Two weeks ago, our website was hacked. I couldn’t believe it! Why would anyone want to do this to our small business? I was shocked, mad, and scared. Well, after a long weekend on the phone and behind the screen, we finally recovered and restored everything. This article, was shaped in large part by this experience. And, from my perspective I wanted to cover what was important in a hosting partner when things went wrong for us.
Yes, A Trusted Hosting Partner Matters
All hosting companies are pretty much the same, right? That is true until something goes wrong like getting hacked. It’s critical to know before the disaster transpires who has your back when that happens. The items below are considerations any nonprofit or for profit should make before they turn over their website, content management system, and database to a third-party host or Software As A Service (SaaS) provider.
The Importance of Good Customer Service
We have had the same hosting provider for the last 14 years. And, we have never had an issue like this. I know, nobody can prevent glitches 100 percent so if and when you find yourself in the middle of one, its best to have someone you can call on to get immediate resolution. We were fortunate. Our host provider provides 24/7 free phone support with customer service reps who spoke my language and actually picked up the phone when I called. Besides customer testimonials, finding out about good customer can be tricky. This is one of those factors that you’ll have to get a little creative to get the real story on. Do a Google Blog search for a particular hosting company, or look them up on Twitter – whatever you have to do to see what their current (or former) customers are saying about them. Are they easy to contact for support? What’s the average time it takes to respond to a ticket? When they find a problem with a site, what’s their course of action?
Backup and Backup again
I was very fortunate. I had a backup of my database through my host provider. Every host should provide nightly backups, keeping the most recent week’s worth at a minimum. In addition to the possibility of being hacked, you never know what can happen when large volumes of transactions are being processed on your site like events. And, you never know when someone may make an internal mistake . Finally, it’s a good idea to find out what your host’s disaster recovery plan is, as well, to ensure that they are backing up their backups. I set up an automatic backup just in case as well.
We were back up and running in about 18 hours. A good web hosting company should guarantee a certain level of uptime or site availability. The last thing you want your donors or members to experience is a blank screen when they type in your URL, so you’ll want to shop for a hosting service with a strong reputation for uptime and redundancy. Most host providers provide an uptime guarantee of 99 percent or more. Also make sure the server has multiple backup locations (mirrored servers) so that if one goes down, they have another already online and ready to go.
Accessibility to the Server
You might find that some hosting services make it difficult to make changes to your site. If so, avoid them. We recommend selecting a provider which provides you access to the server so that you can easily create new email accounts, make changes to server settings. If you host email with your provider, then you must have a way to access email via a web browser to administer and utilize.
Do you blog?
Content Marketing and the use of blogging is common for many nonprofits today. For many this is not a big concern because many Association Management Software providers today provide blog capabilities and content management systems in their systems. However, if you elect to stay with one of the more standard blogging solutions like WordPress and not using a Software As A Service (SaaS) platform then this is something worth inquiring about. For those, just make sure that if your service provides the minimum requirements for a common system like WordPress, blogging and content management system.
Do you want to share a room with someone?
One of the ways that you can save money on hosting your website is by turning to something called “shared hosting,” which basically means that your site is being hosted along with dozens of other sites. The downside, though, can be that troubles with one of those sites could lead to problems for all the sites hosted on that server. While websites are kept separate, there can, however, be problems with availability/uptime with this option. Website response time is crucial. Even Google uses page load speed as one of its many factors in determining whether your page will be show high in search results. Another option is dedicated Web hosting, where you lease a whole server for your website(s). Often referred to as a Virtual Dedicated Server (VDS) in this option the server is dedicated to you and is just like having your own server with only your applications running on it. A “VDS” is a bit more expensive but you have a much higher quality web server, faster performance in many cases, & less risk of down time associated with others.
No one likes hidden fees. So before choosing a Web host, “don’t just ask ‘what do I get,’ but ask what is not included. Even if you like the price a web hosting service quotes you, make sure you know what you’re paying for. When you see price differences it’s helpful to remember the old maxim that we get what we pay for. Take a closer look at the features that each host provides, and THEN compare prices.
What are your exit options
This is applicable for any system which you host today. So, whether you are going with a “Software As A Service” nonprofit software or buying a traditional software license and hosting the database and web components offsite, it’s important to know what is the process for getting your data.
As stated, we were very fortunate. We had a good host and also had a great network to call on who had been through this before. But, don’t wait to find that out. And, if you are looking for a new host, perhaps these insights may help guide you in your decision process. Your final choice is going to boil down to an issue of trust.
Do you believe you are picking the right hosting partner to deliver on the promises they have made? Your website and your data has an impact on the future success of your nonprofit. Therefore, this decision should not be taken likely.
Please contact us today if we can help you decide what makes most sense for your particular needs. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.