You know better than to conduct “research” solely on a company’s own website. After all, they’re not going to put any reviews or testimonies online that aren’t glowing! However, looking over numerous third party review sites can get old, fast. This is especially true in the world of virtual private server/VPS hosting, where the review sites are fewer and farther between. You’re unlikely to find much on popular boards like Yelp, and poring over niche industry boards can be frustrating. Fortunately, there are a few key phrases you should keep an eye out for.
First of all, remember that a lack of reviews on third party sites doesn’t mean much in the web hosting world. Since there are thousands of web hosts, it’s very likely that smaller companies don’t have enough clients to warrant ample reviews. That’s perfectly fine, but you should gauge quality in other ways—such as actually calling and talking to customer service.
However, if your potential web host has racked up some reviews, here’s what they should feature:
- Explicit examples: Sure, it’s “great” if a host’s review says something like, “Great host!” but what does that really mean? This could be a friend of the host company’s owner trying to help out (solicited or not) and it doesn’t really tell you anything. Instead, look for key examples and stories which help identify what the host does that’s so fabulous (and helps validate that the review is genuine).
- Look for mentions of your specific concerns: A host with rave reviews for their dedicated hosting packages isn’t going to help you in your search for the perfect VPS host. Before you start looking at reviews, verify that the host even offers VPS packages first. Most web hosting companies don’t, and you can waste your time looking at hosts that only offer basic and dedicated plans.
- Watch for mentions of customer service: Customer service is a huge deal, and that’s what you’ll be hungry for if/when there’s an emergency. Reviews that make no mention of customer service and focus solely on quality of the hardware can be dangerous. Yes, you need quality hardware, but not at the cost of customer service. Go for a balance.
- Look at the dates: Were there a smattering of fantastic reviews in 2010, but only crickets afterward? That can be a sign that 1) the company was paying or otherwise soliciting for reviews around 2010 and/or 2) that the company has gone downhill from then. Look for reviews posted in the past 18 months.
- Identifying information: There are certainly benefits to being able to post a review anonymously. However, positive reviewers should be happy to share some part of their identity. Look for reviewers who have posted an impressive number of reviews (not just one or two), and who are willing to share a first name, active profile, and/or some means of communication (like an anonymous email address).
Reviews can only tell you so much, but they’re a great tool for indicating if a web host is worth your time or not.