Questions to ask your short-listed webhosting providers
Whether you are a novice or experienced website owner, choosing the right web host can be a Herculean task. Even for the experts, trawling through all those different flashy words and even flashier claims can be downright daunting.

With so many web hosting providers out there, each claiming to the best on the planet, it helps to have a checklist of questions to ask. To set you on the right track, in the next stage of Azam Marketing’s Masterclass Series on creating a successful online business, we have put together a list of tips for choosing the ideal web host for your needs!

1.   Where are the web host’s servers based?

Don’t assume that your webhosting provider’s servers will necessarily be based in the same country as the sales people you contact.

For instance, certain UK web hosting providers may appear to have servers within the UK; however, this is not always the case. A case in point is 1&1, who do everything possible to hide the fact that they host many of their UK customers’ websites in Germany.

If your servers are hosted outside the country you would like to attract visitors to your website from, it can be detrimental to your interests: for example, it can negatively affect your chances of ranking highly or at all in search engine results for that country. Furthermore, you may discover you are communicating across different time zones and languages, and are only protected by foreign laws.

2. What package and pricing options are available to you?

With so many web hosting packages to choose from, knowing which option can offer you the best value for your money can be confusing.

Firstly you need to set your budget and then a list of key requirements for your website. For example, is your website going to be a simple blog that you wish to use to keep friends and family updated about your activities or do you want to make money from your online presence? What kind of access to you need to emails sent to your domain name?

The ability to easily compare pricing and packaging and any special features will enable you to make an informed decision without the hassle of having to study every individual product feature.

3.   What level of customer service do they offer?

Dedicated customer service is paramount to any successful business relationship.

Many web hosting service providers limit their availability to manage customer queries and contact based on the size of web hosting package their customers purchase.

They may have outsourced their customer service to foreign countries which can lead to huge frustrations.

4.   Do they provide 24/7 technical support?

Dedicated technical support is integral to running a successful website.  Website owners need to be sure that if they have an issue with any element of their site, they can resolve it in the quickest time possible to avoid losing valuable traffic and sales to their site.

Make sure the web host provides telephone support and the number is not a premium rate one!

5.   Does the web host offer an enforceable service level agreement?

Just as you need to ensure you have 24/7 technical support and assistance in relation to your own website, your web host should provide a rock-solid guarantee in relation to their own servers and network availability.

Read the small print, as web hosting providers will usually insert disclaimers to try to avoid having to pay meaningful compensation for down time.

6.   Is there a money-back guarantee?

As with most products, you may find out the kinks with any hosting package after you’ve actually started using it.

One indication of how confident a company is in their product is if they are prepared to offer a full money back guarantee on their hosting. If they don’t, you’ve got to wonder if maybe there is a reason.

If they don’t offer a money-back guarantee, make sure you are not locked into a long-term contract from the moment go.

7.   Can you go mobile?

Did you know that by 2025 it is expected that 85% of online sales will be conducted via mobile devices?

If you are choosing an e-commerce web hosting package, be sure to make sure you have the option to go mobile if required.

A well designed mobile site not only keeps revenue streams open but also increase brand loyalty and customer satisfaction. A good provider will offer an easy option to convert your site to be mobile friendly at a low cost.

8. How user-friendly are the interfaces the web host utilises?

You will be spending a lot of time utilising your web hosting provider’s web browser interfaces, so it’s essential they are to your liking.

Does your provider use one of the two most popular web hosting interfaces, cPanel or Plesk, to make updates and modifications easier, or do they use some clunky bespoke interface which you would find it a pain in the neck to use?

What is their account administration, billing and support ticket interface like?

9. How long has the web host been in business?

Addendum: as suggested by ‘gingir’ on Webhosting Talk forums, you should investigate how long the web host has been in business. With around 95% of small businesses closing down within five years of opening, you could be taking a risk by using a hosting provider that has not been around for a substantial period of time. It’s also worth investigating how financially stable the business is; in most Western countries you can look up company accounts online.

 

What should you look for when selecting a web hosting provider for your business? Scroll down for a full list of questions to ask

Here’s a full list of questions you could ask potential web hosts:

Support and Customer Service

How many employees do you have?

Where are the staff based? Do you use foreign support staff? How many are abroad?

What hours can the technical support staff be reached?

Do you offer telephone support? If so, what’s the telephone number for support? (And then call the number to test the service, before you sign-up.)

What’s the expected time for initial response on support issues and what’s the average time until final resolution?

Infrastructure

Do you have your own data centre?

Where is the data centre based?

Which connection are you using to connect to the internet?

Do you use T3 lines?

How many websites do you put on a shared server?

What are your terms and conditions for the websites you host? Do you actively monitor if customers are violating these terms?

Do you host adult sites? Can I be sure that I will not be sharing a server with an adult site?

Do you offer an uptime guarantee? How will I be compensated if you will fail to meet the level that you guarantee?

Do you have uptime statistics from a third party monitoring service like Alertra or some others? Please give me a link where I can view them easily.

How often do you back up websites hosted with you? How far back to the backups go? Are the backups kept on or off site? Do you charge for accessing the back up files? How much?

Do you filter emails for spam/viruses? Which software do you use? Is this included in the hosting price or do we have to pay extra for such a service? How much?

Can we have multiple domains in one account included within the cost? Will each domain’s email addresses have their own webmail and POP3/IMAP?

Interface

Will I have access to a control panel? Which control panel do you offer?

What statistics packages do you offer your clients free of charge? Are other packages available? Can I view some samples of them?

Which webmail services do you provide included in your standard packages? Do you offer Squirrel Mail, Horde, Roundcube?

Do you provide any quick script install services like Fantastico?

Can I change my account passwords myself or must I go through you every time?

Miscellaneous

Some sites work without the “www.” having to be typed into the browser before the domain name. Do your sites function this way?

Is there a limit to the number of CGI scripts I can install? Can I run them outside the CGI directory? Can I debug any CGIs on the server?

What version of Perl do you use and does it contain a full set of modules?

What are your future plans for your web hosting service?

Summary

Asking these questions and thoroughly researching your options, including reading third party reviews (though make sure the reviewer is not recommending a host just because he’s earning a fat referral commission) will enable you to make the best decision for which web host is right for you.

Really look through the finer details of what is on offer and ask yourself what problems could arise or what benefits gained by choosing a particular host. Some drawbacks will be easier to live with than others, depending on your own set of circumstances.

Which features do you think are most important to consider when selecting a web host? Leave your comments below.

Recommended Web Hosts: the techies at Azam Marketing have spent many hours analysing and contacting dozens of webhosts to find the best ones for our blog readers based on the above criteria. The following are the most featured-packed, reliable and reasonably priced hosts they have found by far. If you are seeking a US web host they would highly recommend this one and if you are looking for a UK web host this is the top one they have come across.