Modern web clients have many choices for their hosting company. Gone are the days when clients were limited to a few local hosts. Today, email and low-cost long distance access have given users a choice of hosts anywhere in the country. These hosts have grown in sophistication from the hole-in-the-wall outfit containing a few machines to full-blown server farms. Modern hosts are easier to work with, easier to setup, and much more reliable. Now that hosts are as plentiful as oranges at the supermarket, how do you choose the best orange?
Challenges to “Try Before You Buy”
Like many other things, you never really know when a hosting service is good until you live with it for a while. Some key checkpoints are:
- The first billing problem
- A year’s worth of reliability – a downtime check
- The first technical problem – is the staff knowledgeable, professional, and competent enough to fix the problem quickly?
If your site passes this litmus test, then you are good to go. However, what do you do when it does not meet expectations? Even sites that offer a month-to-month billing plan, which is virtually a try-before-you-buy situation due to low monthly costs, unsatisfied clients must still transfer their sites and begin from scratch with a new host. For this reason, it is economically imperative that clients do all the homework they can before they commit.
Reviews Are a Strong Newcomer Strategy
The quality of hosts varies according to their offerings. For instance, a host that does a good job with a WordPress blog site may not be suitable for an Active Server Pages (ASP) application, or even a simple storefront. This means that unless a client has had a good experience with a hosting provider for a particular type of website or has a trusted friend with the same requirements, then they are virtually a newcomer. In that case, one of the best research strategies is to get information from reviewers. These reviewers have run the gauntlet with the potential web hosts and can talk about the journey.
Different Types of Review Strategies
Modern hosting companies have the option to manage their own publicity. There are various channels, each with their own level of control by the hosts and their credibility. Some of these are:
- Reviews by the host – many hosts offer “marketing blurbs” from satisfied customers. These often display prominently on their home page, or in a rightmost column on all pages. In general, none are negative. Companies generally get these blurbs by soliciting current customers although there is no mechanism to preclude reviews by the host site staff.
- Review forums by the host – a slightly more credible source are support forums on the hosting site. The types of issues discussed at these forums give specific experience points to the client. However, these posts are often heavily regulated. Fair but critical posts do not always see the light of day.
- Independent third party review sites – independent review sites have much more credibility than anything within the hosting company’s purview. These sites generally make their money by capitalizing on their traffic through ads and other marketing instruments. Because their money does not come from the hosts they discuss, there is no conflict of interest.
- Third party review sites, subsidized by the hosts – some third party sites appear like independent sites, but in reality post reviews only by hosts that pay them an affiliate fee. This payment creates a conflict of interest, and the associated reviews may be suspect.
- Social media sites – businesses of all sorts, including hosting providers, are taking advantage of social media as an advertising channel. Because all may participate, including the staff of hosting providers, there is a basic credibility for this source. On the other hand, there is not a mechanism for filtering provider shills as there is for many independent sites, and so many of those appearing as users on social sites may in reality be provider staff.
Generally speaking, the more control a hosting company has over the reviews, the less credibility those reviews afford. Clients do best to follow reviews from sites as far removed from the hosting company influence as possible.
How to Choose a Real Review Site
One way to get the instinct for choosing a real review site is to study Amazon.com. Because Amazon’s reputation determines the level of their repeat business, they are careful to maintain the integrity of their review system. Some key signs are:
- The review profile – like Amazon, many review sites post a histogram for each listing. This is a bar chart ranging from the highest rating to the lowest. A good product will be top heavy. A legitimate review site will not all have top-heavy histograms.
- Common language – a give-away of influenced sites is common language among the reviews. Although a few of the reviews may be negative to add credibility, a similar tone in the writing indicates the reviews are all coming from the same person.
- Reality check – most affiliate sites will have some notable no-shows. A hosting review site that does not include such top-tier providers as PureHost (formerly Dell hosting services), KnownHost, WiredTree, or FutureHosting are likely affiliate sites.
Case in Point: WebHostingGeeks.com
WebHostingGeeks is an example of a very-convincing review site that is still an affiliate site. They say they do not fake reviews, forge ratings, or hide anything (such as affiliate links.) They talk the talk, and use sincere language. They are very convincing. However, a savvy client with a little time to research will soon find that they do not pass the checks listed above that are necessary for a real review site.
Review the Reviewers
Perhaps one of the best ways to get a quick sense of a review site is to get a review on it. By searching the keywords “Review WebHostingGeeks”, clients can find several sites that explain that WebHostingGeeks is in fact an affiliate site.
Today’s environment of high accessibility has made a mindset of caveat emptor more important than ever. Sites that purport to be independent but in fact are not underline the importance of careful research. Those searching for the right hosting provider on the first try should focus their efforts on truly independent third party review sites.
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