This month's guest article by Vanessa Davis will help both existing and prospective webmasters select and decide on a hosting service for their web site. First, however, I would like to preface the article with a few of my hard-learned tips to add even more value to Vanessa's article. I'm sharing my thoughts because changing hosts can be a tedious and frustrating venture. Not only will your site be down while the DNS circulates, you may spend hours and hours reconfiguring, backing up, and deploying files to the new host. Nothing on the web is worse than a bad host, or a bad relationship with a host.
Trial by Fire
Almost all web hosting services will answer all your questions with answers you "would like to hear" ... so you should be a little aware that they are in a selling position, and of course will provide good answers. I have used eight different host services over the years. I've liked them, and I've hated them. Some were great in the beginning but then changed for the worse. So don't rely on 'subjective' answers you receive. First make sure the specs of the service meet your technical requirements. Then test it.
One of the famous rules set by Leo Burnette, Madison Avenue advertising great is :
Two rules for successful advertising:
1) TEST everything
2) See rule #1
This will be a pain in the rear. And, it will take some time and effort. But if you go through these motions in advance, it can save you a lot of woes later on. The worst scenario is to jump into your hosting situation, only to find -- six months later -- that your hate the host. Remember however, this is non-destructive testing until you have entered the name-server information. So, until you fully commit a domain, your existing site continues unaltered.
Check the Guarantee: Select hosts who offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Kick the tires: enter a domain, and start using the admin control panel. If you don't like it, you'll have a miserable time later. Try different departments, and functions. Do they load quickly? Are they logical? Also count the number of clicks required to accomplish a task. Are there unnecessary pages and clicks to get where you want to go?
Test the FTP: Set up an FTP account and test that as well. FTP will be your 'local' means of uploading files to the host server. Do NOT rely on their built-in FTP widgets or File Management functions. Although they may work, and may be wonderful, remember you have extra work and time getting into the account to use them. An FTP program running locally on your computer is the most direct, and fastest, way of uploading files to the server.
Test the EMAIL: I keep some 'junk' domains just for such testing. If you have but one domain, you cannot fully test the email services of the host until you've trickled the DNS. This is probably too late. One reason we're busy getting OFF of Network Solutions is their email system really sucks.
... make sure you can log in from remote locations
... make sure they offer filtering
... make sure they have a means of back-up
... make sure they allow whole folder downloads
CALL for SUPPORT: this one is MOST important. Are they 24/7? Did a human answer? How many voice menus did you have to go through? Do they speak your language clearly? Did they understand, and act upon your question? You really, really need to feel comfortable with help services. Nothing's worse than having a crisis, and no one at the other end to help.
Do your homework. Search for 'hacks' and other terms that will implicate certain hosts. Nothing is worse than having your web site disappear.
Both GoDaddy and Network Solutions were recently hit with several series of hacks that took tens-of-thousands of web sites into oblivion. It knocked out two of our sites, on NetSol, which took weeks to re-adjust and clean. It ruined BOTH sites in Google because Google BLOCKED them due to the hacks. So find out who got hacked. Next time it could be YOU.
Who blocks you? Be alert to the host's security policy and resolution path. If your email address happens to get slammed by spammers, your host could instantly turn your site OFF. This happened to one of our client's sites recently, and after hours and hours of telephone holding with the hosts security staff the only recourse was to move to another host. This devastates your site, your visitors and your search engine rankings. You're dead in the water until the issue is resolved.
Who holds you hostage? Check out prospective hosting transfer policies. If you should decide to move, they may hold you hostage. Network Solutions locks your domain and site 40 days out from a renewal. You can renew a domain for $6 at Moniker, but Network Solutions charges $35! So if you forgot to transfer before the 40 days, you have to pay. They will NOT allow transfer.
Email Hostages: If you're hosting on Network Solutions, or many others who have proprietary email clients, or ones like "Squirrel Mail" be very aware that if you used the web interface rather than popping your mail, you can NOT retrieve mail in bulk. If you decide to switch hosts, you cannot capture mail that is stored on their server unless you go one-by-one saving or deleting.
These are just a few tips -- all of which will help you make the best -- long term -- relationship with a host. And remember, this IS INDEED a relationship! You need to make it a good one!
Now, let Vanessa guide you through Choosing a Web Hosting Plan
... continues on the next page!