Web hosting is one of the most important decisions you can make about your website. Although it works behind the scenes, it can have a huge impact on how people perceive your site and your business so it’s important to choose the right package.
I’ve created a list of 10 questions to ask a potential web hosting company. To ask these questions, I recommend you do so via email so you have a record of your questions and the hosting company’s answers in the future. This makes it easier to compare different companies’ responses and make sure you choose the hosting package that is right for you.
What is your uptime percentage, and do you have any uptime guarantee?
Many hosting companies offer an uptime guarantee. If your website is offline for a certain amount of time in any given month, you’ll be due a refund for that month’s hosting fee.
If the information isn’t readily available on the hosting company’s website, ask them about their uptime percentage (this should be between 99.7% and 100% – the closer to 100%, the better), and whether they offer a guarantee. If they do offer this kind of guarantee, check how it’s enforced.
Do you charge a setup fee?
Again, this is the kind of information that should be readily available on the web host’s website. If it isn’t, or the fees involved in setting up a new hosting account aren’t clear, then it’s important to ask. This isn’t because setup fees are bad or wrong, but because you’ll be in a better position to add this fee to your final website budget.
You should also bear in mind that some web hosts appear to be offering excellent monthly rates, but then charge an extortionate setup fee to compensate. For most web host’s shared web hosting, the setup fee is always free.
For dedicated servers, and some VPS hosting, you shouldn’t have to pay more than $50 to setup a standard commercial hosting account for a business website. Beware added “extras” that the host includes as part of the quoted price, and feel free to ask them to remove any package features you don’t need to lower the fee.
Do you have a minimum term contract?
You need to know the terms of your contract before signing anything, otherwise you could find yourself locked into a deal that is tricky to get out of at a later date! Important details include the length of your contract, and whether you will have to pay a penalty for breaking the contract early.
Do you charge for upgrading or changing plans?
From my experience, a good web hosting company will never charge you for upgrading your plan. When deciding on a new web hosting company, you should also check whether the company would charge you for changing your plan to a similar package.
Do you have 24-hour customer support, and how long is your average response time?
Never assume that a web hosting company offers 24-hour support unless they explicitly say so. Many hosting companies say they offer support, but some may not be available for 24-hours a day… for example, it’s only available between the hours of 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, Eastern Standard Time! If you live in a different time zone or need help in the weekend, this kind of support isn’t going to help!
Finding a web hosting company that can offer 24-hour customer support is really important, simply because you never know when you’re going to need it. You might never need to contact customer support, but when you do it could be because something has gone wrong with your site and you need help getting it back online.
If the host’s customer support isn’t available until the next day or after the weekend, your site will potentially be unavailable for days, which will harm your business and reputation.
How can I contact customer support?
Since being able to contact customer support is so important, you need to know how to do this. A hosting company with a good customer support team should provide at least two or three ways to get in touch with them, including email, phone and live chat. Then, if one customer support option isn’t available, for example because they are experiencing a queue on their phone line, you can try a different way of reaching someone.
LunarPages, one of my recommended hosting companies, demonstrate this below:
You can access help through community forums, the LunarPages Wiki, submit a support ticket or have a live chat with someone from the sales team.
What would I be charged for exceeding my bandwidth allowance?
As your website grows, you’ll reach a point where you might start exceeding your bandwidth allowance. When this happens, it’s an indication that you need to switch to a new package. In the meantime, however, you want to make sure that you’re not getting charged top dollar for exceeding the bandwidth allowance that comes with your hosting package.
Some companies don’t charge your for exceeding your package’s bandwidth allowance. Instead, they simply throttle the amount of traffic to your site the more your visitor numbers grow. This prevents people from accessing your site and, over the long-term will damage your reputation. If in doubt, ask a potential web host what their policy is regarding bandwidth and limiting visitor numbers.
Do you have any money back guarantee?
You want your new web hosting service to be confident in the service they offer, and one way a company demonstrates this is to offer a money-back guarantee. This gives you extra security as, if you try the web hosting service and don’t like it, you can still get a refund on your hosting price.
Bluehost, one of the web hosting company which I highly recommend, offers an Anytime money back guarantee.
What is your control panel like?
The control panel is what you will use to manage your hosting account. The type of control panel your hosting company uses makes a huge difference to your user experience; you need a control panel that is easy to use, otherwise your hosting could become a headache.
Ask a potential hosting company which type of control panel they use. Some companies, including BlueHost, use commercial control panels like cPanel. These are very user-friendly and simple to navigate.
If a hosting company uses a custom control panel, ask if you can have a tour before signing up to their hosting so you can test its usability.
Companies like SiteGround offer comprehensive tutorials that will help you learn how to use their control panel.
HostGator, one of my top recommended hosts, use cPanel. From my experience, their servers and network have an amazing 99.9% uptime percentage. These and their generous 45-day money-back guarantee make them a good web hosting choice.
Do you run backups?
Backups are very important. It’s a good idea to have your own backup, but many hosting companies will offer this service for you. Off-site backups separate from your server are essential, as otherwise if your server fails then all your website data will be lost!
Check whether a potential hosting company offers backups before signing up so you know your data will be secure.
Conclusion and Recommended Hosts
Asking the questions above will help you secure a hosting package that suits your website needs and won’t leave you in the lurch. Through my hosting experience over the years, I have already done the questions-asking and research, and my top recommended hosting company is BlueHost.
- No hidden fees and instant set-up
- Anytime money back guarantee
- 24/7 phone, live chat and email support
- Test drive their cPanel control panel
BlueHost offer excellent value for money and reputable hosting services. I rate BlueHost so highly, I have negotiated with them to offer 50% discount on the Professional hosting package for my readers.