to host a website on it)
  • What software versions do you have? (For example PHP,MySQL, etc)? (To see if they support software that you will need, but also to see if they update server side software)
  • Do you offer any caching on the server? (To see what kind of caching they offer. (This can vary greatly, but a host with no caching will have more load, which could mean overloaded systems)
  • Ask questions regarding features you may need. For example if you need SSH Access. Make sure they actually can offer it.
  • Do you do daily backups? (You should find out what kind of backups they do. If they don't do any. I would say you should avoid them. While you should make your own backups anyway. To me a host that doesn't do backups doesn't care)
  • If I order right now what kind of discount can you offer me? (Just try to get them to give you a better deal, This market is very competitive, if you give them the idea you will order right away, you may end up with a promo code. Which you can use later once you decide on your host.)
  • If not advertised - Do you offer a money back guarantee? (if not, you should leave right away. Personally if it is not at least 30 days. You should not bother.)
  • If you already asked some or all of these questions to other hosts. You should ask them Why should I host with you compared to "Some other host" (and link to the website of the other host. (This is mostly for giggles, but you will be able to see how the host responds. You can read a lot into how they respond to determine if the host is a good fit for you.)

You found a provider now, don't get attached

You found a provider you think is a good fit, and you have ordered hosting. Take time to test out the features, and load your website on there. Or even load test websites to make sure it is fast. Take a few days to see if up-time is good, and if the speed of the site is still fast over a few days. If you have issues straight away with performance. I personally would find another host. But some people are a little more forgiving than this. If you are not happy about speed and up-time at this point. Chances are it won't change. Sometimes it can be a fluke, but I would say most of the time it is not. You could try opening a support ticket or live chat, to see how fast the technical support is. This would be a good test. The idea here is you should take full advantage of the money back if you are not happy, and start over your search for a new host. Don't settle for anything less than good. bad or decent don't stay in business in this industry unless they have millions to dump into marketing.

In Summary

By taking some simple steps, and avoiding deals that are too good to be true. You can find a fast, stable, reliable and secure hosting at an affordable rate. A Company that will care for its customers, and go that extra length to make its customers happy. In the end it will be less headaches for you, and a positive step for your business. You can focus on building and expanding your website instead of worrying about technical issues.





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