A New Year a New Host?

With the new year comes a chance to do some analysis and reflection. It’s a chance to look at all aspects of you life, physical and digital, and decide what changes you might want to make. Though I personally loathe New Year’s Resolutions, there’s no doubt that the turning of the calendar is a great chance for some productive reflection.

One of the best questions we can ask is, i our host still the best and is it still the best for our needs?

Many of us tend to get very attached to our hosts. When we find a host that we like and sign up for a plan, we’re making a commitment and we tend not to take those commitments lightly. We don’t like finding out that we made a less-than-perfect choice, especially with such a crucial service that is so painful to change. This is a big part of why we feel so betrayed when a hosting relationship goes sour or when we find out that another host may offer a better deal.

But just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean we shouldn’t evaluate whether our existing host is right for us. After all, even if they were best host at one point in time, that doesn’t mean they still are. As well as our changing needs, new competition can often leapfrog industry leaders and this ever-changing landscape makes such evaluation crucial.

Fortunately, it’s easy to do and there’s only a few serious questions you need to ask.

1. Have My Needs Changed?

First, take a look at your site and your hosting needs. How has your traffic changed over the past year? Have you added or closed any sites? Have you changed CMSes, begun using CloudFlare or done anything else that might increase your site’s needs?

Now might be a good time to pull out your Google Analytics and see where your traffic is compared to this time a year ago – is there enough of a change to warrant a new hosting arrangement? Or maybe your traffic has stayed flat but you’ve taken other steps to increase speed and reduce load.

Personally, I was very surprised at my growth over the last year, seeing a nearly 100% increase in a year that I thought had only slow growth. Remember, over a long period of time, even very slow growth can add up and tax an account that was purchased in a different era.

2. Is My Host Still the Cheapest?

Assuming that you don’t need a new account type (eg. moving from a shared account to a VPS or cloud account), you can now focus on comparing hosts. Price, unfortunately in my opinion, is the best place to start.

Start by shopping around at similar hosts and see what they are charging for similar accounts. Likewise, check out the accounts your current host is offering and see if they have a new deal that might be better for you.

The goal here isn’t so much to make sure that your host is still the absolute cheapest, but that the prices you are paying are within the range of what one would expect for this kind of hosting. Prices trend downward over time, some account types faster than others, so it’s worth doing a “sanity check” to make sure you aren’t paying an outrageous amount.

3. Is Your Host Still The Most Reliable?

If you monitor your site’s uptime, which you should be doing, take a look at your yearly report and see what your uptime has really been like. If it hasn’t been averaging well north of 99.5% every month you may want to take a look at another host. Though problems can and will happen anywhere, if you’ve been having regular issues, you might have better luck elsewhere.

Don’t assume that you know what your site’s uptime was like without checking the stats: you might think it was pretty good but an objective analysis might show otherwise; or, you might feel that your site’s uptime has been mediocre or worse but discover it’s actually been very solid.

Focus on raw numbers and not your perceived experience as it can easily be swayed either by singular events or by perceived long periods of uptime.

4. How Fast Does Your Site Load?

Next, visit Pingdom Tools and take a look at how fast your site loads. Though much of your site’s loading time are things you can change, either by loading fewer elements, doing better caching or using a CDN, you might find that your site’s server isn’t performing up to snuff. Things such as slow connection times or irregular performance may be a sign of server issues.

Your best bet is to run multiple checks of your site, do what you can on your end to improve the situation and, if you find that the limitations are primarily caused by your host, start looking for a better one.

On the other hand, you may find that your site loading time is actually very good and that any perceived loading problems are isolated to your connection. Either way, it’s best to have an objective, outside opinion of your site’s speed.

5. How Good Has Your Support Been?

Finally, log in to your host’s trouble ticket system and find out what your host’s support has been like. Look at the response times you’ve been getting, how good the answers have been and how quickly your issues have been resolved. Also, look at how many times you’ve had to contact support and see if you’ve had to get a bit too friendly with your host’s support team.

If you’ve been happy with the responses and have been getting quick, useful replies, you’re probably ok in this area. But, if a stroll down memory lane doesn’t give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, it might be time to consider moving.

Making the Choice

When you’ve done all that, it comes time to ask yourself the big question: Is it worth moving to another host?

If you don’t have some sort of practical need for a new hosting account, such as moving to a more robust server, you have to decide if it is worth the risk, work and time to move to a new host. Considering that there is no guarantee the host you move to will be better (or even as good) than your current one in the above areas, you need to make sure it’s really worthwhile.

Is it worth switching away from a host you’re happy with to save a few dollars per month? Probably not. But is it worth moving away from a host charging many times the industry norm? Very likely.

You have to weigh the pros of your current host against what it would take to move to a new server and the risks that come with such a move. If an objective analysis gives you a lot of reasons to be unhappy with your host, then maybe such a move is in order, but if your feelings are more lukewarm than angry, it might be best to stay put, at least for now.

Since prices consistently trend downward in this industry, the longer you can put off a move, generally, the better. If you’re reasonably happy with your host it’s probably best to stay with them but, if they are lagging behind in a serious way, you shouldn’t hesitate to jump ship.

The secret is to find a middle ground between leaping blindly from host to host and staying on a sinking ship. If you can do that, you’ll likely find that you get the most out of your hosting arrangements, even and find yourself very happy this time next year.

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