How do I pick a website host? What questions should I ask? Hope me host!
June 27, 2012 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for a webhost for my work website. What sort of questions should I be asking "Sarah in Utah" about their web hosting service? What should I be considering while making a decision?

I have built a Wordpress site on Instant Wordpress. It's ready to go, now it just needs to be hosted. I'm in the midst of "interviewing" hosting services, and am not sure if I'm asking the right questions. I am very, very, very new at this and have no idea what I am doing.

About us:

Small not-for-profit public institution.
Site would need to be updated often.
Although we have a tight budget, the Board of Trustees has indicated that quality is more important than going with the cheapest option (I agree).
Wordpress site built by an enthusiastic n00b.

What I have been asking:

Will I easily be able to upload the website I have created on Instant Wordpress?
Will we easily be able to update the site from many different locations (work computers, home computers)
Do you have any specials or programs for not-for-profit organizations? (Sometimes we qualify, sometimes we don't, not a huge deal either way)
Is it possible to receive invoices for payment? We do not have a credit card and would need to be billed.
Do you have any sort of trial period?
What is your downtime percentage?
What sort of customer support do you offer (24/7/365? Phone, live chat, email? This is important because downtime on our site would be bad bad bad, and I am not terribly skilled at technical problem solving)
What percentage of your hosting is for small businesses or not-for-profit organizations?
Do you have any referrals, particularly other small business or not-for-profit organizations that already use your hosting?

What am I missing? I've contacted two places so far (DreamHost and Bluehost) and I kind of feel like I'm not asking the right questions...and that I'm getting stock answers. I don't feel like I'm getting the full story or even enough information to make logical comparisons. Help!

Also, if you have the *PERFECT* hosting service for us, I'd love to hear it.
posted by Elly Vortex to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The "no credit card" thing is sort of the worst presenting problem here. You are not going to have any of these other problems.

I've used Dreamhost, Mediatemple, Amazon and Datagram. You are, I would say, absolutely over-working here. They are all fine, and there are many other fine choices, which users have relayed here on AskMe before. You absolutely ARE getting stock answers. Essentially everyone has 99.9+% uptime, essentially. You can do this for $20 a month to start, upgrading if you ever need it. For those kind of cheapo programs, you will not get immediate customer support, but you won't really need it. If you want to pay a bit more, go with Amazon. If you want to pay a lot more, go with a boutique firm like Datagram, which you absolutely do not need. Web hosting has come a long way!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:49 AM on June 27, 2012

Do they provide backups and offsite tape storage as an option.
How long does it take to restore from backup?
What are their scheduled maintenance windows?
Is there a technician available to speak on the phone 24 hours a day?
Is there a named account representative to act as an advocate with internal support?
Do they guarantee page response or load times?
How do you remedy poor systems response due to overall system load from other users?

A single homed website is at best 99% uptime, you aren't going to get better than this no matter what they tell you, which is about 85 hours give or take unplanned outages a year. It's possible they have redundant components all the way through the infrastructure to get you to 99.5%, but unlikely for commodity hosting.
posted by iamabot at 7:51 AM on June 27, 2012

I have worked with people who used godaddy. Customer service was quite poor.
posted by theora55 at 8:07 AM on June 27, 2012

I do webhosting for mostly nonprofits, libraries, and I'd say you're asking mostly the right questions.

>>Will I easily be able to upload the website I have created on Instant Wordpress?
>>Will we easily be able to update the site from many different locations (work computers, home computers)

These answers should all be the same, yes. If anyone gives you a different answer, run.

>>Do you have any sort of trial period?
This should be yes.

>>What is your downtime percentage?
Hope they have something independent to point you to.

>>What sort of customer support do you offer (24/7/365? Phone, live chat, email? This is important because downtime on our site would be bad bad bad, and I am not terribly skilled at technical problem solving)

Everyone thinks downtime on their site would be bad bad bad. Every web host thinks even 10 seconds of downtime is bad bad bad bad bad bad bad x100. Every web host does everything they can to keep things running 100% of the time.

That being said, if you break wordpress, or something goes wrong with a plug, don't expect a helluvallota help at fixing things from most big places though, you're paying for hosting, and support means supporting things on the server, things they are responsible for. Being not terribly skilled at technical problem solving with wordpress usually means asking on the wordpress support forums. This sould be the most important thing for you to consider because everyone will have the same answer for everything else.

>>What am I missing? I've contacted two places so far (DreamHost and Bluehost) and I kind of feel like I'm not asking the right questions...and that I'm getting stock answers

You're getting stock answers because those are stock questions really. But those are the questions to ask! This is the same thing most people ask me all the time. DreamHost and Bluehost are both giants and both due a good job most of the time. I've had a VPS with DH for years, they're usually good, no one is perfect. DH does have some kind of discount for nonprofits as well.
posted by Blake at 8:11 AM on June 27, 2012

Question 1: Do you have a bandwidth cap per month?

Question 2: What happens if we exceed the cap?

That second question is very important, because there are a couple of possibilities you may not like. One response is to shut the site down until the 1st. Another is to keep serving it, but to hit you with huge extra charges.

A sharp spike of traffic is always possible, if the site is linked by SlashDot, or Fark, or (I daresay) Metafilter, and you need to know what will happen in that case.

There have been people whose sites got slashdotted who suddenly discovered that they owed thousands of dollars to their hosting companies.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:43 AM on June 27, 2012

For the tight budget, and level of customer service you desire, I suggest A Small Orange. They have fantastic customer service, even for your own Wordpress issues. I don't know how large your site will be to begin with, but their shared hosting plans start at $35 per year.

I've had their hosting for years, and couldn't be happier with them.
posted by ThisKindNepenthe at 8:54 AM on June 27, 2012

Dreamhost is free for nonprofits. They're a reliable, full-service web hosting company. They support a one-click installation of WordPress that can be set to update itself automatically. We've been using them for six years at my organization without a single mishap -- I recommend them highly.

GoDaddy is a vile company that is likely to be mission-antithetical to your organization. I recommend you have nothing to do with them.
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 10:26 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it's all on Wordpress, it's always worth considering if you could host it at The biggest risk in Wordpress right now, is if your hosting provider doesn't stay up to date with security updates.
posted by advicepig at 11:53 AM on June 27, 2012

A Small Orange is great and I think they will invoice (not 100% sure; I use a CC but the verbiage in the customer support area gives me the impression that they will invoice).

Definitely check them out.
posted by RandyWalker at 1:04 PM on June 27, 2012

I'm going to make a slightly different suggestion here and recommend going with hosting. It's a hosted Wordpress install, so you don't need to install anything or touch the filesystem/FTP at all.

You can pay for premium services, such as using your own domain name and custom design.

The disadvantages of this service are a reduced amount of configurability and customization, while the benefits are the stability, not having to worry about security updates, and knowing that the server is tuned well for the app that you're running.

From my reading of your situation, those advantages trump those disadvantages, and if you ever outgrow the service, it's very straightforward to then move the entire site to your own hosting environment.
posted by camcgee at 1:23 PM on June 27, 2012

It sounds like what you're really in the market for is someone to be available for lots of hand-holding. I do some private hosting for clients who would find themselves completely lost if I just handed them a hosting account and expected them to operate independently. All they want is access to their blog software admin panels, the operation of which is a daunting enough task for them, and a simple but quality webmail service that interacts well with their smartphones. Navigating CPanel, Plesk, or some of the proprietary hosting admin panels is pretty much beyond them.

If you can talk to some other small businesses or non-profits, they might be in a similar situation and have found "a guy" they can recommend who takes care of this for them.

And yeah, the no credit card thing could be a problem. I run very small shop and I'd be pretty wary about initiating services with a new client via check. Automated monthly recurring credit card billing or prepayment for an entire year are the only forms of payment I accept.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 2:07 PM on June 27, 2012

As Flag said above, Dreamhost is free for non-profits and I have made good experiences with them.
posted by nostrada at 2:20 PM on June 27, 2012

(disclaimer: I work for a company that does this kinda thing.) i second ferdinand.bardamu in that what you would probably be better off with is not necessarily just a straight-up host (like Dreamhost is). you'd probably be better off finding a company that's closer to a web design firm than merely a straight-up host, as they'll be more willing to provide hand-holding and even straight up programming and stuff for you. unless your site is going to be fairly static in what gizmos and gadgets you add onto it, it may be a good idea to have someone who'll actually run the software bit of it for you.

your basic hosting plan pretty much gives you a place to put the actual site, and that's about it. if you manage to migrate your WordPress install over there successfully and then munge it up somehow, it'll really be on you to fix it - if it's not a for-real the server itself is down issue, it's not their responsibility. a web design company will be more apt to actually run the software side of it for you. you'll still log into WordPress and do all your actual site updating stuff there (if you want - some folks will hand that upstream to the company even) but if you need something bigger done on it (like, say, a new template or some advanced functionality added) they'll work with you to take care of it. plus, they'll also handle all the low-level server bits (or at least be partnered with a company that does that). the big downside is that they'll be more expensive.

also, for what it's worth, the recommendation to use the for-pay hosting is also a good idea - they'd actually count as the "closer to a web design company" thing here, since they'll also support the software behind it and will keep that up to date and all that.
posted by mrg at 4:57 PM on June 27, 2012

Update: I went with several of your suggestions of Dreamhost. There was some stupidity when it came to the set-up (rookie mistakes by yours truly) and untangling the mistakes took a ton of time. Worse, Dreamhost is just god-awful with customer service. Each time I had a question I had to open a new ticket. If I had a follow up question, I would have to open a new ticket. I tried responding to the earlier ticket replies but got nowhere. It was INFURIATING.

Maybe I'm just a luddite, but it just killed me how ridiculous their trouble ticket system was. What would have been a ten-minute telephone conversation turned into a five-day ticket-and-response drama. But perhaps this is just what dealing with online customer service in the 21st century is like. :-/

Now that the site is up and running, things are great.
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:35 AM on December 31, 2012

Not a big fan of Dreamhost after using it for over a year. Thankfully it was just a simple website (hobby and stuff). Will drop Dreamhost to look at the other options here.
posted by pakora1 at 4:55 PM on April 19, 2013

« Older Pulling the plug on cable   |   Have you made the switch from freelancing to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.