Questions to ask before recommending a host to your client

Written by Nicole Kohler on August 25, 2015 Blog.

As a developer, you’re used to answering questions for your clients, both the easy ones and the tough ones. Some of the answers you give are the same for every client, but some answers are different for everyone.

“Where should I host my website?” is one of those tricky, every-answer-is-different questions. And it should be: every project is different, and no one host fits everyone. So it’s sometimes a challenge to answer that question immediately, or to even come up with a thorough response.

Today, we’re going to give you a list of questions you should ask when the topic of hosting comes up. These are questions you might ask the client, ask yourself as the developer, or even ask the hosting companies you’re considering. They’ll help you make a smart decision and well thought-out recommendation for each client you work with, both now and in the future.

Let’s go over the questions you should ask when you get the hosting question, one-by-one, to find out how you can use the right criteria to suggest the best solution possible.

A necessary note: your client’s host affects much more than your client

Asking questions and using criteria to pick a host probably sounds like a lot of work. It probably sounds a lot easier to recommend a hosting company you like or have worked with off the fly. And it is, on both accounts.

However, you might not realize the huge impact that picking a host has. Your client’s host affects:

  • Your client, obviously, who expects the host to work with their site and meet their needs
  • Your client’s customers, who expect the site to be fast — and they’ll leave without buying if it’s not
  • You, because you’ll be the one logging in to do all the work
  • Your ability to make money — if the site isn’t making money, you might not be able to get paid
  • Your reputation, potentially — if you recommend a host that isn’t a good fit, and a migration is necessary, you might be on the receiving end of some complaints

These are just a few of the reasons why picking the right host matters more than picking one quickly.

With that in mind, let’s dive into the questions you should be asking each time you have this question posed by a client, whether they’re a small business owner creating their very first online store or an enterprise level company starting their tenth.

What does the host need to be capable of in a few years?

If your client is having you design and build them a blog, it’s easy enough to recommend a small host that works well enough with WordPress. But what happens in twelve months when their popularity has skyrocketed, they’ve added thousands of posts, and their host simply doesn’t know how to handle the demand?

Uhoh.
Uhoh.

Don’t only think about what your client needs now — think about what they might need in one, two, or more years. This might mean recommending a host that offers multiple tiers of hosting packages instead of just one option. Or it might mean opting for managed WordPress hosting, even though it seems like overkill at the very start.

You can probably get a good sense of how a project might grow right away. If you’re building a five page portfolio or online resume for a young professional, managed hosting will always be overkill — that site isn’t going to grow. But for an online store, blog, or company website, it would be a mistake not to anticipate growth.

The worst case scenario is that the growth doesn’t happen and your client has spent a few extra dollars being prepared for it. The best case is that they grow gracefully and never have to worry about not having enough bandwidth to support their visitors.

If you want to pre-empt questions about this kind of thing, consider saying something like this up front:

I recommend [name of host and their plan] for your site. There are some less expensive options out there; however, by using this solution, you’ll be adequately prepared for any sudden influxes in visitors, holiday sales, and your site’s long-term growth. It will also keep you from needing to switch hosts after a few months after you outgrow a solution like [name another cheaper host here], which can take a lot of time and be a huge hassle.

What host-specific benefits does your client need?

Consider what your client needs other than storage space for their site. Do they already have a domain name? What about email hosting?

Some hosts will be able to offer you a great deal on hosting, but others can bundle in a domain name for an even better price. Still others can provide added perks like automatic software installations and updates, email hosting, multiple domain names, and other add-ons for a flat fee or even for free.

Before recommending a host, ask your client if they need anything like this:

  • One or more domain names or subdomains
  • File storage that goes beyond the norm — that is, space for large audio or video files
  • Email hosting or forwarding
  • A specific content management system or eCommerce platform
  • Security options that keep their site safe in the event of a brute force attack or newly discovered vulnerability
  • If needed or desired (you be the judge), automatic or managed updates of software to save time and hassle

Knowing what additional items are needed will narrow your search to hosts who either offer these items bundled in at a reduced cost, or have partners who offer them at a discount. This will both save your client money and you the hassle of setting up services from multiple partners.

What kind of technical knowledge does your client have?

When you refer to your client’s FTP, do they nod their head and talk about transferring files right along with you? Or do their eyes sort of… glaze over a bit?

Your client’s level of technical knowledge should also impact the host that you recommend. Some hosts are a little more “DIY” than others, and their documentation is sparse or only easy to understand if you’re a developer (or at least very tech-savvy). But many entry-level hosts have documentation that is easy to read, or offer perks like real-time chat support for tricky situations.

If you’re going to be leaving a WooCommerce site in the hands of a client who isn’t technically savvy, picking a host with an equally complex cPanel, complicated or sparse documentation, and email-only support won’t be the right call. On the other hand, choosing one that has simple options, lots of guides, and a variety of support options will help them out immensely.

Will this be overwhelming to your client? (Image credit: Tim Dorr)
Will this be overwhelming to your client? (Image credit: Tim Dorr)

Try reviewing each potential host’s website with the mindset of a brand new website owner — what would be confusing or complicated? Where do you see the potential for issues? Or, where are there options to get more help or even learn a thing or two?

How involved will you be with this client long-term?

Choosing a managed WordPress host, or a host with a great support system, can be pricier for your client. But it’s absolutely worth it in the long run if you aren’t their long-term development partner.

If you won’t be around to help with things, you should recommend a host that can step in and lend a hand in the event of minor problems. Between your knowledge of the client’s technical skillset (as mentioned above) and your understanding of their site type (store, blog, portfolio, etc.), you’ll probably have a pretty good idea of what these problems could be, and how they might react.

If you’re not certain which hosts offer this kind of hands-on support — or have a support system at all — you can read reviews to find out. There are plenty of hosting reviews online, for example:

Note: some of the sites above may receive commission in exchange for posting hosting reviews or links. As always, do your due diligence — check multiple sources for feedback, and if a review seems fishy, trust your gut.

Support tends to be one of the topics that comes up the most in reviews, so you likely won’t have to look very long to find the feedback you want.

If your relationship with this client will be long-term, or at least longer than a single project, reading reviews is still a good idea. But you’ll want to look out for things like ease of access, control panel usability, and long-term stability instead of user support. These are things that will affect you, not your client, and determine how quickly you can resolve any issues that might come up during development.

Finally, what does the client’s CMS recommend?

If you know your client’s going to be using a specific CMS — or you’ve chosen one for them — it’s always worth a look to see if that CMS has a list of recommend hosting partners.

Sometimes these partners offer additional perks for those who sign up through the CMS, like hosting discounts or bonus features. So it’s definitely in your best interest, and your client’s, to see what the provider thinks.

Using a recommended host can benefit your client.
Using a recommended host can benefit your client.

If you’re curious about their reasoning for their recommendations, you can always contact them to ask what makes these hosts so great. Often they’ve polled their customers to find out which hosts have delivered the best experience, or have negotiated specific hosting environments for their users. But it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Just as an example, here’s our page on WooCommerce hosting, complete with discounts for signing up through the provided links.

Disclaimer: we earn commission for new host signups made through the page linked above. However, we wouldn’t recommend any host if they didn’t benefit our customers, and we’re sure you’ll find the same is true on any other eCommerce platform’s hosting page.

Ask good questions, get a great host

When your client asks “where should I host my site?” it’s easy to name a few partners you’ve worked with and liked before. But those partners aren’t always going to be the best fit.

By asking questions like the ones we’ve covered here, you’ll be able to pick the host that’s best for your client’s specific needs, their budget, and the project that you’re helping them with. You’ll also be able to find a long-term solution — not just the one that works now — and potentially make yourself look better for putting in the extra work.

Think about it this way: with an extra 20 or 30 minutes of research, you might save yourself a few hours of troubleshooting and headaches with their host. You might also make yourself look so knowledgeable that they want to hire you for more projects. So it’s a win-win all around.

Do you have any other criteria that you use to find hosting solutions for your clients? Any other questions you ask them, yourself, or a host before making a recommendation? If you have a minute, leave your thoughts in the comments — we’re always excited to hear from you.

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12 Responses

  1. Edie Etoile
    August 26, 2015 at 6:46 pm #

    If WooCommerce derives any income from this seeming advertisement/advertorial/possibly motivated post, then they have a moral and legal obligation (based on FTC Guides in the US and the law behind them) to disclose the relationship (on the each page).

    While you do mention partner status in this post, you don’t everywhere as you are required to. Particularly for the traffic to the link: http://woocommerce.com/woocommerce/download/#wc-hosting

    a page that doesn’t adhere to basic truth-in-advertising practice.

    Additionally, it irks me as a customer of yours that you are unfairly propping up a direct competitor of mine in unfair ways (improper transparency) skirting, dancing around or maybe even violating the core principles of fair business practice (principles that I follow, and you financially appear to gain from by not following).

    • Nicole Kohler
      August 26, 2015 at 9:05 pm #

      Hey Edie,

      The intent of this post was to help our developers recommend the best host to their clients. Not to make money, recommend a particular host, or benefit in any other way. If there’s any particular part of the post that you feel is misleading, then first and foremost I personally apologize. I invite you to point anything out that bothers you so I can edit it.

      The hosting page recommends hosts that either offer special discounts to WooCommerce customers that sign up through those links. We’re working to expand our recommended hosts and you are more than welcome to contact us about becoming one!

      I’ll speak to our team about clearly stating any commission or benefits that are earned, when there are any, on this page.

      Thank you for your comment, and again, if you feel any part of this post is not educational, I invite you to let me know.

      • Edie Etoile
        August 27, 2015 at 12:54 am #

        The “Who Is Hosting This?”, “PCMag”, “Web Hosting Geeks” are partner paid advertising sites that make a commission off of recommending web hosts on those pages. These are biased rankings. Only one has real customer reviews.

        You recommend WP who also makes a cut. How is this helpful to readers? It is profitable for WC, clearly.

        There are good places where folks can go where there are real reviews, policing, fact checking and one such place would be WebHostingTalk.com (I am no affiliated).

        As to your article: it doesn’t really address developers needs nor the needs of their clients in relation to WC/WP hosting.

        I find it interesting that at you would talk about “Automatic Updates” which from development and client perspectives are very against good practice.

        Nothing about testing updates prior to deployment. Cautioning clients about the needs for testing prior to just blindly applying updates. Nothing about backups (there should paragraphs on that). Nor security (again a major need and consideration for ecommerce). Nor firewalls–which of these hosts have firewalls installed on these $5-10/mo hosting VPS plans with active rules that specifically target their ecommerce platform?–certainly not those on the PCMag paid ad page.

        Your tech support is quick to remind folks that they should not just apply updates to an important ecommerce site before testing first. Of course, they say this when folks are angry that an update broke something. So, why nothing about it now? Because this in a post to drive affiliate/partner income. There are hundreds of scolds to angry reviewers and forum posters here and on the official WP review site by WC staff on how irresponsible it was for a client to apply untested (read staging server) patches.

        So how does recommending these low common denominator services help the client-developer relationship?

        As for Philip I take pride in calling an Automattic owned company on the carpet on a blog post of questionable nature because they practically invented the entire concept of responsible blogging and encouraged commenting. I’m commenting to try and get better quality posts. Am I supposed to tow the line and say it’s all good?

        Should I pretend that the last round of WC updates didn’t take a heavy toll on clients following poor practices? Just setup sites and give the clients no good practice advice. Point then to cheap, automatic, low quality, non-serious web hosts that have scant real human-code interaction and let the client come crawling back when things go very, very poorly. And they do.

        Web developers can server their clients well by:

        1). Explaining the use of plugins and how important applying updates, to a staging server first so that their site stays up.
        2). Selling maintenance plans to clients from day one so clients understand that carts don’t just work magically on their own. They take developer lead maintenance.

        3). 4). 5). … can’t WC come up with real client developer issues as related WC and WP?

        • Nicole Kohler
          August 27, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

          Hey Edie,

          Thanks first and foremost for coming back to leave your thoughts in such a detailed manner.

          With regards to the review sites, I wasn’t aware any of them stood to make a profit from the links. So that’s ignorance on my part. Thanks for cluing me in, I’ll update those.

          With regards to automatic updates, I think it’s also important to keep in mind that some WordPress sites DO benefit from them, and especially in certain cases. I’ve built relatively simple 10-20 page sites for myself/business purposes and when a host rolls out an automatic update because WordPress had a security issue, I appreciate that. And some developers are going to be building those small 2-5 page portfolio sites, or blogs with very few plugins, and automatic updates won’t harm them.

          But you’re right in that many of the developers who read this are going to be thinking about WooCommerce stores. And we as a whole do advise careful testing with our updates. So I will absolutely update the post to reflect that.

          The other items you’ve mentioned for possible inclusion are good as well. These aren’t things we necessarily had room for or I thought of while researching, but we have plenty of resources I can link to — there are plenty of great writers out there who have covered those topics in full detail, you know? — to make sure we present the full scope.

          Again, thank you for your feedback. I’m not always as thorough as I want to be when writing about developer-related topics, but I am learning, and applying what I learn to each new post. And while your criticism of our motivations and my supposed personal gain is incorrect, I respect your viewpoints and again am very glad that you returned to have this conversation with me.

  2. Philip
    August 26, 2015 at 10:56 pm #

    Edie needs to take a chill pill.

  3. Paul Stephenson
    August 27, 2015 at 10:41 am #

    We’re a WooCommerce customer and I’m with Edie. I was expecting to read something more comprehensive and credible from WC.

  4. lucifer666
    August 30, 2015 at 2:21 am #

    How anyone recommend bluehost is beyond me!

  5. Ciprian
    August 31, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

    Everyone seems to have missed the true purpose of this article.

    I have been in this situation before, and I have always recommended my own hosting company to my clients. Having used it for more than 10 years, I know everything about it, I know their update trends, their support times, their configuration, and I have most likely used every possible combination of settings. I am hosting my dev and staging servers with the same host, and I have configured them all to my liking.

    I agree one needs to ask questions about the hosting needs, plans for next years, and general business-specific details. All of them contribute to a well-informed decision.

  6. Noman
    September 4, 2015 at 7:55 am #

    According to me,siteground highly respected WordPress hosting provider.they offer premium support,speed,security and many more.I don’t have any idea about bluehost.
    I always try to recommended siteground hosting provider for my clients.thanks for your useful post

  7. Manuel
    September 9, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

    I would also consider the geographic server position. For example, Bluehost would be a bad idea for most of my customers because they are simply to slow. If you’re customers clients are mostly in Europe, a server in North America is a bad idea. This can have a tremendous impact on the page load and, therefore, result in a reduced conversion.

  8. Fabbro Milano
    September 13, 2015 at 10:01 pm #

    I think that bluehost is the best for the speed and the price!!!!

  9. Simon
    September 15, 2015 at 8:50 pm #

    One of the most important aspects are stability and reliability of the hosting. After being with https://www.rosehosting.com for nearly 2 years I can’t imagine going anywhere else.

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