There is no perfect technology, and there is no perfect web hosting company. Most significantly, there are no perfect web hosting customers. Things can and do go wrong, even with the best hosting plans. Good technical and customer support is one of the most important things to look for when choosing a web hosting company.
People have all sorts of reasons for selecting one hosting company over another. Price is certainly one major consideration for a lot of people. Recommendations and good reviews are certainly helpful. Of course you need a hosting company that supports the technology you plan to use and provides a reasonable amount of security.
But many web hosting companies have similar plans at similar prices, with similar features running similar platforms. How do you decide between two virtually identical shared hosting plans? How do you decide between this VPS and that VPS?
Support. Always go with the company that has a better support team.
What could go wrong?
If you’re on shared hosting plan, you could find your IP address blocked by a firewall because someone else on the same machine is hosting adult content. You won’t know why, though. You’ll just notice a sudden and unexplainable reduction in site traffic.
You might have periodic outages caused by a faulty piece of hardware in a data center far away. You have no idea where your data is being stored, and you can’t help the fact that even the best equipment breaks from time to time. You just know that you’ve had ten people tell you they couldn’t load your site in the last three days.
Perhaps you need to install a Ruby on Rails application and no matter how many times you follow the instructions you found online, there some kind of dependency management issue caused by file permissions disallowing the installation of certain gems.
These are just a few examples, drawn from real-life experience, of things that can go wrong with web hosting. In each case, the problem wasn’t “bad hosting” — they were just the sort of random things that sometime happen. Technology sometimes fails. Sometimes you’re unlucky.
In each of the three real-life cases mentioned above, the solution wasn’t switching to better hosting. The solution was to call customer support and get somebody to help. Without good customer support, its hard to say how those situations would have turned out.
Almost all hosting companies have email support or some kind of help ticketing system. These are fine, and you should use them for minor, non-emergency issues.
But when you are having a serious problem, you want someone to call. No serious online project should be hosted with a company that doesn’t have phone support. Ideally, you want 24/7 phone support, with a call center in your own country.
Other Support Considerations and Options
Web hosting companies provide a lot of support services. Some are important, some are advertising hype, and some are only important to certain types of customers.
- Free Module Installation — You will see this, or something similar, advertised by many hosting companies, especially providers of shared hosting plans. It refers to the ability to install CMS modules to systems like Drupal or Joomla. Usually all you need to accomplish this is FTP access. If you need more direct help installing add-ons to a Content Management System, you may need managed hosting.
- Instant Activation — Some hosting companies take a long time to process purchases. Others process them automatically, giving you immediate access to your hosting account. Even if you’re not in a big hurry, you should usually go with a company that activates accounts instantly. Not because this feature is all that important, but because slow activations and manual processing are a symptom of an inefficient hosting company. If they can’t get this right, you can be sure that you’ll run into other problems.
- Transfer Support — If you are moving a website from one host to another, especially something with a database (like a WordPress or Drupal site), you may want to get transfer support from your new hosting company. A lot of little things can go wrong in the process, so if you’re not a tech expert it can really help to have support help you through it.
- Uptime Guarantee — Unfortunately, Uptime Guarantees are mostly marketing hype. The fine print specifying how “99.99%” is calculated always strongly favors the company, and there is often no compensation provided to the customer in the case of a broken guarantee. At best, excessive downtime can make you eligible for a refund, but most Terms of Service agreements make it impossible to recover lost income caused by downtime.
Customer Support vs. Technical Support
There is a big difference between a support hotline that will help you change your password or update your billing information and one that will help you resolve technical problems.
Be sure that you purchase a hosting plan that has technical phone support, not just support for customer account issues.
How to find good support
Every company says that they have a good support team, with a great call center full of well-trained agents. So how do you know which companies actually have good support and which ones don’t?
Look at our ratings and read reviews for the hosting companies you are considering. People love to compliment or complain about their support experiences, so this will give you a vivid picture of what to expect from each company.