How to find a good web host

Webhosting Articles/ 16th Sep 2012/Chris James

finding-a-great-web-host

We often encounter new clients who have suffered bad experiences in the past with their chosen web host from various things such as poor server performance, lengthy downtime or bad quality after sales care. While things like this are often difficult to determine before ordering a web hosting account I am writing this article to highlight a few things that can help indicate possible problems for the future.

There is no perfect host for everyone

It’s of great importance to remember that there are thousands of variables in web hosting from different operating systems, software used, features on offer, support infrastructure and settings in place. While many hosts will be feature packed and try to be very flexible it often comes down to whether their hosting environment is suited to your hosting requirements. What is a perfect hosting environment to one person may not be suited to another so always make sure to outline your requirements whether that be a particular hosting technology, support coverage, server location or whatever then shop according to this when selecting a shortlist of hosting companies.

How long in business

Most hosting companies will have an About Us page on their website so this is a good starting point. In addition to this, it is often wise to carry out some other checks to make sure everything is consistent with their claims.

First do a whois check on their domain name which can tell you when it was registered. This is not an exact science because companies sometimes change their domains or have other domain names for other services but it can raise suspicion if a web page claims to have been in business for years when the domain has only been registered for a few days! While on the whois it is also worth checking that the company name and address are shown on the whois and they match with what is on their website. If a domain uses anonymous or dummy details in their whois not only is this against domain registration policy but also begs the question about what they’re hiding.

If the web host is based in the UK also search on Companies House to check their company information. This will tell you the company formation date, registered address along with any previous name changes. Again, this is not to be relied on as a sole checking mechanism but can often show evidence that a company used to do something different than web hosting and may conflict with any claims of having been in the web hosting business for much longer. It should also be noted that this database is only applicable to Limited companies and will not feature any business operating as a partnership or sole trader, therefore, don’t panic if your chosen company cannot be found.

Does the web host operate from a physical office address? If so, check it on Google to see if it actually exists or is a virtual office or PO Box which aren’t bad in themselves but may factor in your decision depending on what you consider important.

Another valuable tool for “looking into the past” is the Internet Archive. Type in the web hosting company domain (or their previous domain(s)) into this and have a look at how their site used to look. If it is a holding page or doesn’t mention web hosting it may be something to consider against the supposed time they have been operating. Feel free to check what’s stored for our first ever website way back in 2002 when we started and try not to laugh 🙂

Uptime statistics

Server uptime is one of the critical parts of any web hosting package so it’s important to find as much information as possible before buying on what kind of uptime can be expected which can be achieved by referring to uptime statistics of servers already in use by any selected web host. It is unlikely that a web host will not have such statistics available but some may not have them on their website so contact them and ask if you can’t find them.

It needs to be remembered that third party statistics are often more reliable as these are gathered and provided by third party monitoring companies such as Alertra.com or Pingdom.com. These statistics cannot be modified or manipulated by anyone so can often be more reliable. Be aware of the monitoring frequency though as any frequency below 10 minutes can hide any problems and any free third party monitoring with frequency of once per hour or per day are not worth considering.

Another method of statistics are company provided stats such as those from software such as Nagios. We use this software for our monitoring stations and can generate reports for any server, any service of that server with up to the minute (or more often) frequency. Many are suspicious of internal monitoring stats because this can lead to manipulation by the web host but if using third party software such as Nagios, take it from me that it’s easier to actually provide the good uptime rather than tackle the very complex databases to fake the stats!

Unless you have a very large budget it is unrealistic to expect 100% uptime over multiple years because all servers will need rebooting to apply updates or maybe have a minor problem at some time or other. 99% should be a minimum requirements with many hosts achieving 99.90%-99.99% on a monthly basis and a good figure to look for on a month to month basis. Note that some web hosting companies will have “100% uptime” or “99.999% uptime” on their website but whether they actually provide it may be a different matter.

Reputation

This is a big one because it’s sometimes the case that a company gains a lot of customers through big budget advertising campaigns but doesn’t seem to have a similarly good reputation.

Google and other search engines are your friend on this point. Search the net for terms such as ” reputation” or “real reviews for ” to see comments and reviews by real clients. It’s also a good idea to check for any Testimonials provided by the web host that can be verified such as tweets, client posts on forums and so on.

If the web host has a Community Forum this can also be a good way to reach current clients of the company.

As mentioned at the start of this article, this is not an exact science and not all of the points here may be applicable to everyone and everyone’s situation. This is provided as a pointer in the right direction to use as a guide to help when in the situation of choosing a webhost.

I hope we earn your business if you are considering Clook as a hosting partner.

Hailing from Preston, Chris is the company founder and has always had an interest in computers, particularly internet technology. When not working he spends time with his family which is never quiet with a 3 year old running around!
  • Ive actually got one of my websites hosted with your company. Keep up the good work your support is excellent and is the main factor for choosing you!

We have a very strong team here at Clook and we build on everyone's strengths and weaknesses, you have to be able to make a good brew too!

Chris James

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