I spent a bit of time searching for a quality host before I settled on Steadfast. I was looking for some specific features in terms of customer service because my previous host had done me some major wrongs. Granted, I think my requirements were more stringent than your average blogger but I learned to look for some things which might save us all some frustration in the long run, so I’ll pass these insights on to you.
Looking for any service on the internet is both a blessing and a curse for the same reason: choices. There are many choices for consumers to find the perfect host but because there are so many options, it can be confusing and the search may never end. As a starting point, I would recommend the WebHostingTalk forums which has many useful topics. If you’re considering a host, do a quick search. If you’re looking for a cheap host, do a search as well. WebHostingTalk also has a page entitled “Find a Host” and groups them by features. This page also includes a feature where you can request a price quote form multiple hosting companies for your specific needs. However, my understanding is that these are paid advertisements which may not necessarily be quality hosts.
Yet, this brings up a sometimes overlooked issue. Almost all webhosting directories are based on paid advertising and, the more a company pays, the higher they rank. I would stay away from those directories at all but, if you do peruse them, do so with caution. Of course, just because they’re advertising does not make them fraudulent either. Just do a search.
I would also not rely on any one source when it comes to recommending a host; companies will pay for a good review or send their employees out into the world wide web as moles. Search WebHostingTalk, the Better Business Bureau and the internet in general to get the whole picture.
Don’t let a bad review discourage you. Remember, the larger the company, the more likely there will be negative reviews. Furthermore, consumers are more likely to raise their voice if they feel they have been mistreated. Good service sometimes does not get commendation because customers have no bone to pick. If you can, consider the percentage of bad versus good reviews when making your decision. On the other hand, don’t ignore exceptionally bad reviews – especially any which have resulted in legal action. If a company has mistreated other paying customers, who is to say they won’t do the same to you? A bad track record is something to consider.
Be wary of hosts which look too similar. They’re likely one and the same or owned by a parent company. This isn’t always bad but many shady hosts have a hand in 5, 10 or even 20 other companies and you may only know to avoid company X not their child ocmpany Y.
Know what you need. Price and space are usually the two big ones. I know I was looking for something in a very specific price range (around $5/month) as well as space (around 500mb). I wanted 24/7 support and I did not want support which was outsourced. I needed PHP support, which is usually a given (but I checked anyway), MySQL support (which not all hosts have), a back up service, webstats and preferably the same control panel I had previously used.
When it comes to price, you get what you pay for. I knew there were many hosts available under $10 a month, some for mere pennies but the lower the price, the better the chance there is a “catch.”
What might the catch be? Perhaps the host oversells; that is, they sell more resources than they have. If all of the customers are using relatively few resources, this may not be a problem but the more resources the use, the higher the likelihood that you will run into problems like lack of space or slow loading.
Cheap prices are frequently offered by individuals and resellers. I know many trustworthy individuals who offer hosting (both as resellers and under company names) but I also know I want my host to be around as long as I am and sometimes you cannot depend on individual people. Furthermore, I wouldn’t want my host to actually be the middle man and I wanted quality customer service – which 1 person cannot always give.
A cheap deal might also mean you get less features and possibly poor or outsourced customer service. You may experience downtime or wind up with a host who does not update their hardware and software, sometimes to your detriment.
When it comes to space, there are a lot of hosts who offer unlimited plans. There is no such thing as an unlimited plan because all servers have limits. These hosts are overselling (read above) and while you may never run into an issue with this, the risk is always there.
For a personal blog which runs a script like WordPress, space isn’t a huge requirement because most of the information is stored in databases. I would say 100mb is more than sufficient unless you plan to upload many photos and image files. You will need to be able to use databases (MySQL) as well as PHP (4 or 5) and, if you’re uncomfortable with script installation, you might require a script handler like Fantastico.
Other personal sites may require more space but probably not more in the way of technology. Fanlistings, webrings, cliques, collectives, button rotations, graphic services, and galleries are all typical types of personal sites which are not usually demanding. If you know a script or tool you wish to use, check the requirements and compare those with what your potential host offers.
I’ve never had to request a plan which offers anything extra (save for more space than many personal sites) and I do more than simply blog. Most plans will suit most people perfectly. The less proficient you are, the more I would advise inquiring about technical support (when is it available, how can you get it, is it outsourced, will your host restore or back up files) and a strong control panel (CPanel is popular and I like H-Sphere). The more you know, the more comfortable you might be with less amenities but you also might need more special features. The better you recognize your needs, the better a host will be able to fill them.
Give yourself time. Shopping around helps you to recognize trends in space and price so you recognize a good deal. It helps you to recognize tactics employed by poor hosts and allows you to research host companies and individuals. Shopping can result in finding the perfect host for your needs or a host who will leave you in a rut so there is no need to rush.