Finding a New Web Site Host

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, 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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