I've been mulling over the idea of switching hosting providers for a few months and finally decided it was time to make a move. I started my journey to find the perfect hosting company. Turns out, finding a good host is a lot more difficult than it looks. There are tons of hosting review sites, but frankly, I don't trust any of them. What I saw in their rankings and recommendations didn't align very well with my personal experience. I started to evaluate what I wanted in a host and started to build my requirements. Below are some of the things I've learned along the way.
Observations of the Hosting Industry
What has amazed me over the past few years is the consolidation I'm seeing in the hosting industry. There is one group that is buying up hosting companies right and left. Endurance International Group, EIG, has purchased and consolidated many of the well known hosting companies. You probably didn't know that BlueHost, HostGator, iPage, iPower, and many many others were all owned by the same company. I've used many of these hosting providers in the past and I've experienced first hand what happens when they are consolidated. Early on, we hosted with BlueHost. The service and support was great. As time went on, service began to suffer, so I paid more to get better hosting from them. Service and support continued to decline in my opinion, to the point where I felt I was no longer getting the value I expected for what I was paying. I moved over to HostGator. Same story repeated. Started off strong and declined over time. Then it came time to renew (I typically buy from 1 to 3 years at a time), the renewal price was simply too high to justify based on the service. Over to iPage we went. History began to repeat itself again. Now I can't even open a support ticket through the web portal, it is either call or open online chat and the wait times have become huge. What I was not aware of is that all 3 of these companies had been purchased by EIG at some point during my journey with them. Here is a list of hosting providers that have been purchased by EIG:
I have a new criteria now when evaluating hosting companies, they must not be part of the EIG corporation. This is my personal choice based on my personal experience. I'm not telling anyone to avoid them, but I will say that I have chosen to take my business to non-EIG owned companies.
How providers handle pricing seems to vary. What I've found that that many publish the 3 year prepayment price and it is difficult, if not impossible to find the month to month, 1 year, or 2 year price points. I don't like the deception. Put your prices out there so people can make informed decisions. I typically turn away from providers when I cannot find clear and accurate pricing on their website.
Renewal pricing is probably the one thing that aggravates me more than anything else. Hosting companies run the 'specials' where you can sign up at a reduced rate and then renew at a much higher rate. This isn't unique to hosting, I see the same thing in the cable TV industry and even with Internet providers. I still don't like it. Another selection criteria when I'm evaluating hosting providers, they need to offer a price that is valid at signup and at renewal.
Finding good support is difficult. What is more difficult is providing good support. I understand the challenges faced when trying to provide good support! Some customers are highly technical and others, not so much. You have to be able to work with a wide range of skill sets and ensure you are never condescending. It is hard to do, but it can be done. I am probably every support technicians worst nightmare as I think I'm pretty technical. In some cases I might be, in others maybe not. Regardless, I expect prompt service and problems to be solved. My personal experience has been that support seems to suffer over time. Early on in most cases issues were generally resolved quickly. From my personal experience, most support issues were related to changes in the host environment or adding something new. For example, when we moved to SSL, the first installation of the certificate was flawless. The renewal didn't go so well and we experienced some significant downtime. We've seen server configurations get changed that affected our SSL install and it took weeks for it to be resolved and frankly I had to pester the provider daily to keep them engaged. It seemed like the problem was just too big or difficult, so it appeared that it was just ignored. I wish I had a dollar for each time I was told to clear my cache and reboot and that would fix the issue :)
Shared hosting is generally not all that expensive. As I mentioned earlier, many providers run sign up specials and you can get decent hosting for literally a few dollars a month. When a service costs me less per month than a lunch one day, I guess you shouldn't expect too much. But then again, if a provider claims they offer strong support, they should provide strong support.
Another criteria I use when evaluating a host is their support. Most providers have a 30 to 45 day refund period, so I use this period to measure how well support responds and how quickly they can resolve or answer questions.
In this day and age, I'm a believer that all sites should run under SSL. In the past, this could get expensive as SSL certificates are not always cheap. With services like Let's Encrypt available today, there really is no reason why we shouldn't have SSL on all of our sites. Another requirement for me when evaluating providers is that they must support and offer Let's Encrypt.
Additional Evaluation Criteria
glFusion requires PHP and fully supports the latest versions of PHP. I want a host that offers the latest supported version of PHP. At this time, PHP v5.6 is only supported for security updates. PHP v7.0 and v7.1 are the only versions receiving development at this time. I require a host that provides PHP v7 support.
The same is true for MySQL. I want a host that is providing MySQL versions that are current and well supported.
I also prefer a host that provides shell access via SSH. This is not a requirement, but I find it to be very handy in supporting and updating production web sites.
Wrapping it Up
So there are 6 primary things I look at when evaluating hosting providers:
- Are they an EIG company?
- Do they publish their real pricing?
- Do they offer the same price at renewal time?
- How good is the support?
- Offers Let's Encrypt SSL Certs
- PHP and MySQL versions
This narrows down the field significantly, but fortunately there are still several providers that do well in each of these areas. In my last quest to find good shared hosting, I narrowed it down to 3 providers:
I ended up going with FastComet, not because the others were bad, but they met my criteria and they had the best price point for my needs. Others may find one of the other providers better suits their needs. My opinion is that you cannot go wrong with any of them.
Why FastComet? They offer a 14 day free trial period, no credit card required. This provided me the opportunity to get some real world experience with them with no risk on my part. I was able to really test drive their service and support. I was impressed by both. They offered a strong set of services at a fair price, so that is who I decided to go with.
I also opened an account with InterServer. They too offered all the features I wanted and provided excellent response as well. We struggled a little getting one domain setup properly, but nothing that was not fixable. At the end of the day, I was more comfortable with what FastComet offered so I went that direction. InterServer promptly refunded my prepayment without any issue. A solid company and a solid set of services.
I spent some time talking with TMDHosting. They also offer a strong set of services and have high marks when it comes to support. They were a little more expensive than Fast Comet, so I decided to pass on them. The advertised price on their site was the 3 year prepayment price and it wasn't until I asked that I could get the month to month or lower term pricing. I didn't like having to work that hard to know what my price points were. The month to month prices were reasonable, but much higher than FastComet. An additional note, I know a few people who host with TDMHosting and they all have very positive things to say about them.
I ended up with FastComet and so far I've very pleased with both the service and the support. I mentioned earlier that I'm generally a support technicians worst nightmare because I think I know what I'm doing and talking about. The great techs at FastComet got a taste of that early on as I have a rather unique way of handling glfusion.org email and it took them some time to grasp my methods. But throughout, they were prompt and provided excellent support. What I ended up purchasing was the RocketBooster (don't you just love the names) package. It is a little more expensive, but offers some additional features and perks to ensure a quick and responsive site.
All hosting providers usually have some type of affiliate or referral program and FastComet is no different. Generally I don't like to participate in these as I really want glFusion to be a completely free and open project that is not driven by any type of revenue generation. FastComet offers a referral program that instead of paying 'commissions' for signups, they provide credit towards the hosting costs. I decided to take advantage of this program as I'm always interested in ways to offset the hosting costs since these come straight out of my pocket. This is why you will now see a few links on the glFusion site where we recommend FastComet hosting - each of these links contain the glFusion referral ID. As a side note, over time, we've had some very generous users who do utilize the paypal button on glFusion's home page. These donations also go towards offsetting the hosting costs as well.
If you are in the market for a good hosting provider, I do recommend FastComet and if you choose to leverage our referral link, glFusion will benefit from the referral. If you choose to go another route, that is great too. I hope some of my personal experiences and observations help you find the host that is right for you.