It’s a question that is asked more and more frequently as an increasing number of web hosts introduce their particular flavors of managed hosting.
Before I dive in, let me tell you a story.
I remember the first time I tried Airbnb six years ago. After I got past the initial weirdness of sleeping in someone else’s bed and seeing their family photos on the walls, it ended up being a nice way to stay in a comfortable place at a pretty reasonable rate. I definitely still preferred hotels, but it was fine enough.
One of the biggest challenges was having three kids and being in someone else’s house. Not only was I unfamiliar with the layout of the home, I was super anxious about someone else’s stuff getting damaged. There was a general feeling of discomfort that I couldn’t really shake the entire time we were there. At any moment, my kids could pull the TV off the wall or run through a sliding glass door. There was an underlying sense of dread that I couldn’t shed.
To top it off, the host family was in an entirely other country, so if something did go wrong (thankfully, nothing did), I would have felt really helpless.
Let’s fast forward two years later when I tried Airbnb a second time. This time, our welcoming Airbnb host, Claire, lived right next door. If at any point during the stay we needed assistance, Claire was right there to answer questions or give us guidance. Claire gave us the inside scoop on all the best places to eat and the interesting places to visit (that won’t show up on TripAdvisor). And when we needed to know which urgent care was open on Sunday night without Googling every option in town, Claire knew right where to send us for that too (it was a bad tummy ache, nothing serious).
It was an infinitely better experience because not only did we have a great place to stay, but we had Claire serving as a concierge to help guide us along the way. Claire was a truly phenomenal host, and my kids still talk about that vacation and ask to go back all the time.
You Can’t Scale Claire
Now, imagine SiteCare is your website’s Claire.
While it’s true that a managed host can provide a framework or the physical place for your website to live, their ability to enhance the WordPress experience for you is going to be limited. Partially because it’s very hard to provide that level of service at scale, and partially because it doesn’t make sense from a financial or liability standpoint.
Think about what it would take for a web host with a million customers to provide Claire’s level of assistance. That type of 1 on 1 guidance at any kind of scale is essentially impossible to recreate.
Not to mention that even if a web host decided they wanted to pursue a true concierge experience, the amount of money and talented individuals required to make it a reality removes it as an option for most hosting providers.
And assuming those high-ranking C-level executives decide they’d like to pursue providing the best support experience in the history of web hosting, how do they convince a customer to spend over per month for an add-on, when the primary product is only? At best, there’s some pushback from the marketing department, and a mutiny is a lot more likely.
But let’s assume for the sake of argument that all of these things get figured out; why would it still make sense to work with SiteCare when you have managed hosting?
Challenges Facing Managed Hosting Providers
I’d say the biggest challenge facing managed hosting providers is that most of their decisions must be made on a very large scale. From an organizational standpoint, they don’t really have the ability to provide a customized experience for their customers, even if they really want to. Some scrappy new providers are able to offer a more boutique experience, but those options inevitably end up fading away as their customer base grows.
One of the key components of providing a “platform” is that it’s the same for every customer across the board. Sure, short-term exceptions can be made, but accommodating the unique needs of every web hosting customer simply doesn’t scale. The burden of scale is a necessary evil in the web hosting world. Without a consistent focus on growth, it’s impossible to serve investors and their desires. And even for hosting providers that haven’t taken outside investment (there are very few), it simply isn’t feasible from a logistics standpoint to provide the “full Claire experience” for everyone.
Here are some of the other key challenges that face managed hosting providers:
- Scaling quality support is hard
- There will always be limited expertise on the front lines
- Hosting companies have no motivation to refer elsewhere, even when it’s better for the customer
- Lack of redundancy and any failsafes
- Managed hosts can’t spend time troubleshooting/debugging issues
Meanwhile, a service like SiteCare can help fill in these gaps and enhance the overall experience from a customer’s perspective (which is what matters most in all of this).
Not All Managed Hosting Providers Are Created Equal
This is an article for another day, but I see the phrase “managed hosting” being used pretty liberally these days. For the purposes of this article, we’ll say managed hosting is a provider that maintains not only the server software stack (PHP, MySQL, Apache, NGINX), but also maintains WordPress itself at some level.
The degree to which WordPress is supported varies greatly from one host to another. Some hosts claim to manage updates for themes, plugins, and WordPress core, but the majority don’t make any promises beyond the WordPress core.
And from what we’ve seen, the ones who offer the fully-managed experience have a good deal of caveats and exceptions, too. But, like I said, that’s an article for another day…
Scaling WordPress Support is Hard
I’ve consulted with several hosting companies who want to provide the “SiteCare experience” to their entire customer base, even if it requires additional investment. They see it as a great opportunity from both a goodwill and customer satisfaction standpoint, as well as a new revenue stream standpoint. If there’s one thing we all understand, it’s that web hosting companies love adding new lines of revenue.
One of the major sticking points is the talent acquisition piece. To match the level of service and quality that we’re able to provide at SiteCare, these hosting companies essentially need to have developers in all of their support positions. And even if they decide they can pay developer rates for support roles (I’ve never met one who was willing), finding a group of developers large enough that’s also willing to work support full-time is nearly impossible. Not to mention the internal investment in training and continuous education.
At SiteCare, we have WordPress pros with at least five years of experience in all of our customer-facing positions. More experience means we’ve “seen it all,” and the benefit for our customers is faster resolution times, true solutions (no duct tape jobs), and direct access to a true WordPress professional for all interactions.
Because we don’t have the burden of a massive customer base at SiteCare, slow and steady growth gives us the ability to find the right people to work on our support team without facing the same scaling challenges that would exist immediately with a large hosting provider.
Limited Experience on the Front Lines
I’m not really sure why this is, probably because of people’s inherent need to graduate in their prospective job roles, but in my experience, the most junior people are always on the front lines at a web hosting company.
To me, that’s a little counter-intuitive from a customer experience standpoint, but I also understand that the best opportunity for support agents to learn is on the front lines, too. It’s a tough balance to strike, no doubt.
Another major advantage of working with our support team is that we have direct Tier 2 or Tier 3 access to many of the major hosting providers. This means that if we identify an obscure issue with your hosting provider, we can jump directly into conversations with more experienced technicians for faster resolutions for our clients.
We “skip the line,” so to speak, which allows us to start working on fixes without a bunch of unnecessary back and forth. They know that if it’s the SiteCare team bringing the issue to the table, all of the troubleshooting best practices have already been exhausted.
What if You’re Not With the Right Web Host?
There are a number of factors that go into choosing the right web host, and in my experience, hosting companies are rarely the ones to recommend a change. They definitely don’t have Cole’s Santa Claus mentality of sending you to the best host to meet your specific needs, even if they’re not the right fit.
Most web hosting companies have just enough bravado to believe they’re the best option for pretty much anybody. If you’re having performance issues, “just upgrade your plan.”
Or if you’re paying an exorbitant amount of money in overages every month, you “just need to reduce the footprint of your website.”
Rarely, if ever, will your current web host make a recommendation to move to a competitor.
But the reality is there are very few “one-size-fits-all” providers, and we can help you navigate that decision process.
With our uptime and performance tracking, we can be a watchdog and advocate for all of our clients. If your hosting provider is price-gouging, has less-than-stellar uptime, or isn’t loading your website as quickly as another host can, we can make smart recommendations to help you find the best fit. We’re intimately familiar with the current hosting landscape (as well as its history), and call help you get to the host where your website is fastest, best protected, all while keeping your budget constraints in mind.
Allow me to share a few horror stories from personal experiences I’ve had with managed hosting providers. I’ve seen everything from extended downtime to fatal errors, to total loss of customer data.
I still won’t forget the time a friend of mine sent me a panicked text message because his managed host was hit by a DDoS attack and was offline for the first 72 hours of a major product launch. They estimated losing roughly K per day because their website was offline. As I tried to help him get the site online elsewhere, we found that the backups for the website were stored in the same data center as the website that was under attack. That meant we couldn’t even download the site and restore it elsewhere. We just had to wait until the attack was mitigated.
Had external backups been happening, we could have had the site back online with another provider within 3 hours, not 3 days.
Of course, that’s an extreme example but there are plenty of similar examples that we see all the time:
- Web hosts made a big push for PHP 7 two years ago, and we saw a big uptick in new customers because sites had strange errors or were completely offline because of the PHP upgrade. Hosts made PHP upgrades across the entire platform, and if that upgrade broke websites, site owners were stuck until someone (us) could correct the issue for them. This resulted in lost sales and frustrated customers for the businesses we assist. Beyond assisting in crisis mode, our team helps our clients by staging updates for major changes like PHP versions before there’s a problem.
- Themes are frequently overwritten due to automated updates. This is usually due to ignoring best practices like child themes, but once the theme has been overwritten, the website almost always has display issues, and hosts are reluctant to get involved once things are in disarray. Our team can prevent automated updates from wrecking websites and can also assist with setting up child themes. We want to set you up so things don’t break in the first place.
- In 2017, we had a client hosted with a very popular managed host. Due to a support technician error, the server cluster where our client’s site was hosted was completely obliterated. Years of content and images were lost in one failed keystroke. One technician with permissions beyond their skill level could have ruined our client’s livelihood in an instant. It was an amazing feeling to confidently reply to our panicked client that we’d have their site up and running again in no time.
That’s why when people look specifically at the fact that we have some overlapping services with managed hosting providers and wonder why they should pay for them again, I’m quick to point out that it’s an additional level of protection. In the same way, I wouldn’t trust all my computer backups to iCloud, I won’t trust all of my website backups to my web host either.
A SiteCare hosting plan is another level of redundancy to protect your online business. Should your web host’s data center completely melt and disappear, you’ll still have a backup with SiteCare that can be restored at a new provider.
Support Is Always Going to Be Limited
One of the unspoken secrets of managed hosting is that support is always going to be limited. In fact, we have a number of customers who come to us because they were told by their hosting provider to “contact their developer for help.”
While it’s true that many providers have automated processes for updating plugins, and can restore your site should an update cause a failure, that’s typically where the support experience ends — with a recommendation to contact a WordPress developer for an actual solution.
I’ve assembled the help articles and FAQs from a number of major providers, and they all have pretty similar language. In Airbnb terms, if the faucet only puts out cold water, you need to call a plumber.
- WP Engine’s Scope of Support
- What GoDaddy’s Premium Support Won’t Do
- Where Does Pagely Support Draw the Line
- Bluehost Policy RegardingScripting, Coding & Third Party Produce Issues
- Pressable: What We Do, And How We Can Help
The gist of all of them is that their support typically ends with applying WordPress updates, with a few minor exceptions. The great thing about working with WP Site Care is that we can take care of much more advanced troubleshooting. You get two hours of development and troubleshooting time included in our Pro plan, and even on our basic WP Site Care plan, you can add as many hours as you need for resolutions of especially sticky issues. We’ll stay with you until the problem is taken care of for good!
Managed Hosting and SiteCare are Better Together
We recommend managed hosting to pretty much all of our clients these days. There are clear benefits to managed hosting over shared hosting and even most VPS options. It’s a great value and does solve a lot of common issues we see with other types of hosting.
But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t holes in what’s being offered to customers. We want to bring you the full Claire experience. We want to make the headaches of uptime, performance, support uncertainty, and the general frustration that can come with working with WordPress a thing of the past. Simply put, SiteCare and Managed Hosting are better together.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you get the most out of that managed hosting plan that you’re paying for, contact our team, and we’ll be happy to show you the way.