Scrutinizing Website Hosts

By Chris Davis

It’s common knowledge that a website needs a hosting service, which allows a site to be “up” and available to visitors on the Internet. The problem is many web designers and developers think all website hosting is the same, and based on that, they find, buy, and recommend the cheapest possible hosting plan. That is, until the reality of cheap hosting sets in.

Hosting Horror Stories
Here are some actual stories from clients who previously used cheap hosting plans ($7.95 a month, $9.95 a month, etc.):

1. A company was blacklisted by Google and removed from search-engine rankings.
One client was hosting 15 different websites with a company that was charging $150 a month, or $10 per website per month. I received a frantic call from the client who explained that he had received a notice from Google indicating that the website was distributing malware and viruses, so Google had removed the website entirely from all the search-engine rankings. So the site was getting no traffic from Google. I contacted the hosting company, checked and rechecked the website for any problems, but could find nothing. There was no malware, no viruses, no malicious code in the website, nothing—it was totally clean. Next, I contacted Google and found that Google wasn’t actually accusing my client’s website of distributing malware or viruses, but rather that the website was associated with other websites that were doing this. So, I went back to the hosting company. It didn’t offer much in the way of help, but after digging, I found that the client’s website was being hosted on a server that was also hosting multiple websites, and those were actually distributing malware and viruses. I asked the hosting company about this, and it basically ignored me. Apparently the company didn’t care that it was hosting websites that were not only in violation of Google’s terms and conditions, but illegally distributing malware and viruses. Since the client’s website was in the same network and on the same server as the websites that were distributing malware and viruses, Google associated the client’s site with these bad sites and penalized the client by blacklisting it from the search-engine rankings, effectively removing all of its incoming traffic from Google.

2. “My website was down for 19 hours before my hosting company even responded to me.”
One client had my firm install its beautiful, newly designed and developed website on a cheap host—I believe it was $7.95 a month. A few weeks later, the client called to inform me that the website was down. I asked if the client had contacted the hosting company, and he had, but hadn’t heard back yet. I informed the client that I couldn’t do anything until the hosting company got the website back up, so I had to wait. Nineteen hours passed before anyone from the hosting company even responded, and it took another 5 hours for it to figure out there was a problem with the client’s server (which, incidentally, was affecting many other websites), finally fix the problem, and get the client’s website back up. This response time is completely unacceptable for any hosting company.

3. “My hosting company changed something without telling me, and that broke my website and made it go down.”
My firm has actually had this situation occur for multiple clients. Here’s what happens: The hosting company makes a change to a hosting configuration or environment that it doesn’t realize (or doesn’t care) will break a website and make it go down. So it doesn’t bother to inform the client before, or even after the change has been made. A good hosting company will always inform the client (or a web company) before making any changes to a hosting environment or configuration, including updates of software.

The bottom line is that with hosting, one really does get what one pays for. The companies that offer super-cheap hosting plans just don’t have the level of support, expertise, knowledge, or even the right equipment to provide a consistent, reliable, safe, and high-performance hosting experience for a website that is owned by a serious small business.

Hosting For Various Types Of Websites
Here’s an important thing about hosting that most small business owners don’t know (and most web design companies and hosting companies won’t mention): If a website is built on a Content Management System (CMS)—and these days, it should be—then a client needs a certain type of hosting that is more sophisticated, more expensive, and requiring more expertise and support than the hosting one can get from companies like GoDaddy, BlueHost, and HostGator. But if a website is static HTML, then one can have just about any type of hosting and it will probably be okay, even the cheap ones. But a client will always take a risk when buying the cheapest, available hosting because these companies just cannot provide adequate support, given the prices they charge and the very large numbers of customers they serve.

A Few Suggestions
If you have a website built on a CMS and you’re worried the current host might not pass muster, check out ServInt (www.servint.net). For a variety of factors, including but not limited to uptime, speed and performance, support, security, and pricing, ServInt is the best my firm has found on all fronts.

If a web developer is experienced in setting up and maintaining secure hosting environments for CMS-based websites, you might ask him or her to check out ServInt and see if it would be a good fit for your website. If you don’t have a web developer with this experience, visit Elance (www.elance.com) and create a job posting to find someone to hire on an as-needed or ongoing basis.

Chris Davis is the owner of DVS Camp Websites. Download his free report “5 Ways Your Website Is Costing You New Campers” at www.northstarpubs.com/577, or email him at chriscb@dvscampwebsites.com.