5 Ways Your Host May Be Bending the Truth

As our hosting reviews prove, web hosting is a competitive industry. Some marketing tactics might bend the truth slightly. Some hosts go as far as to mislead, although thankfully they are rare.

But even misleading statements are worth looking out for.

Here are five examples of promises that might not be all they seem.

1. Unlimited Everything

An unlimited hosting account is never truly unlimited. There’s always going to be a clause in the Terms of Service that prevents you hogging more than your fair share.

Unlimited really means that the host won’t bother you as long as you don’t raise suspicions.

2. Support Response Time

Normally, you should take a response time guarantee with a pinch of salt.

The host probably won’t compensate you if they’re slower than they promised. So it’s not really a guarantee. Even if your host offers a credit, it’ll probably be more trouble to claim than it’s worth.

Also, consider the fact that a response and a solution aren’t the same thing. Fast responses don’t mean fast fixes.

3. Guaranteed Uptime

Watch out for uptime guarantees.

Again, your host could have so many terms, exceptions and allowances in its Terms of Service, the uptime guarantee is rendered completely impotent.

Your host might only reimburse you for substandard uptime over three months, or even a year. It might only credit you for a tiny percentage of what you paid. It might refuse to you refund you and simply apply a credit – not much use if the uptime is so bad that you have to switch.

4. Backups

Be very careful about backups.

Most hosts take backups daily, but they’re normally not for you – they’re for the host. This type of backup is rarely accessible by a client (that’s you), even after a hack.

In most cases, the backups will cover thousands of accounts, and it’s simply impractical for the host to give you access.

5. Price

When comparing pricing, are you comparing like for like?

For example, is your VPS managed? Does it have a control panel? The same resources? Some plans look cheap because they’re almost too basic to use.

Get prices down with a hosting coupon. Don’t cut corners on features.

Is Web Hosting a Dishonest Industry?

There are dishonest marketing practices in all industries. The trick is to find a company you’re happy with, that you feel is ethical, for an affordable price.

Arm yourself and watch for misleading marketing messages and you should be OK.

Bonus: 5 More Lies

1. Why Your Site Went Down

You are hot on the heels of a period of downtime or maybe in the middle of an extended outage. You ask a support personnel why your site is down seeking some kind of specific explanation. However, often you’ll find that the answers are either as vague as possible or extremely simplistic in nature.

Either way though, it is often a case of stretching the truth, either through omission or misinformation, you probably aren’t hearing the whole truth.

Why They Tell It: The reason is actually fairly simple, you don’t need to know. If you didn’t cause the downtime and nothing you could have done would have prevented it, there’s no reason to tell you. Furthermore, the reasons for a server taking a nose dive are often complex and difficult to explain, especially to someone not very tech savvy. Therefore, the less information they can give while keeping you happy, the quicker they can get back to running their servers.

How to Spot It: It is pretty easy to spot if a host is being excessively vague (IE: Talking about “hardware failures” rather than what went down) but it will be almost impossible to know if they are telling an outright lie. That being said, you probably shouldn’t care too much unless the downtimes become repeated in nature.

2. How Long Your Site will be Down

Your site is down and you either contact your host or look up their network status page to find out what is going on. They acknowledge the downtime and then tell you that it will probably take X number of minutes or hours to get you back online. Though you might be upset at the host for the downtime, you rest better knowing that they are working on the problem but probably unaware that the timeframe they gave you may very well be utter horsewash.

Why They Tell It:

There are two reasons to tell this lie and it’s hinged upon the exact lie they tell. Depending on the outage, some hosts will deliberately overstate the amount of time needed to get you back online. This does two things 1) It prevents you from calling back and bothering them while they are working on the issue and 2) It makes you happier when the site is restored sooner.

The other possibility is that they simply underestimate the time it will likely take to get the site online, either out of optimism or just to keep you happy. Odds are, you won’t check exactly when the X number of minutes are up, meaning you likely won’t be much the wiser.

How to Spot It:

During most downtimes hosts can only estimate how long it will take to get you back online so any numbers said with certainty are likely fibs to at least some degree. Still, if you’re with a company long enough, you’ll likely note quickly they either overshoot or undershoot their estimates routinely.

3. A Supervisor is Not Here

This is a lie you’ll likely here at just about any tech support or customer support line. If you ask to speak to a supervisor, especially during a time of crisis, you’ll likely be told that he or she isn’t here or that they can’t be contacted for some reason. Sometimes you’ll get an offer to take a message, but rarely will you get a callback. This might seem to be a mark of poor customer service but it may actually be the best thing for you.

Why They Tell It:

The idea of a supervisor not being there is pretty ridiculous, of course a supervisor is present unless you are calling at a strange hour. The reason they tell this lie is pretty simple, the supervisor is often times the one fixing the problem. Rather than taking them off what they are doing to have them talk on the phone or answer a message, they simply say that the person isn’t there. Unfortunately, in many cases, saying that they are unavailable, which would be more accurate, only inflames already angry customers, not only creating more hostility, but also not helping resolve the problem.

How to Spot It:

If you’re calling during reasonable business hours and they say a supervisor is not available, they’re probably lying or at least exaggerating. However, try to decide if talking to a supervisor would actually help the situation or if perhaps that person’s time is best spent elsewhere. If you have a complaint about the support you’re getting, it might be best to wait until after the crisis has passed.

4. That Offer is For New Subscribers Only

It’s something that’s happened to nearly all of us, we sign up with a host only weeks before a big blockbuster sale that would save us a ton of money. We try to move to a new account but get told that we can’t move to the new pricing plan because we’re locked in to the old one. However, there are ways around this and most hosts know them, they just go out of their way not to tell you.

Why They Tell It:

This is probably the most devious lie on this list. Once a host locks you in to a particular deal, they make more money if they keep you there rather than letting you lock in a better rate later. They know this and they are being somewhat honest in that they can’t simply change the amount you pay. However, there’s nothing stopping you from creating a new account at the new rate and moving your stuff to it. For most, the process is fairly quick and, other than having to pay both accounts for one month, free.

How to Spot It:

Since nearly all hosts allow users to have multiple accounts, there is almost always a way to lock in the new rate if you want and are dedicated to it. Yes, it is a headache and an expense but, if it is that good of a deal, it may well be worth it. In short, unless your host prevents you from creating a new account or limits a deal to new customers only, which is very rare, there is always a way around it.

5. We Can’t Do Anything to Help Your Site Stay Up

A Digg effect is fast approaching or you are seeing a lot of traffic from another social news site. Visions of 404 are dancing in your head as you are aware that your site is likely to go down if the traffic spike hits. You call up your host to have them help you any way they can but, other than a few minor tweaks, they aren’t able to help in any meaningful way. The traffic spike hits, your site dies and you have to wait for the storm to pass before coming back online.

Why They Tell It:

To be clear, hosts can do something about this, especially if given enough warning, it just isn’t worth the time, money and effort to do so. Granted, some smaller hosts may not have a suitable place to put your site, any larger one can move it somewhere that can give it the resources to survive. The problem is that, for a few dollars per month, it is hard to justify.

Furthermore, traffic spikes and the unpredictable nature of hosting is how most companies motivate customers to get larger accounts, including grid, cloud and even VPS accounts. For the host, it is much better if you upgrade.

How to Spot It:

If you have a large host and you give ample warning, they can do something to help, almost always. However, if you are hitting these traffic spikes semi-regularly, you may want to consider upgrading to an account that can take the heat even if your host is able willing to take action. After all, it is only a matter of time before the spike hits without warning leaving both you and your host without recourse.

Bottom Line

In the end, most of the after-purchase lies a host will tell a client has more to do with a technology company trying to keep non-tech-savvy people happy. If this bothers you, one thing you can do is upgrade to a higher-end account, such as a VPS, as hosts expect those customers to be more knowledgeable and are more straightforward with them.

Still, the big question to ask yourself is would you rather have all of the information you want or would you rather problems be fixed quickly and things run smoothly? It may not always be a choice between the two and some hosts do mislead customers for no reason other than to make things easier on themselves, but most of the time hosts give misinformation not merely to help themselves, but also help their customers.

To be clear, these lies aren’t completely altruistic; they are helping themselves too, but they aren’t attempts to screw their customers either.

Last update: March 2015

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