Ask the Expert is a blog series dedicated to answering your questions regarding entrepreneurship in the digital age.
Selecting a web host isn’t easy if you haven’t done it before. With a multitude of providers ranging from your own web design company to GoDaddy’s monstrous hosting system, navigating the world of web hosting can be tricky. In order to ensure you’re thinking about the best case scenario for your company rather than merely following the pack, here are some suggestions for things to watch out for when entrusting a company to keep you online:
While important, this actually made our list to bring up a few reasons why reviews are not the end-all-be-all point of hosts (even though most people shop using these, and it’s the first thing you think of to check). First, reviews are typically left by unhappy customers. More often than not, online users are only prompted to leave a review when they’ve had a bad experience instead of remembering to write when they have a good experience. So, if they have a lot of good reviews and fewer bad, that means they’re awesome right? Not exactly.
While the above is true, companies also have an interest in flooding out bad reviews with reviews of their own (non-genuine reviews). Since companies can’t remove fallacious reviews or resolved complaints (because that would prevent the whole system from being effective in the first place) they might hire a marketing team, or they might add their own reviews internally to flood out the bad reviews with good reviews. You’ve likely already seen this on Amazon, which is trying to deal with this by adding “Verified Purchase” to some of their reviews.
There will come a time when you need to get on the phone and talk to someone about what’s going on. How long does it take you to get through? Will you be able to easily understand who you’re talking to? Are they knowledgeable? Support is going to be incredibly important to you.
Fortunately, you can answer these questions easily. Just give a call to the host you’re considering, add yourself to the support queue, and see how long it takes to get through. Ask a couple questions of the support team to make sure they can handle your needs and the types of things you might have questions about. Better to find out if they’re a good fit now than after you’ve committed to the host with payment and moving your files.
Do you already have a website? Who will be moving your files to the new host? Are you comfortable doing that? If so, you might want to ask your host if they have the same tools you’re used to (or they support the same tools) so you can feel free to do your thing and migrate your website.
What if you don’t already have a website? Do you plan on building it on your own, but don’t have any coding experience? What kind of tools does the host have to build your website with? Can you test them out without an obligation to see if it’s a good fit?
Lastly (though this isn’t the most important right now but it will be later), what happens if you want to remove your website and place it at a new host? Will this host help you out with that or not? Typically, hosts have a standard understanding that the host taking over the account will help with the migration, and the current host is uninvolved (as they are not experts on the equipment it is moving to). Get some answers on these before you choose your host so you have flexibility in the future.
You’ll probably be interested in having an email address like email@example.com. Most people aren’t aware that hosting and email often go hand in hand. Basically, it’s a place to store your digital stuff. Though they often are, email and hosting don’t have to be in the same place. You could, for instance, run email at GoDaddy and host your website at BlueHost.
At the time of this article, we personally recommend Google Apps; their application is far superior to handling everything from simple to complex setups, and even unfamiliar IT professionals and administrators will quickly find the control panel and documentation super friendly to work with if you should need any extra heavy lifting in that department.
This consideration is primarily pointed at people who have a web application, not a website. (Curious about the difference? We wrote an article about that here). If you’re running a web application, you’ll probably have higher demands and you likely know you’re looking around for a dedicated server instead of shared hosting.
A dedicated server is a computer that is completely allocated for your use. Shared hosting is the most common hosting, and that’s a shared computer where many different accounts all share the computing resources (think of it as owning your own house [dedicated] vs. a living in a hostel [shared]).
If you plan on growing your website, you will have more demands on your equipment (disk space, processing, RAM). You don’t have to know the specifics of what these mean to your application, ask your developer about what these will mean for you, but definitely let your host know your expectations for your application into the next year or two so they can make sure you can scale into your equipment without difficulty in the future or any surprises.
Just for your convenience, here’s a list of our recommended action steps and questions for you:
- Do the reviews for the host seem authentic, and what are the complaints or praises exactly?
- Call the support line. How long did you wait? Were they able to answer your questions?
- Will the host help you move your website to them, or give you what you need to build one?
- How many emails do you need, how does it need to work, can the host provide that?
- Can the host handle what you plan your website or web application to do over the next two years?
If you follow these you’ll be set nicely with your host and you should be quite happy with the results. Remember, get the information up front so you don’t have surprises in the future.
Have a question regarding entrepreneurship in the digital age? Ask the Expert in a comment below!