If you've ever wondered about your hosting company, or are considering beginning a relationship with one, here is some must-have information before you get into a new relationship (or exit out of a bad one).
Just like you ought to know a little something about someone you're going to be kissing for a long time, turning over the web jewels for your site ought to entail similar background knowledge.
These three questions will help you enter into the right kind of relationship, and in the appropriate spirit - just like the dinner parties your parents used to have.
1. Has the hosting company recently been bought out or taken over by another company?
It turns out the road-to-perdition I just experienced with JustHost on behalf of a client who is a well-known travel writer was immeasurably and torturously lengthened by a chain of ownership that - scuttlebutt has it - goes all the way to a company called 'Endurance International' or EIG.
Here's how one commenter at WebHostingTalk.com put it:
"I've had experiences with EIG not once but twice -- each time buying out a host I was using, and essentially ___ing it all up in the process. It wasn't until some many months after the 2nd incident that I came to learn the foul presence that is Endurance. And honestly, as far as I'm concerned, EIG didn't just buy out Readyhosting and Hypermart -- they raped them. That's their track record -- buy and screw, buy and screw. When they start to move your data to their own servers, it's common to have LOTS of downtime, lost data, and lost emails."
Read that a second time.
If your host gets bought out, hit the road before they run you over.
I pity the tech support chat and phone lines at bottom-of-the-food-chain hosting companies. They are poorly trained, have no real autonomy to actually fix things for the customer, and are the frequent targets of misplaced rage. There but for the grace of God...
2. If you cancel your hosting, do you retain control of your domain name?
JustHost.com is a qualified reseller for ENOM.com, one of the bigger domain name registrars out there. Justhost resells domain names as a part of their hosting packages. They do not offer standalone domain name purchasing. When we set up another hosting account at another company in response the problems we were experiencing, JustHost cancelled the entire account and we were unable to access the domain name management tools, and our nameserver redirects were cancelled without notice. The site then loaded a "This Account Has Been Suspended" page. Inaccurate, damning, and entirely lacking in relationship-building attitude.
Many low-price hosting companies offer shared hosting accounts at rock bottom prices. They make their margins on volume, and once they think you're leaving, the gloves are off. A JustHost technical support person on chat actually put in writing, "You want to leave so why should we provide that [domain access] to you?" I've often wondered if this kind of thinking is unstated company policy. Guess the wondering is over.
We had to pay a fee to get the account restored - just to transfer the domain to a new registrar. To add insult to injury, it took days to work it out. Shift changes, different people managing the file, and my client watching the hours roll along while her clients and publication owners continued to see the suspension message.
A host like Webnames.ca offers double protection - they are a registrar AND an affordable hosting company now offering WordPress hosting. If you ever decide to cancel the hosting side of your account, you revert to domain management tools with the ability to use new nameservers or simply forward your domain to your new host. Critical to have.
3. What are the backup policies for your host?
Make sure you understand how your host manages backups and how you access them and have them restored should something go wrong. (Hey, if the Amazon Cloud can go down, anyone can.)
If you are an active blogger or update your site daily you're going to want nightly backups. If your site is all-Wordpress there are a few good plugins (I like Snapshot Backup a lot). If you use your host's cpanel services for email, shopping cart, or other add-ons, you're going to want an entire cpanel account backup done on a regular basis. We didn't find out until too late that JustHost only does a full backup every seven days, so if you lose your site on day six, that's 6 days of missing content, plugin upgrades, template changes etc that you will literally have to recreate.
Does your host have a methodology for doing backups, or is it just call or email in to technical support? Hostgator.com, though similar in some ways to JustHost (shared hosting, rapidly growing company), has standard request forms that must be filled out by the site owner or the web designer listed on their account via email address. This means it happens the same way every time and everyone involved knows where and how to intersect with the restore or transfer. Level one chat support are empowered to 'expedite' your email suppory ticket if volumes are high.
JustHost has a lot of mostly well-meaning but unempowered and highly siloed tech support people who don't really connect with each other. Adding to the negative impact of the client's site being down for a week was a classic who's-on-second layer of delays that were truly maddening. I'm sure the poor techsupport folks didn't like it much either.
Protect your wordpress self-hosted site with tools like BlogVault.net. This service backs up your entire site on a nightly basis for only $9/month and keeps up to 30 backed up copies in Amazon's secure cloud. It's literally dead easy. The turnaround time on inquiries has been spectacular so far - within an hour.
Follow these guidelines and you will save yourself from the kind of week my client and I have had. And don't stick with your host just because you've 'always used them'... that's how things ended up the way they did a la JustHost. The client had been with them a long time for her html static site and when she decided to move her blog from WordPress.com due to limitations imposed there and go to self-hosted, JustHost offered it. If we'd only known then what we do now.