Here’s a baker’s dozen questions you should ask any prospective web host. You’ll be able to find some of the answers on the host’s FAQ pages, but you might want to give them a phone call to answer others and get additional specifics. Plus, navigating the web host’s maze of phone menus can be quite revealing in itself.
Support, or lack thereof
1. How and when is technical support available? Discover the host’s means of technical support. This can range from impersonal knowledge centers, blogs and FAQs to more personalized care like an email system or help line. For acute problems you might need to get someone on the phone, fast. Make sure help is available 24/7.
2. Does support cost extra? Find out if real help costs more. If you need to talk to a tech, is the meter going to start running?
3. Do they have knowledgeable staff to handle more difficult problems? You might need help to work around an advanced technical problem at some point. Find out if your prospective web host has the staff to support these situations.
Details, technical details
4. What scripting languages are supported? Web hosts typically support PHP or ASP (or possibly other languages). Many support both scripting languages. Know what your web host can handle. If you’re working with a developer, find out what he or she uses.
5. Which databases are included and supported? Today, websites often use either MySQL or MS SQL to create dynamic web pages. Find out which your host offers. Also, ask how many databases you are allowed create. Some hosts limit the number of databases you may have.
6. What control panel is provided? You’ll be working with your site’s control panel fairly often, especially in the beginning. The most common control panel today is cPanel. Make sure there’s adequate tutorial support if you’re new to using a website control panel.
Size, and power, matter
7. How much storage and bandwidth do you get? This may not be an issue in the short term, but if you’re planning to grow your site, make sure you have sufficient head room, or can easily upgrade your hosting plan. If you plan to make downloads an important feature on your site, be certain you have the bandwidth to support this activity.
8. How much power will you have? Do you have root access and can you change PHP settings? You need to find out if you will truly be master of your own domain. Occasionally website owners need root access to install or customize software.
9. How does your web host handle domain registration and management? Many web hosts will also help you purchase and renew your domain name registration. Find out if there are extra costs or if you’ll be penalized if you decide to move your site at a later date.
Bells, whistles, email accounts and the bottom line
10. Is there an easy-to-use website builder provided? The Internet is loaded with sites people have created in an evening sitting at their home computers. Software built into your hosting package can make it very easy to build a site in a matter of minutes. You might want to go this route initially, but find out how easy it is if you want to design and upload a more advanced website.
11. Are one or more e-mail accounts included with your hosting package? Often at least one email account comes with a hosting package, but your web host might be set up to forward emails to an existing account. Additionally, packages may include more than one email address. Know what you need as you explore this question.
12. What’s the term of your contract and are there any additional fees? Typically, web hosts provide a chart that outlines the various service levels they provide and the costs associated with each level. Know the length of the contract you’re committing to and if there are penalties for canceling at an earlier date.
13. What’s the host’s uptime and is it guaranteed? Someplace on the host’s site you should find an uptime guarantee. It should 99.9% or above.