the Web Hosting Provider the following questions before purchasing
an Account by Dave Goose
If you are new to web hosting then the information below will be very useful and even
if you have some experience with hosting, some of the questions below can clarify some
detailed hosting issues.
Customer Support is also available by phone, email and live chat for you to ask specific
questions. If have more than three questions at one time, then it would be more convenient
to email or chat live with customer support instead of talking to them on the phone.
Do you have a network monitoring software that can confirm the uptime guarantee?.
A good host makes sure that it provides 100% availability, minimal
latency, and high packet delivery levels to all it's clients. Generally
if a client's web site becomes unavailable for a cumulative period of
up to one hour in any one calendar month then they should provide you
with some compensation.
There are some important things that you should note:
1. At what time intervals is the status of the servers checked by the monitoring software?
2. How often are the services of the servers checked? Usually most
hosts set the monitoring software in such a way that it checks the
status of the server approximately every 15 minutes. This is the
The services that are monitored by are (http, https, ping, SMTP, POP3,
IMAP4, FTP, TCP). Most third party software monitor and give you stats
of the following services. You should ask the host if they have there
own monitoring software or if they use a third party monitoring
software. If they have in-house software then you can rest assured that
this host is a reliable host. This means that this host has its own
software development team and such a company can be considered as a
How long have you
been in business?
question is one of the most common. There are thousands of web-hosting
providers out there in the market but not all of them are reliable and
not all of them will stay in the hosting business for more than a year.
Anyone can start a hosting company and it could be run from a basement
too. Let me put it this way. First, ask the sales rep how long they
have been in business and say they have been in business for 10 years.
Then ask him how many customers the company has. If the answer is
approximately, "100,000 customers" then I would suggest looking for
another host. Why do I say this? Simply put, a good hosting entity
should be getting not less than 150 customers a day so we are talking
about 3500 customers a month i.e. 42,000 customers a year. So for a
10-year old company the customer base should not be less than 400,000
customers. So 100,000 customers is too few for a 10-year old company
and that implies that the company is not growing. No revenues coming in
to support the network and the end result would be disastrous for
How many employees do you
will again give you a real-life example and I hope this will give you a
clear picture of how many employees a good and reliable web host should
have. A company that has been running for 2 years and having about
60,000 plus customers should not have less than 100 employees that are
dedicated for Phones (sales, technical and billing) and live chat
support (sales, technical and billing). They should also be available
24/7 365 days except US National holidays.
Do you outsource sales/support or is it all "in house"?
Most of you are aware that most (US) companies are outsourcing the work
to countries where labor is cheap. I do not want to say if that is
right or wrong but I want to point out the following facts.
are 2 ways a web hosting company provides support. They have support
that is totally based in the US or they move a portion of the work to
countries like India , China , Philippines etc. If the support is
within the US then it is not an issue since US based customers would
not have a problem communicating with support. Now the question is what
occurs if the support is based outside the US. I have researched this
subject to a great extent and have concluded the following:
the US based company simply goes into an agreement with an offshore
company to provide support then I believe that the quality of work is
not top-notch. Their staff might have problems communicating clearly
with US customers and this may make your experience a bad one. On the
other hand, there are companies that do move some work offshore but
they are the ones who run the support center. They have people going
from the US and training the locals overseas. The manager is a person
from the US and hence such companies are able to give better output
when it comes to providing customer service and support.
I found it is best to communicate with offshore support staff through
live chat. They are very knowledgeable and most of them have
professional college degrees. If the offshore phone support staff is
well trained then they can resolve problems efficiently.
What's the expected time for initial response on support issues and
what's the average time until final resolution?
To test email support, email them a number of questions. If you like
you could use questions from my FAQ. If they did get back to you within
an hour then this means you can simply sign up with them because they
are reliable. However, if they do get back to you within 24 hours then
it means that they are short on staff and the existing staff has too
many presales queries coming in that they are not able to answer
promptly. If reply comes back after 24 hours then you need to
investigate the host more before you make a decision to sign up with
In regard to the question of response to support issues, if they say
they will get back to you within an hour or 6 hours then I simply would
not believe them. Realistically it should take between 6 to 12 hours to
get back to a support ticket. If a good host is offering you a 1 hour
response guarantee, you have the right to ask them for compensation
like 3 or 4 days of free web hosting credited to your account if they
do not respond in time.
Are you selling from a reseller account?
I doubt if you will get the correct answer to this question. No seller
will accept that he is reselling. So I think you should simply
investigate on your own to confirm if a host is reseller or not. Please
remember not to buy from a reseller.
The question is how you are going to know the truth. There are certain
things that you need to check to find out. See if they have there own
data center, do they have pictures of the data center, are the images
of the data center really authentic or have they being simply picked up
from the web. Is the cost of the plan the most competitive in the
market? Remember resellers cannot offer cheap web hosting like say
$3.95 / month. You can do a trace-route to check and see the final
destination of the packets. This can determine if the servers are
really based at the location the host has stated. You can get more
information about the host from website such as http://www.arin.net.
See if the host uses generic nameservers or company nameservers. For
example, if you want to buy hosting from johndoe.com, check to see if
the nameservers are something like ns1.johndoe.com or are they generic
ones like ns1.jumpingjack.com, if it is the latter then there is good
possibility that the host is reseller.
How secure is my credit card information?
Your credit card numbers should be kept safe and secure. At most
hosting companies the credit card number is very much visible to all
its employees. This should not be the case. Only the last 4 digits of
the number should be visible in case of verification of your account.
Just make sure that the host that you choose does not give access to
the credit card numbers to all of its employees except employees
working in the billing department who are mostly doing refunds.
Do you have your own datacenter?
Don't just ask them if they own a data center. I am sure they will tell
you yes we have our own data center. Just to be sure ask them the
following things. How many servers do they have in the data center? Do
they have UPS? Do they have a Generator? What type of connectivity do
they use? What is the approximate floor area of the data center? Do
they have a call center in the same building as the data center? Here
is some calculation I got for you. Let say the sales rep says that the
company has about 50,000 customers that means each server will host
about 200 accounts or customers on it and that will give you an approx
figure about servers or machines present in the data center, between
250 to 300. This way you can figure out the truth and you can get an
answer to your question. I have noticed that quite a number of support
agents at some of the top hosting companies do not have an idea about
the data center.
As a customer do I have access to a support line 24 / 7?
Good web hosting companies spend a good amount of their revenue on the
customer support department. That means they have a sufficient number
of customer support agents who are available 24 / 7 on live chat,
helpdesk and phones.
Go with a web host that has phone support that is 24 /7. It shows how
serious they are they about their customers. I noticed that most of the
web hosting account holders prefer to chat live with customer
representative and this is found to be more comfortable. So look for a
host that a fast and efficient live chat support. In case of phone
service, check what is the hold time or how many minutes you would have
to wait before you reach an representative. Do not call the sales lines
call support line to test host reliability when it comes to providing
Do you offer a money back guarantee?
There are 2 types of money back guarantees. The first is a 30-day money
back. If you do not like the service and if you cancel your account
within 30 days of signing up then the host will return the total amount
that you have paid including the one time setup fee. Some hosts do not
return the one time setup fee. You should confirm that. The second type
of money back is the anytime money back. Say for some reason after 3
months of hosting you want your account cancelled and refunded then in
this case the host should charge you only for the period of the use of
the services and return the rest of the money back to you. Note in such
cases the one setup fee if charged is not returned back to you. Also
say when you first purchased the account the host waived the one time
setup fee and if you were to cancel your account after a period of say
3 months the host will charge you the one time setup fee stating that
the setup fee was waived on a condition that you host your account with
them for period of contract saya year or 2. Most hosts do not clearly
mention this on the website.
What's your uptime guarantee? How will I be compensated in case of downtime that crosses the uptime guarantee?
Every host declares that they have a 99% uptime guarantee. Frankly
speaking this is technically not possible and no host can provide such
an uptime. I would say if you notice too many downtimes ask for free
months of hosting as compensation. If they do not give you compensation
tell them you will cancel your account. But in any case if the
downtimes are too frequent I would suggest looking for a new host. It
is important that you always backup your website to your local machine.
Never rely or think that you data is safe and can be retrieved from the
host server anytime you need it.
Which control panel do you offer?
Every host provides a control panel. It is a good idea to go with a
host that uses its own custom-made hosting control panel. Actually
control panels are something like a front end. It should be easy to
navigate. Remember the most important part is the performance of the
servers that are the backend of these control panels. You need your
site to be up and running always, not just a great looking control
Is the support free?
Yes, this is a good question to ask if you don't find the answer on the website. Although very rare, some hosts charge for it.
There are also hosts that don't offer support at all. Wouldn't that make for an unpleasant surprise?
Is the support available 24/7, meaning is there always someone (awake)
in front of a desktop ready to read and answer my questions? Is it also
available by phone?
The question includes the definition of 24/7 support so there can be no
doubt in what you mean. Some people are very fond of 24/7 support by
phone. I'm not, but if you really need (or want) it, look for hosts who
offer it. (Don't forget to test it and see if it's really 24/7!)
What software is installed on the server? What version? (operating system, web server, php, etc)
Usually the newer the version the better, but sometimes the host might
postpone upgrading until most of the bugs in the newer version are
taken care of. If you need something (like a certain version of PHP,
MySql etc, this is the time to ask if it is available or not.)
What are the specs of the servers you generally use? What specs will the server have on which my website will reside?
Some people want their websites to be hosted on high end, well equipped
machines, reasoning that the more powerful the machine, the better the
performance. Fact is that a host will usually put more websites on a
more powerful machine, which will diminish the advantage of the higher
computing power, although, if properly configured and not overloaded,
it might remain faster.
Look to be hosted on a machine that the host is used to having. If
you're to be hosted on a powerful machine that they've never used
before, there is a risk of them overestimating its computing power and
How many websites do you put on a server?
More often than not the number varies from one machine to another,
based on the types of websites each of them hosts, and on the type of
the machine etc. If the websites on a server are more CPU intensive
than the ones on another machine, it will be able to handle fewer
What's the maximum amount of CPU usage I'm allowed to use on a consistent basis? What's your general "resources abuse" policy?
How are the offending websites treated?
This is a very important. Compare the answers between the different hosts and see who gives the best answer.
In the best cases the offending websites are temporarily moved on a
free (or almost free) server. The owner is then notified and asked to
either upgrade to a semi-dedicated, or dedicated solution or to change
hosts if he so chooses.
What's your servers' average load? What's the average load of the server where you'll have my website hosted?
How about average CPU usage?
The lower the numbers the better. Compare that between the hosts you're
considering (make sure you understand what "Server Load" is).
How fast will the account be created?
Some hosts boast instant activation (which has an obvious benefit for
the customer), while some take their time to create a new account, but
for a good reason: to make sure that the buyer is not a fraud.
Don't be offended, you have no reason to be. In the end it's good to
know that the host takes care that few unworthy people get access on
their servers. These unworthy individuals might be hackers or spammers.
You don't want them to be your virtual neighbors, do you?
Is the account scalable? How does the upgrade occur? Is there a fee involved other than the higher monthly price?
It's important for you to be able to upgrade to a larger plan as needed
(obviously up to the point when your website needs a whole server in
terms of resources).
What's the price for excess bandwidth and space?
Usually a sudden burst of traffic is a reason for joy, but if you
happen to use more bandwidth than you were allocated, it can be a
pricey business if the excess consumption bears a hefty price.
Is there a daily bandwidth limit?
Most hosts only have a monthly bandwidth limit. It is easier to
estimate with relative precision how much bandwidth you might need in a
month than to estimate the daily bandwidth consumption. That's why you
must be careful about hosts putting a cap on your daily hosting
bandwidth. Read carefully how things are handled in case of excess
Are there any limits on file size?
Again, most hosts don't limit the maximum size of a file that you can
host under your account (as long as it's within your account's limits
of course). Be careful and ask to make sure, especially if you plan to
host big files.
How often will you back-up my website? Are the backups kept on or off site?
Obviously more often is better. Off site is also better because if for
some reason the datacenter burns down (yes that would be a major, yet
highly unlikely disaster), the back-up would not be destroyed.
Is there a setup fee?
Setup fees used to be the norm in the early days of hosting, a partial
reason being that setting up an account was not as easy as it is today
and that setup fee covered the time it took to create the account.
Nowadays setup fees are often used as a way to encourage/persuade
people to commit to hosting for longer periods of time. If you want to
pay monthly or quarterly you'll not only pay more than if you'd pay
yearly (usually that's how it is) but you'll also be charged a hefty
setup fee. This obviously makes people seriously consider paying yearly.
As a general rule it's safer to pay monthly and once you build up the
confidence that the host is indeed good, you can consider paying yearly
to save a few dollars. If the feedback from the customers is
exceptional and you're that confident that the host will be very good,
you could pay yearly from the very start, but be aware that you're
assuming a risk. In the end it's all a matter of trust.
Usually the money back guarantee only covers you for the first 30 days
of the whole year and not many hosts will prorate a refund. What if the
service starts to crumble 45 days after you paid for it? It's a very
common story: "I paid for a whole year so now I'm stuck. I can't
afford/don't want to pay again to move to another host." So customers
How many months
do I have to pay in advance for?
Some hosts don't allow monthly payments,
just quarterly, semiannually and so on. There are even hosts
who only accept yearly payments. Sometimes the price is
expressed in dollars per month, but an asterisk points to
the fact that the figure is true just for yearly payments.
So be careful. If anything is unclear ask first, pay later.
Is a domain included
in the price?
Sometimes the domain is included
in the price (usually when you pay for a longer period of
time). Generally I advise not to buy a domain from your
host and especially not get it bundled with the hosting
fee. Yes, I know most hosts will not like this advice either,
but again I will side with you, the customer. You are much
safer getting the domain from a well known registrar than
getting it from your new host. You're definitely sure then
that the registered domain name will have your name associated
with it and you have direct and complete control over your
You see, some unscrupulous hosts
buy the domain you requested and let you use it, but they
are the ones who "own" the domain. If you want
to move to a new host you'll find yourself "jailed"
as the host will not give your the domain that you paid
for. That's a very bad situation to be in.
Do you have a free
trial so that I can test the service?
Note that many hosts don't have a
free trial because this exposes them to all kinds of problems
like spammers and hackers trying to abuse this feature.
Do you allow adult
content to be hosted on your servers?
This is important if you want to
upload adult content on their server or if you have something
against sharing the server with adult websites. Also some
people are quite certain that adult websites attract more
hackers and that the server might be compromised more often.
I have yet to see a serious research on the subject though.
If you use specific
scripts (forums, shopping carts, etc. ) ask if they allow
you to use them
Some hosts don't allow certain scripts
to be run on their machines so to make sure ask first.
Will a shared hosting
account be OK for this? (explain what your website is and
does, monthly traffic etc)
If the website is already active,
tell them how busy the site is. This information, along
with the scripts that you use (considering they're known,
fairly popular scripts) will allow the host to estimate
your usage of resources and thus tell you if your website
suits their shared hosting environment or not.
Will I have SSH
and/or Telnet access?
Many hosts refrain from giving access
to such a powerful feature to all customers on shared hosting
accounts. SSH is potentially as dangerous as it is useful
in the hands of a skillful person.
Do you have a site
builder that I could use?
If you don't have a website yet,
you have no HTML knowledge and you still want to build your
website on your own, you will find a site builder to be
quite useful. Note that different site builders come with
different strengths and weaknesses. Ask for a demo before
Is there a limit
on how many emails can be sent per hour?
This is quite important if you have
a mailing list of some kind. Many hosts limit this because
to limit spam sending and resources abuse.
Do I have access
to Raw logs? Do you have a traffic analyzer installed?
I talked about this in detail in
the "Traffic Analysis" article.
What type of payments
do you accept?
Accepting credit cards is the norm
these days, but for some customers this is not helping.
Most hosts will also accept money orders, checks, PayPal
etc., but not necessarily list this information on their
website. That's why you have to ask each host about the
payment method you prefer.
Read the TOS and
ask about anything that seems strange or you find hard to
understand to be explained - or just delete the host off
How many clients
do you have?
I don't consider the number of clients as an important measure
of the seriousness of a host. Also one thing to note is
that the number of clients is not necessarily equal with
the number of websites they host.
How many servers
do you operate?
important is how well the servers are managed though...
Can you give me
a list with some of your customers? I would like to get
some feedback from them.
serious hosts will refrain from doing such a thing for customer
privacy reasons. Not that a host that gives you a list is
not serious. They might have a list with websites of customers
who have agreed to have their websites given as an example.
There are thousands
of hosts out there, why should I buy from you?
listed way down here this is a very important question.
Can they convince you that they're the right host for you?