Looking for a web host? Go for performance, not fluff.

There are a lot of hosting companies. Too many, in my opinion. Competition has decreased prices – which is great – but the industry has also been overrun with cheap, fly by night companies whose reliability and customer service leaves something to be desired.

The company that hosts your site will either help or hurt your business, depending on the reliability with which they deliver your content to visitors. So before you choose a host, there are some important questions you should ask.

How accessible is their customer support? Look for a company that offers both phone and online support. If a company lets you contact their sales department by phone, but not their customer support, it’s a clear indication of their priorities.

A good hosting company should also offer an online help desk. This is basically an interface that allows you to generate a support ticket and communicate via email if you are experiencing a low priority issue, or something more easily handled online. Ours is here.

What kind of computer will be hosting my site, and how many other sites will be on it? We’ve all been frustrated by a slow computer taking forever to load websites or programs. Your site needs to be hosted on a computer with sufficient hardware to guarantee that it is capable of quickly delivering information to the network. This is especially critical if you are running a database driven or media intensive site. Budget companies typically use low grade CPUs and small memory to keep costs down.

Another important factor in your site’s performance will be the number of other sites that are hosted on the same server. “Shared hosting,” which is what all budget plans consist of, means that your site shares a server with other websites. The number of other sites you’re sharing with varies, but some have been known to stuff 1,000 or more sites on one server.

My IP Neighbors is a free service which can tell you how many other people are sharing your server (it has been known to be wrong, though). One thing to keep in mind is that one large, very active site can drain more system resources away from your site than 100 small, low traffic sites.

There is another very important reason to know who else is sharing your server: whoever shares your server, shares your IP address. If you’re not sure what an IP address is, I talk about that in this article.

In the simplest terms, this is like someone sharing your Social Security number. If they run up a huge bill on a credit card, you’re left with the mess. Similarly, if spammers and fraudulent sites are operating on your server (which can easily be the case with budget hosts, which take any and all comers), your IP may become blacklisted in various networks and mail servers, causing problems with email delivery and site access. I’ve had this happen, and it is not fun.

By selectively screening clients, and hosting them on a virtual private server with a unique IP address, we can guarantee our customers that they won’t be sharing a server with dozens or even hundreds of other people that they – or we – know nothing about.

How easily can I access my site? A lot of site owners like to know they can do anything they need to on their own, without having to wait or rely on someone else. A lot of hosting companies offer Plesk, cPanel, or some other “control panel” solution that allows you to perform functions like adding and removing email addresses, changing files, editing databases, downloading backups, and more. We offer cPanel 11, the most powerful and flexible control panel available. Check out a demo here (username and password are demo).

Some hosts offer no control panel at all; stay away from that. The greater level of control you have over your own server, the better.

Do I really need all these features? 1,000 subdomains! 5,000 email addresses! 250GB bandwidth! 20GB storage! 99% uptime guarantee!

That’s the “fluff” I mentioned in the title. Yes, we offer all that, and more. Any good host does. But what budget hosts know is that no site is really going to be using anywhere near that amount of resources. The average site is just a few megabytes (nowhere near 1 gigabyte, much less 20), uses five or ten email addresses, and pulls nowhere near 250GB bandwidth each month. And the 99% uptime guarantee? That is important – but it’s also as common as guys offering to sell you cars at “true wholesale.” You can’t always trust it.

This is all designed to get consumers thinking, “this is high quality service at a cheap price.” The reality is that if even one of the sites those guys are stuffing left and right onto their servers used anything close to those resources, the whole thing would crash.

Don’t be fooled by flashy numbers and promises to deliver things you’ll never even need. Gauge them on performance, reliability, and customer service – which you won’t find everywhere.

A note about resellers.

Many – probably most – hosting companies are reselling someone else’s services, much like regional wireless providers sell service based on a larger national network from someone like AT&T. Even GoDaddy, arguably the most popular hosting companies in the country, is a reseller.

Resellers aren’t bad, but sometimes the budget companies are reselling from resellers. This makes it difficult for them to respond very quickly to customer service issues because they are even further from the source.

Again, resellers aren’t bad. Through their connections, they’re hooked into the same high performance Internet backbones as everyone else. And just as retail stores save you from having to buy in bulk when you only need a limited quantity, resellers can give you access to powerful hosting at a low cost.

So what’s the bottom line? We believe that hosting shouldn’t be outrageously expensive – but it should also be something you don’t get wherever it can be found. If your site is non-commercial, doesn’t have a lot of content, or won’t have much traffic, it probably doesn’t matter. But if you need reliability, site access, and peace of mind, it’s worth the extra dollars each month to go for something better.

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