This is what cheap shared web hosts don’t want you to know – their account have limits (they don’t tell you about)! Don’t worry – I will!

This is installment #4 of JTPratt’s Guide to Web Hosting

Every Web Host wants your business and wants you to know they offer more than anybody in the world at the cheapest price. They will hype every single feature over and over, but it’s what they don’t tell you that you need to worry about. How many web sites are hosted on each box? How much memory is on each box? How often are backups performed? Do they have backup generators in case the power goes out? How many and how powerful are the processors on the servers? Do they have TRUE 24/7 support – or only emergency on call? Can you physically talk to live support over the phone? How many customers do they have? How long have they been in business? You need to extract all the information you can before going with a web host, in addition to googling “this host sucks” or “I love xyz host” to see what people are saying about them.

I’ve hosted some things with goDaddy for a few years now, and their accounts and services have gotten better. I’ve used many other web hosts too, and had some of the exact same problems with them, but I’m going to detail my GoDaddy experiences here because they are the largest web host in the world (or so they claim) and I see lots of people every day searching for various bits of “godaddy help” online that’s not available within their system of FAQ. My “run-ins” with them are perfect examples of things “I didn’t know” before I signed up with them for web hosting. For the most part – hosting my slower web sites with them have been great, but here’s what nobody told me once things got a little bit busier…

Email accounts are limited: I was used to “cpanel” based web hosts, and godaddy has built their own custom control panel to manage their sites. Management of email is in a whole separate control panel from the web hosting control panel, and when you setup email each account is limited to 100MB. This is MUCH better than when I first signed up – all email accounts were only 20MB. What annoys me is – my account has 10GB of space. If I only use 500MB for my web sites, I should be able to use the other 9.5 GB for my email accounts if I want.

Spam filters block “some” email: When I first signed up my email account(s) went through a spam filter and I didn’t always get all my email. Now, when you setup an email account with them they say that you can choose to turn the spam filter off, but even when I did this I still had problems with mail. I think they use some kind of “blacklist” to determine who can and can’t communicate with their mail servers, and I could never get email from either doubleclick or amazon at all. My own parents sent me an amazon gift certificate for my birthday (5 times) and I never received it, and in fact they got “bounce” emails back saying my mail server rejected the amazon mail. I had a blogger last month send me email from the contact form of this site, and because it had his email address on it (which was apparently wrongly on some black list) my own site wouldn’t deliver it and sent him a rejection notice. That was the straw that broke the camels back – I moved all sites with email from goDaddy to another host last month and have had NO problem getting any email from him, Amazon, or doubleclick since. I talked to goDaddy about this over the phone – they were not helpful.

All logging is turned off by default: Your account doesn’t save any access stats or error by default. All logs are turned off. You can turn on the access stats (which are free), but you can’t really customize them and they are godaddy custom stat reports, not Analog, AWStats, or Webalizer that you might expect. In addition, if you have problems and want to error check, you have to go into your admin panel and “turn error logging on” and then it only lasts 30 minutes – then stops. Many bloggers and web workers might not care about this – but both these things really irked me.

Their “unlimited web sites” for Premium accounts doesn’t apply to auto-install scripts: Here’s a shocker, their $14.99 “premium” account offers unlimited web sites, AND they have cool auto-install scripts you can use (like WordPress, Drupal, Mambo, Forums, etc.). If you install WordPress in your main “root” account, and then attempt to install WordPress, or ANY script that uses clean-url’s, permalinks, mod-rewrite, or an .htaccess file THEY WILL NOT SUPPORT IT! I went round, and round, and round with GoDaddy support about this over the phone. They will allow you “unlimited web sites” and “auto-install scripts” for ever single one of them, but NO SUPPORT for nearly all of them, because they can’t figure out how to resolve conflicts with url re-writes. It’s for this reason that my post “How to Fix .htaccess File for mod_rewrite and addhandler on godaddy subdomain” is on of my most popular. They sell you one thing, without telling you critical details of how it may not work in some of the most popular scenarios people want to do (host multiple blogs in one account).

It’s nearly impossible to reach 300GB of transfer: This point is something that most of you may never find out – but if your blog, web site, and online businesses are growing you should. Web “transfer” is when your web site sends something to someone’s browser. If a visitor comes to your home page, your hosting account would send your index.php file of your blog, maybe a few graphics, a stylesheet, and maybe a javascript or two. You might have 5-10 “hits” or that one visit. In addition, the data contained with your index.php would come from your blog mySQL database, and to get your title, metadata, posts, comment counts, pages, categories, tags, and whatever else your site contains could take up to 20 database queries before it has everything it needs to send that page out to the browser.

I realized over a year ago that it’s nearly impossible to ever reach the 300GB of transfer they say you can use for only $4 per month, when I had a site generating a lot of weird errors like “unavailable”. Let me give you a scenario. Let’s say that your index.php was 100K in size, and it sent a stylesheet (8K), a few javascripts (15K), and 3 graphics for logo, header, and footer (37K). The total to send your entire home page would be about 160K in size. That’s only 16% of 1 megabyte. By dividing 300 “Gigabytes” (300,000,000,000) by 160K (160,000) we get 1,875,000. That means you should be able to get 1.8 MILLION pageviews per month on this “economy” account for only $4 per month. That’s 62,500 unique pageviews per day, which equivalates to 2,604 per hour. Every knows that traffic is never distributed evenly throughout 24 hours, you have 6-8 hours of the day that are busiest.

This means that you should be getting 2,500-5,000 pageviews per hour to reach your limit every day. I went to all the trouble to explain this because I had a site on goDaddy that was getting only about 25,000 pageviews per day and I was getting the “unavailable” errors. I called goDaddy support and was on the phone with them for over an hour drilling them about the errors, their account limits, and what I could do about it – since my site was fine (until it got that busy), and then all of the sudden every 5th or so pageview either turned out an error or incomplete page. It turns out (after much screaming and profanity, 2 support people, 2 phones calls, and one supervisor) that they have a “150 concurrent connection per account limit”.

Wow. I was stunned. I realized right away what this meant – and I went off on that guy. I told him I felt I was lied to from the start (of signing up with them). The “150” limit means that only 150 people could be requesting a web page from my site “at the same time”. And a request is a “hit” or each graphic, script, and individual page. So if a person gets one page and has 10 “hits” that’s 10 connections. If you got lots of people browsing a site at once, it’s easy to reach that limit – and I did every day between 1 and 4pm on days I had 25,000 pageviews or more. The less busier hours of the day were ok.

I told the goDaddy support guy the problem was obvious – the support people, the server admin people, and the marketing people never talked. Marketing wrote up the ad slick based on the highest capabilities they could sell at the lowest price. The server admins put the “150 concurrent” limit in as a governer to keep the busier sites from crashing the box and stealing resources from the other 900 sites that weren’t as busy. And support was just trying to put out the fires from people who called in barely knowing there was a limit at all, and not realizing (or caring) what advertising information people were reading before signing up.

The fact of the matter is – cheap hosting is “shared”, and your account is on a server with up to 1,000 other web sites. Like being a tenant in an apartment building, the landlord couldn’t tell you before signing a lease “you can use up to 10,000 gallons of water per month” if there were 100 tenants and the capacity of the entire building was 100,000 per month. If each tenant used 10,000 gallons per month, the usage would be 1 million gallons per month, and that’s 10X the building’s capacity.

My point is – a shared web host is kind of like a utility. They have a pretty good handle on what each consumer uses, and even in most peak times they can handle the load. But in the hottest times of the year, in big urban areas you see “rolling blackouts” when everybody has their air conditioning on – because the can’t handle all that load at once. Your web host may sell you all these grand amounts of bandwidth you can use, but in the end given the amount of other “tenants” and the physical limitations of the machine and your account, you couldn’t use that much bandwidth in a given month (on the economy account) if you had to.

The next post in this guide will be “Differences between Shared Hosting, VPS, and Dedicated Server”
Read more – JTPratt’s Guide to Web Hosting