My Top Ten Host……. Tips – How To Pick A Shared Host – UPDATED!

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While it’s not my most ask question, from time to time I get asked if I have a top 10 host list. The most common question is who I recommend. To be honest I have not really looked for a provider better than the ones I use, not because I am happy with whom I am with. I have not looked because I really have not had the time to find a better host. After all the last few months my posts have been rare, much to the joy of my critics. If you’re a critic I would like to remind you, this is not my main source of income, and this is something I do in my spare time. I can assure you I am not done, and I have a lot of content sitting on the back burner waiting for my spare time.

Since I can’t recommend any one, and I don’t have a top ten host list, I will give you my top ten tips when picking out a host. This will also be the start of my top ten. No, I am not going to tell you ten hosts that I think are super-duper, and get paid a nice sum for every new customer I bring in through an affiliate link. I can’t promise that I will ever recommend a host. This is the start of a monthly post I plan to do where I post my own personal top 10 suggestions, advice, and maybe something totally off topic all of which will not tell you which host I recommend. Hopefully this post and the future top ten posts will help you find a good host and perhaps help you keep your sanity.

My Top Ten is based off my 11 years of experience running 4 hosting companies, and the last year reviewing hosts that appeared on webhostingsuff.com, that spammed me, or appeared on other hosting review sites.

1. Have a plan

Honestly this is probable the weakest of my advice, as I scrambled to come up with a 10thsuggestion, which becomes point number 1. After all you should know what you want and need before you actually get service. It’s not something that applies to most people; most know what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. However I have had people contact me after they bought a domain and hosting, sometimes months after they purchased service to ask what they should do. No idea of what they were going to do, just the idea in their head that having a website means lots of money. It’s not that simple. One particular customer thought that his account did not start till he used it, and was a bit angry to receive a bill 365 days after he purchased service. I have yet to find a host that starts the clock once you start using your account. To be honest if you have no plan, and don’t know how you’re going to implement your plan you should avoid buying a hosting account.

If you have read my previous posts, you will know my first hosting company was a bust, granted it was not due to a lack of a plan. But a greedy business partner, a point I had not calculated for. Too many of the details were left in his control, and he decided to lock me and another partner out. Despite which he had no sales experience, technical experience, or any form of an idea of how to run the company as he was learning off me and the other business partner. For which he lacked a plan on how to keep what he had stolen. The host that finally took off and made it easy to start up other operations took months, and lots of capital. It took practically a year before I started to get a income off it for both me and the business partner that got kicked out of the first operation. Never mind the new business partner for the start of this operation turned out to be a mistake, there was a plan in place to replace him having learned from the mistakes of the first host. Needless to say that host is going on year 13, and almost 2 years without me.

2. Read the terms of service

If there is anything I cannot say enough, it is to read the terms of services. Often when doing my reviews it’s the first thing I go after. I can’t say it was the part of the reviews I was looking forward to. But it often served me well to read the competitor terms of service when a customer threatens to leave me for them.

Any host worth your business is going to have a link to the terms of service on every page of their site, most commonly found on the bottom of every page. Sometimes called terms of use. If you cannot locate the terms from the main page you should avoid that company, or contact them to get a link to where the terms service is. Personally I would not bother with a host that does not have an easy to find term of service.

Yes I know its long and it’s boring. Plus these days it comes in multiple parts such as user agreement, privacy policy, acceptable use policy,…… There are a lot of good reasons for reading this long and rarely entertaining jumble of words such as hidden fees, what is and is not covered by the terms of service, what may close your account, and / or if there is actually any level of guarantee. Not to mention the process one would take if a company offered a 30 day guarantee.

I have found a lot of hosts that offer a 30 day refund guarantee on the front of their site, yet on the terms of service it will state there are no refunds.

3. Don’t sign up for service with any company that offers anything less than a 30 day guarantee on their shared hosting services

When it came to selling hosting services I can tell you I preferred shared hosting, versus dedicated or vps with good reason there was a much higher profit margin and a lower amount of financial risk with shared hosting. Dedicated servers always carry a risk of finical lose as you only have one client per machine. Not to mention there was always some customer that did not know how to maintain their dedicated server. Because of the very nature shared hosting being a multiple customer setup and high income are the very reasons I don’t think anyone should go with a host without a 30 day guarantee on their shared hosting service. Granted I think the same should apply with VPS and cloud accounts as well as lot of time has passed since these services became available.

Per number 2 I recommend reading the terms service to make sure whatever shared plan you choose has a thirty day guarantee or better and is not limited to certain plans or certain purchased time periods. I approve of hosts that only allow the 30 day guarantee once per customer, also limits on the guarantee that only cover the hosting unless the host is responsible for the account being closed by offering poor service.

4. Buy what you need – don’t be too cheap or overwhelm your finances

Often I have encountered customers that bought more than they could afford, or bought a plan that was super cheap but could not handle their site. From the more then needed I had a customer that threw all his money into one of my most expensive plans at $1400 + a month. After 2 years and a project that never took off, his site maxed out his American Express card. When I had a tech look into the site, we found he could have easily kept his account on a shared environment under $50 a month plan.

I had another customer that was probable the worst of cheap skates Which is funny because I was recently contacted by one of the people that bought my share in a hosting company to find why I had black listed this individual. I banned him because he was a serious risk of crashing a server. He had made this popular free screen saver, which he used to collect email addresses with. Which was an honest way to collect email addresses. However the problem was he migrated from one hosting provider to me for my cheapest plan at the time was $14.99 a month, and thought he could use that account to mail out to his list of over 100,000 people. I believe there should be some reasonable % income that should be set aside for a business web presence especially when the site is the main source for getting customers. Naturally his account was shut down for exceeding his resources. He was also denied a refund, as crashing a server violated the terms of service. The part I thought was the kicker was he complained about losing thousands of dollars every hour that the site was down. A year before I sold my the company he signed up under another cheap plan, and he tried the same thing. Which was why I banned him from ever getting service.

5. Don’t buy an unlimited space plan

First let me point out quantity is not a quality indicator. For years I have had customers that thought just because a competitor offering more of a resource then I was for less than they were a better host. Only to come back later, sometimes because they found out that the extras cost more than just upgrading their account with one of my companies. As time went on unlimited plans came into play. Keep in mind there is nothing true about an account being an unlimited account, its merely a commercial gimmick. Not to mention the cheaper the service is the more people that are going to be crammed on to a server to make it profitable. After all the whole point of having a hosting company is to make a profit.

If a company tries to tell you that unlimited hosting is not overselling, they really should be avoided. Overselling is selling more then you actually have, where commonly no one ever uses all of what is available. So if a host tells you this they are either dishonest or idiots.

In most cases the terms of service will tell you that the so called unlimited plans are not unlimited. Most will tell you what you can have on your account, such as not using it to back up your computer onto. Some only allow domains that belong to you, or in other words no reselling. In rarer cases they will tell you what the limits are that will get your account shut down. Such as processor usage. None of them will tell you exactly how much space you get to have before they shut your account down.

What I consider the biggest nightmare is unlimited reseller plans. I had a few customers that were on such plans with other providers, only to have their accounts shut down. One such reseller caused quite a mess as he refused to respond to his customers. He also refused to respond to my phone calls and emails until weeks after his site was shut down. So his customers did a dns check and found my company. They ignored the fact that the dns was recently changed. I did a further check to find the original host that offered unlimited reseller plan. These unlimited space customers under an unlimited reseller plan came in by chat, email, and by phone. I think over all it was about 200 people who were taking time away from paying customers. So his site was disabled, and a special notice was put up on the site of which host he had come from and who to deal with.

6. Don’t sign up for 1 or 5 years for the first time, sign up for a month

If your happy after a 30 day period of time sign up for longer terms for maximum savings. Even go so far as to see if the host will credit back the difference on the first month for going to an annual plan or cheaper per month plan. It’s something I did, and it was a great way for me to get skeptical customers to sign up, and often they did pay for a longer term. I am not saying that other hosts will do it, but it never hurts to ask. Are you 100% certain your plan has a 30 day guarantee? This is why I say to read the terms of service, many companies have it in there terms of service that they do not offer any refunds after 30 days. So you may be stuck with a company, or worse out of money and a host. But if you pay for a month and find you do not like the host you will only lose a month. Not to mention while you may consider doing a charge back, I don’t recommend it. The only time I ever won a charge back against a client was when they did too many charge backs. A charge back should be used only as a last resort. If its $20 or so, don’t bother you may have to do a dispute at a later date for a much higher amount, and you don’t want a $20 charge to be the reason you lose a charge back against another company for a much higher amount.

7. Avoid “free” domains, and other freebies

Chances are if you do not like the host keeping the domain is going to cost you more than getting it from a third party. Not to mention the issues you may have in getting the domain transferred to a different register. One of which most hosts will not allow a transfer until 2 months or longer after the domain is purchased or renewed due to the possibility of a charge back. This is why I recommend going with a domain register independent of your host. Often it can be a lot cheaper than what it would cost to retain the domain with a host. Especially since there are a lot of hosts out there that only give you one year on the domain only to charge more than independent register would.

As for the other freebies back in December 2010, I took a look at Siteground.com. They had this offer of free services for “x” amount of months. What it was not clear on was when they would bill customers, or how much they would be billed. Siteground.com made it to clear to me after I contacted them by chat that the services would indeed be billed after the “free” time was up, and they would be billed for the full amount, not a prorated amount to match up for the hosting renewal. Which meant 4 different individual billing date through a year for the same account. They also indicated that they would send notices out, but I have had people contact me and tell me they did not receive the notices.

But if you must have the freebies, be prepared what it may cost at a later date.

Point 8 is being re-written as it has been brou

8. Contact them by chat, phone, email, and whatever else

Before signing up with any host I would suggest contacting them. The main purpose of this is to make sure you get a response in a reasonable amount of time. Not to mention see if you will get a professional response.  Now I am not saying that this is an indicator of how well support will work, or even that you will get a chance to test drive support. Which is why I suggest making sure a company offers a true 30 day or greater guarantee (can’t say it enough read the terms of service). However what is the point of having a really good sales person, if a hosting company is not willing to invest in support as well?

24/7 cut and paste support versus 12 – 16 hours true tech support

So which would you prefer technical support that may only be available 12 – 16 hours of the day, or ready cut and paste support? By cut and paste support I mean someone that has no experience that may rely on a FAQ database. Worse they may be working from a binder.

When I first wrote these hosting recommendations they were intended for the budget conscience hosting consumer. I made the mistake and took into consideration my own hosting needs.

Previously this point outlined that I would not use a host that does not offer 24/7 support. However there are several reasons behind that, and those reasons may not work for every person. Especially if you’re on a tight budget, My own hosting fees exceed  three thousand a month. I answer to international cliental as well as domestic these days, and there is no telling when I may have to contact a provider.

However back when I started I did design work for customers in my county, I could literally bike to meet my customers (and often I did) and I ran what would be at best called banker hours (8 am to 5pm). I did not work weekends, and I often took Friday off. My hours worked for my clients; rarely ever did they call me on my off hours. I also can’t seriously remember if Virtualis offered tech support 24/7 back when I started. But this was back in the day when hosting companies like Virtualis guaranteed 90% uptime.

I miss the old days.

New and small hosts have a lot of motivation to make sure a customer is taken care of. Seriously giants like Godaddy.com  literally consider you a number (no really you’re a number with Godaddy, as they issue you one  when you sign up).  If new and small hosts don’t choose to outsource their support to a third party, or someone that does not have the first clue what FTP or MySQL is that means they have to invest in a serious tech. They don’t come cheap. Maybe like some of my business partners the owner partakes in support, people who actually know what they are doing (well one of them didn’t). Yet instead of waiting for someone to “research” your issue, you will have someone that knows what to do.

Generally when it comes to shared hosting and cheap, corners are cut. When quantity and not quality is a business practice, Tech support is among the cuts. In order to compete with other cheap hosts, theses hosts have to offer so called 24/7 support. Many hosting companies like mega giant Endurance International Group (owners of Fatcow.com, Bluehost.com, Hostgator.com, and many other companies) get around that by outsourcing their support. Many outsource companies don’t even provide actual techs, just readily available copy and paste answers or a binder to refer to.

I have done the same when my business partners decided that we should compete in the cheap market. The problem with that is we had to train them from the ground up. Turnover was high and they didn’t exactly train each other. In order to keep on top of it I had to literally install a monitor on any pc I worked on that allowed me to see all incoming chats. I also had random audits.. But I doubt that is the case with most cheap hosting that outsource.

Given the choice between a host that offers 24/7 cut and paste answers to a host that is not open 24 hours a day but has an actual technician I think the choice is clear. If you should choose the route of a hosting company that does not offer 24 hour support I suggest choosing a host whose active when you are active. But keep in mind that depending on the importance of your issue you may not get a immediate response. Like say you want to know how to set up an email account (low importance), versus your account is offline (critical).

In addition I would check to make sure there are no additional fees for off hours support. Not something I often find when looking over the terms of service for hosts but it’s another good reason to read the terms of service.

9. Understand your relationship with your host

There is a good chance that whoever read this is not looking to pay more than $10 a month for hosting. I could be wrong, but most people that ask me what host I recommend, ask for a cheap host. In most cases this is what your host is not:

Your webmaster

Your business planner

Your web designer

Your programmer

Your business partner

Your teacher

11 years in the business I have encountered a lot of people that thought this was part of their hosting service. Yes some thought I was their business partner. Granted in some cases some of these points were offered, but it was at an extra cost, which I can tell you it was rare for anyone to purchase a $10 a month plan and to add that on to their service. I am going to repeat myself here, your hosting provider is in this to make money. This was the point of them starting a hosting operation. Ask yourself how much are you willing to offer for what you paid? Would you and could you offer what you are asking for at the amount you are paying? Your host’s chief responsibility is to provide uninterrupted hosting service, timely support, and to make sure the server is kept up to date. If you buy a script from a third party, its not your hosts responsibility to make sure that it works as its not their responsibility to make sure your graphics are in the proper folder to show up on your website unless that is what the package says it offers.

I am actually borrowing my train of thought on this from Michael of : mddhosting.com

http://www.mikedvb.com/2009/08/10/are-you-a-host-jumper/

The hosting provider is usually not your webmaster or designer and if you find yourself submitting tickets asking your host how to do things with your site then chances are that you are in over your head and you may want to look for a webmaster.

10. Be skeptical of reviews

If you decide to see what other people have to say about a company use caution. Keep in mind some sites are purely created for the purpose of making a commission, and not giving an unbiased review of a host. No I am not saying that affiliate programs are bad, as I am often accused of. Regardless if the affiliate program was there or not, I am sure these people would find a way to make a buck rather if it was unethical or not. Many of these so called reviews never actually use the hosts they recommend. Like take for example hostaz.com and webhostignstuff.com, none of these “review sites” have ever actually use any of the top hosts they recommend.

One way of looking to see who they use is a tool I like to use:

http://centralops.net/co/DomainDossier.aspx

From there you can find out were a site is located, not to mention how long they have been at their current location, and better yet how old the site is. So if a host tells you they have been in business for 10 years, you can see if the domain has been around for that long from the creation date. But you might want to contact them to see if they had another domain, or are using another company as the start date.

Another tell-tale sign is that they if  the review site is in it for a commission is if they offer a coupon. Which is one of the gimmicks these affiliates use, to get people to click on a link and have a affiliate cookie placed on your machine to get a commission. Granted not all of these special offers are legit as some review sites like alreadyhosting.com have links to sites that do not have any special offers.

Then there are sites like hostingsthatsuck.com, which work on the basis of trying to prove to you a site does not suck based on the word “(host name) sucks”, which would work if not for the fact that sucks is not the only negative word in the English language that could be applied to a company. In some cases this was a paid spot by new hosts like zyma,com. Which hostinsthatsuck.com does not bother to disclose the reason for the lack of “sucks” results is that the company just came online. Not to mention I have often found more results off the first page for “(hosting name) sucks” in search engines then they claim are in all results.

I am not saying all the reviews that you see out there are fake, I am saying that you should be cautious. If someone tells you they just signed up and they love the host, it’s not giving you what you need which is a long term view. If all they tell you is the features, you should wonder if that is not the host creating a review.

Not to mention some review sites are owned by the very hosting company that appears on top all the time.  One example is Siteground.com being the owner of besthostsdirectory.com.

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On a side note a new company is not a bad thing; we all have to start somewhere. This is why I recommend that on the initial sign up that you do no more than 30 days the first time around, and sign up for more time later on. Also a new company may be more eager to work to keep your business, where as a large establishment may consider you more of a number.

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