10 tips on choosing a web host

When you begin to look for a host for your website or dedicated server you are immediately assailed by numbers; hard drive space, CPU speed, amount of dedicated RAM, bandwidth and more. Hosting companies today try to sell you hosting on the back of the technical specification.

It's easy to believe that a good understanding of maths is all you'd need to pick the best web server hosting company. However, to make a good choice you need to resist the urge to leap for the best spec offered at the lowest price.

In fact, the numbers are just a minor part of the equation that you have to solve to find a good website or server host. The human element of the hosting company and the written agreement between yourself and the web hosting company are equally as important.

Here's what to consider when choosing a web host:

  • Service levels - What you get for your money is largely determined by your host's Service Level Agreement. Make sure you read it BEFORE things go wrong, so you know what will happen to correct a problem and what rights you have. Beware, I've seen a number of UK companies offering shared web hosting WITHOUT an SLA - you should avoid such offerings entirely. It's like buying a car without a guarantee that it'll even start up! For more info on Service Level Agreements click the link.
  • Tech support - You need to find out if support is 24/7, provided by phone and/or email. Is the telephone support number a premium rate line? Are the support staff trained engineers or is it outsourced to an Indian call centre? Here at Intrahost our lines are manned 24/7 by qualified engineers - in fact, they also provide the telephone IT support for some of the UK's biggest companies.
  • Contract length - Beware of web hosting companies that tie you into long-term contracts for simple hosting like shared web hosting or VPS. Where's their incentive to provide you with good service if you cannot terminate the agreement easily. Intrahost's agreements below dedicated server level are from month-to-month so you are not tied into a long-term deal.
  • Scalability - This is tied to the flexibility of your agreement with your web hosting company. If you need to change your hosting requirements how easy is it to do so? Is there a financial penalty for doing so?
  • Nature of your hosting company - Is your hosting company a real host with their own servers in a dedicated data centre or are they merely a one-man band, reselling space on someone else's servers that could be located anywhere in the world?  Are you comfortable with your info being stored on a web server in say, Russia? Do they have the expertise to solve a problem or are they relying on a supplier's engineers? What happens if the one-man band suffers illness? Will he be there at 3am or during public holidays? Perhaps worst of all, what if the host company goes under? Will your data remain accessible in that event? What happens if the server is repossessed by a leasing company or the data centre shuts off connectivity or power?
  • Location - often overlooked, but you are far better off having a hosting company in the same country as your own location. If you are in the UK you have a raft of consumer legislation and local government departments dedicated to ensuring you get a fair deal for your money. All of which is lost if you go outside the UK. Even if you choose to host in advanced countries like the USA do you really want to try and resolve a legal difficulty from three thousands miles away in another time zone? Another reason for choosing a local host is that search engines like Google are becoming far more localised in creating their SERPs, and the physical location of your web server can play a major part in the decision by the search engine of when to display your results.
  • Data centre qualities: The web host's servers must be housed in data centres rather than, for example, their own offices. The UK data centres are graded and you are looking for Tier 2 or greater. The grading represents qualities like:
    • Resilience - In order to guarantee 100% network uptime the centre needs at least two connections to the internet
    • Security - Has the data centre taken fire and intruder security measures?
    • Power - has it alternative power supplies? Usually UPS and diesel generators.
  • Performance monitoring - you should try to obtain performance data on your proposed web host - this is often displayed on their website
  • Testimonials - these are used by many sites; don't be afraid to look up the people providing testimonials and ask them to confirm they still feel the same way about the host. Look up their website and gauge for yourself the end user experience of a website served by your proposed hosting company. I've lost count how many times I've looked up testimonials and received a 404 error page!
  • Guarantee - the SLA should offer a money-back, uptime guarantee - if there is no money-back then it's NOT a GUARANTEE is it? Intrahost's SLA contains its 99.99% server uptime guarantee.