Web Hosting Dilemmas: Who To Avoid

By Mat

When you’re running an online campaign and throwing thousands of dollars’ worth of traffic to the website in a single day it’s important you don’t experience any downtime. A few minutes of downtime can be the difference between making a profit or loss for the day and can have devastating effects on your business. With that said, here are my thoughts on web hosts to use and to avoid for different scenarios.

I’ve only had 3 years of experience with web hosting but in those 3 years I’ve been a customer to a hell of a lot of web hosting companies. From companies who offer “unlimited bandwidth” for ridiculously cheap prices to hosts that charge hundreds of dollars for dedicated servers I’ve seen them all. Even after 3 years, I still have trouble finding a decent host. Just today I’ve had 2 separate hosting issues. The first involving Sofa Moolah’s hosting account being suspended and the 2nd being a server side error that the host is refusing to fix. I’ll get into more detail about these further down.

Let me start off by praising the 1 host that I haven’t had any issues with. It probably won’t surprise you that it’s Media Temple. The thing that impressed me the most with (mt) was back when I was running AddToDesign with Matt Craig. We started off on a host called HostRocket (please don’t laugh) which offered the genetic “unlimited everything” packages. A few back and forth emails with support and they assured us they could handle mass traffic include the infamous “Digg effect”. A few hours later we were on the front page of Digg and the site was down. We should of seen this coming, but that’s’ hindsight.

Anyway, after this incident we moved over to Media Temple’s Grid-Service for $20.00 a month. I’m not going to quote all of their features as you can see them here, but the thing that sold me was that they could handle large spikes of traffic. Along with this, their support was great, prices were reasonable and their reputation was one of the best in the industry. A week or so after joining Media Temple we hit the front page again. Not once did we go down and the site was still running fast. I would easily recommend (mt) to anyone running a high value campaign and doesn’t want to take a chance on the “unlimited everything” web hosts.

Moving on from the good, let’s touch on the bad. About a week ago I had the lovely experience of dealing with HostGator. Yes, I know. There are a few people out there that worship HostGator and haven’t had any problems, but let me explain what happened to me. If you follow me on Twitter you would have seen that I was looking for a decent web host. A few of you recommended HostGator so I decided to give them a go. It was 7:30PM local time and all I needed was a quick, cheap & easy host to setup my new website on. I purchased the “Hatchling” plan for $8.00 with the promise of “Instant Setup”. Obviously it was getting past knock off time here so I didn’t want to deal with them all night so the “Instant Setup” seemed perfect. It wasn’t.

An hour had passed and my account still hadn’t been setup so I got onto online support. I was told that my “account has been flagged”. 2 hours had now passed and still nothing. It was now almost 10:00PM and I’m pissed off that my night now involves chasing HostGator to get my account setup so I can get a site live. 2 hours and 15 minutes later I received an email from HostGator. The email wanted me to make an international call late at night. My phone was off; people in the house were asleep so I really didn’t want to make that call. The other half of the email said that if I couldn’t make the call I can instead reply to the email with a scanned copy of: my driver’s license, passport & credit card. Um? No? I got back onto the live chat and was told that my $8.00 plan was a “high risk order” and that I still needed to provide verification. 5 HOURS LATER I gave up after deciding I wasn’t going to be providing a scanned copy of my passport, driver’s license and credit card. In the end I was told I was “randomly selected” and not to take it personally. I sort of did…

Just as I write this HostGator has taken the Sofa Moolah website down. The reasons are unknown so this is pretty ironic. Obviously by the time you read this the site will be back up and we will be looking for a new host! Put suggestions in the comments.

Carrying on, I decided to put my new website onto GoDaddy. I’ve used GoDaddy in the past and I hadn’t had any issues. Granted their support isn’t the greatest and their backend is super slow and confusing but I just needed something cheap & easy and GoDaddy filled that gap. Would I recommend GoDaddy? Not really. The amount of upsells and the crowded homepage should be enough to scare people away.

So to recap:

- I highly recommend Media Temple. Support is great, services are moderately priced and they can handle a good deal of traffic.

- My experience with HostGator has been shit (for lack of a better word). I guess you could try your luck in hopes you’re not “randomly selected”. I don’t recommend doing this.

- GoDaddy is alright. If you’ve got no other options and can’t afford Media Temple then grin & bare it and register to GoDaddy.

One more thing I would like to add: Consistency is key in business. If you don’t consistently provide a high quality product, then you’ve got nothing. Media Temple is the only host I know that consistently provides a high quality service. Now you know where I stand.

Just a quick note: none of these links are affiliate links. While I could use my affiliate link to generate some moolah I decided not to. I wanted this article to be written without an incentive. With that said if you do decide to sign up to one of these hosts, mention my name or this blog. Who knows, I could get a free shirt or some shit.



36 Responses to Web Hosting Dilemmas: Who To Avoid

  1. mindctrl says:

    So, you say (mt) rules, yet you continue to search for a different hosting company and solicit advice on selecting another host. Use (mt), be done, move on, and delete this post.

  2. Theresa says:

    Mat correct this to “Now you know where I stand”. “Know you now where I stand.”

  3. Dean says:

    I’ve actually been researching Media Temple recently and planned to go with them when my project got big enough to warrant it.
    Thanks.

  4. GSP says:

    GoDaddy *massively* oversells their servers for the shared hosting packages, I’ve regularly seen clients’ sites go into 10-20 second response times during peak hours.

    Dreamhost’s service seems decent and I currently have shared hosting with Hostdime.com that I’d recommend. However, all of these services are mainly for smaller sites and I would not expect them to cope with the “Digg effect”.

    You’re running a high-level site and need high-level hosting to provide adequate service – bargain basement shared hosting won’t cut it.

    • Mat says:

      Yeah, I’ve heard from a few people that GoDaddy oversells. I haven’t been with Dreamhost yet so I can’t really comment on them. Cheers for the suggestions!

  5. Eric Wilson says:

    So per the title I come here expecting to see a well thought out and researched list of pros and cons covering a wide spectrum of hosting options…

  6. Nobody says:

    If a liter of ice-cream costs less than a litre of milk, there’s no milk in the ice-cream…

  7. Shane says:

    Yeah, HostGator blows. Use them for work because they’re cheap but horrible service. If we didn’t have our own sysadmin we’d be lost.

    For my personal, important stuff I use medialayer – give them a try. A little pricier than most but quick, great service, and never oversold. They have stellar reviews at all web hosting review forums.

    • Mat says:

      Haha, wish I’d read your comment before I even tried HostGator. I’ll take a look at medialayer. Thanks Shane!

  8. Alan says:

    I had a decent experience with DreamHost, but their backend admin area can be quite confusing to the uninitiated.

    Go Daddy is fine for domain name registration, but has been a complete nightmare for Web hosting. I now refused to work with any prospective client who insists upon using their existing Go Daddy hosting account.

    Now I use Sightground.com for all of my own websites and for all of my client sites. Lots of space and bandwidth, at less than 20 cents a day. Fast page load times, even with a heavy-duty Drupal site. Their tech support has proven to be quite knowledgeable, and they respond within minutes.

    • Mat says:

      You’re the 2nd person here to recommend Dreamhost – they must be doing something good. I’ll also take a look at Sightground, never heard of them but I’ll see what they offer. Responses within minutes would be heaven :)

  9. Michael says:

    Thank you for the advice! When I need a hosting in the future, I’ll definately try out media temple!

    I am a webdeveloper and I also maintain/administer some forums. I’ve been with quite alot of hostings in the past years, and finding a perfect hosting is not an easy task. Here are a few of my experiences with hostings that pop into my head:

    I’ve had really bad experiences with one.com. They were not able to let a forum (of which I’m admin) run smoothly. Even after they put us on a “performance server”, the forum was very slow (response times up to 1 minute). Outages occurred almost daily.
    In all the hours I chatted with support (there is no telephone support), the only thing they responded was that “technicians were looking into it” and that I should try to optimize the forum as much as possible. I did some optimizations but without the desired effect. Converting some database tables from MyIsam to InnoDB was not possible because they don’t support InnoDB. Sigh :(
    So after 2 months of chatting with support and tweaking the forum, we decided to move to another host (hosting of a collegue of mine). Now the forum runs smoothly without any problem. I’ve really lost my confidence in the competences of the one.com technicians. My other site hosted at one.com will be moved soon.
    So if you have a lot of free time you are willing to waste, you like complaining website visitors and you only want a very basic control panel, one.com is a perfect host for you! :)

    A few years ago I had a (RoR) site on Dreamhost. My experiences with Dreamhost were pretty good, although they were a bit slow from time to time. But this was a few years ago, so maybe this is not longer an issue. Big plus for Dreamhost is the shell access and RoR support!

    I also have some sites hosted at Lunarpages. The past years, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with them. They have very strict rules on memory and cpu usage for shared hosting accounts. If you exceed these, your site is blocked without any warning. Nobody can access it anymore (even you as a site owner, because ftp and control panel are blocked as well). When you notice the problem and you want to contact support, it sometimes is a real hassle to identify yourself: they require you to enter either some numbers of the visa card used with the payment, telephone number/address of the owner etc. Because I am only the admin (not the site owner) you can imagine it sometimes took me hours to get those details from the site owner (who lives in China – I live in Europe) to know what was the reason of the site being shut down. Each time you create a support ticket, you have to provide these details, whether you created a support account or not..
    On the other hand, they became more reliable over the years and the speed is ok. If only the response time of their helpdesk would go down, and they wouldn’t just turn off a website without any warnings, it would be a really good hosting!

    I also have a site hosted at 1eurohosting.nl. In the few months that I’m a customer, I didn’t experience any problems whatsoever.

    • Mat says:

      Wow, it seems as though you got royally screwed by one.com. I’ll write that down on my list of companies to avoid. ;) Again, you’re another person here who recommends Dreamhost though everyone has got their own small issues with their service. Regards to Lunarpages, I don’t think I could host with someone who is so strict in terms of memory & CPU usage. I like my hosts flexible and willing to help, not one who will lock me out of my account :)

      Thanks for the suggestions Michael, hope to see you around the site in the future!

  10. Justin says:

    For anyone looking for a learning experience with a bit of DIY I highly recommend going with something like Slicehost. They offer 3 lots of backups for an extra $10 a month which is great. I used to run daily, weekly and “Oh my god I’m about to do something stupid” backups and never had any issues.

    They have a great set of tutorials as well, which are offered for free regardless is you’re signed up with them.

    Made me learn about Linux, very valuable.

  11. khurram says:

    Thank you for such a detailed post. Actually there are different types of web hostings, and hosts are popular for providing a certain type. As a fashion people go to popular hosts that may not be suitable for the type of hosting they are looking for. For example HostGator is good for Reseller hosting but they are not the best option for dedicated or VPS.

    Here is my recommendations on the basis of my experience, I am a sys admin with many projects hosted at different places.

    For shared and VPS hosting – Shopaserver.com (best price and helpful support) works best for small to medium websites and blogs.

    For VPS and Hybrid server – WIredTRee.com (excellent support)
    works best for medium to large websites and forums.

    For Reseller hosting – HostGator.com (excellent in reseller)
    a good platform to start your own hosting company

    For dedicate servers – LiquidWeb , RackSpace
    for big websites with best performance

    Unamanged dedicated server with best price : SingleHop, Hetnzer

    enjoy!

  12. Zac says:

    Finally got around to reading this post two days late. I feel way behind, but great article all the same. Like I said in my Tweet, I want to eventually expand my site, so when I do I’ll move MediaTemple to the top of my list.

    Later.

  13. Another thing to keep in mind is the sliding of quality in some of the cheaper offerings. My experience is with a lower traffic set of sites, so I can justify spending a bit less cash on the hosting, but I am finding the lower end providers start out great and then seem to slowly devolve into a much less helpful or reliable option. I am now very tempted to do a full and intensive review of my providers each six months and to switch at the end of each year to a provider who at the time is providing better service.

    For me, anyone offering PHP5 and fantastico deluxe is high up on my list when they are offering competitive rates. Lets be honest, as a designer the last thing I want to be doing is fiddling around with a difficult install when I could be refining the site design.

    The other thing is to find one that provides prompt HELPFUL support. Being told ‘it is being worked on’ is like saying ‘the cheques in the mail’ it means nothing and can cost you potential sales/clients/awards for the sparkliest bling.

    It is almost worth editing the article to have a good/bad/ugly list of providers that people can vote on.

    • Mat says:

      Great insight Nick! I know a few people who have just started out on cheap hosting so I’ll keep an eye on them to see if they experience poor support over time.

      I like your idea about including the good, bad & ugly list of hosts. Perhaps I’ll do a bit of SEO on this article, see if I can rank it high and chuck in some affiliate links ;)

  14. Clay says:

    I am small time host in Mississippi and do a bit of reselling, I hate HostGator. I have been dabbling in the hosting market for many years! I have used many as you have and I have seen bad vs worse. I am going to check out MT right now! Thanks for this post!

  15. Design 311 says:

    I have heard lots and lots of things about (mt) already, but they’re so expensive compared to those “unlimited” hosting companies. Obviously if you have a high traffic blog or a heavy web application a package at (mt) will be the right decisions but for smaller websites and blogs I’d recommend cheaper web hosts, such as GoDaddy etc.

  16. Michael says:

    Wow, just stumbled upon this reddit thread about This* ( thiswebhost.com )
    If only half of it is true, this seems like a pretty lame hosting, definately one to avoid!

    • Design 311 says:

      That looks shocking, however it seems the issue is now resolved. As far as I can tell the wrong person was communicating on the twitter account and this person (Jules) was now replaced, so everything’s good, I guess?

      However, I won’t ever even think about signing up with This* now.

  17. Thanks for post.
    I was really pissed off today for my recent hosting company (Bluehost) and I am looking for some hosting alternativies. Like you said is really hard to find reliable firm, especially when traffic started coming in.

    I would advice anybody to stay away from Bluehost. I know many people pray them but they really sucks.

    BTW: You recommend Media Temple but it seems that you host your web on eleven2 so I don’t understand that. What in your opinion is the most reliable hosting company?

  18. Nick Garnett says:

    I’ve used WebFaction http://webfaction.com for a couple of years, shared hosting but the best there has ever been and at $9.95 a snip, and no I don’t work for them.
    Nick Garnett

  19. alphydan says:

    I agree with Nick. Webfaction is really good. For Django / Python / Ruby / Rails projects is really straight forward (plus the obvious WordPress/Drupal/ stuff). For their European servers they also use 100% renewable energy to power them. Pretty cool!

  20. Identity-H says:

    I can’t believe that no one has recommended A Small Orange. I’ve been dealing with them for 5 years now and they have the best customer service I have ever seen from any company. Any time I have a question or a ticket it gets responded to very quickly, even for a low priority ticket.

    I have no experience with their VPS or other high-end services, but I’ve always been happy with my Shared hosting. They do a good job of making sure that everything is up to date (PHP, mySQL, etc) and their servers run smoothly despite having dirt-cheap plans.

    They were bought by HostGator several months ago, but the quality hasn’t suffered at all.

  21. Nate says:

    I’d give my website, however it’s down at the moment… due to the *wonderful* hosting services at iPage… It’s interesting that you mention HostGator as they are a sister company to iPage… and StartLogic…. and Dotster… and a whole slew of others. They are all managed by the same customer service team and owned by Endurance International Group. I looked them up on wikipedia and found a list of several of the hosts they own who all treat their customers with little or no helpful service when they have issues. I left StartLogic because of the poor customer service and went to iPage only to find that they are just the same people with a different name. DON’T GET CONNED by these people!

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