Zeroing in on the right website host isn’t easy. There’s a lot of jargon, it’s tricky to compare and it feels like you need to be an expert – just to find an expert. So, today we wanted to give you some pointers on all the things that really matter, aside from the price tag. Whether you need hosting for your own website, or for a whole heap of clients, they’re ten big questions it always pays to ask…
1. Do they understand agencies?
Design, digital, creative, branding… agencies aren’t like other businesses. The pace is fast, the goalposts keep moving and the pressure to be super creative as well as super effective is huge.
You need a website host that understands you, supports you and gets you. So, once you’ve got a potential host in your sights, ask them what kind of clients they specialise in – and don’t just take their word for it. Look for reviews, ask for testimonials and dig around to find out exactly who they work with, and how it’s going.
2. Are you getting shared or dedicated hosting?
This is a biggie. Cheap hosting often = shared hosting, and while it might sound like amazing value, there’s a hidden price. Reliability. Because if you’re on a shared server, along with dozens of other websites belonging to other people, your uptime’s seriously at risk.
If one of those other websites goes down, it could easily take you down with it. And if one of those websites gets a huge spike in traffic, you might just find yours grinding to a halt because your shared server just can’t cope.
The answer? Go your own way. Insist on a dedicated server, or a virtual private server. Both options put a ring around your website or websites, so whatever happens to anyone else’s site, it won’t affect yours.
3. How roomy is your server?
Once you’ve established whether you’ve got dedicated or shared server space, you need to know how much room you’re getting for your money. Is it just enough for now, or enough for the growth you’ve got planned over the next few months?
Don’t pay for more than you need – but make sure there’s space to stretch and cope with any spikes that might come your way. Ask for a clear outline of how many cores you’ll be getting, as well as how much disk space and memory. It’s always good to check what happens if you need to upgrade too. How flexible and affordable is it?
4. Can they handle the whole thing?
Working with capable people who know their stuff is worth a lot. So, list out what you’d like your website host to help you with – and make sure they tick all those boxes.
You might want them to manage migrations from your old provider, run regular backups and help you put security certificates in place. Whatever it takes to make your life simpler, ask for it. It’s out there.
5. Will they manage your servers for you?
Juggling jammed-up servers is nobody’s idea of a fun day at work, so find out how much help your new website host can be. Will they manage your server space for you? Or can they make it easier for you to keep tabs on it yourself? Will they automatically run (or offer) updates, send you alerts when your server needs attention and help troubleshoot any issues – or will they just provide the space and sit on their hands while you struggle on?
6. How reliable are their data centres?
Behind every website host, there’s a data centre where all their clients’ data is securely held, and backed up. It might not be the first thing you think about when you’re looking for a host, but asking a few questions about where your data gets held is really important.
First up, check that their data centre (or centres – we’ve got two!) is security accredited. Legally, and for your own peace of mind, look out for ISO 27001, UK based, tier 3 data centres, which is the standard all data centres in the UK need to meet.
Secondly, while we’re talking about the UK, check where their data centre is based. If it’s in your own country, the time it takes for data to get to and from the centre will be shorter, reliability will be better and support is likely to be easier to access (more on that in a minute).
It’s your data, and your business that’s at risk if things go wrong, so don’t be afraid to ask all those ‘what if’ questions. We mentioned we’ve got two data centres and there’s a good reason why – everything’s backed up to both centres, in separate locations, so if one burnt down (and with our safety record that’s a long shot) we’d still have all our clients’ data, safely stored at our second site. It helps us sleep at night, and it might just help you too.
7. What kind of support can you expect?
Unless you’re a total tech wizard with a tonne of time on your hands, you’ll probably want to know there’s some expert support available, whenever you need it. The support website hosts offer can vary hugely, so find out what it includes, before that first crisis rears its head.
You might be able to access support by email or raising a ticket, through online chat or just by picking up the phone. Think about what you feel comfortable with, and weigh that against any price difference. Check how it pans out in reality too – do the company’s reviews back up its claims about response times and customer satisfaction?
8. How up to date is their hardware?
The newer and more powerful your host’s hardware, the better it’ll cope with whatever you – and the rest of the world – throw at it. Knowing what you’re looking for can be a bit of a minefield, but today’s top of the range hardware is a G10 specification but you may not need this and the minimum you should even think about the latest hardware.
9. Will they offer proactive advice?
This is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it point, but it’s a good idea to be clear from the get-go. If you’d like a website host who gives you advice on optimising your server, managing your websites’ performance and getting your security up to scratch, look out for that kind of partnership.
Ask for it – and look for evidence of it in customer reviews. You should be able to establish a relationship with your hosting provider that’s as hands-on or hands-off as feels right for you.
10. Can you try before you buy?
One last thing. Find out whether your potential hosting provider offers a free trial. Lots do (including us) and it’s a really useful, no-strings way to see what they’re like and whether they suit you. Even if you can’t see a free trial advertised, stick your neck out and ask. The worst they can do is say no, and you might just find they’re keen enough to come up with one.
If you’d like to put these questions (or any more you might have up your sleeve) to our friendly team, we’d love to help. And yes, you can take a free trial on our STORM server too! Just give us a ring on 0203 005 9181.