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Today’s web hosting companies - we need them but who can we trust?

Mon, 22nd October 2012, 02:49

A guest post by David Henderson, author, Emmy Award winning former CBS Network correspondent and strategic consultant 

We all depend on websites. The Internet, and the ability to express opinion or share news and information online has democratized freedom of expression, and, yes, propaganda, as never before. But there is a “grey” area, as well. The world of web hosting is today’s wild west.

There is little to no regulation or oversight, and no effective regulative organization. It is a world of outlandish boasts of "unlimited" this or that with few of the claims actually true. There is no such thing as “unlimited” in the web hosting environment, only lies. Anyone can enter the business and prosper by their sheer ability to promise the most for the least. Customers have little ways, other than HostJury.com, to differentiate the good guys from the bad. HostJury.com ranks hosting companies based on customer experiences, and it is the most trusted resource around.

Any efforts at industry standards of ethical behavior have been trampled in the rush for money. In this global environment, a company that might not like regulation in the U.S., for example, would simply shift off-shore. There is no regulation in the U.S., by the way.

Business wise, some of the more successful web hosting companies, such as Hostgator, have been acquired by private equity firms for one reason - reap profits while cutting support services upon which customers depend. That happened at Hostgator virtually overnight.

There are three broad types of web hosting services:

Shared IP - a sometimes crowded environment on each server where many customers all vie for the server's CPU and RAM (memory). Some companies, like Godaddy, are said load as many as 5,000 customers accounts on one server, dramatically slowing service. If you get lucky, an ethical company can make money with 300 accounts on a server, a reasonable number.  Shared IP keeps prices low, such as $8 a month. The trade-off is that you are at the mercy of other customers who might abuse the service, including porn sites.

Virtual Private Servers or VPS - It is a more ideal environment with just a handful of customers on a server, each with their own box or limits of service  The downside is higher cost, starting at $50+ a month.  The real downside is the VPS companies have yet to realize that they need to sell customer service. Anyone can operate servers but the big differentiator is helpful customer service.

I tried Servint, a local VPS company I had never heard of. There is a reason, I discovered, I had never heard of them - they sell only hosting, not customer service that would help clients to better use their services. Hence, few people would ever have a reason to share with anyone else that they use Servint. No word of mouth promotion of Servint.

The behavior of many VPS providers is a  business operating in a particular field and not comprehending why. I have the impression that many VPS providers are completely clueless about the importance and value of providing knowledge to improve the customer experience will work to create competitive differentiation, customer loyalty, and leadership.

When I sought advice from Servint on better ways to manage WordPress sites, I was told - with an air of disdain - that they do not support any third party software. Clueless. What they don’t realize is that WordPress has become one of the world’s most popular online platforms, used by Lockheed-Martin, CNN, and the Wall Street Journal, among hundreds of other companies. By thinking solely from the perspective of operating hosting servers, such companies are merely navel-gazing.

I had 18 sites on Servint. They could tell me daily that I was overloading the service but they could not provide tips on how to alleviate the issues because, remember, their mindset is only selling hosting. Dealing with them was not productive and wasted far too much time. Furthermore, even though they agreed that hosting with them was problematic from the beginning, they offered no refund even though I had bought a year's worth of hosting from them.

I cannot speak about Dedicated Servers. It is pricey realm far beyond my needs, pocketbook, and understanding.

Quite by accident, I discovered a small hosting company in Indiana, MDDHosting.com, run by a young man, Michael Denney, and a small but savvy team. When I emailed my needs to him, his perspective made a lot of sense. His idea was to use a lower-priced reseller account to parse or spread-out the websites among shared IP server resources. In my 13 years of having websites, no one had ever before expressed such a level of knowledge, expertise, or problem-solving. He won my customer loyalty, and my business.

Let me just wrap up this overly long posting by saying that, in my opinion, far too many website hosting companies are, unfortunately, an unscrupulous band of liars, cheats and thieves. An unsavory sort that I would say falls somewhere between used car salesman, charlatan, loan shark, and common street thief. Today's wild west. There are a few exceptions, of course. And, as the industry matures, more owners of hosting companies will come to respect that ethical business conduct will lead to prosperity and customer loyalty. The challenge for customers today is to differentiate the good for the many bad.

A friend in Europe recently observed that it scares him how much we need and depend web hosting, a business environment that exemplifies so much marketing fakery and lies. Accurately stated, in my opinion.

David Henderson, author, Emmy Award winning former CBS Network correspondent and strategic consultant and now guest blogger on HostJury. 

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