In the last two posts in the series about web hosting, we looked at the things to consider when evaluating a web host and all the things that can go wrong with a web host. In this post we will talk about the best practices and habits to have as a consumer of web hosting. Originally, I had 10 points in this but I decided to to go to 11!

1. Keep yourself informed.

All industries require an informed consumer, and web hosting is no different. An informed consumer of web hosting understand that unlimited is not really unlimited, web hosting review sites are often affiliates who get paid handsomely for referrals, you can’t expect 100% uptime, there is no such thing as a perfect host, and you need to arm yourself with options and be prepare for changes.

2. Always read the Terms of Use and any associated policies in full.

Nobody likes to read legalese, and with web hosts, Terms of Use and its various related policies (which can also include additional sections like Acceptable Use Policy, Spam Policy, Privacy Policy, Domain Registration Terms, Unlimited Policy, Affiliate Terms, and any addendums) can be very long reading indeed. However, I guarantee you that taking the time to read your Terms of Use will be worth your time and effort and save you pain down the road, especially if you are building a website for your business. Much of life and business is about managing risks, and this is also the reason why the hosting company itself has written up a terms of use or terms of service policy. You are getting into a contractual relationship with your host, wouldn’t you want to know what you are signing up for?

3. Make sure you know what the refund policy is.

Usually if you read carefully in the Terms of Use policy you will find out what the refund policy is.  It is actually quite common for a web host to require you to prepay for your contractual period and then not refund you if you decide to cancel before the contract ends. It is very common for hosts to offer a trial period where you can test them out and get a refund, but beyond that trial period, you have no way of getting your money back if you become unsatisfied with their service. Some hosting companies will allow you to cancel and refund you prorated fees, and some will do it but will charge you a cancellation fee.

3a. Be wary of long term contracts.

Because most companies do not offer prorated refunds, you should be careful not to enter into a contract of more than 24 months at most. 24 months is practically a generation when it comes to the web, and your online business can outgrow the hosting contract in 2 years. If your web hosting service deteriorates during that time and there is a no refund policy then you will be stuck. When I am testing out web hosting, I usually stick with the shortest term they offer or stick with 1 year, and that is AFTER I read the Terms of Use twice. I also put in calendar reminders for myself about my evaluation period to make sure I don’t let the let the trial period slip without really giving my host a real test drive. Unless you have a host that allows you to cancel at anytime without fees and will prorate refund, then don’t go for a long contract.

4. Avoid using site builders.

Designing a website is about more than just a pleasing visual look, but it also involves functionality, usability, search engine friendliness, and user experience. Site builders are often limited in what they can offer you with your website. Most hosts provide a site builder to allow people to build their site without any knowledge of code or programming, and it can be quite tempting to use site builders instead of html editors and FTP, but these site builders are often proprietary and often only work with that host’s servers. These site builders often will affect your website’s transferability, tie you to the hosting company, and make it hard for you to move away if the service deteriorates or if you have other issues with the host. If you build your site with a site builder instead of an editor, then you may literally have to start from scratch when you move to a new host.

5. Register the domain separately.

It can be tempting to have your hosting company and your domain name registrar be the same company to manage them in one place, plus they often offer a free domain registration, so why not? The reason you would want to keep them separate is because it affects your website’s transferability. Depending on how reputable the registrar is, they can delay or prevent you from transferring your website to a new host. It is best to maintain as much control over your domain name as possible.

6. Always test out the customer service

Sure companies may advertise 24/7 customer support via phone, email, and live chat, but how good is it? Are they actually available 24/7 via all those channels? Not all customer support are equal and it is best to test them out before you are tied to them. Often, this can help you eliminiate potential candidates for web hosting and narrow your choices. How important is support to you? How would you feel if your site went down Friday night late night and you can’t reach anyone until Monday morning? Or if you call support you are on hold for 25 minutes before anyone answers? It would be much better to know this is what would happened BEFORE you are in a jam and forced into a mad scramble.

7. Use PayPal whenever possible

One of the good things to do when you first sign up with a web host is to use PayPal. It is safer than using a credit card. It will also prevent the web host to keep charging you after you cancel. With a credit card, a web host can charge you without your reauthorization. If a web host doesn’t offer PayPal it doesn’t necessarily make them a bad host. One reason why some web hosts don’t support PayPal is that their regular price is more expensive than the discounted price, and they don’t provide any discount for the renewal. With credit card only, these web hosts can deduct the credits from the credit cards without any additional actions by the customers in the renewal, but if they support PayPal, usually, it needs the customers to re-pay the bill actively. Once the customers are aware of the expensive renew price, some customers may choose to cancel the subscription. As a consumer, though, using PayPal will offer you a layer of protection if the hosting relationship turn sour.

8. Make sure your trial period is long enough and stay alert

Not all companies have long trial periods — some have 30 days, some have 45 days, some have up to 90 days, and some have different trial periods for different kinds of hosting plans. These trial periods usually is the time when you can get out of your contract — most hosting companies do not offer prorated refunds after the trial period. During the honeymoon period, or trial period, make sure you stay alert to how your website is doing, check out the server that you are on, and really test out the customer service some more. Ask a bunch of questions, check out the customer forums, if there is one, and really keep your eyes and ears open for any issues. Make the web host earn your trust, but realize that your relationship with web hosting is more like serial monogamy than a marriage.

9. Make sure your web host IP isn’t blacklisted

In a shared hosting environment, all it takes is one bad person to ruin everyone’s experience. What happens if your server’s IP gets blacklisted? If your web host or server’s IP gets blacklisted it can prevent you from doing business. You won’t be able to send emails because other servers will block your email and bounce it back.  There are several locations where you can check to see if your server IP is on a black list:

Spamhaus Blocklist lookup

Returnpath Sender Score

10. Use a monitoring tool

The best way to see if your host is doing right by you is to check your server performance. Is your server uptime good? How is your server’s response time? Is your page loading faster? In order to know the answer you will need to use a monitoring tool. Fortunately, there are many good tools out there:

Pingdom – available via web and iPhone app

Site24x7 – available via web and iPhone app

CopperEgg – available via web and iPhone app

StatusCake – available via web only for now

11. Always make your own backups

If your website is important to you, then you will want to be prepared for the possibility of data loss. Just like you back up your computer at home (you do, don’t you?), you should back up your website in case things go wrong with your host server. even if the web host promises backups, you should have one for yourself especially if you are new to the web host. In my research, I have seen too many people lament how they lost their website and months of hard work down the tube because they didn’t think to create their own backup. Having your own backup is especially important especially if you are going to cancel your hosting — do this before you end your relationship with your host.


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