Practical Ecommerce

Hosting Companies: Top 10 Questions to Ask

I field many phone calls in any given day. And never does a day pass where I don’t get a call about someone having trouble with their host. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue, and many would be shocked at some of the stories I’ve heard.

I think it’s time to just start referring people to a page somewhere so they can read for themselves and understand that the company that hosts their online store is just as important as the content of the store itself.

Since the host is normally one of the first elements selected before opening shop, many overlook asking key questions. Consumer Reports isn’t going to tell you who the best host for the job is — everyone’s needs differ — so the bulk of the homework needs to be conducted based on each store owner’s individual needs.

There are a slew of “Top 10 Questions” out there for you to ask hosts, but some of the questions aren’t as important as others. Here’s the nitty-gritty on what is and isn’t that important.

Customer Support

Every host should have a base of support, whether it’s web-based or phone support. But, having 24/7 access to call the host about common HTML coding issues isn’t as important as being able to reach a host at 2 a.m. via emergency means for a crashed site or store. You really shouldn’t be using your host for common coding questions anyway.

The Data Center

There is debate over whether or not a host should own its own data center. Some say it’s absolutely necessary. But what’s more important is whether or not the host has access and knowledge to fix problems. Many of the “smaller” guys can’t afford their own facilities, but can still offer the same reliabilities and experience.

Upstream Providers

This relates to how many connections to the Internet the servers have; the more the better. In short, multiple connections means the host can reroute traffic should anything render existing connections useless. Couple this with backup generators for power (which is also important).

Site Monitoring

A good host can tell you, many times before you even know, if there’s a problem with your site. Tools are available to tell them if your site has crashed or is causing problems on the server itself.

Redundancy

It’s like having a backup plan. Redundancy is important for DNS servers (which tells the Internet to hit your site when someone types in the domain name), email servers, web servers, file storage, etc. Always seek a host that uses redundant methods of connections and storing and serving files. If one plan fails, another can quickly be used.

Backups

Use a host that backs up your site regularly (daily is preferred). I highly recommend, however, to never rely solely on the host backing up files. You should also be performing these on your own.

Shopping Cart Knowledge

Not that you should use your host as an information bank about every aspect of the shopping cart software you use, but hosts that have an understanding of how the server needs to be configured and the basic back-end usage of the software will fair better when you run into a problem. Those in the know can help quickly pinpoint problems, or, at the very least, refer you to someone who can fix the issue.

Relationships

It is key to rely on a host that has ongoing relationships with developers, designers and troubleshooters. You can’t expect your host to know everything, but if they know who you should be calling, you can be spared quite a few headaches.

Growth Perspective

A host that promotes growth of your business is important. It means it will make efforts to accommodate your needs as they arise. Even if it means hitting you with a higher bill, you want a host that will put more focus on your growth, because that’s how they grow themselves.

Cost

Contrary to popular belief, cost shouldn’t be as important a factor as the rest of these things. My rule of thumb is once you find a host that fits you like a glove, you don’t leave them for the sole purpose of saving money. As with everything else, you get what you pay for and if you’re happy with where you’re at, why shake things up?

Pamela Hazelton

Pamela Hazelton

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Comments ( 3 )

  1. Legacy User February 15, 2007 Reply

    The suggestions are good, but I am not convinced I can come by accurate information from the hosts. Where can I confirm impressions by users?

    — *Karen Gross*

  2. Legacy User February 15, 2007 Reply

    If you're thinking about using a host or are looking into what kind of hosts are out there, give http://www.messahost.com a look at first.

    — *John*

  3. Legacy User February 15, 2007 Reply

    Karen – If you're going to be using a specific software package on the site, i.e., an ecommerce system, most software has a users forum where you can ask questions and get help from other users. You can usually get to the forums via the website of the software vendor. Ask for a hosting recommendation from the other board users.

    — *Jen*