Over the past three years, my website has been hosted by four separate hosting providers. I’ve been hacked (and had to pay to have the site cleaned — quite expensive, might I add), had unacceptable site downtime, lost access to email due to site outages, and frankly, grown weary of the BS associated with running a business that’s continually interrupted by technical difficulties entirely out of my control.
But here’s the kicker — I thought that any old hosting plan would do. That’s where I went wrong.
After my site being down three times in less than a week thanks to the folks at HostGator, I said to hell with it and sought out a better solution. I’ll get to my ultimate resolution in a bit, but in the interests of helping fellow business owners — let’s talk about what’s important to running your business.
Your Hosting Provider
I was long a fan of shared hosting situations. They’re cost-effective and, if just starting a blog or online presence, perfectly reasonable solutions for the bandwidth you need to get things done each day. But when traffic goes up and you have to share your server space with other sites, those inexpensive plans aren’t the best option. Oftentimes, you have limited bandwidth (reason #1 why these plans are cheap). You’re at the mercy of the activity of other sites on your server and their activity. And then there’s the big bugaboo in my book — when your site goes down, email goes with it. This is worth fuckall when you’re trying to get business done.
Before you opt for a host, take a poll of your audience and peers. Find out what services they are using. But go a step further, because not all of their recommendations will apply to you. Here’s why:
- Your site versus theirs: You can only make an apples-t0-apples hosting comparison by talking to someone who has the same bandwidth requirements as you do. If you’re using WordPress, do they use WordPress? What kind of traffic do you generate in comparison to their site?
- Ownership: This is particularly important if you purchase your hosting services through an agency or reseller. YOu have to understand who “owns” your hosting account. Even if it’s YOUR site, your reseller or agency that’s kindly hosting your site might “own” the hosting account. That means you don’t get C-panel access. It means you can’t really even call customer support without that owner on the line. This is bullshit — you should always have 100% access and control to your website and back-end site management. And it’s not the host’s fault — it’s yours for not asking and knowing this is important.
I’ve learned my lesson: my hosting and email need to be separate. I can’t get work done without email, but can live with periodic technical blips in my website uptime (it’s technology — shit happens). If you need your email as much as I do, you might consider segregating your email and web hosting. This way, should your site go down, your email will remain up and business can proceed. Nothing is more annoying than looking at your inbox and thinking, “Shit howdy — it sure is quiet in here” and then realize your fucking website has been down which is why you’re not getting your email and all sorts of Lindsay Lohan-flavored fuckery ensues.
If you’re considering segregating your email hosting, Google Apps is one solution. I opted to use Rackspace for $10 per month. I simply couldn’t justify Google having any more of my information than necessary and they’ve had outage problems-a-plenty lately as well. Rackspace was awesomely simple to set up on my iPhone and desktop mail client (I use Sparrow as my iPhone client and MacMail as my desktop client) and it’s been a seamless transition.
So what did I do with my web hosting?
I’m comfortably serviced by Synthesis, now and hopefully until eternity. A product of Copyblogger Media, I’ve known about Synthesis for quite some time. Here’s why I bothered them with my web woes — with the volume of traffic Copyblogger has received over the past 5 years, they understand that downtime is bullshit. With more and more small to mid-sized businesses using WordPress as a platform, they also understand the security issues and continuous hack attempts that proliferate the interwebz. I pay full retail price (roughly $70~/quarter) — there are no favors here. But here’s what I’ve noticed in the past 48 hours since this transition was made:
- My site loads like a motherfucker. By motherfucker, I mean fast — and that’s huge, as I have a graphics-heavy site.
- The service has been unparalleled. They handled the port from HostGator to Synthesis soup to nuts. One point of contact (yo, Derick!), and a conspicuous absence of web hosting-related bullshit.
- A lighter website. With the built-in security features offered by Synthesis for WordPress-powered sites, I could uninstall a ton of security plugins. This makes my site just as secure and run even faster — equally important for my audience AND me.
And no — the folks at Synthesis didn’t ask me to write this post. I write about shit that matters to me and my business, and this matters. Web hosting is something most of us deal with, and begrudgingly. I’m over cheap and free and embracing yet another place in my business where scaling has been a challenge.
My email is shiny happy, my website is shiny happy — and if you have suggestions and thoughts to share with folks on your own web hosting and email solutions journey, let’s hear ’em.
PS: I polled my Facebook audience for images of a hedgehog on a MacBook. Here are some gems they shared/created:
Here's why I DON'T need Cpanel access with Synthesis: everything is in place. My Wordpress theme files are secure due to their built-in security measures, which means I no longer need the seven (yes, 7) security plugins that prevent hacking. This also means I have full admin of my site through Wordpress' native admin panel. I have a Synthesis access panel, which gives me my FTP information, allowing me to upload new files as need be. My email is now independently hosted, which allows for full access separately from my website -- which is imperative. And sure -- your clients might have Cpanel access through Hostgator, but if they're on reseller hosting, have them TRY calling when their site goes down. You'll get a lovely "We're sorry, but the OWNER of this account will have to call us." Which was my situation. I'm glad your clients have had a better experience with Hostgator than I did -- but it was time for me to separate my hosting and email and trust my hosting to a company that understands downtime and why it's not acceptable instead of offering, as Hostgator did this last time (the 3rd in 1 week), "Yeah, it's a server problem on our end. We're working on it. Don't know when it'll be fixed."
You say: "... That means you don’t get C-panel access. It means you can’t really even call customer support without that owner on the line. This is bullshit — you should always have 100% access and control to your website and back-end site management." Question #6 on the Synthesis website states: "We do not offer cPanel, because making alterations via cPanel can have a profound impact on performance and security. cPanels are most often used for modifying DNS and managing email accounts." Not to mention a few of my clients (happily) use Hostgator and we DO have cpanel access. WTF?
I run a small hosting business. It really matters who you get and what you pay. If you pay for managed hosting, you should'nt have to deal with any of that stuff. Sure, hacks happen. With Wordpress there are a thousand un-secure plugins out there. But your hosting manager should be able to react quickly to any situation. One of the big problems I see is people with mission critical websites that want it hosted for $5 per month. Unless you have in-house technical skills, it is just unrealistic.
I have been putting the search for a better host off for a while but realize it's important for me as well. It's just too much to deal with these days when everyone's starting a blog, and several of the "cheap hosting companies" are merging under one company - forget its name. Under this, I'm seeing we're all starting to get the same service under different names... and the nickel and diming is out of control.
When I break out and bleed my boldness all over the info-net, I will race to the boys over at Synthesis...sorry girls, it's just a collective noun, yo. They've won me over with Genesis and I'm a rabid fan... RABID...
The bit about account ownership is #$%@# HUGE. Side note: This applies to your domain name registration as well. Make sure YOUR name and email address is listed as the "Administrative Contact". As far as ICANN is concerned, that's the owner of the registration. That is the person who will be contacted to authorize things like domain transfers. Final note: The "hisssing" hedgehog on the keyboard in front of the RHW site is my favorite. Kudos, Wendy, for your l337 PhotoChop skilz!
I definitely agree that hosting and email should be separate. I'm on shared hosting myself, and Google Apps handles my email. I also recommend your domain registrar be separate from your web host. Daily backups are critical, as is a solid grasp of website security. I have a backup script I wrote myself that takes a complete daily backup of my sites/webapps (mostly Wordpress, but also SugarCRM and Moodle, including of course their databases) and redundantly stores them on Amazon S3 and a box in my home office. With these backups, should any of my sites get hacked, I can do a complete nuke and pave reinstall in a matter of minutes. One thing most people don't understand about hacked websites is that *deleting the site* (which is not at all a big deal if you have solid backups in place) eliminates the hack. I use .htaccess entries that protects all my admin areas, like the wp-admin folder on Wordpress. I have mine set to only allow access from my home IP address. If I'm working from a coffee shop I either SSH in to edit the IP address or use a secure proxy I have set up in my home office. Kind of off topic, I'm also learning about using Amazon S3 as a content delivery network, which can help reduce server load on shared hosting (any hosting, really) and help a site load faster.
Just curious -- on your new service, do you have your own ACTUAL server? Or are you still using any kind of shared solution? (Full disclosure -- I'm a happy Hostgator client, running multiple sites on a shared hosting solution. But all my personal sites are tiny little things, none of them mission critical. And none of them anywhere NEAR the volume of yours.) I tell clients that using a $5/month hosting solution to support a website that's important is a huge mistake, even though in my experience Hostgator does a damn fine job in terms of uptime and tech service. But allowing ANYONE to share your server is like letting random people lick your private parts in public restrooms.(TM) And as someone who was running virtual server solutions ten years ago, I still suggest you go with an actual real came-in-a-box bolted-to-a-rack server if your web site needs to be totally reliable. Yes, that will cost you some serious cash. And the people who support those solutions aren't cheap, either. But it's how the big boys roll. But you checked all this stuff out before you put up your web site, right? You didn't just buy the first flashy thing you saw that was really low priced...
Erika, thank you for this sterling review. Needless to say, it made my day when I stumbled upon via Brian's tweet, and it'll make Derick's, Cody's, and Matt's when I email it out to them here in about 15 seconds.
Interesting. I've used Hostgator for years and have been thrilled with their service, especially their responsiveness.
Wow, Erika, thanks for this. Of course Derick and the Synthesis team get all the real credit, but I'm quicker than they are. We'll keep the site up. If we don't, we know we'll get a rather colorful support request. ;-)
Some good tips and sorry to hear about all the issues you've had with web hosting in the past Erika. I've been with Hostgator for around 2 years and have only ran into an issue once and can't even recall any downtime. Plus, through optimizing my site and using an alternative DNS, CloudFlare, my blog loads pretty fast.