Chances are that in the past 4 or 5 years, you have upgraded your laptop/pc at least once or twice right? Why? Maybe because you were having issues, slowness or others but chances are that you did so because you wanted to get something faster, more efficient, especially since that new shiny thing is actually cheaper than the laptop you had purchased 24 months ago. That’s technology for you.
You would think that we would be doing the same thing with our websites right? Why stick to that older server if you can upgrade to a more stable, powerful setup that will actually cost less. However, that is exactly what we had been doing for several years now.
Before discussing what we had and why we decided to change, let’s take a quick look at webhosting. What is it? In short, all websites are hosted on a server. That company generally offers to “host” your website on their servers, their network, to provide a reliable, fast and consistent service for you and your visitors. Depending on how much you pay (can range from $5 per month or less to thousands per month), you will get a very different level of service. What services are provided? Hosting companies offer space, bandwidth, support, monitoring, and many other services. It can be truly confusing the first time that you start shopping
A website is like any other brand or company. It has a reputation that is painfully long and difficult to build but so easy to break. How often have you seen a website like Google go down? It happens, but it’s rare and it reflects very poorly on any website to be down, give error messages, etc. Visitors, search engines and advertisers do not care why a site is down or slow, an excuse does not help and blaming your host doesn’t either. Also, as our business grows, downtime will end meaning lost revenues (sales, ads, etc) so being up has a lot of value for us.
You can look at any number of charts about what is and isn’t offered. From our experience, by far the most important factor is quick support. Some website offer live chats and that can certainly be good. However, often, the person that you are chatting with has very limited ability to solve your issues. In the end, it’s not only about getting an answer but more importantly getting your problems resolved.
It’s one thing for your host to be able to help when you let them know that your website is down. But as I will discuss in a few weeks, that is not enough. Not even close. Your host should be able to see issues as they occur. If your host only reacts when you email or call them, what happens if your website goes down and you only notice it several hours (or maybe even a few days) later? That is not acceptable and it seems like many hosts do not provide this service.
There are no easy ways to do this. I personally believe that it’s important to start with a cheap account, especially when getting started. Do not overspend. If you can find a reliable service, you will be able to grow your content, traffic and will develop needs for additional services. At that point, you will have the opportunity to upgrade for a more powerful host, better support, etc. If you feel like you are ready to take that next step, I’ll discuss our current hosts later on in this post.
Up until just a few weeks ago, we were running with a far from ideal setup:
-85 domains running on 3 different servers
-Out of those, almost all the bigger ones (including TheFinancialBlogger, TheDividendGuyBlog, IntelligentSpeculator, etc) were on the same server. We were actually paying $75 for a shared hosting account which did have very solid customer service and had been very reliable but it was still not ideal.
-Overpaying: Back 5-10 years ago, paying $75 for good shared hosting wasn’t ridiculous. These days however, we could easily get a major upgrade by paying less!
-Vulnerability: While our hosting company had been very reliable in general, having our entire business depend on one server didn’t seem so smart. In those days where things did go wrong and our site went down, you could also notice almost every single other website that we had would be affected. Far from ideal.
-Speed On Shared Hosting: Shared hosting is the cheapest way to go and the best way to get started. One major disadvantage though is that anything happening to other sites/users on that server will affect the performance of your sites. If another user is getting a ton of traffic (good for him right?) it will actually make everything slower on ours.
-Having Individual IP’s: In case you are not familiar, every domain is associated to a range of IP addresses. Those are used by Google and others to among other things make links of ownership. For example, having links from 10 different websites that all have the same IP is not as “valuable” as having links from 10 “unique” domains. This had never caused major issues but since we run many of our sites on an independent basis, we did prefer having them seen as independent. For example, it is much easier for us to manage 3-4 different dividend related websites if they are seen as “unique”.
You could probably say that we could/should have done these changes 2-3 years ago and you would be right. But given the high number of projects that we have always been working on, this always seemed to miss the cut and be postponed.
However, last spring, our hosting company had some major issues that affected the hardware of the servers. We ended up:
-Being down on most sites for over 24 hours
-Losing some of the data
-Getting scared as $**$&*# (it’s easy to get caught in worst case scenarios..what if Google downgrades us because our site is seen as “unreliable”, etc).
Thankfully we do have an automated system for backups in place so we did not end up losing much.
As most of you know, Mike and I meet up annually to discuss everything related to our company, and this clearly made the cut of projects that was critical to do. Then, after attending FINCON, we started setting 3-4 quarterly objectives and this was one of mine.
The first order of business was trying to determine how many servers would be ideal to count on. This depended mostly on:
-Budget: We had established that we could spend a very similar amount to what we were spending, just because we were overpaying so much for our old server (rarely do hosting companies reduce your costs)
-Diversification: Not having all of our domains on one server was key but we did not want to have 8 hosting companies either!
-Site Structure: If we wanted all sites related to one “niche” such as dividend investing to be seen as independent, we needed to be able to have at least one range of IP’s for each one of those.
After discussing with many other bloggers (more on that shortly), with some hosting companies and reading up, we decided to go for VPS hosting. Generally, you can go for either “shared hosting”, “VPS hosting” or a dedicated server. Here are the mains benefits/downsides as we saw them:
-Shared Hosting: Depend on other users, not expensive
-VPS Hosting: Independent resources, moderately expensive
-Dedicated Servers: Independent resources, more expensive. We obviously could have afforded this but since the goal was also to spread out our sites a bit more, that would not have been ideal
There are many different things that I was looking for, most of which are now standard with any hosting plan. We wanted to the ability to have unlimited domains, databases, etc. If you have spent any time looking for servers, you will know that these more “technical aspects” are not what makes one website superior to another. Like many other things in life, service that goes beyond our needs is the main difference. What exactly?
-Live Monitoring: I think it’s essential for a hosting company to track any issues themselves without counting on me. Ideally, any issues would be resolved before Mike and I even notice it.
-Very Quick And Efficient Support: This is always difficult to judge without being a customer. The best way might be to ask around. Why is it so important? No matter how great your hosting company is, you will have issues and how things go when that happens will help a great deal. Having live chat is usually positive but if the person you’re talking to is slow and unable to resolve the issue, it won’t be.
We unfortunately had the opportunity to judge a few of these companies support after the transfer, more on that in a future post!
We decided to setup a couple of different VPS servers initially:
-Hostgator (great reputation, live chat support, monitoring… or so we thought – more on that very soon)
-ServInt (used by a few blogs that we know, solid interface, etc)
-Liquidweb (seemed like a great alternative, we also heard good words about them)
We also have kept our share hosting at:
-Amerinoc (A+ support, we will be converting our shared hosting into VPS at some points)
-GoDaddy (for some lesser used domains, it is very cheap and works well)
As I will explain next week, things did not go exactly as I had planned, especially with Hostgator and we did end up needing to setup a 3rd hosting account… before getting into that, next week I will discuss how we have proceeded to do our wordpress site transfers.
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