Chatty DM’s running a series on starting an RPG blog. So far, it’s covered three questions: Why?, How?, and What?. Or more verbosely, Why should I start a blog?, How do I start a blog?, and What should I blog about?. The series is full of good advice so far, and so are some of the comments. There’s more to come in the near future, too. I’m finding it very helpful.
This post was originally a comment I made to the How? article. I think perhaps it deserves its own space, if for nothing else than my own future ease of reference. It’s regarding searching for a web hosting provider for a blog — though it applies equally well if you want to find hosting for another sort of site.
For anyone in the position of looking for hosting who’s not familiar with the search, I offer the following advice. In a way it’s tangential to the blog itself, but it’s also probably the single most important decision you’ll make. Awful hosting can torpedo a blog.
1. Ignore hosting-company rating sites, especially “top 10″ sites. Many of them are biased either through payola-style schemes or through artificial positive reviews planted by hosting company employees.
2. Do research, though. Look for forums or other discussion sites. Ask people you know. Do a Google search for the name of the prospective hosting company +”downtime” or +”problems” or +”complaints”. Check the company’s website; you want one that’s written in a professional manner, not littered with mistakes, and that’s laid out clearly and cleanly, not confusing or overwhelmingly flashy. Find out how long the company’s been in business. Check WHOIS; if the company’s domain name was registered more recently than they claim to have been in business, that’s a red flag. If contact info in WHOIS doesn’t match what’s on the company’s site, that’s not good either. If the company gives no contact info other than a single email address, that’s probably not a good sign.
3. Be wary of providers that offer “unlimited” bandwidth or storage. They cannot provide it. Check the Terms of Service and the Acceptable Use Policy; these will usually reveal that if you use too many resources, you’ll have to either scale back or upgrade to a private server. This is not necessarily bad if numbers are provided — but those numbers are the actual bandwidth/storage you’re getting. If numbers aren’t provided, then it’s at the host’s discretion, so make sure you’re okay with that before signing up.
4. Actually, make sure you read the TOS and AUP before signing up anyway. Yeah, those things people never read. You don’t want a surprise in the form of waking up to find your account suspended.
5. Send a ticket in via their listed support address, if it’s feasible. You might ask, for instance, whether the uptime rate they claim (usually over 99%) is based on server uptime or network uptime, and whether they can provide you with independent corroboration of that statistic. This is not only to get more information — it’s also to see how their response time is. If you wait three days for a reply, then you can expect that their technical support will be lacking when your site goes down or you have problems getting your script to load. (On the other hand, remember that some providers might treat you better as a prospective customer than they might as an actual customer… so a lightning-quick response time, while a good sign, is not necessarily indicative.)
6. Remember that price isn’t everything. The cheapest hosts probably don’t provide the best service. (Good tech support costs money.) On the other hand, the most expensive host doesn’t necessarily provide the best service, either. Figure out a price range your budget can bear, and go looking within that range.
7. If your prospective host offers a “free” domain name with their hosting plan, look into it carefully before you decide to register your domain name that way. Make sure that it will be registered in your name, rather than the host’s. Otherwise you could run into problems if you need to change hosts for whatever reason.
8. If your prospective host doesn’t offer a money-back guarantee, think very carefully before signing on. Most hosts do. Along the same lines, though less commonly, some hosts will offer monthly service. It’s typically more expensive in the long run, but might be very worthwhile to test out a new host before committing to a year or more of service.
I realize a lot of that sounds pretty basic, but they’re the kind of things I’ve seen overlooked — it can be easy to do when your mind is focused on the blog itself, and it can be rather detrimental in the long run.