TIP: 5 Steps to Vet A Website Hosting Service

Clients ask me how to pick a hosting company for their websites.   I can tell you who I like and don’t like, based upon mostly their technical limitations and response to major website problems. However who I like as a webmaster, may be very different that what an individual client needs from a hosting company.

When a client gets beyond the amount of disk space, bandwidth, and extras offered by a shared hosting account, there is only one thing that really matters—customer service.  The three key points that most web lay people want from a hosting company are the “3 C’s”: Convenience (Are they available through a  800 number and are they the there 24/7), Courtesy (Will they speak to me like a human being or talk down to me like I’m a toddler? Will there be a language barrier?), and Catastrophes (When something goes wrong will they put it right again?).

But how is the hosting consumer supposed to know if a hosting company will master the “3 C’s”? The Internet is a terrific resource to vet a hosting company. I recommend the following searches to get an idea of how a hosting company works… or in some cases uncover that a hosting company doesn’t work.

  1. Do they suck? It’s not my favorite word, but “sucks” seems to be the word of choice for the most dissatisfied consumers. Simply open up your favorite search engine and search the name of the hosting company and the word sucks. While this may not be the most scientific method to assess the performance of a hosting company, it will give you a window to a company’s most dissatisfied customers and give you an inkling of what may be in store for you.
  2. What the Tweet?  Another window to the performance of a host is Twitter. Search Twitter to see if they are a member. Search by putting a “@” in front of their Twitter username to see what others have posed about them. I also like to look at the companies Twitter profile: Has it been months since their last Tweet?
  3. Contact Info. Check out the contact information for the hosting company on their own website. Watch out for hosting companies where there are no means to contact them via traditional snail mail or telephone.  For consumers who only want to work with US-based companies this is where you can uncover the business location. 
  4. Free Customer Service.  A tough US economy has moved some hosting companies to charge for customer service. Be aware that discount hosting service may cost you more when you add a customer service package to their yearly fee.  How does this play out? You’ll see that these hosts offer assistance only via email and offer telephone customer service to those customers who purchase a larger hosting account.  
  5. Call ‘Em. I know this sounds like a nuisance, but it will tell you more than all of the first 4 steps. Your website is going to be the life-blood of your business—why wouldn’t you make a test phone call to them to be sure you will be happy with the hosting company? Making the call will reveal  how fast they are to pick up the phone, how long hold time is, if the phone system is confusing or a long process to reach a department. You’ll also learn if the person on the other end is polite and eager to help. I’ve made these calls and had some surprising results like reaching a rep who was a one man basement operation, or horribly rude reps, and the frightening poorly trained rep.

Congratulations, you are now ready to weigh the results of your investigation. While one bad review may not be a deal breaker and a bulky voicemail system may not put you off, these are all tell-tale signs. Know your tolerance and obey your instincts.  Vetting your hosting company will help you purchase shared hosting with confidence.