Making the commitment to choose a specific hosting company over others can be a big part of the ultimate success or failure of your website. A good hosting company will be there by your side at every step of your website journey. They’ll help you make sense of problems when things don’t go just right and will be there to make sure that your website has everything it needs when it comes time to upgrade to bigger and faster servers. Picking the right company can be a difficult task with all of the options that are available on the market and choosing wrong can often mean repeating the weeks-long process of switching providers when things turn sour. But how do you know if you’ve chosen the right company?
Often, the biggest part of choosing the right hosting company revolves around making sure that your expectations are in check and that you enter this process with eyes wide open. Understanding what responsibilities you can expect from a hosting company, and what tactics bad hosting companies will use to make a buck will be your biggest assets for success.
Our 7 Strategies
Test your hosting company with support tickets
One thing I like to do after I think I’ve found the right company to partner with is to make requests. If they want your business, they’re going to give you the time and attention you deserve. Usually within the first week or two, I’ll have about a dozen reasons to ask my hosting company questions. These will be legitimate questions – not frivolous support tickets. This is a great time to test out just how loyal your hosting company is going to be to you by discovering just how responsive their customer support system is. Waiting exorbitant amounts of time to hear back from the support team at a hosting company is your first red flag that you might have chosen the wrong company.
As I write this article, one of the apparent themes to me is that bigger is not better in all cases. A smaller company has success to fight for, which means they will fight to make sure you become a loyal customer. When it comes to hosting companies, make sure they are not a subsidiary of a larger company, and don’t be scared away if they don’t have a flashy-looking website. If their website is modern and well-presented but doesn’t rise to the GoDaddys and Squarespaces of the world, that’s actually a good thing.
If a company is spending big bucks on marketing it means that they have margins afforded to them at the expense of company deficiencies you’ll want to distance yourself from. Maybe they have extra money because they understaff their support department. Maybe it’s because they don’t pay their staff an appropriate salary. Or maybe it’s because they are charging you $30 a month for something other companies only charge $20 or $25.
Aside from the obvious argument supporting local economies and putting your tax dollars back into your community, choosing a local business has some other benefits you may otherwise take for granted. Something as simple as being able to talk to a support rep who is geographically close to you means that you’ll not only likely share a timezone, but there will chances of miscommunication because you’ll likely share a common language proficiency. Getting support from an opposing timezone means that you’re likely going to be waiting longer for support, because you’ll be asking for support during off-peak shorter-staffed times.
Understand your website needs
Make sure that your hosting company is the solution to your problems and not the cause. If your hosting company is impeding the success of your website, then it’s time to switch. A great example of this indicator is when (believe it or not this has actually happened) the company does not offer you upgrades to solve capacity problems. As ridiculous as it sounds, we have had experiences with a few companies that have basically told us “we cannot offer you any resource upgrades”. What’s our response to that? You’re company is clearly not invested in our growth so we’re switching to a company that cares about our success.
Don’t expect your hosting company’s staff to give you an education in computer programming or server architecture; they won’t and it’s not their job. Do, however, make them aware of problems on your website that you cannot fix that are easily addressed by your hosting provider. At some point in time, you’ll find yourself creating a support ticket for something you end up solving yourself or for something that has such an incredibly simple solution it is embarrassing, but in the end only the great hosting companies will be right there with you, ready to solve all your challenges big or small no matter what.
Reframing your expectations of your hosting company can help you to take a stand for your business and understanding other customers’ experiences can help you to know whether your expectations need to change or if your hosting company is taking advantage of your lack of knowledge or experience.
Arm yourself with research
In a perfect world, researching companies to make sure they will actually provide the services they are selling you is not necessary. You will never live in a perfect world, so compare real customer experiences across potential hosting companies to ensure you don’t get burned by a bad company choice.
Trust your gut instincts
A veritable indicator of a great web hosting company truly lies in your customer satisfaction and this is often where smaller companies shine. After your customer support experience, take mental stock of how satisfied you are with their support. Great hosting companies train their front-line staff to take great care of their customers, so if you end a support ticket with fire and fury running through your veins, you’ve chosen the wrong company. And let’s be honest: a “rate your experience” form at the end of a support chat does not count as being invested in your customer’s experience. If the company really cares about customer experience, an actual human being asks me that question.
Look for articles like this one
You’re probably thinking right about now that everything I’ve said so far sounds like it is inspired by a negative experience. And you’re not wrong. Our agency recently parted ways with a hosting company named Arvixe, owned and operated by the larger conglomerate, Endurance International Group. You don’t have to look far online to find a seemingly endless number of negative reviews, and blog articles not unlike this one.
In our case, we naively waited a whole 5 days for Arvixe to setup a new VPS server for us, and even weeks after paying them almost $70 for our first month’s server rental, they still failed to set up the VPS Server for us. The response from their front-line staff was shocking. Complete and resounding denial of the problem and a staunch attitude towards refunding our money for a service to this day they have never provided us.
We knew we had made the right decision when choosing to leave when after enlisting the services of another (smaller) company, our VPS server was set up in less than 24 hours. (Thanks CanadianWebHosting – you folks are amazing)
Next, we'll cover some of the tolls at your disposal if your hosting company wants to play hardball, and you need to get out of a bad hosting company relationship.
Getting out of a hot mess
Don’t be afraid to walk out on your hosting company
As one person in a marketplace of billions of customers, it is all too easy to forget that your voice matters. The best way to exercise your voice as a consumer and cast your vote for ethical business practices is to cut ties with companies who rely on unethical billing practices and bank on customers forgetting about subscriptions renewals and leveraging renewal dates to scam customers out of money the company has not earned. These companies cannot survive without customers like you, and being an advocate for better business means better choices in the marketplace will thrive while bad business fails.
Take back your money if the hosting company hasn’t earned it
If you pay your monthly fees in advance of services being provided (which is the norm as far as hosting companies go) then don’t back down if the company wants to keep a whole month’s worth of fees if you want to cancel a day after your renewal date. Further validation that you’ve partnered with the wrong company comes when you discover a company isn’t willing to provide you even a pro-rated refund. Proration should be the absolute bare minimum a company should provide. If a company cares so little about your customer experience that they won’t give you even a partial refund, hold your head high knowing that switching companies is the right move.
ALWAYS pay for hosting services using a Credit Card
In our particular case with Arvixe, when the company outright refused to refund us our money for a service they failed to provide, the problem was solved by one single phone call to our credit card company. Don’t be afraid to file a chargeback dispute with your credit card company when the hosting provider essentially engages in false advertising by not providing the services they promised to you, a paying customer.
Give the hosting company fair warning of every step you plan to take
It might seem counter-intuitive and you may be more accustomed to holding your cards close to your chest, but sometimes saying the words “I want to cancel” or “I’m going to dispute this transaction” sends a message to the support staff that you truly are not satisfied with their service (as if you telling them you’re not satisfied wasn’t good enough) and they actually recognize that you having a poor customer experience is bad for them. We didn’t have this experience with Arvixe though. We even pointed out that chargeback disputes that side with the customer cost the company even more money (some payment processors even charge anywhere between $40 - $100 per chargeback) but that didn't seem to phase them. Being upfront with other companies about our plans has worked in the past though (and we won’t mention their names because in the end they gave us our money back without more hassle).
If you switch hosting companies, switch to a smaller, more local company
Cross-jurisdictional business relationships can be complicated and are often subject to a cultural mistranslation that can negatively affect your business. Giving our money away to an American company when we had an amazing Canadian hosting company willing and eager to make us one of their loyal customers just 35 kilometers away is ludicrous.
Check out Canadian Web Hosting (canadianwebhosting.com) They have an amazing customer support team and you’ll leave every concluded support ticket feeling like you’re actually supported!
Maybe past experiences have rendered me a permanent skeptic of this industry, but I truly believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Companies like EIG will always exists. Bottom feeding conglomerates that swallow up genuine smaller companies then gut them for a profit are a disgusting but natural byproduct of our capitalist system. But in their wake they leave a trail of disgruntled customers that in turn creates a vacuum whereby new companies with higher ideals and ethical standards are formed, and that gives me hope.