Most Internet professionals don't give their choice of Web hosting a second thought - at least not until something goes wrong. A rather severe outage at several popular Web hosting providers including HostGator, BlueHost, JustHost and HostMonster in July 2013 brought the issue into greater focus, but there are often subtle warning signs that it may be time to dump your Web host well before your digital heart gets broken.
IT'S SLOWER THAN SLOW
Downtime happens - it's a digital fact of life - even for those with a five-9 assurance in their service level agreement (SLA). In many ways today it is actually expected by Web hosting consumers (e.g. in the case of planned outages for maintenance) and you can tell quite a bit about a company just by watching how they handle those situations. Most often however, hosting customers suffer from something that while less noticeable is equally (if not far more) damaging to a brand.
The most common complaint from those considering breaking up with their Web hosting provider is that the response time, the length of time it takes to fully load a page in a user's browser, is simply too long.
"While my current provider offers very high levels of customer service and the rates are competitive, my page load times have been terrible since a recent change to their network," said Realtor Karri Flatla of RE/MAX Real Estate in Alberta, Canada. "As a busy real estate agent whose key competitive edge is a modern and interactive Web presence, I simply can't afford to annoy even a handful of my online viewers. Just today I was in fact asking my Web technician if she would recommend we switch ISPs."
And that's just how quickly Web hosting companies can find themselves without clients. "We've had to move hosts before just because pages took much too long to load there, compared to other hosts," said Tom Bowen, founder of Web Site Optimizers. "This can be due to their Web server or because of their database server. If a host has issues only rarely, that might be one thing, but if it seems to be happening repeatedly, it's time to start looking for something better."
There's little tolerance for slow response times - whatever the reason. Jeff Kear, co-owner of PlanningPod.com had a nightmare scenario a few years ago when his hosting provider didn't take action to fix an outage until 14 hours after the fact.
"We run a software as a service for creative professionals and have global clients, so if our service is down any time, our customers can't run their businesses," said Kear. "On this occasion our server went down at 1 a.m. mountain time. We started calling our hosting company shortly thereafter, and after multiple calls and emails we reached someone who could not fix the issue until the day shift came in. So we waited and waited until it was finally fixed."
Kear and PlanningPod fired the hosting company a few weeks later and made sure to hire a company that had true 24-hour support. According to Kear, "They are more expensive and worth every penny."
A better support experience in this scenario might have kept Kear and his websites as clients of the hosting company, emphasizing just how important a knowledgeable support team can be. There are obviously other signs that it's time to switch your Web host, but measuring website response times should be the first practice you engage in if you're thinking about making a switch.
Digital marketing executive with proven experience in all aspects of search engine optimization (SEO), performance-based advertising, consumer-generated/social media, email marketing, lead generation, Web design, usability, and analytics. - 20-year Internet marketing veteran, currently serving as the Digital Marketing Campaign Manager at Antenna Group (formerly Chicago Digital). - Former Editor-In-Chief of Website Magazine, and a regular speaker on Web technology digital marketing strategy - Author of several books on digital marketing Including Web 360: The Fundamentals of Web Success; Affiliate 360: The Fundamentals of Performance Marketing; Domains 360: The Fundamentals of Buying & Selling Domain Names, and SEO 360: The Fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization.