Consumers can find an excellent shared hosting provider by using Web hosting directories or by directly soliciting hosts for comments on their service packages.
Using hosting directories is a highly recommended strategy, because such sites aggregate a tremendous amount of information about the hosting industry and its participants. By leveraging a host directory, regular consumers can contrast and compare the different features of several Web hosting firms.

The most credible hosting directories have catalogues that allow you to search for hosts that match specified criteria, whether it is based on cost, technology or geography. Most of the more sophisticated hosting directories also include an “advanced search” option that allows consumers to fine tune their hosting requirements.

Users of these resources must be cautious and exercise due diligence however. Some directories only allow paid advertisers in their catalogues, making the directory non-meritorious in composition. Consumers should be aware of how the list is compiled, updated and what criteria are used to add companies – especially if the site offers a top ten or twenty ranking.

Many hosting companies only conceive of hosting directories as marketing channels. For this reason, some disreputable hosting companies and executives have developed, purchased or even influenced certain hosting directories to boost their own revenues.

Too often, a directory will actually sell the most popular listings to various hosts who are willing to pay top-dollar for an award or recognition. Consumers should thus make no correlation between an award and quality.

Kudos, awards and recognition are indicators that a host has financial resources to advertising online, but does not indicate whether the host offers credible and reliable service.

Not all awards and recognition are purchased advertisements, however. When recognition is not purchased, you only need to inquire how the host was specifically selected for an award. This can usually be determined from an evaluation formula that is posted on the Web site.

Consumers should also note that many hosting directories not only offer a large list of hosts, but also detailed information about the host’s features, price ranges and provide consumers with the ability to compare hosts again each other.

More sophisticated hosting directories will also include in-depth articles, message forums, evaluation tools and even promotional campaigns that will save you money with the most credible hosting firms. These features are also important because they allow consumers to obtain more in-depth and personalized information about a hosting firm.

Other resources that consumers may want to consult are online bulletin boards. Specialized bulletin boards contain and solicit postings from consumers who provide their opinion and experiences concerning their experiences with a hosting company. These resources provide users with a candid understanding of the inter-workings of hosting companies.

Savvy consumers should also consider searching for online comments concerning a specific host that they are seriously contemplating. Finding comments from dissatisfied consumers is as important as finding complements about the company. Consumers can find comments by conducting a search, using the candidate hosting company’s name, in a search engine.

Another strategy that should be employed is direct correspondence. The concerned consumer should actually send potential hosting companies pre-sales e-mail to determine what features are available. Sending a pre-sales e-mail will also give the consumer an indication of how quickly the host responds to general inquiries. A credible Web host will respond in less than 24 hours. However, consumers must be aware that most hosting outfits will always respond to sales inquiries faster than technical support requests.

When composing a pre-sales e-mail, consumers should ask the following questions (consider simply copying this following list and sending it to a candidate Web host):

Is there a discount if I pre-pay for a number of months in advance?
What payment methods are available?
How many months in advance am I required to pay?
Is there a set-up fee?
Is there a trial period or money-back guarantee?
What is your bandwidth, transfer or hit limit?
May I visit other sites hosted by you?
Will I have my own IP number or is it shared?
Do you offer an unlimited, 24/7 technical support service?
How much space is available with your package?
What is the OS and version of the server my site will be placed on?
What are the hardware specs of the server?
How many sites are currently running on the server?
How many more sites do you think you will put on it before it is full?
How do you decide what constitutes a full server?
Is there any way for us to set up a mailing list for announcements?
Will I have 24-hour FTP and telnet access?
Will I have anonymous FTP?
Will I have an automated control panel to access my site?
Do you provide a full, free CGI directory?
Can I run CGI scripts outside of the CGI directory?
Is there a limit to how many scripts I can install?
Do you provide full shell access?
Can I debug a problematic CGI script on the server?
What version of Perl do you use? Does it contain a full set of modules?
Do you offer a Web statistics package?
Will I also have access to the raw statistical log files?
Does the space used by my logs count against my allotted disk space?
What is your acceptable usage policy?
How long have you been in business?
By employing a strategy of due diligence through the combined use of credible, hosting directories and direct correspondence with hosting firms, smart consumers can find an excellent shared hosting provider.