Lucas Roh, Hostway president and CEO
Dec 01 2005

Partners in Cyberspace

To keep Web sites hosted by third parties fresh, companies must talk frequently with their hosting providers.

Think of your Web hosting company just like you would a client. It's a relationship, one that needs care and nurturing to make sure you get the site you want and that it serves your business' mission.

Like their large counterparts, many small- and medium-sized companies rely heavily on the Internet to conduct business—whether selling products and services, delivering information to employees and customers, or collaborating with business partners. The Web is an additional marketing and sales channel that's easy to access.

But there's more to managing your Web site than simply picking a Web hosting provider, launching a site and then forgetting about it. And much of it depends on building a good relationship with the company that hosts your site.

By working hand-in-hand with your hosting vendor, you can improve your online presence, attract new customers and increase your bottom line. Conversely, a poor relationship could result in a problem-plagued site, dissatisfied customers and partners, and even lost revenues.

In my experience, there are three things you can do to improve your Web services: communicate, communicate and communicate. Communication is critical to effectively manage your relationship with your hosting provider and get the most from it.

Communication Issue 1: If something's wrong, tell your provider. If there are problems with the site, such as consistently slow response times or a feature not working properly, don't be shy about complaining. Tell the hosting vendor and make sure it resolves the problem.

You're paying the provider for services and shouldn't hesitate to ask questions. A good host will be responsive and try hard to work with you to find answers to any and all problems.

Communication Issue 2: While the provider is there to serve and support you as a paying customer, you must also be self-critical and keep analyzing your Web services to decide what your business can do to improve the site.

This also means that companies need to keep an open mind about the possible causes of problems. At the first sign of a problem, it's tempting to suspect the host, but be willing to consider things on your end that might be creating or adding to a problem. Again, talk to your hosting vendor to figure out the cause of—and more important, the solution to—a problem.

Communication Issue 3: Even if everything is working smoothly, keep talking to your vendor and suggest improvements. And you needn't limit suggestions to things you want to do; you can also recommend ways the host company can make changes that will improve your site.

Remember, also, to use your provider as a consultant—a source of institutional knowledge about Web technology and tools. Think long term and seek advice about how to adapt your Web offerings over time as your business grows. This is also a good way to stay abreast of new features your provider offers or plans to introduce.

The most successful relationships my company has had are those where the customers have made their business needs clear to us through regular communication, made suggestions on how we can improve service and taken full advantage of the resources we offer.

The Web has become too important a business tool to neglect. Maintaining a good working relationship with your hosting provider must be a priority.

Lucas Roh is president and CEO of Hostway, a Web-hosting company in Chicago.
Dames Schnepf