Okay, I’ve had to change web hosts half a dozen times in the last year and
I’ve noticed a pattern. It’s a very clear and simple pattern, actually a
series of behaviors on the part of web hosting companies. These behaviors
cause these companies to lose customers and gain poor reputations.
To sum it all up in a single word: ethics. Web hosts need to act ethically.
As long as they are ethical towards their business and customers, they
thrive. When they become unethical, they will fail.
What are web hosting company ethics? This is a code which all hosting
companies need to follow if they want to stay in business for the long term.
The most important goal is up-time – Almost anything can be forgiven as long
as sites are up and running, as close to 100% of the time as possible. Every
feature provided by a hosting company needs to be working and working
properly. A small amount of downtime (an hour or two in a month long period)
is acceptable, but more than that is not.
Every time I’ve had to change web hosts, this was the base reason.
Unexplained and unexpected downtime. Oh, there were many excuses and many
reasons which I’m sure were perfectly valid. But the basic reason why I
create and maintain a web site is so people can see it – and they cannot see
it if the site is down.
To make it even worse, sites which are down for a significant length of time
have side effects. Webrings owners often check for broken rings using
automated code – down sites will trigger suspensions and even deletions.
Search engines tend to drop sites which are down too often or for too long a
period of time. And, of course, visitors may remove your site from their
bookmarks, thinking you have closed it or moved on.
The second most important goal is performance – I understand that you want
to jam as many sites on a single server as you can. This is how you maximize
your profits. Please understand that all of the web sites which you host
must perform well. So don’t overload your servers.
Stay in communication – We all know that things happen. Sometimes servers do
crash and once in a while they require maintenance. Let your customers know
about important events. If you are concerned that they might consider it
spam, give your customers the option to receive updates if they desire.
I had one host (Hostrocket) which performed, in my opinion, one of the most
hostile acts that I have ever seen against a paying customer. I had a CGI
script on my site which logged each 404 error in a text file. Normally this
script was harmless and used little CPU. Unfortunately, with the new breed
of worms striking the internet, 404 errors went way up and the script began
using large amounts of processor.
One day I tried to reach my site and didn’t get my friendly front page. I
got a “forbidden” error. I freaked out and sent off a quick email to the web
host support group. I didn’t receive a response. Not a word (and it was only
early afternoon). I sent another, then another. Nothing. Finally, 18 frantic
hours later, I received a note that my site was closed down because of the
The number of four letter words that spewed from my mouth that day would
have turned a street girl’s face red. I was so angry – not because they
closed my site, but because these idiots (again, Hostrocket) didn’t tell me
what they had done. Because of that, I wasted almost an entire day trying to
figure out what was wrong.
What I would have done had I been the technical person in their company is
simple. Just disable the script and send off an email to the web site owner
explaining why and telling him not to do it again. If the owner ran the
script again, then shut down the site (and, of course, send another email).
Needless to say, I regained access to my site, copied my databases to my
hard drive, then switched web hosts. Within two days I had moved my site to
another, much better hosting service (and, of course, I deleted the
Don’t test on your production servers – I know you want to upgrade your
Apache to the newest version or install the new control panel right away,
but please don’t immediately install anything on your production servers.
Believe me, your customers don’t care about any of this – they want working
sites. Saying “everything is going slow because we upgraded” is not
acceptable – the host should know ALL side effects of any upgrades from
actual testing long before any change, however, small, is made to a
Do what you say you are going to do – I was with a hosting company called
Bizland for over a year. They were good most of the time except for (a)
excessive downtime, and (b) they didn’t deliver on their promises. They kept
saying CGI will be released in April, then May, then June. Finally, I
decided I could not wait anymore (and also concluded the host was down too
much) so I moved my site.
Free hosting companies seem to have a bad habit of using production systems
as test beds. This is one of the strong downsides to using free hosts – they
really don’t care if your site is up or not, as long as the advertisements
Acknowledge your trouble tickets – One web hosting company that I was with
for quite a long time was Addr.com. These guys had easily the best support
so far. What stands out in my mind is every single message that I sent got
acknowledged by a human being.
The sequence was as follows: I would send a trouble ticket and get an
automated response. A short time later, I got a note that the ticket was
handled. I always respond with a “thank you”, because I’ve been a support
person before and I understand the power of getting thanked. Addr.com even
responded to the thank you with a “you are welcome” message!
To contrast, another hosting company (hostrocket again), had a nasty habit
of just closing tickets. I’d send in a question and get an answer, then ask
another question as follow-up. I would never get a response, then check to
see that the ticket was marked “closed”. This is not the way to keep a
Actually read your trouble tickets – I write very clearly in trouble
tickets, precisely because I’ve been a support person and I know exactly
what is needed. I’m constantly surprised at how many times web host support
people simply don’t read the ticket and thus do the wrong thing.
One particularly glaring example was a ticket which I sent in which said to
set up a certain domain with bigmailbox. The support person (from
Hostrocket) changed the MX record for an entirely different domain, in spite
of my message clearly stating “change it for domain xyz”. This caused my
site to lose email capability for two days until they eventually figured out
what they messed up.
Most importantly, remember where you get your money from – This message is
for all web hosting companies everywhere. Your money comes from those people
called webmasters. Free hosting companies get their money indirectly via the
content provided by webmasters. With paid hosts the relationship is direct
and to the point – money is paid by webmasters.
If you annoy your customers or don’t provide service, then you will find
yourselves out of business. And in these days of a looming recession, good
customers are gold. Keep them happy and your company will prosper.
About the Author
Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets at
http://www.internet-tips.net – Visit our website any time to read
over 1,000 complete FREE articles about how to improve your
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