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8 Common Hosting Problems (and How to Avoid Them)

8 Common Hosting Problems (and How to Avoid Them)

In our annual State of Hosting, we found that uptime remains the chief concern for most merchants. Uptime, though critical, is one of only many things that can go wrong with web hosting, and the measure of a solid web hosting provider often means more than 99% uptime. 

Within, we highlight how to resolve or prevent common web hosting errors like poor uptime, slow performance, and other key areas.

Slow Performance

Visitors have little patience for a slow site. Your product, customer service, and deals won’t matter much if it makes users wait. Over half of visitors leave a site when a page takes more than 3 seconds to load, and most of them will not return

A slow site may not always be the fault of your hosting provider, though a credible one will do everything they can, such as:

  • Providing optimized environments for your chosen application (Magento, WordPress, WooCommerce, Drupal, and so on)
  • Current technology, though unproven “bleeding edge” tech can be cause for concern
  • Provide scalable solutions that can temporarily or permanently meet the needs of your growing business

What to Do About It

If your site sputters, start with your hosting provider’s support team. Competent support teams will investigate the issue and resolve it if they can. If the cause is beyond their control—poorly written website code, an unpatched Magento installation, unexpected surges in your site traffic—they can help diagnose the problem and suggest options for resolving it.

Beyond contacting support, you can try:

  • Using a CDN service
  • Limiting your use of dynamic content in favor of static content, especially on your high-volume landing pages
  • Enlisting the services of a developer, or having conversations with your current one
  • Patching the platform running your site
  • Limiting your use of third-party extensions, and make sure the ones you keep are current
  • Simplifying your web design
  • Enabling caching on your content management system of choice, if available

Poor Security or PCI Compliance

secured safeWith security, you have enough to worry about on your end without wondering whether your hosting provider is holding up theirs. No security system can claim perfection, but consider any of the below to be hosting provider red flags:

  • Irregular or missing maintenance windows; though sometimes inconvenient, these represent a commitment to providing a secure and stable service
  • Inability to provide secure file transfer protocol (SFTP); FTP is generally considered unsecure
  • Failure to provide their AoC upon request (see below)
  • Support can’t answer your questions about SSL, a fundamental need of nearly every legitimate website
  • Unclear backup policy; while it’s best not to rely only on your hosting provider’s backups, every reputable provider will provide them
  • Outdated versions of PHP or MySQL; your provider should be using versions well outside end of life (EoL). 

What to Do About It

The best policy here is prevention. Don’t wait until your host fails at security to verify its effectiveness. Ask your hosting provider for their Attestation of Compliance (AoC), and consider any resistance to providing it to be a huge red flag. And always remember that as a merchant, you must do your part for PCI compliance even after rolling with a PCI compliant hosting provider.

Beyond the AoC, check the hosting provider’s website, followed by their reputation. If they provide a fair amount of original content about PCI and security, then they likely have some experts on their team. If the hosting provider specializes in a particular platform, ask other people using that platform about that provider. People that experience problems with web hosts are rarely shy about sharing their story.

Cost 

Although “high cost” is a common complaint, it’s usually more productive to think in terms of value. For example, unmanaged hosting is usually cheaper than managed hosting because the former offers little more than a power source, the network, and a secured facility. Support is usually not on the menu.

The end result is a low-cost hosting provider. This can suit the needs of some, but others would be wise to consider the value of well-managed hosting, even if it costs more in strict dollars. Managed hosting with a good provider means less maintenance, hands-free updates to server operating systems, and dedicated 24/7 support.

What to Do About It

If you feel your hosting provider doesn’t provide enough to justify their cost, it’s probably time to find another. Again, word-of-mouth and reputation go a long way here. Talk to others in your community—merchants using the same platform with similar needs—and ask them for suggestions. Go to a convention or two, spend some time on GitHub, or find a forum. Sure, it takes time, but it can save you downtime and headaches down the road.

Slow Support

When it comes to web hosting, troubleshooting is essential and expected. It is perfectly reasonable to expend your hosting provider to respect your time, and to respond to any service disruption to your service with urgency. Even if an outage is beyond the control of your hosting provider, they should be willing to communicate and sympathize with your situation throughout.

Ideally, the more ways to reach support, the better. 24/7 support is pretty much the standard for modern managed web hosting, with reasonable allowances for shopping-season ramp-ups. 

What to Do About It

Assuming a slow response isn’t an outlier, express you dissatisfaction with a member of support leadership. Even when you have justifiable cause to be upset, keeping your temper in check while expressing your irritation often yields more desirable results. Humans act more efficiently when treated well and support teams are no exception. 

Hostdedi support team

However, if they’re grossly incompetent, then it’s time to shop around using the same method described in the above “Cost” section.

Unclear Limitations

When it comes to hosting, nobody likes surprises. This applies to uptime, bandwidth, storage, scalability, and many other facets of your service. Reputable web hosts will be up front with how they distribute resources and bill for their services, and provide additional details when asked. 

That said, take the time to read the provider’s Service Level Agreement, which tends to provide reasonable legal wiggle room in the event of unavoidable disruptions to your service. The presence of an SLA is not in-and-of-itself a red flag—nearly every hosting provider has one—but taking the time to read it can give you a better understanding of what to expect.

What to Do About It

Prevention does a lot. Do your homework on your hosting provider and ask their sales or support teams plenty of questions. If they break a promise or guarantee, hold them to it!

Site outages and downtime

Downtime costs you money. Most web hosts recognize this, and adopt proactive measures to minimize downtime as much as they can. “One hundred percent” uptime is strictly impossible, as even the most conscientious web host must perform occasional maintenance, failing upstream providers, and other issues beyond their direct control.

You should know about every planned maintenance window capable of affecting your service well in advance. The rare hiccup to your service is inevitable; the real tell is how your hosting provider reacts to it. 

What to Do About It

The more times you answer “no” to these questions after any given outage, the more you should consider heading for another host.

  • Are disruptions and outages a rare event for this provider?
  • Are they reasonably transparent? 
  • Did they apologize (even if not directly their fault)?
  • Did they respond to you in a reasonably prompt manner?
  • If they proposed a timeline, did they honor it?
  • Did they avoid accusing you of “breaking something”?
  • Did they resolve your issue, or at least guide you toward a solution?
  • If it was an extended outage, did they compensate you somehow?
  • If they required action on your part, did they provide clear instructions?

Poor Scalability

Ideally, your web host will make it relatively easy for your service to grow with your business. One of the major selling points of cloud services is quick-and-painless scalability. Cloud technology makes it easier to allocate extra resources to your service on-demand, as well as provides a cleaner, migration-free path to permanently upgrading (or downgrading) your service.

If you’re married to a non-cloud solution and need to migrate, your hosting provider should be discussing options with you before pushing for migration. Respectable hosting providers look for ways to improve your service before upselling. If migration is necessary, they are transparent about the process, listening to your needs, and keeping you informed every step of the way. 

What to Do About It

Cloud hosting is the answer in most cases. Yes, it tends to cost a little more than non-cloud hosting, but in exchange you receive flexibility. Your site will respond better to sudden, unforseen surges in traffic and be easier to move when your business outgrows your website.

Inadequate Tech Stack 

tech stackA stack is a bundle of software designed to run a server. They range in complexity and purpose, and not so long ago a Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP (LAMP) stack was considered adequate for hosting purposes. As modern web applications have risen to prominence and in complexity, this is no longer the case.

In 2019, stacks also serve to accelerate performance for the web applications running on those same servers. At Hostdedi, our cloud web application draws on 20 years of experience to build a stack with components that work together to provide enough resources for modern web applications. While established players like Apache and PHP play undeniable roles, we’ve expanded it with several other technologies, most notably Nginx, Varnish, and for Magento, ElasticSearch.

Nginx

Nginx is a full-featured, high-performance web server that excels at serving static content. In our cloud stack, it also handles Transport Layer Security (TLS) decryption necessary for HTTPS connections, and does so much more efficiently than other possible alternatives, like the web server itself. 

Varnish

When properly configured, Varnish takes over caching requests normally handled by Apache and Nginx, and so provides fast delivery of static and dynamic content.

ElasticSearch (Magento only)

ElasticSearch is a search engine that allows customers to quickly find one product among thousands. Available as part of our Magento cloud service, Elasticsearch is fast and scalable for both structured and unstructured data, with support for 34 languages.

What to Do About It

Before drawing any conclusions about a hosting provider’s tech stack, engage with their support or sales team to explore their other offerings. Be wary of any effort that doesn’t ask specific questions about your goals or business. Ethical hosting providers will work with you to identify and fulfill your needs, as opposed to just offering a knee-jerk upgrade.

Each content management system had different needs. What works best for Magento often isn’t ideal for WordPress, and so on. Experienced web hosts know the “what” and “how” of these optimizations more than players new to the game. If your store uses Magento 2, ask your provider how long they’ve been hosting Magento 2 sites, and what they can offer you that other hosts can’t.

 

Need help finding a web hosting solution that works for you? Contact our sales team between 9 a.m.– 5 p.m. eastern time, Monday to Friday.

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