Project Planning and Management

3 Keys to Finding the Right Hosting Partner for Your Website

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February 24, 2012 Posted in Project Planning and Management

A quality web host can allow us to sleep soundly, or cause hours of frustration when something isn’t working right. It’s always in your best interest to ensure that you partner up with a reputable company with a good track record you can trust.

The web hosting industry is full of false promises and misleading advertising with claims such as ‘Unlimited hosting for life’ or some other such nonsense. I can’t stress to you enough that you need to do your homework and never forget the golden rule of purchasing. You get what you pay for.

Here are 3 keys to finding a quality hosting partner for your site. For some unknown reason they all start with the letter S.

1. Support

Having dealt with hundreds of hosting companies over the years, I can honestly say that I’ve experienced both incredible support and terrible. The thing that really makes or breaks a provider is the support that they offer. Before you sign up for a hosting provider, I always recommend you read everything you can about their support. Google it and even try it out. Some offer 24 hour email support, others live chat support, but only the best hosting providers have TELEPHONE support.

Many of the hosting companies we’ve dealt with who claim 24 hour email support, but generally take 6 – 12 hours to respond to a request. As you probably know, this is too long for your (or your customers) site to be down. Live chat is slightly better, but is usually answered by someone named ‘James Brown’ or ‘John West’ or some other fancifully named person reading a canned script and will cause you more frustration than they’re worth. They don’t normally have access to billing systems, can’t answer any really tricky questions and will more often than not tell you to lodge a support ticket anyway.

I usually like to lodge a support ticket within about 5 minutes of signing up for a new hosting account to see what to expect. Usually I’m fairly disappointed. If I don’t have a reply within an hour, I cancel the signup and ask for a full refund.

Seriously, don’t take the risk. If the hosting provider doesn’t have telephone support where you get to speak to someone (preferably within your own country) then don’t bother. You may never need to use it, but having it there could mean the difference between a day of lost sales or a speedy fix.

2. Service

This is a tricky one, especially when you’re only new to a provider but the best thing to do is usually a Google search. There are many quality forums out there that discuss hosting providers and it’s a good idea to get an idea about the sort of positive and negative feedback they receive. If you can’t find any reference to them, you might want to start looking elsewhere. Any worthwhile provider will have a long list of positive and negative feedback over its years of service.

The major issue on this front is the tier of their hosting. A tier 1 provider is the owner of a data centre. They own the racks, maintain the network and the internet connection or backbone. It’s very rare that a normal business would deal with a tier 1 provider. A tier 2 provider on the other hand, like most hosting companies, purchase space at these data centres and on-sell the hosting to businesses like yours. This is the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ of hosting.

A tier 3 or higher provider are generally resellers of a reseller. What this could mean for you is that you lodge a request, it’s received by the reseller and forwarded onto their reseller. You could imagine how frustrating this is in an emergency!

Another point to consider with a provider is uptime guarantee. Most hosting providers advertise it on their site as part of their SLA (Service Level Agreement). A 100% uptime guarantee means that out of 40,320 minutes in each month, they’re claiming your site will be available 40,320 minutes. That doesn’t sound valid to me. When are they patching security vulnerabilities? When are they doing routine maintenance? Conversely, a provider offering a 97% uptime guarantee might sound a little more honest, but what is that really saying? This equates to your site being down for around 1,210 minutes per month or around 20 hours per month.

So, 100% is unrealistic (they can try, but it will never happen) and 97% uptime means around 20 hours of downtime a month! Try to find an honest medium. I’ve seen providers quote 99.7% uptime, this is awesome, and it sounds realistic. Don’t be fooled by the 100% up time.

3. Speed

While the internet is relatively fast, the physical proximity of the server to your customers can still be a concern. If you’re hosting a site in New Zealand, where should you host your site? Israel? America? No, host it in New Zealand. It’ll be snappier than any other offshore hosted site, and customers are keenly aware of these little details. Obviously the same goes for Australia.

Local hosting is normally more expensive than offshore hosting due to higher data costs, but you can almost always get someone local to call in the event of an issue. Another thing that won’t generally happen with local hosting is that they won’t do stupid things like perform server maintenance in THE MIDDLE OF YOUR WORKING DAY. Yes, alot of US based sites do that due to the time difference.

FACT – many office workers surf the web in the late afternoon – it’s one of the least productive times of the day as it’s often too late to start something new and too early to leave.
That means that many sites receive a usage spike around this time. If your site is down or unresponsive, your competitors are going to receive those hits.

There are a few more blog posts lined up on this topic, so we’ll give you some more great tips on hosting providers soon.

Who do WE recommend for web hosting? Contact us to find out!

The 4mation Team.

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