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The Taboo Topics You Need to Know When Choosing A Web Host

A while ago I asked for recommendations on web hosting features (not web hosts), and while most people recommended their favorite web hosts or complained about them, the list of criteria to look for in a good web host was skimpy. I was thrilled to run across Web Hosting Show’s Secret Taboo Topics in the Web Hosting, a fairly good listing of what to look for in a web host:

Having worked inside of the Web hosting industry for a number of years, I have learned that there are some topics that are just too taboo to mention. They are not to be talked about because mainly the marketing teams at any Web host say that it is bad business. You don’t want to tell the truth, because then the Web host down the street might look a little better in the consumers’ eyes.

The points made are:

  • Don’t believe the use of the word “unlimited” in the promotional material. Everything has limits.
  • 24/7 365 Support does not mean good and timely customer service, just the hours.
  • 99.9 Percent Uptime is useless propaganda. While most web hosts are up 100% of the time, breakdowns and glitches happen. Do you think they are going to promote a 89% uptime? This still doesn’t mean your site will be up 99.9% of the time, just the web host service.
  • Shared hosting is cheaper but it means you have to share and they won’t tell you how many you will be sharing with. The more the worst and slower and less uptime your blog may have if it doesn’t share well.

Part of the issue with shared hosting is the fact that they can limit the number of access hits to your database at any time, dividing up the maximum number of hits on the database between the number of shared sites on that server. It can start off high, but if they add more users to the shared database, that number can drop. A faulty WordPress Plugin or one that puts a high demand on your database, or even a boost to your web traffic level can cross that limit, causing your site to be temporarily shut down. If it keeps up, they can charge you extra or close your site. You need to know what that limit is before you put down your money.

I’ll be putting together more advice on web hosting, as I’m still hunting for a new web host for my main blogs and have been frustrated digging out the fact from the promotional propaganda. Do you have any other tips for finding a good web host? I’m getting desperate.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network, and author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.

17 Comments

  1. Posted July 4, 2007 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the kind words/plug Lorelle!

  2. Posted July 4, 2007 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    Another thing to avoid is hosts that limit CPU time. Essentially, to counter their “unlimited” plans that give you tons of HD and bandwidth, they limit your CPU cycles. You have limitless bandwidth as long as the page is static! I know a lot of the biggest services (eg dreamhost, bluehost, etc) use this trick. When you go over the cpu time, your users get a “suspended” page instead of your site, and if you try to get help on it the hosts will say it’s all your bad scripts (or awstats). And then they’ll tell you how resource hungry WP is.

    Also, many services will give partial refunds for downtime, but remember that .1% downtime seems very small but really isn’t if it comes at the wrong time.

    Lots of services have pre-sales forums to ask questions before laying out money, so find one and ask every question that comes to mind, including “how easy is it to get a refund?”

  3. Posted July 4, 2007 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    HI Lorelle,
    I’ve been looking at new hosting options myself after seeing the CPU exceeded message one too many times. I had to laugh when I read the point on “24/7″ – it’s true!
    Anyway, Host Dime was highly recommended for DVS options in this post’s comments at eMoms at Home. Look for “Dan and Jennifer” as the commentator.

  4. florchakh
    Posted July 4, 2007 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Good point. In this world only human stupidity is unlimited. Also I can add it’s good to check the company support before you buy, wing right companies won’t ever hire stinking helpdesk. Asking some challenging questions, I mean.

  5. Posted July 4, 2007 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    - SSH access
    – No artificially low limits. Hosting is CPU/RAM/Bandwidth/Storage driven. Those should be the limits… not things like “number of databases”
    – Fast response time (ask an existing customer)
    – mod_rewrite, AllowOverride
    – Is not iPowerWeb (seriously… stay away)

    I’m still a big fan of A Small Orange.

  6. Posted July 4, 2007 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Some paths to treasure start out looking spooky.

    4 years ago I looked at running an adult web site, I was going to be rich. Well, that didn’t happen, I just didn’t have the taste for where the money seemed to be. But along the way I found the network of webmaster resources. Essentially, there are scads of sites that provide information on making sites, how HTML works, how to use free and paid Internet services. Like blogs they generate cash flow by providing information and maintaining loyal visitors. The only adult content on many was in the advertisings, some don’t even have that. But I found a discussion on hosting experiences, and one was mentioned.

    http://www.dathorn.com. This is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced web master, it is pretty no-frills, and geared toward hosting resellers. The service they provide is through trouble tickets and discussion forums, and response time is great, usually 15-45 minutes.

    One of the aspects that anyone looking for a host needs to keep in mind, is that most hosts sublet from a base host. For the sites I host and maintain, that means that I am the host, DAThorn.com is my host for their site, and DAThorn.com is hosted by two other companies. DAThorn is a major hosting service, and has some really major facility and other investments for very good reliability and service. They continually upgrade software, monitor performance, and upgrade equipment. Oh, and the terms of service forbid adult web sites on shared servers. They have SSL, dedicated IP, and dedicated servers available. They don’t allow the cheap shared-SSL certificates such as GoDaddy and others sell, I forget the reason.

    I spent 1998 through 2004 hosted on Earthlink.net. They were pretty reliable. But the group of servers I was on had CGI/Perl mis-installed, so I wasn’t able to provide one of my clients with the ecommerce script he wanted on his site. And they refused to correct the problem because of the ‘large number of servers’ that would have to be changed at the same time. When I moved my site and my customer’s sites to my hosting account at DAThorn.com the first thing I noticed was the improvement in performance. Then there was less downtime. But the email tools were a little less effective at blocking SPAM. Now they offer a $2/month Postini service for each email account, that is supposed to be wonderful at blocking spam.

    In 2000 I recommended a local hosting service for one new customer. They made him log onto their local server to check his email, log off and back onto his ISP to browse the web and check his personal email account. They leased their hosting service from SBC, and were down or restricted in some way quite often, usually blaming outages on SBC problems. Perhaps SBC has improved their customer service since then, I haven’t noticed, though. So each underlying hosting provider is capable of interfering with how your site works.

    When looking for a hosting provider, there are a lot of ranges of prices, of services, and of terms of use. Understand all of them. Find references to others that like the service. Look for a discussion forum on the service, and get a feel for what the concerns are. If most complaints are that bills go out on Saturdays, that is good. The more technical the complaints and questions, the more you have to know about the service – If you don’t want to know anything about hosting, just what the bill is, then you want to avoid a host that expects you to have a good tech background, or that you need the tech knowledge to stay on top of problems.

    So, Liz, a couple of thoughts about picking a host.
    – Who the host uses for actual connectivity and server equipment matters.
    – How involved the company is in maintaining and updating service matters.
    – Most hosts provide a discussion forum for hosting clients, that anyone can usually browse. Do look around.
    – Be aware of how technical the service discussions get for your host.
    – Look around at webmaster and hosting resource sites for mentions of services to avoid or that are highly recommended.
    – Know the terms of use on any hosting service you consider.
    – WordPress is one of the ‘big names’ in blog software. It is available for free if you want to maintain it yourself. Also, many hosting services provide (varying!) levels of support for installing and upgrading WordPress and other applications. Find out what is available. Getting started on new things is rewarding, but can be quite daunting — and very frustrating until you get it to work!

  7. Posted July 4, 2007 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle: I have had numerous websites online since 1998 (like you I expect) and have tried everything from $100/year Shared Hosting solutions to $300/mth dedicated server.

    I recently moved everything to MediaTemple.net because they eliminated the obsolete shared server technology and have totally reengineered to what they call a Grid Service. I recently added a MySQL Container that together provide on-demand scalability by utilizing hundreds of servers based on the demand and need of your site.

    It’s $20/mth or $200/year and they offer real phone support.

    So there is no asset sharing, specific database memory which provides performance near that of a dedicated server.

    They allow 1000 GPU pr Grid Performance Units per month, 100GB storage and 1TB Short Path Bandwidth. I think you already know I am a fan of Media Temple and recommend them highly.

    For me the deciding factors were the Grid Service, MySQL Containers, and Phone Support.

  8. Posted July 4, 2007 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Bottom line is the best way to judge hosting services is by what other customers say about them in forums, etc.

    About 3-4 months ago I started migrating all of my websites to WordPress and was looking for a host. I had moderate to poor experiences with a lot of the hosts that are commonly brought up by WordPress fans (including most of those that are listed here: http://wordpress.org/hosting/), though I think my negative experience in large part was an attempt at the virtual/shared hosting.

    Bottom line — I’d never put a website I really care about in such an environment again. Dedicated servers can be had for a fairly reasonable price these days, and its just not worth it going with the shared/virtual solutions. There are just too many unkowns and things that can go wrong with the other people who you’re sharing the server with, much less the things you might do yourself that impact performance in that environment.

  9. Posted July 4, 2007 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks for reviewing this issue, Lorelle, and the other related posts referenced. That’s all very timely for me and hundreds, if not thousands, of others. I had just posted my web host woes earlier this week, sending out an S.O.S. to anyone who could help me sort out my dilemma(s).

    From reading this, I guess I have to realize that finding a suitable blog host is a ubiquitous challenge and I can calm down a little bit.

  10. Posted July 4, 2007 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I would ask those of your fellow bloggers that have blogs with similar or more traffic than yours and who are using a comparable platform. I am sure they could tell you a thing or two about hosting. Daniel for example wrote about it a while ago if I am not mistaken. They shopped and seems to have found something that works for blogging and why not take advantage of that?

  11. Posted July 4, 2007 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure how true this is, but a long while ago, I read somewhere that you should look for someone with a 99.9% uptime guarantee not because they will be up that much but because you can press them for refunds or something if they’re not up 99.9% of the time.

    Not sure how reliable this is, though!

  12. Posted July 5, 2007 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have 10 + years with web hosts. I have only experienced two hosts. Mostly becuase I have never been able to create a website that could generate traffic. Erie is a Fickle town. Most people do not like technology. It is just odd like that.

    Anyhow, Below is a link to a list of rated web hosts. Rateitall.com is a website the Leo Laporte recommends to his listeners. I have always found his advice good and well reasoned.

    http://www.rateitall.com/search2.aspx?WL=10&searchstring=web%20hosts

  13. Posted October 28, 2007 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,
    Not sure whether you have found a new host for your sites or not, but I thought I would share my opinions on the topic of looking for a new webhost, as I have had numerous problems in the past.

    Generally I look for the features of the host, the amount of storage space, the amount of bandwidth, the number of databases, the type of databases (MySQL, PostgreSQL, and others), the scripting language that can be used (PHP, Perl, Ruby, Python) and once I have found the things that I need, I check out the Terms Of Service and Acceptable Use Policy, to see whether I will be restricted in what I can use, as well as others. I’m not likely to use a host where proxies, and adult sites can also be hosted, as these are usually bandwidth, and processor hogs, thus slowing my site down.

    But at the moment, I have decided to move onto a VPS for my hosting, means I can fit all my sites on the one server, I know roughly how many other accounts are on the server based on the features of bandwidth, storage, & memory that are included in the accounts.

    I can recommend the host I use, as they have shared accounts, as well as VPS, and they prevent adult, and proxy sites from being hosted. Or, if you wanted, we could strike up a deal, and I could provide space on my VPS that isn’t being used.

  14. Colleen W
    Posted December 2, 2007 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    The term “shared hosting” is a new concept to me. Definitely not an avenue of hosting that I would think to pursue. The concept appears to be comparable to sharing cellphone minutes, and if the other party(ies) go over their minutes, you are stuck for it and also left without any free minutes.

  15. Posted December 3, 2007 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Really? You seemed to know what CPanel was, which is common on shared hosting sites, as well as dedicated. The majority of websites and blogs on the web are on shared hosting. Few can afford, nor need, the power and capability of dedicated hosting.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    As developers, we need to have a lot of control over the database and website. We chose Server Intellect when others failed, and because Server Intellect allows us the flexibility we need to work with our database. Hosting companies ususally provide web interface, however, they have been too limited for us. We like Server Intellect’s ability to have permission for scheduling tasks at the server level.

  17. Posted March 12, 2008 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the tips! I am looking for a new host today and now understand a bit more! Thanks again!


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] I’m still thinking of searching of a web host when I see that I still need to look at the features too. No wonder I’m taking so long to choose [...]

  2. […] hell, and turned into a series of posts over months that asked and researched the key questions and features you need to consider when choosing a web host. One of the most consistently popular posts on this blog, What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your […]

  3. […] The Taboo Topics You Need to Know When Choosing A Web Host […]

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