They always say the best way to learn is by making mistakes – and that is certainly true with web hosts. In the past 10 years I’ve had 6 different webhosts. Out of those, only 2 of them are actually decent. It’s a sad fact that I’ve spent more time with bad hosts than with good hosts – and that isn’t too uncommon either. Luckily those horrible experiences have taught me a few valuable lessons and have given me a few things to look out for.
Here’s a few questions your should ask your new webhost before you sign the contact:
Do You Have Direct Control Over The Servers And Customer Support?
Many, but not all terrible web hosts either co-locate their servers and hire a 3rd party to take care of them, they rent servers from other providers and let them manage it, or they are simple resellers. A good host will always need to have some sort of direct control over their servers – and a good host will never hire out to a 3rd party for the bulk of their server administration.
While hiring 3rd party contractors can be good for some industries – I’ve learned over the years that 3rd party support services always suck. Plain and simple. They suck.
This is especially true in the hosting industry – if they don’t directly manage the administrators then there is always going to be an extra layer of complexity to take care of issues. Tickets won’t be escalated as fast, admins will be overworked, and it makes it more difficult for knowledgeable customers to get in touch with the admins.
Here’s an example for you: when I first got a VPS I went with a provider that I’ve seen many people recommend – one of the most important things I look for. When I first got the vps I noticed they didn’t have a reverse IP DNS record properly setup – which is needed to be able to send emails to many ISPs. Unfortunately this supposedly “good company” actually cheaped out their support and hired a 3rd party company based out of Toronto. They were a nightmare to deal with – and for what should have been a simple adjustment for an admin took 2 days to get resolved.
The only reason it got resolved was because I found the host’s CEO’s phone # and requested him to escalate it directly or I’d want a refund. He got it straight to an in-house server admin who fixed in instantly. I later found out how messed up their support system actually was – they outsourced most of their admins and their phone support – and they had a single in-house admin who actually repaired/setup the physical VPS nodes. The outsourced support took care of the software.
How messed up is that.
So needless to say – I now always ask if they have total in-house server and customer support. If they say no – I look elsewhere.
Will You Let Me Change Hosting Packages Or Payment Intervals After Signing Up?
A good host will always let you change your hosting plan or payment interval after signing up. Whether your going from gold to bronze or from yearly to monthly – they should have no problem with the switch. Not all of them actively advertise that they allow plan changes – so it is something you may have to ask.
About 7 years ago I signed up with a company and stupidly payed for 3 months in advance… They let me upgrade from monthly to 3 months, but their support went downhill during that quarter. I asked to switch back to monthly at the end of the contract and they refused – and said I had to stay quarterly.
So I left. Enough of that.
Do You Actually Give Back Credit For Downtime That Is Your [The Webhost's] Fault?
Shortly after having that “you can’t downgrade” host, I found a new one – who had a great sale going on for yearly contracts. Half off. I knew someone who had been with them and loved them and trusted them – so I gave it a shot (hey, $40 instead of $80 aint a bad deal). It was a big mistake. Their servers were down constantly – as in at least 10% of the day.
The funny thing is – when I signed up they had a customer guarantee in case of downtime. They prorated your next bill by the % of downtime. Apparently they had a bunch of people ask for credit – because that clause was removed from their site shortly after my server issues started. I kept a copy of the Terms of Service (which is a contract, btw) from when I signed up and demanded a credit. They refused – so I switched hosts and ate the cost.
It wasn’t worth it to goto court over $40, I made much more than that in the same period of time.
Rumors has it a few months later a bigger host came along and bought them out, and fired their CEO and support managers. So they got what they had coming to them, anyway.
And there you have it. A few quick questions that any good webhost will have no problem answering. There’s probably a dozen or more that I could come up with – but these are a good starting point.
So what do you think? Can you think of any other good pre-sale questions? Leave a comment below!