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Professional web hosting and the curse of the better offer

As a professional web hosting business we naturally feel a bit of pain when a client offers up that they’re leaving for a better deal.

It sucks when someone leaves us for a cheaper deal.

There are different types of better deals that they are getting, some are really truly fantastic and an opportunity for us to improve.

Some however, are really really gritty, gritty, gross solutions.

They’re cheap, they’re dirty.

They’re unlimited plans.

“Unlimited web hosting plans means I don’t have to pay extra as my business grows”

This is a total myth.

The things that are actually offered as unlimited are the cheapest expenses for your service provider.

Example 1: Unlimited data. We don’t typically have metering on our average client sites (or we adjust them when they hit limits unless they are massive). The reason is, our own data plans are in the terabytes every month. So if a client is using 3GB or 5GB of traffic on their healthy website, it doesn’t really make any difference to our costs.

Example 2: Unlimited space. These plans have the ability to have unlimited space on your site. There is a caveat though — files must be related to the website itself.

So if you go and upload all your photos and business files as cheap storage, you are likely breaking the terms of your agreement. Space is more expensive than data traffic on your site.

With that said, we use state of the art, fast storage solutions, this ensures sites are dished up really fast. It is not the cheapest possible storage available with slow old technology (read: unlimited data). The fact is, a website can only take up so much space anyway – most websites are not large users of data.

Ultimately the “unlimited” part of your service is for the cheapest parts that are in abundance.

Customer service?

There are some well priced plans out there. But if you were charging me $5 per month for a service, how much time in terms of service would you offer me as a customer?

Even if these services are off-shored to call centres with cheaper labour, the amount of service and responsiveness of service is not going to be great.

And, when do you need the most help?

When something breaks right?

You can forget about backups etc. on the cheapest plan. If your site goes down, or there is a mistake by the low cost service provider (by the way, we have had service providers delete whole client accounts, never to be retrieved again. If this sounds incredulous just imagine what it’s like to be the person losing your website and email forever), that’s the end of the road. There is no plan 2 apart from starting again. Unless you backed up a restorable copy of your website yourself recently?

Overseas customer service centre is also expensive to run. So expect email-only responses, usually within 24-72 hours.

No phone number. Or if they have one, it’s closed during your local business hours.

So, if your site goes down and email stops working, you might have to pause your business and deal with the client fallout for a few days.

Responsiveness, speed and reliability – where the money is

We are constantly reviewing our infrastructure and looking at how it could be improved.

This is where the bulk of the cost is centred – speed, memory – these things that make your computer in the office or at home fast, are things that help make your website fast too.

If a website is to run well, it needs to have enough resources. Many cheap providers cut off the “oxygen” or space to breathe for your site, so it is always running sub optimally. For example, you might not know that around lunchtime it’s actually performing really bad at that peak time.

We have a client we moved to our hosting many years ago. We found there were a number of hours in the day where the website would not actually load for visitors, as it was just too popular and overloaded.

Support for website issues

Your web host is usually not responsible for your website problems, or is not well equipped for this stuff.

So, while you may expect to be charged for assistance with the website itself, you may just find your efforts fruitless, as you are handed around various people who don’t know enough about you as a customer or your problem to be able to deliver a responsive service.

Security

For such a low cost, investment in security and maintenance of the infrastructure can be expected to be much less important.

We have seen entire servers compromised, in such a way that your website will get hacked into. Then this infects the thousands of other websites on the same server – just because of lax security.

So how much is peace of mind worth to you?

Surely more than $5 a month?

Metrics for measuring performance

Many cheap providers remove critical dashboard tools that help you decipher whether or not your site is overloaded. This is so their poor website performance doesn’t get exposed.

For example, our hosting accounts let us and customers see whether their site is using too much juice for their plan. If the site is running slowly, they can tell if it’s their plan, or we can advise them accordingly.

It’s really clear – the dashboard shows performance, how many issues there were, how often, and whether a site is hitting critical limits. If so, a simple upgrade ensures a fast and pleasant customer experience and the site performs well all the time.

For example a client’s site was running very slow. We ascertained due to a viral promotion their site was getting 1,000x more visitors that day than any other. We increased their plan accordingly and the problem went away.

But if it ain’t broke, why should I fix it?

If you’re on a cheap provider, and everything is hunky dory, congratulations.

Yes, maybe if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Our approach, based on our experience, is to attend to the issues that you don’t know about, before they happen. A cheap provider is a disaster waiting to happen – and they’re not going to stick around for the fallout.

Cheap things no good? Yes, to a certain extent.

If you’re paying a low price, do some research and ask some questions:

Do they take regular backups of your site? If so, how often and how many? Do they charge to restore those? What happens if their system goes down? How can you tell how your website is performing? How can you take a full, restorable backup of the website yourself?

I recall so many incidents where businesses assumed their sites were being backed up, but that simply wasn’t the case.

And the customers who leave us for a cheaper deal? Often they come back.

Caveat emptor – buyer beware!