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I recently had a small disagreement with a new client’s IT company about who to use for their web hosting. I strongly recommended the client go with a company I use to host many of my websites — a company that for years have proven themselves to be one of the best when it comes to hosting this kind of website.

Although the option I was recommending was not particularly expensive, the company they were wanting to use were offering more features and resources for less money. As I’ve covered before, cheap web hosting is not usually a good idea. It can ruin your online presence and for just a little bit extra you can get much better web hosting.

To help you do this, I’ve compiled a list of questions to ask before choosing a web hosting company.

How big are they?

While I think bigger companies are probably better for registering domain names I’ve found “the Goldilocks rule” applies to hosting companies. That is, not too big, not too small.

I’ve found larger companies, probably due to the way corporations are run, tend to have more convoluted support protocols and lack that personal touch. I’ve worked on a dedicated server with one of the UK’s biggest hosting companies and you end up dealing with an account manager who has no technical expertise whatsoever.

Smaller companies, such as web companies who offer hosting as a sideline, are unable to offer the kind of 24/7 support you’d expect from a “proper” hosting company.

What is their uptime like?

Uptime (how long the server makes your site available for) is crucial. Often you’ll see a “99% uptime guarantee” on a hosting company’s website. That sounds great until you realise that means your site could be down for a full minute per every one hundred minutes. Really, a server should only go down several times per year — at the very most — for a few minutes at a time, for server reboots. Expressing a server’s uptime as a percentage is misleading. More reputable hosting companies run monitoring software that tracks their servers’ uptime and will make it available to you.

What is their backup policy?

How often do they back up? Do they backup offsite? A hosting company that doesn’t backup is pretty much unheard of but it’s important to know in the event you do need to access a backup, how long will it take to restore the data?

What are their servers like?

Having good hardware is not enough. Unless you’re leasing the entire server for your company (dedicated server) then there will be other sites running on the server. What is their policy regarding how many sites are run on each server and the resources they can access?

Do they monitor for spam?

If you do share the server with other sites and a site on that server gets blacklisted for spam it can cause you no end of headaches: you may not be able to send email and your site may be flagged as harmful on Google. The better hosting companies are both proactive and reactive when it comes to spam monitoring.

Are they based in the UK — or in the same country as your company?

Generally, you get better support when the technicians are in the same country as you as it breaks down cultural, linguistic and time zone barriers. Also, if most of your visitors are UK-based and your server is in the UK they will get faster response times when accessing web pages. (Hosting companies that operate in Country A but have all their servers in Country B should be treated with trepidation.)

Are they experts at your kind of hosting?

As I’ve discussed before, there is a difference between Windows and Linux hosting; some companies offer both. You know the expression “jack of all trades, master of none”. I’ve found this to be true in the hosting industry so as a rule-of-thumb, stick to companies that don’t offer both.

What are the reviews like and do they offer a money-back guarantee?

As you can see, there are a lot of things to check and you really don’t know for sure what a company are like until you use them. So, lastly, and most importantly, check out reviews for the company. Visit web design fora and see what people who run websites think. It is important they offer a money-back guarantee (any decent hosting company will) so you can terminate the hosting agreement before it fully kicks in — and without spending anything.

If you need a website and help with your hosting call me on 07843 483 078 or get a free quote online.

Tim Bennett is a Leeds-based web designer from Yorkshire. He has a First Class Honours degree in Computing from Leeds Metropolitan University and currently runs his own one-man web design company, Texelate.