10 Questions to Ask Your Web Hosting Provider Before Things Get Serious

Published June 24th, 2014 by Michael Farin

Getting hooked up with a web hosting company is like entering into a long-term relationship. You’ll be together for a long time (hopefully!) so it’s important to make sure you’re compatible.

Here are just a few questions you should be asking your new potential web hosting provider when searching for reliable hosting. Remember – the more you know upfront, the happier you’ll be down the road.

Server Capacity: How many websites will I share a server with?

If you’re signing up for shared hosting, you have the right to know exactly how many websites are, or have the potential to be on, your server. Don't let a hosting company distract you with promotions, promises and specs of the server. Dishonest hosting companies often try to make money by overloading a server and maximizing profit, instead of maximizing performance.

Backups: Is my website backed up? If so, how and when?

Your website should be backed up off-site at least once a day – and there should be no extra charge for backups. Website backups are a crucial part of website hosting, and they should be a standard part of the package. If disaster strikes, you want to be sure your hosting company has your back, and can get your site back online in no time.

Support: What is the depth of your support?

Hosting companies should offer full technical support, 24/7. Some hosting companies will tout 24/7 tech support, but when you actually need help, you learn that they quietly branded their "customer service" as support. Customer service is typically for billing and account issues, whereas support deals more with troubleshooting, site/server conflict resolution and other urgent matters. So don’t get fooled.

Fully Managed: Are fully managed plans available?

A fully-managed hosting company takes care of all your technical, security and support issues, so you don’t have to. A good managed hosting company has a dedicated team responsible for continuous uptime, server upgrades, site compatibility issues that may arise as the server/site communicate, and so on.

Responsiveness: Are there guaranteed support response times?

"Being available 24/7" is great, but you want to make sure that if you email at 2am, you'll get a response by a certain time. Get your response times outlined in an SLA – that way, you can protect yourself and ensure you get the service you are signing up for!

Firewall: Will there be a firewall in place to protect my site from hacks?

Firewalls are the number one method of security to prevent unwanted visitors to the back-end network of your website. Stay safe from hackers, disgruntled developers and other unwelcome visitors – you want to make sure your website is as secure as possible at all times.

Flexibility: What does signing up for an account mean?

Make sure there aren’t any hidden catches that come along with your account. For example, try not to get locked into any contract, and make sure you are free to leave, switch providers or use a different developer as necessary.

Application Support: Does the hosting company offer any?

In an ideal world, your hosting company might offer developer retainers so you can have everything in one place. If the company doesn’t have an in-house development team, make sure to ask if they offer any application support. This will eliminate unnecessary back-and-forth communication, with a hosting company putting the blame on you or your developers.

Fees: Are there hidden costs?

When you’re setting up a new hosting plan, sometimes the initial specifications sound good – but then you double your cost by the time your website is live on the new host. Discuss fees for account setup, website migration and account cancellation ahead of time to make sure that you're not committing to a plan that includes hidden fees.

Email: Is email included and what type of service is it?

Nowadays, email hosting is a very important element and is a complex technical animal in itself. After asking if email service is included, your next question should be what email service the company uses (stay away from standard server email). You'll also want to ask how many email accounts are included with your account and if email migrations are included as well so that you don't lose important and valuable data.

BONUS:  This is always a great question to ask the company or individual(s) who are going to be building your website:

Am I free to host the website you are going to build for me wherever I want?

Some companies only offer in-house solutions and won't let you host your website with another company. This can be a very bad idea: if any conflict ever arises with the development company, the livelihood of your website could be directly affected. Try to keep the control in your hands!

Don’t be shy! Ask these questions up front and you’ll save yourself some serious heartbreak down the road.

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