Misconceptions About Hosting and What You Are Really Paying For

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We’ve spoken at length about the criteria you should use to choose a host, and also what you need to monitor after you have signed on the dotted line. And while we admit that there are some bad companies out there, the truth is many customers expect too much, and really don’t understand what they are paying for. Quite a few support tickets could be avoided, and misunderstandings better communicated if everyone knew what is the role of a host.

In short, hosts provide you with space to connect your website to the internet or the network. They do have a reasonable obligation to ensure your site remains online, and if they advertise support, that they do provide assistance with server related problems. In fact, in a shared hosting environment where there is no option for the customer to access the server, it is indeed the role of the host to fix those problems.

Unfortunately, problems arise because customers think that the host is responsible for knowing and fixing everything. As the support department tries to explain that the issue is not part of their territory, the client becomes more frustrated and disillusioned. Finally, they end up bad-mouthing the host on forums, and they take their business elsewhere. And to be honest, that is their right to choose another host, as some individuals require a different type of service, but at the same time, let’s all understand the core obligations of a hosting company.

What Are The Bottom Line Functions Of A Web Hosting Service Provider?

The truth is unless you pay extra for something particular, hosts do not have many obligations. Their role is small in relation to what is needed to upload, maintain and promote a website. Further, service may not depend on money at all. You can get great service from cheap hosting providers, while you may not get what you expect from more expensive companies. Let’s take a look at the levels of service and what you should expect to receive.

#1 Connect To The Internet

The first and foremost role of a hosting provider is to connect your website to the global network, known as the world wide web or internet. To do that, they must provide you some space on their computers or servers. In the strictest sense, this is where their obligation ends.

The amount of space is arbitrary, although they usually do tell you how much you are entitled to. Bandwidth is at their discretion, too. Many hosts will advertise that it is unlimited, but at any time, you can find your site stalled out, or with a displayed message saying that the page has been suspended. Basically, you are over their quota. So, you can see, even the space allotment, and bandwidth traffic are not set in stone.

#2 Keep The Site Online

Positive Uptime PerformanceWithout doubt, this is a big issue, because in order for your business to grow and prosper, you need to be connected to the internet at all times. And everywhere you turn, hosts are saying that they maintain 100% uptime. For many, this is simply not true.

Plus, you have to monitor the outages yourself, so that you know what is happening while you are sleeping. But, at the end of the day, legally, the host may not be held to its claims. Unless you can absolutely prove there was significant downtime, compensation will probably not be forthcoming any time soon.

On the other hand, we have seen that the best hosts have told us there was a serious outage at a certain time and reimbursed everyone on the delinquent server a small amount. These types of gestures are greatly appreciated, but not a requirement, and certainly, not done by all providers.

#3 Upgrade and Maintain Hardware

You might expect that a host would want to keep their equipment in top notch shape. The truth is that smaller hosts may be watching their pennies, and thus cut corners very tightly, meaning that profits may be more important than investing in new hardware. And this is not always true of only the cheap website hosting. It all depends on the owner’s philosophy and what profitability is expected for the business model.

#4 Complete Software Updates

Although it may not be as expensive as buying new hardware, software updates seem to be a problem for some hosts. You try to install a particular script and find out that the server runs an older version of the program that is needed. For example, PHP or MySQL. But again, this is the host’s right. Before you begin your research on finding the best hosting, make a list of what you need. If the host doesn’t offer it, find somewhere else. It is not a given that software will be updated to current versions.

#5 Server Security

A lot of hosts provide server security, simply because they want to protect their investments. It is not a guaranteed function of the hosting provider, but if they do provide a secure environment, it is for their own purposes. You, on the other hand, need to think about security for your own account and your website.

#6 Email Server

Emails not getting through could be a problem at the host’s end or conversely with you. If you have not set up your email correctly, then you need to tweak your settings until you get it right. Plus, there are plenty of tutorials out there showing you how to use the different email clients correctly.

If you have done everything at your end, then you will need to send in a support ticket to see if something server-side has gone wrong, and the host will fix that.

Here’s a video that talks about the difficulties of knowing whether the host, the server, or the client is the cause of bounced emails.

Are Hosts Responsible For Everything That Goes Wrong With Your Website?

The short answer to this question is absolutely not. But let’s look at a few common examples where customers are quite often misguided.

#1 Security

While hosts are responsible for security, as we have stated above, they own the servers, so they do what they wish. But further to the server, hosts are definitely not responsible for the security of a website. When it comes to hackers, the site owner needs to ensure that proper passwords are used, reliable and credible scripts and plugins are installed, loopholes are filled up, and sensitive client data is protected from theft and resale.

#2 Script Or Plugin Compatibility

If you use wordpress, you know that you can load up your website with a bunch of plugins that do a myriad of tasks. The problem is that they are all coded differently and by many developers, meaning that they do not necessarily play well together. In fact, when all of them are activated, odd things can and do start to happen. When this happens, there are several points that you should be aware of:

  • It is not the host’s job to identify the problem. It is up to you to deactivate those plugins, and add each back one by one until you find your problem
  • It is not up to the host to repair the problem. Once you know what plugin is the offender, then remove it, and find something better or research an alternative.
  • Don’t waste your time and the support department’s time by sending in a ticket for website development incompatibilities or bad code.

#3 Updating CMS, Themes and Plugins

Stay Updated For SecurityDevelopers that like to stay current will offer updates to their code. This means that users have discovered vulnerabilities or oddities in the scripts, so the developers fix those and create a new version. Then the dashboard of your website tells you that updates are available. You automatically install them, but things don’t turn out like you expected. In some cases, something goes awry and you are left with the white screen of death (WSOD), which every webmaster has seen at least once. In other cases, formatting is gone, specially installed fonts don’t work anymore, and possibly sidebars have changed.

All of these things have nothing to do with the host and everything to do with how you manage your website. The reality is these kinds of things are going to happen. But by being prepared, you will get through them, just fine. The biggest advantage here is to have a backup. If you are not able to quickly fix the problem, you can reinstall your back files and have the site restored in a jiffy. Then as time permits, you can find out what happened.

Themes are particularly tricky when updating. If you have done modifications to the theme files, customizing them, and making them your own, you need to create a Child Theme. This prevents the updates from overwriting your edited files.

Finally, never update more than one thing at a time. It is much easier to identify culprits when only one thing is going on at once.

#4 Backups Are Up To You

You are solely responsible for doing backups, maintaining current backups, and keeping them off-server. Many hosting companies advertise that they do backups on a regular basis, and this is probably true, because if the server hardware denigrates, they need to move everyone over to new hardware. But, this does not mean that you are supposed to rely on them for your backups. Some hosts do charge if you need your site restored, others don’t really have any backups, and the bottom line is this is your business. Take the necessary precautions to protect your investment.

#5 The Server Is Not Yours

When you pay for a dedicated server, it is not your property. You are renting or leasing the equipment for a period of time. Unless you buy your own computer and house it in a data center, you don’t own a server. But, even though you don’t own it, you may be responsible for updates, security fixes, and other maintenance. Everything will depend on whether you are paying for managed support or whether you are responsible for your own maintenance.

#6 Site Speed

This is a tricky area, but if you have had many websites on different types of hosting environments such as shared hosting, VPS, and dedicated servers,, you will quickly be able to recognize if the server is too slow. On the other hand, the problems could also be your scripts, plugins, images, daily processes, cron jobs, and an outdated CMS.

Regardless of who is to blame for pages loading slowly, you do need to fix this and if it comes down to the server, if they can’t or won’t fix it, you will have to move companies. As we explained earlier in this article, if a host has a specific business model and is using older equipment, this could cause the lag in display. Of course, they are not going to readily buy new equipment, so you have to accept the speed or move elsewhere.

Do Customers Have Obligations, Too, Even Though They Are Paying?

In truth, when you take out a contract with a hosting company, you, as the client, have obligations, too. Just because you pay the provider a monthly or yearly fee does not mean that you are allowed to do whatever you want on that server. Following are a few things that are generally not permitted.

You agree not to:

  • Create bad neighborhoods. Some hosts restrict what types of sites and topics can be displayed on their servers. For example, many do not allow bitcoin miners, file sharing, bit torrent, or hacker oriented activities.
  • Send spam email overloading the server.
  • Use invasive scripts that hog all the server resources.
  • Use the server as storage instead of live websites.
  • Host MP3s if they are copyrighted by someone else.
  • Engage in illegal activities.

Finally, always read the terms and conditions. This will put you in a better position if you do have to contact support or if you have to complain about a specific issue. And remember that regardless of what you think you can do, the host, in most cases will have the last say.


As you can see, both sides, the hosting provider and the customer, have a certain amount of responsibility when websites are online. And while it is easiest to blame the server for everything that goes wrong, the reality is, the technical aspects or design of a website could be the culprit. All avenues must be exhausted before concluding that website hosts should fix the problem.

On the other hand, the best website hosting companies will try to help their clients. The staff in the support department have often seen the same problems over time on other sites, and as a result will point clients in the right direction to improving their sites’ performance.

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