Do you ever feel sorry for professionals in those professions…you know, the ones people make fun of because of their reputations? The stereotypical ambulance-chasing lawyers, used car salespeople – they’re always the butt of people’s jokes.
Sometimes, it seems like web hosts might not be far behind. While lots of web hosts are reputable, upstanding businesses, there are enough that provide less than satisfactory customer experiences that they’re starting to poison the industry. If you’re in the business of web hosting, you already know how difficult it can be to keep your customers happy.
Perhaps it’s not that web hosts are intending to offer less than stellar services or customer support. It could be that demand is growing at the same time as some of their systems and processes are becoming outdated, leading to the impression that it’s a tainted industry.
So, why does hosting have a bad reputation today? We’ve come up with a few reasons that, as a web host, you want to be aware of so that you can be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
Risk – As we all know, there are risks associated with hosting. We’ve all heard the horror stories of someone losing important data or their entire website at the hands of a hosting company.
There’s also risk in the simplest of plans like shared hosting. For example, if one physical server hosts hundreds or thousands of accounts and one or two sites have a traffic surge, they all could be closed down. Since these shared accounts are not as segregated as VPS accounts, the actions of one can affect many. Sometimes, this occurs because the host promises more resources than it can actually deliver. Some hosts will use this as a strategy because most sites don’t come close to their quotas, so they cram as many sites onto the server as possible. The server is still being pushed to its limit, however. So, if a handful of sites do come close to their quotas, then the server could crash.
The flip-side? The huge benefit to shared hosting is that it’s cost-effective. Lots of smaller websites could not exist without it. So, is there a way hosting providers can mitigate shared hosting risks? Perhaps they could update infrastructure, safeguards, or processes. Shared hosting, or any other aspect of hosting for that matter, shouldn’t be a gamble. Hosting providers should be striving for improvement.
Customer Service & Support – Like many industries, web hosts are outsourcing their hosting customer support. This is a bad practice for most businesses, but especially businesses that need to expect people to be able to call 24 hours a day with highly technical questions. If you provide web hosting, think long and hard about the nature of the support (not just whether it exists). A good web host will have 24-hour support manned by actual humans based in an English-speaking country.
Customers are more than domain names and account numbers. They have different knowledge levels and some will require more education and support than others. More importantly, web hosts need to look at customers as people who pour their time, energy, heart and soul into their websites. For some, their financial livelihood is dependent on their website. Hosting doesn’t have to be robotic and emotionless – care about your customers and take a vested interest in being better for them.
Features – We all love our features… unlimited POP3/IMAP mail accounts, MySQL databases, mailing lists, email forwarders, subdomains, parked and add-on domains and FTP accounts, daily backups, script installers and the like. Some companies will nickel and dime the user for each little thing.
Frankly, that makes me think of a coffee shop charging extra for milk and sugar – that’s unthinkable, right? Don’t be that guy. Don’t expect your customers to buy into it, either. There are certain features that should be standard with any hosting contract. Make sure that they’re included in yours.
Location – Avoid overseas servers. Yes, there’s a reason why we call it the World Wide Web: You should be able to use a site or app anywhere in the world. And, technically, you can. However, if a customer is working at a computer from their home office in Ohio, but their website is hosted in India, they’re bound to experience slowness. They have no connection to that server in Bangalore (and the hosting customer service would be weak, at best), but their data does.
It’s not that customers need a server that’s in their same city, or even the same state, but once they start transmitting data over thousands and thousands of miles, it’s going to have some degree of network latency. Even if they’re content to kick back, sip their coffee and wait for their site to load, though, don’t be complacent. Search engines like Google use page load speed as a ranking factor for searches. So, even a millisecond of delay can push a site farther down in search results. Not to mention the fact that users will be more likely to navigate to a competing site if they are kept waiting too long. Don’t make it harder for your customers to succeed.
Also, when a hosting company puts its servers overseas, they don’t necessarily have the privacy and other protections that we enjoy in the US. They are just not bound to our laws, and you want to know that your data (as well as your customers’) is secure.
Consumers are increasingly savvy about web hosting. Every business has a website, and there are so many business-to-business groups and blogs that are busy separating the wheat from the chaff – you don’t want to be classified as one of the “bad guys” of web hosting, so it’s important to realize that you can’t cut corners. You’ll ultimately lose business because of it.
Take another look at the points above and ask yourself whether you’re one of the good guys – can you say that you’re doing the right thing for the hosting industry? If so, there should be more like you. It will ultimately benefit your business – encourage your potential customers to ask the right questions, and you are bound to have a prosperous and pleasant relationship.
Josh Ward is the Director of Sales and Marketing for green hosting provider, A Small Orange. Their vision is simple: perfecting hosting while maintaining a homegrown feel with a focus on people – customers, employees, and the community.