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Ten Tips for Choosing a Host
1. Shop around.
Have a good look around at whatís available, both online and from the recommendations of people you know. A hosting directory can help, especially if you have questions.
2. Know what you need.
Decide what your needs are before you contact any web hosts. Is this a business site you want to start up, or a personal one? How much traffic should you expect? How much storage will you need? Would a dedicated server be best, or will shared hosting cover your needs? Forums and hosting directories are good places to ask questions and read advice; chances are that dozens of others have had the same questions as you, so finding answers shouldnít be too difficult.
3. Make a shortlist.
There are literally thousands of hosting companies, so make yourself a shortlist. Of course you can add to it as you go, but it will give you something to work with. If friends or colleagues have recommendations, put them on the list.
4. Check up on the integrity of the host.
Visit the websites of the hosts on your shortlist. Are they well-designed? Is the interface easy to navigate, or is it frustrating and confusing? Customer service starts with a good website; discard any hosts whose websites are off-putting. Next, read all the small print you can get your hands on. You are looking for things like minimum commitment periods (you donít want to be stuck with a host for a year if youíre not sure of what youíre doing), reliability and guarantees. You need to be able to rely on your site to be online virtually all the time; good hosts will offer a discount or refund if uptime drops below 99% or so. You also need to check what you will need to do to claim refunds for downtime. Will they require documentation and elaborate proof, or will they admit to downtime and credit you with your refund? You can easily check up on their reputation for this in forums and hosting directories.
Also find out if they offer trial periods or satisfaction guarantees. If they do offer the latter, find out if they will refund all monies, or only your monthly rate without the setup fee, for example.
5. Find out exactly what theyíre offering.
What packages are available, and what do they cost? Compare different companies and the packages they offer. You should think about the possibility of your website being successful and requiring more bandwidth and storage; do they offer "scalability"? Can you easily upgrade to larger storage and bandwidth packages, and are these reasonably priced?
You definitely donít need "unlimited" storage (which, by the way, is a scam; they would go out of business if they really offered unlimited storage), and you probably donít need to pay for 500MB either Ė most sites are only about 30MB, so donít buy much more than you need. Having a bit of give for expansion of your site might be wise, however.
Also check up on other options, like the number of POP3 email accounts offered with the hosting, how easy it will be to administrate your account and what their interface for that is like, and ask about more technical features, including SSI, .htaccess, telnet, crontabs, PHP and CGI-BIN access.
6. Check their reputation.
Most reputable hosts will publish a list of current clients on their website, so feel free to contact those people and ask them what the service has been like. Also, you may wish to check out what kind of clients the host has. In particular, check whether they host any adult sites, which tend to hog a lot of bandwidth and which might therefore slow down your site. However, hosts are not likely to post unhappy customersí contact details on their sites, so check out directories and forums for more information about the behaviour and reputation of a host.
7. Ask about technical support and customer care.
You will be very grateful that you checked out your host for good tech support and customer care. Firstly, offering a good service in this regard is expensive and time-consuming for the host, so itís an excellent indicator of their general integrity and trustworthiness. Also check out their online support and help files.
8. Send an email.
Send your prospective host an email, asking any questions that you might still have. Cross any hosts off your shortlist that donít respond quickly and helpfully. Do they really have the 24/7 support they claim to provide? Try sending your email at 9pm on a Saturday evening and see. Also, to really test them, try asking for a real person with a real name to administrate your account.
9. Consider rates.
Your shortlist should be pretty short by now, and it will almost be time to make a decision. Choose a host that offers most or all of the features you want at a reasonable rate, but do not compromise on customer service, and make sure that upgrades are also reasonable, as you donít want to go through the hassle of changing hosts when you find you need more storage space or bandwidth. Check what the minimum commitment period is, as some hosts only offer hosting in year-long sections.
10. Choose a host.
You should be able to choose a host, having considered all these issues. Then, all thatís left to do is place your order and upload your site, and you will be up and running. Donít forget to inform your registrar.
Author: Natalie Catchpole