Today, it is easier than ever to create a website without the help of a professional designer. More and more people are taking advantage of this, including local mom-and-pop stores, community groups, and even personal pages of friends and family. Almost everyone has his or her own site these days, which makes web hosting big business. With any big business boom comes a lot of competition. Some web hosting companies are great; others, not so much.
We’ve all seen ads online for web hosts promising you the moon and the stars for next to nothing; some companies even run commercials on television. The question remains: are those amazing web hosting deals often really following through on what they promise? How can you be sure you are selecting a reputable company? How do you protect yourself against being taken advantage of? Let’s explore some of the more common pitfalls often associated with web hosting companies, and how you can avoid them.
Bait and Switch Advertising
- “Free to sign up!”
- “Buy one year, get one free!”
- “50% off—if you act now!”
Sounds like you’re getting a great deal, right? Not necessarily. While some reputable web hosts may indeed occasionally run specials or promotions, it’s wise to heed the age-old adage: “most of the time, you get what you pay for.” Not all web hosting companies are created equal; before you agree to anything and fork over your payment information, take time to read the fine print and ask yourself these two very questions:
1. What exactly is it that I’m signing up for with this company?
Many unscrupulous web hosting companies exploit the fact that most new website owners are not terribly experienced. After a short period of time, you may discover your website is no longer viewable unless you upgrade to their more expensive “premium” service. Sound familiar?
All too often, a new customer is lured in by the promise of cheap web hosting, only to discover that he or she needs to pay even more money just to access critical, basic services that should already be included in any reasonable hosting package. Don’t get taken for a ride; make sure everything is spelled out writing beforehand. Know exactly which features are included. Here are some important ones to ask about:
- Amount of web space
- File types and sizes supported
- FTP access
- Number of emails
- Bandwidth allotment
- Tech support access
2. Are the discounts or specials being offered to me going to be eventually offset by huge increases in price, after the promotions are discontinued?
There might be a very good reason why your web hosting is so inexpensive at first. It may be because your host is going to jack your monthly rate up through the roof in a few months once they have you under contract; that is, once they have you trapped and committed, to recoup their initial losses. This type of bait-and-switch is very common among many types of companies, with cable television providers often being a great example.
Your contract should specify exactly how much you will be paying throughout the entire duration of your agreement with the web hosting company—not just the promotional period. Furthermore, you should be aware of what your recourse is should you find yourself dissatisfied with the host. Do you lose rights to your website? What about cancellation fees? Make sure everything is in writing.
Many web hosting companies start up and fold just a short time later, often hanging their customers out to dry in the process. Another unfortunate trend: companies that know they provide less-than-stellar hosting quality or service, but rather than attempting to improve anything on their end, they simply lie their way out of it by creating fake positive reviews for themselves online.
Some companies take it a step further by actually creating a fake website full of these fake reviews, or hire an existing website owner to promote them on their site. In exchange, that owner will get a commission for every new customer their site directs to the web host. It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate a “real” review site from a fake one. However, there are two key red flags to watch out for:
1. Most “real” review companies will offer in-depth information, both good and bad, about a variety of well-known web hosting companies.
In contrast, a fake review site will often espouse the virtues of one very specific web hosting company ad nauseum. If you read a review site and find yourself thinking, “This writer likes that web host so much, it almost sounds like he/she is on their payroll,” chances are that you are absolutely correct.
The complete absence of negative reviews should also raise concern. Even the best web hosts out there don’t manage to impress all of their customers 100% of the time, and if you think about it, most people are much quicker to write a scathing review than a complimentary one.
2. Do the customer reviews include detailed customer information, or just provide a name?
Many big websites allow their customers to write reviews about their products or services, which are then posted on the site for everyone else to read. Most of the time, you have to already have an account with this website, and in addition to providing your contact information, you also typically have a credit card on file with them proving you are who you say you are. In this way, other customers can recognize that you are a real person, offering a real review.
In contrast, many fake review websites permit just about anyone to write and post a review. Some don’t even ask for an email address, allowing you to post anonymously. Be wary of any review site that allows this practice. In addition to the companies themselves writing fake positive reviews on their own behalf, there are businesses out there that get paid to write fake reviews for others. They typically get posted to sites where detailed customer information isn’t required, and therefore cannot be verified.
With a little research and patience, you can find a variety of reputable web hosting companies out there. Keep an eye out for the red flags mentioned above, and remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
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