One of the most discerning decisions a website designer has to take is where to host a client's website. Cheapest is certainly not best because it ignores other crucial factors such as server speed, backup, security, reliability and customer service. Finding a hosting company where the balance of all these factors favour the client can be tricky.
I'm possibly an exception amongst website designers in that I ask my clients to buy their own hosting. This enables them to retain control of their site and take their business elsewhere if that's what they prefer. Few have actually done that, but I don't want to tie people's hands.
I therefore recommend a hosting company and ask my clients to sign up with them. I provide notes about which links to click, and ask for emails to be forwarded to me. I then do the installations and server and email configuration, and summarise all accounts and passwords in a document that I send out to each client as a site is launched.
But the decision on which hosting company to recommend is mine and comes from experience.
Hosting companies come and go. They also rise in the ranks of esteem and can plummet from grace. Plotting where a company is in this changing landscape can be done through regular feedback from sites that I have out in the field.
I've already written – glowingly – about Pingdom, a company I use to monitor clients' live sites. Not only do they send me email alerts each time a site goes down at an individual hosting company, but I get a monthly summary of uptime. These summaries help me see which hosting companies provide good uptime stats. They help me make informed decisions.
Recently I had a frenzy of activity that resulted from a small and specialised hosting company, that I had been using for seven different clients, contacting me to warn me that they were shutting up shop for personal reasons. This was pretty devestating because they had been providing extraordinarily good service with very fast, well-balanced servers. I needed to find a new home for these sites and get each of them moved across - and quickly.
I had a couple of hosting companies in mind, but also wanted to check out some others – in France and in the UK – whose presentation looked good, so I contacted four or five companies with some technical questions.
This was a good move because it enabled me to judge a company's speed and quality of response. It enabled me to discount three companies immediately because their replies came in the next day or later. Further questions whittled the field down to just the one hosting company, a company that I was already using for three clients, and who had been giving me a very favourable impression.
The hosting company that came out on top was Pipe Ten. Here's their distinctive logo:
'Pipe' suggests 'connection to the internet' and '10' or 'to the power of ten' suggests 'ten times better than the competition'. So are they?
Pipe Ten pride themselves on the quality of their customer service. Their technical service is great. Their servers are fast, safe and well-balanced. Their support team know their stuff. If I ask a question it gets answered. There's no evasive waffling. More to the point, they reply quickly. They reply in readable English. They deal with problems if and when they arise.
This makes Pipe Ten something of an exception. Especially the speed with which they reply. Setting aside their automated acknowledgements, Pipe Ten's technical support tickets usually get answered in under 30 minutes. Sometimes the answer comes back in under 5 minutes. That's not just special, it's extraordinary! It means that if a problem crops up with one of my client's sites which requires intervention by the hosting company, then it can be dealt with more quickly than if the site had been hosted elsewhere.