Getting your small company ready to hit the ground running? You’ve probably got a web hosting plan to pick. The Internet is the lifeblood of just about any new business these days, and it’s possible to live or die on the strength of your provider.
Evaluating your provider can be a tricky prospect. Web hosting companies have popped up like mushrooms over the past few years. Competition is fierce, and it’s a sure bet that just about any company you consider will have some extremely alluring plans available.
But behind blared promises of “Unlimited!” and “100% Uptime!” you’ll find a wall of fine print. And while no one likes to read it, it’s not something to skip. Hosting companies can bury a wealth of caveats and qualifiers in there that can take what seems like a solid plan right back to ground zero. We’ve scraped together a short list of important points to watch for while signing up.
No Time for Downtime
Uptime is among the most important measurements of a host’s reliability. This percentage refers to the percentage of time that a host’s servers are guaranteed to be online. Which is pretty obviously important – for a net-dependent company, downtime is lost time, and lost time is lost money.
It’s also one of the sketchiest metrics for most companies. Quantifying uptime can be a little tricky. Common knowledge states that 99.5% is pretty solid uptime, but that doesn’t stop any hosting companies from trying to beat it. You’ll consistently see plenty of 99.8% and up guarantees, as well as that elusive 100%.
Here’s the thing: they’re all a little bogus. Any established hosting company is going to run right up close to 100% anyway, but well, servers still go down. How much? Who knows – those numbers you’re seeing are at best an educated guess, at worst they’re just more marketing dreck.
Still, that shouldn’t stop you from checking the company’s policies on uptime. Many will offer some form of remuneration if your uptime percentage falls below a guaranteed level. However, actually measuring that gap might be tricky. Carefully read through all materials to make sure you know how to claim your kickback in case your host doesn’t live up to their end of the bargain.
How Unlimited is Unlimited?
That’s the word you’re probably going to see most during your hunt. Even the cheapest plans often come with an “unlimited” offer, be it domains, bandwidth, or disk space.
Here’s what the practical definition of “unlimited” boils down to in this context: if something’s unlimited, you won’t be charged by your per-unit use of it. But, of course, there’s a major qualifier buried in there.
For many users, unlimited really does mean unlimited. That’s because an awful lot of us won’t really be sucking down much in the way of bandwidth or storage. However, if you do happen to be heavy on the file-sharing, you could quickly find yourself up to the neck in contract violations.
A careful read through the fine print will generally give “unlimited” a very limited, very real definition. Violate it, and you may be breaking Terms of Service, allowing the company to deal with you just about however they see fit.
Getting Your Money Back
Sometimes, small business founders, or maybe the blog you were initially so enthusiastic about loses its luster after a couple weeks. Hosting companies get that, which is why so many of them offer limited money back guarantees, often in the range of 45-90 days.
As you can probably guess, there are some catches involved. A quick read through the ToS for some companies reveals a multitude of ways to lose your refund. Second-time signers are often ineligible for money back, for obvious reasons. If you pay a setup or administrative fee, then that’s also likely money you can kiss goodbye.
Even canceling can be a little tricky in some situations. It’s not uncommon to have to provide written notice of a cancellation (thankfully, that almost always means email), then wait for a confirmation from the company. Waiting too long to do so can easily cost you another month’s virtual rent.
But Are They Supportive?
Hey, we’d love to pretend otherwise, but internet businesses will run into technical troubles. A lot of them, actually, and as discussed, even a momentary loss of connectivity or access can have some disastrous financial effects.
While it’s infinitely preferable to have IT wizards in-house, many users will find themselves dealing directly with a hosting company for support. You won’t always find guarantees or descriptions of what exactly this support entails in the ToS, but if you do, you’d better read up.
Let’s take GoDaddy for example. If you’ve got a support claim that the company deems outside of the scope of your plan, you’ll be referred to what they call “Expert Hands Services”, an improved support team that works to the tune of 30-minute incremental payments. Definitely, something you’ll want to keep in mind.
Also, pay some extra attention to what they provide in terms of security. You’ll find a range here. Some companies offer some serious protection against cyber attacks, and may even be willing to educate you on best practices if you sign on with them. Others offer none at all, besides a stern lecture about using strong passwords.
Picking out the right plan here will require some research, especially if you do store sensitive information (any online retailers take notice). Try to find a host that can supplement and work with your existing security measures. Also, in many cases, check for specific language about a legal fault in the case of a breach. Many hosts will indemnify you if records are lost to a hack.
Details, Details, Details
No matter who you do wind up signing on with, you’d better bring your fine-toothed comb. There’s a long list of steps to take when vetting a potential host, but checking the actual terms behind the marketing fluff is vitally important. After all, not many modern companies get very far without a solid host behind them.