Hosting a Website Actually Means Hosting a Company

written by andrew

We’re working with a client right now which has substantial website development needs. It’s a big project and we’ve been working with them for many months, going on a long but pleasurable journey of discovery, strategic direction, wire-framing, multiple rounds of design, hand coding, and custom development.

Now that we’re close to launching the site, we’ve run up against a hurdle that is all too often smack right in front of us. It’s called hosting.

If you Google the word “hosting”, you’ll find everything from free (e.g. crap) hosting on unserviced servers to $10 per month on reputable ISPs to fully managed virtual or managed hosting adding up to thousands of dollars per month for massive websites. It’s not uncommon for a company to pay $50,000 or more in a given year for hosting their site.

For smaller companies and organizations (like our client) without sophisticated technical resources or requirements, hosting is a complicated affair. It should not have to be.

This is Day 3 of the Seth Godin instigated #YourTurnChallenge and the question before us participants is this: Tell us about something that you think should be improved.

Website hosting needs to be improved. A few weeks back, we released a commissioned white paper called Green Web Hosting, which took on the question of what hosting provider actually has a carbon-friendly footprint. More clearly, we asked: How green are the hosts with whom we trust our data?

Purposefully, we did not take into account additional factors like uptime, server speed, technologies deployed, or customer service.

But it is customer service among hosts that needs to be addressed most. And I’m not talking about phone or chat support. By customer service, I mean the full trajectory of customer acquisition, nurturing, and support. I’m talking about educating the prospect, helping them understand what it is they are buying in a host—and what they are not. I’m talking about explaining what goes into a good web host and how they handle support and technical requests.

I’m talking about what happens when a client needs to move from one server to another or has to upgrade their site from some horrific content management system to WordPress. Or what happens when a client has their email accounts tied to their hosting and want to move to Google Apps or another cloud-based solution. I’m also talking about how a host can help a client leave them if they need to; maybe the host offers a “severance package” that gracefully allows a client to move safely off their servers.

By no means am I suggesting that this customer service comes for free. Hosting is an incredibly important and vital function of nearly every modern business and, if website hosts no longer want to support $2 per month clients, perhaps their business model should support $20/month or $200/month ones.

The bar needs to be raised and businesses and organizations should realize that they get what they pay for. Website hosts need to educate their customers, go transparent when it comes to costs and questions of lock-in, and create customer service systems that actually service customers.

And, in general, the days of cheap hosting should be de-calendared.

In our particular case, the client’s current host is on a large telecom ISP. We need to get them to an entirely new level of technology and, given everything we have seen, it simply doesn’t seem possible or isn’t possible simply. We are left scratching our heads. Does the client require a sophisticated and fully managed, white-glove environment with 99.99% uptime? No. They just need a solid host that supports the essentials of a strong WordPress install. We will likely move them at great cost to the client, ourselves, and the host.

Footnote: Media Temple, based in Los Angeles with real humans by the phone and a helpful website sitting out front, comes closest to being a great host. (Sadly, the company ranks very poorly in our Green Web Hosting assessment. In fact, they don’t even compute in terms of sustainability.) This is by no means an endorsement. It’s an observation based on 12 years of designing and building sites.

As a member organization of 1% for the Planet, Manoverboard gives the equivalent of one percent of all revenues to select nonprofit partners that are benefiting the environment.

Manoverboard is a Certified B Corporation, which means that we meet ongoing, rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.