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Summary:

just before a big holiday weekend and an overseas trip my web hosting company’s server for my main email account imploded. For the past day, no email. While that company will go nameless for now (out of respect for three years of great service), I’m definitely […]

just before a big holiday weekend and an overseas trip my web hosting company’s server for my main email account imploded. For the past day, no email.

While that company will go nameless for now (out of respect for three years of great service), I’m definitely thinking of jumping ship. Regardless of all the IM and social networking I do, email is my digital lifeblood and having gone through this a few years back with another web hosting company, the signs are not good.

So how does a web-worker today find a better web hosting provider?

Today being the operative word because a) The quality of these companies wax and wane and who was hot is soon not. b) The industry has become so commoditized it resembles a locked room of starving river rats, c) Said industry knows you will search for terms like “web hosting rating”, “web hosting buzz” and “web hosting top 10″ and SEO stuff those result pages, let alone spiking the punch with “impartial rating services” that somehow always recommend the same firms.

Just to add to the fun, a great deal depends on what you need and what you’re prepared to pay for: If you’re an independent web-worker who remotely consults but just needs a service where you can hang out your web site shingle and get your email that’s one set of criteria. But if you’re a .NET or LAMP developer (never will the twain meet, at least not on web hosting companies), or plan to do a podcast, run your own blog, or are flirting with video, you’ll want as much server as you can reasonably buy. And if you’re like me and just answered yes to all of the above, I commensurate with your suffering. There ought to be a Hallmark card!

Given the noise level is so high, I think it makes sense to not just plunge into the piranha-infested waters of reviewing hundreds of site/email providers. Instead, I went looking for “what’s the best way to find the best way of finding a host” links. This kind of meta-searching is a skill worth developing in our over-informationalized world. Here’s what I found:

  • Get to work, work.com that is. This site has many, many well researched and written guides for small businesses; Mary Sit’s “Guide to Web Hosting Services for Small Business” has some excellent advice and recommendations I’d put on my short list.
  • Ask the non-profits. If you’re looking for a good way to get top value out of your bottom dollars, see what non-profits are up to. IdealWare is a non-profit helping other non-profits with software reviews and case studies. Their post on A few Good Web Hosting Providers is an excellent intro and has recommendations along with the methodology behind those recommendations.
  • Ask your social network friends. Here’s another reason you want to be part of a social network: you can ask them nicely who they recommend. LinkedIn Answers is excellent for this – I’ve gotten very good advice in the past this way (seven reponses in five minutes – your mileage should be better). So too if you participate in any forums, such as Business of Software. I asked my compadres a few hours ago and have received 12 responses so far.
  • Ring their bell. Whatever hosting companies make your short list, the one thing I’ve come to value is a firm that will pick up the phone. Nowadays, that might be a chat session with someone in Bulgaria, but that’s far, far better than the pain of dealing with either a ticket or email based tech support. If they’ve cut expenses that far, they’ve cut to the bone, and you should cut them from your list. You do not want to see an IM window like the one I’ve been looking at for the past 20 minutes:

So how do you find a new hosting company?

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By Bob Walsh

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  1. This is very valuable information for me. I have a number of domains I want to develop and I’ve just been using free hosting services that happen to be available at the moment. But I need to find them a more (semi)permanent home. Thanks for providing these links…I wasn’t even sure how to go about evaluating all of the dozens of webhosts out there.

  2. Dan Butcher Monday, May 26, 2008

    You make some good suggestions, but I disagree about the need for live support. My hosting service offers phone support for a fee, but their ticket/email support system has been highly responsive and quick. When I fill out a support request, I can rate the severity of the issue, from “no big deal, just wondering” to “OMG, people are dying!” Even when I have rated my issue as fairly low priority, I have received a solution within 2 hours, and often in 1 hour.

    My hosting is essential for my work, but I’m not selling anything online, so if something’s down for an hour or two, it’s not going to sink my business. I might have a different take on this if I were running an ecommerce site. For now, I would rather pay a little less each month than to pay more for phone support I probably don’t need.

  3. Your point about the support on the phone is very important.

    Early january, my webserver was inaccessible and nobody was answering the emails, this for a few days.
    you can imagine what this means for the websites visitors during that period of time …

    A similar problem did append with the company in charge of two websites we were trying to move to somewhere else for a client.

    So take your time to choose, its really important on the long term to have some peace of mind.

    :-)

    Didier
    Macinside.be

  4. Is it the email that has you irritated or the web stuff? Google Apps is the obvious email solution, at least for me. It would seem to me that one the web hosting side of things, you get what you pay for. I use Dreamhost. I pay $6.00 per month and get really decent service with, once again in my opinion, really decent trouble ticket support. If you must have tons of uptime with your hosting, then look into some of the big guys.

  5. Matt Platte Monday, May 26, 2008

    “If you’re looking for a good way to get top value out of your bottom dollars, see what non-profits are up to.”

    Maybe that works for you, but out here in the Plains states (Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska) it’s a recipe for mediocre at best. Non-profits here have insufficient in-house knowledge to make informed decisions so they find themselves at the mercy of technology salesmen, tempered only with occasional, out-of-context advice from well-intentioned experts.

  6. If email is the critical point, just move it to Google Apps and leave the rest with your “mostly’ ok provider.

  7. David Bullock Monday, May 26, 2008

    A second for Google Apps from another Dreamhost customer. Further Dreamhost has just made it “one click easy” to use Google Apps with your Dreamhost hosted domain.

  8. I have been hosting with hostmysite.com for about two years now, and I can tell you, the one thing that won over me was their service.

    I’m based in India, and these guys are in the US, and being in the web business myself, I understand how difficult it is to provide round the clock support which is really efficient.

    But these guys have been phenomenal. I can safely say that the average time for Resolution (not response) has been roughly 30 minutes. That is fast, by any standards.

    However, for email, I wanted to be super sure. So I’m hosting that on Google Apps. It’s a little slower that gmail, but never ever goes down. If you haven’t tried yet, I would suggest you do.

  9. Try Slicehost. They have been unreal, just google them for reviews and testimonials. They’re the darlings of the webdev world.

  10. This is a topic that’s very dear to my heart. After suffering through hosting with one company, and switching over to Mediatemple (which I highly recommend BTW), I’m currently having a world of trouble with the company that hosts one of my clients’ web sites.

    The problem seems to come back to one company that a number of web hosts have outsourced their support to (24hourwebhostingsupport.com). They are a completely clueless, unresponsive group of hacks that are incapable of resolving any issues. I’ve had a database issue open with them for over a week now, and they just keep telling me that they can’t reproduce it (even though I’ve given them a series of steps to follow that always produces the error for me).

    Support’s a big one. Even if you’re not a very technical user, you’ll probably need to use tech support at some point. If it takes weeks to resolve an issue (as I’m currently experiencing), it’s just not worth the aggravation.

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