Imagine you’re planning to open a physical storefront, and you are looking at a few different malls:
- Your first choice is a location that's well-maintained, with an owner who's well put-together and polite. The mall is clean, well-lit, and with excellent security. The trade-off is that the rent is a little high — nothing you can not afford, but enough to put a dent in your budget. That said, the lease is month-to-month.
- Your second choice looks as well-maintained as the first, but there's something a bit off about your landlord. They are dodgy when you ask questions about specifics such as security and maintenance, and seem interested in little save rushing you along to sign the lease.
- Your last choice is not especially impressive — it is dirty and poorly maintained, and located in a bad neighborhood. The owner seems nice enough. It is also quite cheap.
Given the choice, most of you would probably go with option one, right? It is better-maintained, the owner is reputable, and there are not likely to be any nasty surprises waiting for you after you sign the lease, which does not require a huge commitment. The same logic can be applied to searching for a hosting company.
And it should. Your website is one of the most important arms of marketing in 2017. And there are statistics to back that fact up
— 81% of consumers research a product online before buying, and 88% of consumers who search a local business’s website on their phone either call or visit within 24 hours.
You need a high-quality, responsive website, and a large portion of what makes that possible is your choice of web host. Choosing a good host means excellent security, connectivity, and reliability - and usually a decent set of web design tools. A poor host, on the other hand?
You may as well not design a website at all.
Unfortunately, the line between 'good' and 'bad' in the hosting space is not always as clear as it should be. That is why you need to train yourself to recognize the red flags that indicate you are dealing with a shoddy, scammy, or downright low-quality business. The major ones - overly cheap pricing, unreasonable limitations, or an underdeveloped website — are easy to recognize.
I have listed a few subtler ones below.
Either They Guarantee Nothing, or Promise You the Moon
The first thing you should look at is a host’s Service Level Agreement. Most web hosts that are worth your time will offer some sort of guarantee related to the quality of their hosting — 99.999% server uptime, 100% network uptime, and so on. They will also
promise to keep your data safe, with regular security patching and technical support.
Mind you, simply because they make these offers, they're not necessarily making you a guarantee. What sort of credit, if any, do they offer if they fail to deliver on their SLAs? Some hosts offer a 1-to-1 guarantee, which means that if your server's network connection is down for a minute, they credit you for a minute of service. Others offer a 2-to-1 or even a 10-to-1 credit. Liquid Web, for the record, offers a 10-to-1 credit.
Their Plans are Fixed and Contracts are Non-Negotiable
In business as in life, flexibility is critical. When you are speaking to your prospective host, how willing are they to compromise? Does their contract lock you into a particular vendor or set of vendors? Is there an option for a month-to-month lease, or do you have
to sign on for a year or more?
If a provider is unwilling to tweak and customize their hosting plan for you, you can expect the same rigidity in all your dealings with them. They are more focused on their needs than yours. Should you still sign on with them, you will likely end up paying for server capacity you do not need, or paying through the nose when it comes time to upgrade.
Their Communication is Inconsistent
Are there long wait times between service requests? Does it seem as though you might die of old age before hearing back from their sales team? If so, run.
"I find that when a partner or vendor takes a long time to respond to our calls or emails, it's not going to work out," explains entrepreneur Diana Goodwin
. "They are either too busy to work together or they don't have their act together, and I will constantly be frustrated/underwhelmed by them and their performance."
Similarly, pay close attention to the information you are given. Do their representatives paint a consistent brand story for you, or do you hear five different things from four different people? The only partners worth working with are those who are completely up-front about what they offer — remember that.
Their Selling (and Marketing) Tactics are Scammy, at Best
Does the provider have customer testimonials on their website, or is it completely barren of feedback? When talking to a salesperson, do you constantly feel pressured to buy? Does their sales brochure mesh with what they claim on their site, or is the information completely different?
Choosing a hosting provider should feel like cultivating a new business partner, not visiting a used car dealership.
They Have No Certification
How credible is your host? Do they list compliance with any industry standards or designations on their site? How well-trained are their technical support staff?
Again, for the record, Liquid Web's support team consists of admins certified by Red Hat, Cisco, and others. They're also the only hosting company in the world with Red Hat trainers on staff.
This is your business's public face you are putting on the line. You cannot afford to be cavalier in who you trust with it. Even if you do not see any of the red flags above, if a host gives you a bad feeling, walk away.