A Web Hosting Disaster
This is the story of an actual web hosting disaster I experienced. I don’t know how many of you handle your own websites. Handling your own web hosting may not be something you want to take on. It does require some knowledge of servers and how they function.
If you are like me and have the technical knowledge, handling your own web hosting server gives you lots of control. It also gives you the ability to enhance your site in ways that you can’t do when someone else handles all of that. But you do not have total control, as I found out when I experienced a recent web hosting disaster.
You’ll want to keep reading till the end if you have a website. This is a tale of how far customer service has fallen as a priority for many companies today. It also is a tale of how companies are happy to take your money and offer very little in the way of support in return. Yes, I fully intend to name the web hosting company, so read on.
What Is Web Hosting?
Since I intend this to be a caution for others it makes sense to explain what a web host is. A web host is a company that maintains the servers where your website resides. Those servers are connected to the internet, and when someone types in the address of your website in their browser, the request goes to the server. The server responds by sending back the files from your website so that they are displayed in a browser as your website.
I won’t get into all the technical details of how all the requests get routed around the internet. For the purposes of this article, this simple explanation will suffice. In a nutshell, they own the equipment, and you rent space on the server where your files reside.
Now let’s begin the story of how my nightmare unfolded and how this turned into a total web hosting disaster.
The Beginning Of My Web Hosting Disaster
My web hosting disaster began on a day like any other day. It was the middle of the week, and I was doing some checks of my websites to look at traffic. I noticed several were running a little slow to load. It was not terrible, but I have been working to make them load faster as traffic to my blogs has increased.
I loaded a new caching plugin to WordPress on one site, and it made a huge difference. I started testing it on my other websites one by one, and it was working as expected. The plugin was working as advertised and my website load times were significantly faster.
Little did I know that a minor configuration error would create a cascade of problems that would lead to all my blogs being totally offline for over 36 hours.
My First Hint Of A Problem
My first hint of a problem arose upon checking my email the next morning. I fully imagine my reaction was exactly like the guy in the photo at the top of the blog.
I received an email with a timestamp of 2:40 am. It said that my domain that this blog is hosted on had been experiencing high resource usage on the server for an extended amount of time. (???). It then went on to tell me that the domain had been disabled to prevent the continued high use of the CPU on the server.
Now, normally this wouldn’t be a huge deal. But in my case, it was! You see, I wasn’t paying a few dollars a month for a single web hosting account. I was paying for a reseller account with unlimited everything (yeah, right!). This was clearly spelled out in the marketing materials for the hosting plan I had purchased.
All 11 of my blogs were hosted as subdomains of that main domain. Panic sets in at this point and I begin checking my websites. Sure enough, all 11 are offline and not working! Can anyone see how this might incite a feeling of total panic?
Let me just say that I have nothing against personal blogs before I say this. But this was a little different from a personal blog being down. This is my business. This is my livelihood. I do e-commerce and run ads on these websites. When they are down I’m not making any money.
My Customer Service Nightmare
My first thought is “Why didn’t I get a warning email about the excess server resources being used if they were ongoing”? Since the email I got from the admin stated that they were ongoing for “an extended period of time”, why did they not send out a warning before taking all my websites offline? Surely the warnings were in the log files of the server.
Well, this is where I was sure an email to the admins explaining what I think happened will allow me to go in and fix the issue, right? How wrong I was!
After 2 hours with no response back to my email, I contacted tech support on their live chat. The person on the chat was very polite. He looked it up and found my support ticket. He saw where I sent my email and assured me they would escalate the ticket, so I could get my sites back online.
Two hours go by, and I again contact live support chat. They look into it and assure me the ticket has been escalated to upper-level support. Why do I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my belly?
Maybe because my websites have been down for 18 hours by that night, and I still have no response from tech support. I had even sent a followup email explaining that I thought the problem was a misconfigured plugin for WordPress. I had gone in through the file manager and deleted the files for the caching plugin, so the problem would not reoccur when they open the sites back up.
Still no response by 8 pm that night. My websites have now been offline for 17 hours, and I have no idea for a timeline on when, or if, they will ever be back online.
Looking At Complaints Online
This is when I started searching for complaints about my web hosting company online. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. There were a vast number of complaints that related exactly what I am going through. Some people said their websites had been down for 2 and even 3 weeks!
The vast majority of complaints were about the admins of the company, and how they couldn’t get a response. It was also noted how the live chat support would be all polite and understanding, but they had no technical know how, so they really couldn’t be much help beyond telling you how sorry they were. In my opinion it is their job to blow sunshine up your **s while the admins hold your website hostage to their whims.
My Solution To My Web Hosting Disaster
It is at this point that I felt it was time to make a bold decision. I did not make this decision lightly, since I had been a customer of this company for over 8 years. But I felt it was time to move all my websites to a new hosting company.
A service outage of a few hours can make or break a website. At this point I was down almost 24 hours, and I wasn’t getting any help from tech support.
I found a web hosting company called Site Ground. No, this is not an affiliate link. I don’t get anything from them if you host your website there. I was just impressed enough with their answering all my questions that I moved all my sites there.
In fact, they moved all 11 blogs to the server for me free of charge. So I only had to move one website myself, and I was back up and running in less than a day.
The best part was I paid for a year of hosting for what it would have cost me for 3 months with my previous host. I was paying 4x as much for their crappy customer service!
Update- After using Siteground for a year the hosting prices became untenable. My hosting account went up to over $400 per year. Although customer service was top-notch on their service, I needed to find a host with less expensive alternatives. I found that at Dreamhost. The first year for hosting was on sale at this time for $47. After the first year the price only rises to $155. Much less than the competition from Siteground.
The Company I Left
As promised, I wanted to warn you about the company I left. The name of the company is HostGator. I’m not going to link to the site because I don’t want to send them any business.
When I first hosted with the company over 8 years ago they had great customer service. I don’t know what happened, but I do know that something is wrong. Yes, I filed a complaint with the company when I cancelled my hosting account.
The funniest part of this was that a few minutes after I got an email from my new hosting company telling me that all my websites were copied over and ready to go, I got an email from a HostGator server admin.
This email arrived over 36 hours after my first email saying they had disabled all my accounts. Basically, it finally acknowledged my fix and said they had given me access to my websites again. But any further overuse of resources would result in them disabling my websites again without notice!
I cannot tell you the satisfaction I got from replying to that email and telling them I was already back up with another web hosting company. Further that they could take their God complex and stick it… Well, you get my drift. But I said it in the nicest way possible!
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is you do not have to just sit back and take poor customer service. You can vote with your pocketbook. I have always lived by that. That is probably because I worked in healthcare for so many years. Customer service just comes naturally. And I expect the same level of customer service from the companies I choose to spend my money with as I gave those who I took care of in the hospital for so many years.
I am always polite, and I know sometimes things happen that are out of someone’s control. But in this instance where I was ignored for over 36 hours I felt it was time to make a change. A simple email exchange could have prevented my leaving a company I had a long term relationship with. That relationship had been very profitable for them over the years. It could have continued to be, except for the lack of a response to a simple email.
This can also be a lesson for anyone in business, whether online or offline. Your customers always have a choice. To be a success in business, don’t give them a reason to have to make one to choose a competitor.