When your website is down you miss out on sales and make a poor first impression. Oh, and it’s bad for SEO. Never fear–it’s easy to get notifications when your site is down. And if your webhost sucks, you can switch to a better host. (See previous post re: the best managed WordPress hosts. Spoiler alert: Free migrations!)
I’ll blab specifically about Uptime Robot below, because it’s the uptime service with which I’m most familiar, but I’m not endorsing anybody here. There are several other similar website monitoring services: Pingdom, StatusCake, and if you’re on WordPress, JetPack offers monitoring. …There are others, too.
The competitors are all more or less the same; they’ll send you an email when your website goes down, and then again when it comes back up. These services are almost always free for basic use. Extra features most people don’t need cost a little. Note: Pingdom does not have a free tier.
But how accurate are the outage notifications?
Sometimes not very. But it’s easy-ish to fix.
When I sent my host a note about outage notices from Uptime Robot, my host had this to say:
“We’ve been getting more complaints specifically from uptimerobot users. There are literally just that many people using their service so at times it triggers a throttle because the checks come from identical IP addresses, often across many sites at the same time. We’ll look into updating IP ranges in our firewall.”
Since that exchange about 14 months ago, notices about alleged outages have almost disappeared.
What causes website monitoring false positives & how do I fix it?
When Uptime Robot (or one of its competitors) checks to see if a site is up/down, it’s actually checking many sites on each of the big hosts. Those pings can easily be misconstrued as a malicious DDOS attack. Hosts try to stop DDOS attacks, which might inadvertently cause your monitoring service to show your site as offline.
I’ve worked for and owned parts of web hosting companies a couple times in my life and can appreciate how hard it must be to choreograph the careful dance between security and being able to automate measuring uptime. That said, a good host can balance the two.
If you’re getting an inordinate number of “Monitor is DOWN:” emails from Uptime Robot, I recommend you start a discussion with your host to see if they have anything to say about the alleged outages.
If your host claims they’re just false positives, tell your host to update the IP ranges in their firewall to allow for reasonable pinging from Uptime Robot’s IP addresses. If they’re unwilling to do that, find another host.
I recommend Big Scoots for everything from shared hosting and VPS to managed WordPress hosting and dedicated servers.
Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO. And apparently hosting, too. He knows enough about hosting to know better than to own part of a hosting company for a third time. His favorite number is 867-5309.
A good host and webmaster grease the SEO wheels. One of my clients is with ProntoMarketing. They’re awful. I loathe working with them. (Pronto, not the client.) I more or less told the client, “It’s them or me.”
Rather than leave a great client in the lurch like the prima donna I sometimes wish I aspired to be, I’m helping them look at managed WordPress hosting options. If you’re impatient, you can just skip to the chart.
Pronto Marketing Sucks
What’s wrong with Pronto? I won’t dig into the abysmal non-hosting side of Pronto Marketing here; that hole’s too deep and dank. But even if their other aspects were acceptable, their hosting platform isn’t.
Pronto hosts all of their clients on a single multisite WordPress install. Both ssh and sftp access are therefore off the table for all of their clients. So there are things you or your web team can’t do. Conveniently, Pronto’s business model includes access to an expensive, on-demand team of unqualified non-experts to do things for you￼! …I spent far more time checking and correcting Pronto’s work than if I and my team did it ourselves. Enough about them. (Edit: Well, Pronto got worse. I’ll add more about that at the end, if you’re interested.)
WordPress.com – They’re the oddball in the field. Owned by Automattic and more tightly controlled than other options. Not to be confused with WordPress.org, the self-hosted version of WordPress. This blog is hosted on WordPress.com, and I’ve been impressed with their services, SLA, etc. But to be fair, my needs are minimal.￼￼
WPEngine – Probably top-mind or near it when most people think of managed WordPress hosting. I worked in their platform several years ago when I worked with the Baynote digital team.
Pressable – They don’t tout it much, probably to avoid complaints from their other host partners, but Automattic owns a majority stake in Pressable. If that’s not and endorsement, I don’t know what is.
BigScoots – Who? Yeah. Not a big name. But I host 99% of my sites with them. After EIG bought and destroyed yet another host I used, I spent a good chunk of time finding BigScoots. I don’t use their managed WordPress hosting, but I’ve been nothing but impressed with their other hosting services and cohorts who use their WP hosting love it.
But… “What is managed WordPress hosting?” (One Netizen’s Criteria)
My expectations of a manged WP host are that they’ll largely or wholly take care of:
Core WordPress updates
Speed and other infrastructure concerns
Providing full access to the CMS
Giving me back-rubs and making coffee
How is managed hosting different from other hosting options?
Most sites use unmanaged hosting. You might hear the phrases: shared hosting, dedicated hosting, or even virtual dedicated hosting tossed around; any of those could be managed hosting, or unmanaged hosting. The “management” part pertains only to a higher level of support and services. But don’t be fooled by worthless, free add-ons to lower-tier shared hosting. Like Abraham Lincoln used to say every time Martha wanted to switch the White House website to GoDaddy or HostGator to save a couple bucks, “Now Martha, you know extra chaff and turd-polishing doesn’t managed hosting make.”
Spreadsheet Comparing WPEngine, WordPress.com, BigScoots, and Pressable
This isn’t exhaustive. I.e. your criteria might be different than mine. And there are definitely other players in this space (Kinsta’s name pops up a lot.)
I won’t deprecate any contenders; I think most sites would be fine hosting with any of them. But two stand out in positive ways which may or may not matter to you.
BigScoots and Pressable both offer tangibles the others don’t:
more domain/site capacity (in case you want to host more sites)
more free migration of existing sites
control over whether or not you auto-update plugins
the only one with full ssh/ftp access (which might not matter, really)
the only one with email (you have to use a third party for others, which is advisable, anyhow. GSuite FTW!)
…but costs more.
Is the cheapest
Pressable and WordPress.com:
are owned by WordPress’ parent company, which might be worth something?
The biggest hurdle here is their migration cost. It’s not unreasonable, but it’s not competitive with other migration options.
There are several notes in the spreadsheet for WordPress.com, not b/c they’re worse, but b/c their biz model is different than others.
Migration cost is unknown. E.g. What if their plugin fails on a customized theme? Do I have to pay somebody hourly?
Some of the notes in the spreadsheet for WPEngine will likely turn more positive as they continue to roll out new services.
…but WPEngine is the most expensive
Adendum: Pronto Marketing is Worse than I Thought. Big Scoots as Good as I Thought
Yikes. When trying to move away from Pronto, one needs to rebuild the site, almost completely. If you haven’t been with Pronto for at least a year, they seemingly won’t part with any of your data. If you’re lucky (??) to have been with Pronto for at least twelve months, they’ll give you some data, but they won’t give you your theme, nor will they let you use many of the several dozens of proprietary plugins they used on your site. It’s a mess. The first quote to rebuild the site to make it work on Pressable came in at 80 hours @ $65/hr. Friends don’t let friends use Pronto.
On the other end of the hosting spectrum, a colleague has now transferred at least one site to each of the hosts mentioned herein, and has this to say:
For future reference – Out of all of the migrations I’ve done so far, migrating to BigScoots was by far the easiest and they also have the most intuitive site management dashboard. I’ll be recommending them in the future. Great service.
Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO and makes noise in several bands. He enjoys sketching, films, games, beer, and hanging with his hot triathaloner-doctor-wife. He plans to turn his front yard into a two-hole miniature golf course with a dragon sculpture, some day.
This post is really old. Dan now recommends Big Scoots for just about all hosting. But read on for boring stuff about hosting more than a decade ago.
Dan Dreifort and Tim Hibbard, both confessed IT geeks, grew tired of listening to their peers (and each other) griping about the sad state of the web hosting industry. Some sick combination of financial, marketing and executive visions had largely polarized hosting offerings into two distinct, silly camps. At the enterprise level, big businesses can pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars each month for robust managed servers while consumers increasingly had to choose from among countless bottom feeders. These hosts, like Godaddy, 1&1 and their ilk put thousands of customers on a single box sharing a single IP address.
SEO friendly hosting
When your web site shares an IP address with “unscrupulous” sites (e.g. pornographers or spammers,) the Googles of the world associate you with that seedy content and rank your content lower in the search engine results. If you rank highly for the right terms, your web traffic and business should skyrocket. It’s easy to see why a dedicated IP address is key to a comprehensive search engine optimization plan. Another important part of your web business is uptime. If your host is having problems, customers can’t get to your site, contact you or purchase your wares.
Calico Hosting focuses almost all of its efforts on uptime. We’re able to do this by ignoring that which becomes unnecessary when things just work as they should. While almost all if not all hosts dump considerable resources into the bottomless pit of offshore phone support, Calico does not offer phone technical support. We don’t need to. If things are working as they should, customers don’t need to contact the host. In 2008, Calico experienced their first minute of downtime after several hundred days and quickly traced the problem to single client’s script. We restored service in quick fashion and took action to prevent the same sort of problem from occuring again.
Calico’s six multi processor servers currently handle about one hundred domains. We could cut expenses and host ten times as many sites on a single server, but reliability and speed would suffer. Each primary Calico server is mirrored. An identical server with the same data sits ready should hardware malfunction on a primary server. This redundancy hurts our bottom line, but supports that of our clients.
I’ll blog more about my great reliable host in the future. Until then, use some of the links in this post to read more on our site. I really love Calico.