Web Host Ethics
Okay, I've had to change web hosts half a dozen
times in the last year and I've noticed a
pattern. It's a very clear and simple pattern,
actually a series of behaviors on the part of
web hosting companies. These behaviors cause
these companies to lose customers and gain poor
To sum it all up in a single word: ethics. Web
hosts need to act ethically. As long as they are
ethical towards their business and customers,
they thrive. When they become unethical, they
What are web hosting company ethics? This is a
code which all hosting companies need to follow
if they want to stay in business for the long
The most important goal is up-time - Almost
anything can be forgiven as long as sites are up
and running, as close to 100% of the time as
possible. Every feature provided by a hosting
company needs to be working and working
properly. A small amount of downtime (an hour or
two in a month long period) is acceptable, but
more than that is not.
Every time I've had to change web hosts, this
was the base reason. Unexplained and unexpected
downtime. Oh, there were many excuses and many
reasons which I'm sure were perfectly valid. But
the basic reason why I create and maintain a web
site is so people can see it - and they cannot
see it if the site is down.
To make it even worse, sites which are down for
a significant length of time have side effects.
Webrings owners often check for broken rings
using automated code - down sites will trigger
suspensions and even deletions. Search engines
tend to drop sites which are down too often or
for too long a period of time. And, of course,
visitors may remove your site from their
bookmarks, thinking you have closed it or moved
The second most important goal is performance -
I understand that you want to jam as many sites
on a single server as you can. This is how you
maximize your profits. Please understand that
all of the web sites which you host must perform
well. So don't overload your servers.
Stay in communication - We all know that things
happen. Sometimes servers do crash and once in a
while they require maintenance. Let your
customers know about important events. If you
are concerned that they might consider it spam,
give your customers the option to receive
updates if they desire.
I had one host (Hostrocket) which performed, in
my opinion, one of the most hostile acts that I
have ever seen against a paying customer. I had
a CGI script on my site which logged each 404
error in a text file. Normally this script was
harmless and used little CPU. Unfortunately,
with the new breed of worms striking the
internet, 404 errors went way up and the script
began using large amounts of processor.
One day I tried to reach my site and didn't get
my friendly front page. I got a "forbidden"
error. I freaked out and sent off a quick email
to the web host support group. I didn't receive
a response. Not a word (and it was only early
afternoon). I sent another, then another.
Nothing. Finally, 18 frantic hours later, I
received a note that my site was closed down
because of the script.
The number of four letter words that spewed from
my mouth that day would have turned a street
girl's face red. I was so angry - not because
they closed my site, but because these idiots
(again, Hostrocket) didn't tell me what they had
done. Because of that, I wasted almost an entire
day trying to figure out what was wrong.
What I would have done had I been the technical
person in their company is simple. Just disable
the script and send off an email to the web site
owner explaining why and telling him not to do
it again. If the owner ran the script again,
then shut down the site (and, of course, send
Needless to say, I regained access to my site,
copied my databases to my hard drive, then
switched web hosts. Within two days I had moved
my site to another, much better hosting service
(and, of course, I deleted the offending
Don't test on your production servers - I know
you want to upgrade your Apache to the newest
version or install the new control panel right
away, but please don't immediately install
anything on your production servers. Believe me,
your customers don't care about any of this -
they want working sites. Saying "everything is
going slow because we upgraded" is not
acceptable - the host should know ALL side
effects of any upgrades from actual testing long
before any change, however, small, is made to a
Do what you say you are going to do - I was with
a hosting company called Bizland for over a
year. They were good most of the time except for
(a) excessive downtime, and (b) they didn't
deliver on their promises. They kept saying CGI
will be released in April, then May, then June.
Finally, I decided I could not wait anymore (and
also concluded the host was down too much) so I
moved my site.
Free hosting companies seem to have a bad habit
of using production systems as test beds. This
is one of the strong downsides to using free
hosts - they really don't care if your site is
up or not, as long as the advertisements are
Acknowledge your trouble tickets - One web
hosting company that I was with for quite a long
time was Addr.com. These guys had easily the
best support so far. What stands out in my mind
is every single message that I sent got
acknowledged by a human being.
The sequence was as follows: I would send a
trouble ticket and get an automated response. A
short time later, I got a note that the ticket
was handled. I always respond with a "thank
you", because I've been a support person before
and I understand the power of getting thanked.
Addr.com even responded to the thank you with a
"you are welcome" message!
To contrast, another hosting company (Hostrocket
again), had a nasty habit of just closing
tickets. I'd send in a question and get an
answer, then ask another question as follow-up.
I would never get a response, then check to see
that the ticket was marked "closed". This is not
the way to keep a customer happy.
Actually read your trouble tickets - I write
very clearly in trouble tickets, precisely
because I've been a support person and I know
exactly what is needed. I'm constantly surprised
at how many times web host support people simply
don't read the ticket and thus do the wrong
One particularly glaring example was a ticket
which I sent in which said to set up a certain
domain with Bigmailbox. The support person (from
Hostrocket) changed the MX record for an
entirely different domain, in spite of my
message clearly stating "change it for domain
xyz". This caused my site to lose email
capability for two days until they eventually
figured out what they messed up.
Most importantly, remember where you get your
money from - This message is for all web hosting
companies everywhere. Your money comes from
those people called webmasters. Free hosting
companies get their money indirectly via the
content provided by webmasters. With paid hosts
the relationship is direct and to the point -
money is paid by webmasters.
If you annoy your customers or don't provide
service, then you will find yourselves out of
business. And in these days of a looming
recession, good customers are gold. Keep them
happy and your company will prosper.
About the author: Richard Lowe Jr. is the
webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets.