Meet Elizabeth, or Liz as her friends call her; a fitness instructor from Midland, Michigan. Her story delves around an unnecessary quest to find a company that could host her blog and online store, and also provide hands-on assistance to set it all up.
She agreed to share her experience, so we met up at the Big E's Sports Grill located inside a local Holiday Inn around noon, and later had a business lunch.
If you just want to skip the drama, the final hero who saved the day was A2 Hosting. Hop on to their website to have a peek at what they are about. They're actually pretty good, and you'll soon know why.
"I've been gyming since I was 16. After college, I officially joined a long-standing yoga and fitness center in my area, as a manager. I knew I had to make a career in the health and fitness industry from the very start, and having my own online business has always been my dream. By the way, to date, I still give private lessons in the same gym; to a select group of clients, of course," she said, as an introduction.
"One day while lurking on bodybuilding.com forums, I had an idea and then a sudden urge to finally go ahead and start a blog. I asked the fellow members, and one of them is a webmaster, who recommended me to install a software called WordPress, because it's relatively easier to integrate it with an online shopping cart software that can be used, say with PayPal. Being a complete newbie, I was pretty much blind to all these terms back then," she added.
WordPress is a content management system and is used by majority of the websites on the internet. It can be installed from inside a commercially available server management software called cPanel. Almost all the web hosting providers on the internet support it by default. There are also specialized brand names such as Weebly, Wix, Kinsta, Flywheel, WP Engine, Pagely and Presslabs that sell slightly expensive managed services for this platform.
Even large domain registrars like Godaddy (NYSE: GDDY), IONOS, Namecheap, and newer trendier brand names like Porkbun compete with each other aggressively to get their share. The impact of Wordpress on the web ecosystem doesn't just end there; in fact, a big chunk of yearly revenue generated by CDN, DNS, DDoS diminution providers, like say Cloudflare (NYSE: NET), depends on their faculty to offer services around this CMS.
"Initially, I sort of gave up on the entire thing for a few weeks. Then built up the courage to start learning the basics. So, I texted my friend who said, 'just google it girl,' and I did.
"Web is a friendly place, if you know what to search for. For example, I read a lot of blog posts on WPBeginner to grasp the concepts. To be honest, the basics of it aren't that hard. Then in the end, I decided to finally swipe the credit card and give it a shot.
"Oh, and I also joined Web Hosting Talk (WHT for short) forum to learn about web hosting and domain names, but it turned out to be a very hostile, spammy place; with everybody trying to sell you stuff, like a used car salesman - every other person shouting 'buy my VPS plan,' or 'I'll give you 3 months of free cloud web hosting,' and other rubbish. It is nothing like the bodybuilding forums, that I'm a long-term member of.
"After circling around a bit, scanning through the websites of HostGator, BlueHost, Hostinger and DreamHost; ended up with the first one, simply because it was advertising a nice discount coupon promotion, like a Black Friday or a Cyber Monday deal; I don't remember which one it was now; you know the bargain stuff you can grab on Thanksgiving and Christmas sales and all," adding further.
Brands like HostGator, BlueHost, SiteGround and many more are operated by a publicly traded corporation called Endurance International Group (EIGI - NASDAQ) - most ostensibly seems to rave about these companies on the web; well let's be honest, most of them are their affiliates that have a natural tendency towards promoting them, as awesome website builder providers.
"It turned out to be a very bad experience. Their network or server crashed right before I was ready to install my first blog, and I thought I had messed up or something," Liz said in an annoyed tone. "The live chat support just kept me waiting, until the entire thing came back up on its own after an hour or two. After installation of the wordpress software, I needed slight help with 'woocommerce.' Their support was unable to help, because I apparently bought a plan that doesn't allow for that kind of support."
WooCommerce is a shopping cart software provider for the WordPress platform. It is used by millions of online stores.
HostGator doesn't have a very good rapport on sites like ConsumerAffairs and Trustpilot; and frequently receives poor customer service points. However, they are trying to address such concerns by hiring Reputation Managers. We tried to get in touch with one such person by the name of Errin, by contacting their chat support system, but were unable to do so.
"So, that was it. The entire project fell through for the time being," she said. "After a few days, I started visiting a mix of popular online stores, and found out that quite a few had their shopping cart software provided by a company called Shopify. Woohoo...I thought this would end this nonsense once for all."
Shopify Inc. (TSX: SHOP), is based in Ottawa, Canada and is a provider of e-commerce and POS software. In 2018, it accumulated US $1,073.2 million in total revenue.
"In the end, I did not pay them a penny, not because the product did not look good, but during their free 14-day trial; I came to the conclusion that it was an OK platform for an online store, nothing more. I was looking for a more holistic solution," she said telling us her experience with Shopify.
We got in touch with their press department. "She [Liz] should have gone for it. I mean, sure, we're a platform, not a web hosting company in a traditional sense; but when it comes to online stores, many large companies find their home here," said Micayla Wood, who works in public relations at Shopify. "Our company spends hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting female entrepreneurship around the world. The last thing we want is a missed opportunity to work with an emerging talent."
Much like HostGator, Shopify has a well-balanced blend of good and bad feedback from their customers.
"One day, I was watching an episode of Linus Tech Tips, when I saw a YouTube ad of a company called Squarespace. It has a free built-in website builder, so I wondered if it could solve the problem," said Liz. "But, the past two gigs made me reluctant to pour in more money. But, it wasn't like I had a choice."
Squarespace is an NYC tech company that makes website building software in addition to selling hosting. It was started in 2004, has over 700 employees. It is recognized through its Super Bowl ads and a sponsorship deal with the New York Knicks.
"Spent over $200 on their business plan, and the first thing their live chat support did was to direct me to their FAQ or knowledge base section, when I needed help with finding a drag and drop feature. And, that wasn't even the turn off," she explained. "I needed a rating system for an ebook, and had few questions around the marketing tools they offer for Google search."
"After wasting a lot of time here and there, I got someone on the phone. Turns out, the person was too technical and started giving me a monologue on programming languages, and what can and cannot be done. He did try his best, though, but Squarespace wasn't it," she said laughingly.
We emailed Allie Rosenberg; a Communications Associate at Squarespace, and will update if we hear back.
"Squarespace rhymes with square, and there I was, back to square one," Liz said, showing a bit of mood swing on her face. "I'd pretty much given up at this point."
Stories like these are common among budding startups, who are not technically savvy, and want a partner that can take care of the technical side of things without letting the costs hit the roof. Money is something that is in a short supply for most of the dreamers out there.
"For the next two weeks, nothing happened. I had all the files in my laptop's hard drive minus a company that could host the darn thing," she said. "Cloud computing is the buzzword many are after, so somewhere along these escapades, I introduced myself to even more complexity with names like DigitalOcean (I think I read their review on TechCrunch or Digital.com, may be one of these two), and similar hosts like OVH, Linode and Vultr. Don't even remember now how that ended up, but could have been their cheap pricing or something; if I were to make a guess. So, yea, that didn't work out either. Big deal.
"Luckily, one night when I was out with friends at Frick's Bar for a bit of pool; I met a guy, who actually worked for Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) Web Services division, and was in town to meet his old folks. He told me that he had his own personal website hosted at a company called Inmotion Hosting, and that I should try them out. I think, I may have read an article about them on a website called CNET.com (could be ZDNet?) or WhoIsHostingThis.com, or a name similar to that, but don't exactly remember to be honest.
"A few days later, I did attempt to, but completely forgot the name he mentioned. So, once again, giving it my last shot, I scrolled around a few review sites including places like Reddit and Quora, and quickly found the name. But, here's the twist, there was another website called A2hosting, which came highly rated.
"I must say I was impressed with the entire layout and the very comprehensive detailing of the services they offered, including things like a free ssl for the online stores, that others wanted to charge a fortune for.
"Without thinking much, I hurriedly bought the plan, without realizing that it was some kind of reseller package, and went straight to bed," she said, showing signs of wanting to end this discussion.
A2 Hosting is a company headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It has physical locations in many other countries including Canada, United Kingdom, France, Singapore and Australia.
"The next day, I found out the mistake, so asked the support representative to change the plan and adjust the payment and as usual wasn't expecting a fast response at all.
"To my surprise, the request was processed within 15 minutes, and my plan was moved over to their special WordPress offering. Thought, it was a fluke, until the next day, a gentleman named Michael Carr, who introduced himself as a 'Customer Success Manager' for this company called my cell phone. Oh, I forgot to tell you that I had shared my failed escapades with the billing guy on live chat and he said someone would call me. I kinda didn't give it much heed, because all customer service peeps are suppose to say such stuff," she said, adding the details.
Quite a few modern-day tech companies now call their support department as "Customer Success Department," or a similar fashionable title. Very rarely, do many actually end up doing what they believe in - unfortunately.
"I spilled all the beans. Told Michael, I had little knowledge of content management systems and shopping carts, and would love it if someone from their tech department could help out," said Liz. "I even offered to pay extra, which he laughed off, telling me that he would sort it out within the next day or so."
We got in touch with Michael and he said: "It's nothing." A2 Hosting has local phone support numbers available for dozens of countries; a customer satisfaction strategy that closely resembles that of GoDaddy; a Scottsdale, Arizona based behemoth. "I would always call up our clients who need our help, even if it's the middle of the night and they wanted it," he said in his emailed response.
"And they did do it. Another nice guy named Jeff rang me up, who told me he was an Advanced Support Specialist, and that he'd emailed me all the login details of my installed blog and the shopping cart," said Liz, with a happy face."I couldn't believe it. He gave me his personal email address, and asked me to get in touch whenever.
"I think I must have emailed him a thousand times or so. Even bugging him for small things like the installation of the plugins, which are easy to do. Now, thinking about it, I think I pushed it and feel embarrassed. But, really, who does that for $150 per year. The support time, I ate up must have been worth hundreds of dollars on its own.
"I'm happy now. A2hosting saved my website project, and it's already started getting hundreds of daily visits from Google. Had it not been them, my startup would have never taken off the ground.
"I sent them a bouquet; and a thank you note as a token of my gratitude. That's pretty much it. I love how this all ended. Everyone was delighted. Especially me," she concluded.
This engagement took about an hour. We had burgers for lunch, before Liz went back to her gym to meet a private client.
Our own analysis suggests that she isn't technically inclined, which is not uncommon. A lot of companies on this page are actually good at what they do; just that they aren't meant for everyone.
Within the crowd of possibly tens of thousands of web hosts; a few do turn out to be outliers. As far as Liz's professional experiences go; the savior of her entrepreneurial ambitions is A2 Hosting.
Updated: 2:37 PM Saturday, 17 April 2021 (GMT-7) Time in
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Copyright A Bitter Web Hosting Story. All rights reserved.