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How to Choose the Best Web Hosting Company
Web Site Hosting - What to look for and what to avoid

Finding the best web hosting company is not always easy. There are thousands of them, over 16,000 by one report with more being added all the time. They range in size and the services they offer. Finding a dependable hosting company, however, is not as easy as it looks. Too many hosting companies are the electronic equivalents of the worst used car salesmen. They lie on what they offer with no intention of delivering on what they promise, sell you a clunker that doesn't work as promised, overcharge you, and ignore your messages when you e-mail or call trying to resolve a problem.

The Internet and its relative anonymity offer the opportunity for people to pretend to be something other than what they seem to be. Children can pretend to be hosting companies, people with a computer in their bedroom or basement and a DSL or cable modem line pretend to be hosting companies, people with a shared server reseller account pretend to be companies with their own servers, people using tools like Front Page and others and templates pretend to be site designers even though most have no knowledge of HTML and other important design elements. Only movie making can surpass the kind of illusion that the Internet makes possible.

What to avoid

Beware of companies that promise unlimited resources, especially bandwidth or data transfer. They lie. Unlimited bandwidth/data transfer is an impossibility. Much of the time, they are gambling that the offer of unlimited bandwidth or disk space will get your business (money) and that you may not even approach the very real and finite limits they have. There are a few places that legitimately offer some unlimited resources under particular conditions, but far fewer than advertise them. Along with bandwidth use is CPU/resources usage. Many hosts have limits mentioned in their terms of service.

Beware of companies that treat your site creation and hosting as a package deal. Some will refuse to give you access to your site so that you are forced to have them perform any changes and redesigns. They often overcharge for their work, which is why they hold your site hostage.

Beware of the companies that rate hosting companies. For the most part, those ratings were bought with advertising dollars. Many of those rating companies are owned by a hosting company. No big surprise there. Even if the rating company doesn't rate its host, it may have a reciprocal arrangement with one of the other rating companies, trading a high rating of each other's hosting companies. None of this is speculation but has been confirmed in our research on the subject and candid admissions by some individuals in that business.

Beware of the companies that make you pay for a year in advance or obligate you to a year long contract for a shared (virtual) server account. It's a sweet deal for them, and often a sour one for you. A company that is long on promises and short on keeping them, benefits greatly when you pay for a whole year. Remember, many of these companies make their money from a constant influx of new customers, not by providing service to the ones they have. When you pay for a year in advance, you make it easy for them to fleece you. Some offer discounts as an inducement to have you pay yearly, while others simply require it. If you read their Terms Of Service (TOS), chances are they say no refunds are allowed and that they can close down your account for a variety of reasons, even penalizing you for your success (referred to as using an excessive amount of resources, what they term as abuse). You can look at it this way, if they are as good as they say they are, you'll probably stay with them anyway. If they aren't, you've either lost money by prepaying that far in advance, stuck with a bad host for a year, or both.
Note that this does not apply as regards dedicated servers. Because of the commitment of hardware and other resources, a six or twelve month contract is typical for dedicated server hosting.

Beware of the companies that hide their Terms of Service (TOS). Terms of service are the web hosting equivalent of reading the fine print on a contract, with an important distinction. With the fine print, at least you are aware of its existence. Not so with TOS. Many companies fail to disclose them until you violate them, which is too late to do you any good. That is when you often find out that the unlimited bandwidth and traffic they advertise has very definite limits. However, once your account has exceeded those limits and been disabled is not the proper time to learn the terms of service. The proper time is right up front before you have committed to them as a customer. Some refer to their TOS as Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).

You can't judge by appearance. This simple premise applies to many things in life and applies as well when selecting a hosting company. Some of the worst hosts have an attractive web site and offerings and would indeed be excellent if their service and attitude were equal to the impression their web site is meant to give. Some hosting companies have started in garages and do not have the facilities or equipment to ensure your site will remain operational to the fullest extent.

You can't trust the claims made by many. They advertise their servers are up 99.9% of the time, but how do you know for sure? Nobody monitors these companies so they can claim whatever they want to. The testimonials on their sites, if not fabricated, are only from satisfied customers. Do you think they would print the truth from any of the customers they have abused? One of the hosts we used in the past shut our account down when we challenged them to print our testimonial to their ineptitude. Many advertise a 30 day money back guarantee and don't keep that promise either. Once they have your credit card number, they begin charging far more than they told you they would.

Even some seemingly legitimate companies lie, and it can cost you in many ways. Most will have stated policies against spamming (the sending of unsolicited bulk e-mail) simply because it is expected that they have such policies. Unfortunately, some companies are hypocrites and do not honor those policies. They tolerate spammers on their system or may spam themselves. Choosing such a host can cost you in many ways. You may find yourself cut off from a sizeable portion of the Internet. Your e-mail may be blocked and rejected by many servers that block all e-mail coming from systems that tolerate abusers. The Spamhaus Project to see if any host you are considering is listed there. It is one of the steps in keeping you from making a bad choice.

Sometimes (often, actually) big is too big. Some sites boast of thousands of accounts that they host. This is meant to impress you and suggest that if 50 or 60 thousand other customers have chosen them, that you should too. What they don't tell you is that they may have lost 20 or 30 thousand of those customers, or they may have turned over many more times that amount in dissatisfied customers. Many of these companies make their money from getting new customers, not from keeping the existing ones by honoring their commitment and providing good service. They load hundreds of accounts, even thousands, on each server, all sharing many of the same resources, which affects your site and all others you share the server with, especially if you have any CPU (processor) intensive programs or functions. This is one of the reasons many of the advertised unlimited resources are not unlimited. They may disable your account when your site uses more than its fair share of resources (we've had that happen too), or start charging your credit card for more than you bargained for.

Smaller companies can offer something the large ones can't, personalized service. That can make a big difference in helping your site make the most from being on the Internet.
Companies that are Internet access providers do not offer any advantages over companies that are solely in the hosting business. Their core business is providing access and even many companies that excel at that are deficient in their hosting service. Some have file restrictions that make them impractical for all but the simplest of sites, those where no additional programs will need to be added. There may be attractive financial packages from combined services, but these can be secondary or tertiary to more important concerns.

Sometimes cheap is too cheap. It is perfectly natural, even expected, to seek the best deal one can get. For a business site, the best value may be much less expensive than the lowest price. Remember, many sites advertise low prices to get a constant influx of new customers. They have to as many of their present ones leave them. You get what you pay for. The poor service at so many companies means frequent changes from one host to another in search of a decent one. That can be costly, between the time lost in transfers, reinstalling and reconfiguring your programs, down time of your site, lost sales, lost exposure, inability of certain programs to operate properly, etc.

The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of the low price is forgotten.

Part 2 What to look for in a good host

Find the best web hosting companies
Read More Articles and Help Files

Other Articles:

Choosing a Good Host
How to Move Host
Dedicated vs Colocation
Unix vs NT Hosting


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