How to Know When You’ve (Finally!) Found the Right Web Host

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If you’ve already found the perfect-for-you web host, congratulations. I salute you.

For me, knowing how to locate the right host was neither easy nor simple. I use DreamHost now, powered by WordPress software, and am convinced to the marrow of my bones that they’re my Soul mates in the field of Internet collaborations…but getting to this point was a journey and a half.

Whoa! Stop! You think I’m trying to sell you on DreamHost? I be hustling, the southern Arizona version of a Nigerian scam operation?

Really?

Nope. Let me say this about that: I pay to have this website hosted by DreamHost. They don’t pay me, I’m not hooked up with them as any sort of affiliate–in fact, at this point I’m not taking any advertising at all–and I’m not related by either blood or marriage to any DreamHost employee or principal.

No financial axe to grind here, folks. None whatsoever.

You may prefer another web host entirely, and that’s fine.

But if you’re curious about how to know when you’ve found the right one (which is, after all, the title of this piece), then read on.

Now, let’s step back in time a few years, to September of 2007. I had just quit a lucrative ($80,000 per year) trucking job on Colorado’s western slope, lured away from hauling water to all those gas drilling rigs, 60 to 75 hours per week in all kinds of weather. A scammer had sold me on the idea that I could build my own website (with their help and with them hosting, of course), buy and sell on eBay through that website, and make a great living.

By year end, I’d come to understand eBay pretty well. I’d also come to understand I’d been thoroughly had. Buying merchandise through eBay works well for me; I can snipe an auction during the last three seconds with the best of them. Selling…not so much. Especially not with my magical new website. The scammer’s tech support sucked like a Hoover vacuum on steroids. I did get a site up and running, sort of…but never, ever managed to get things working to the point where I could process credit card transactions online.

Bad (though educational) Experience #1: ScamHost (Not their real name, but I don’t even remember that. Nor do I wish to do so.)

Still, ScamHost taught me a number of things:

1. If you’re going to build and operate a website, the quality of the people operating the web hosting system is of paramount importance. They need to know what they’re doing, and they need to have the right attitude(s).

2. If the web host is not able to readily either provide every tool you need to succeed–or at least to point you to someone who can–forget them. A relationship with such a host can only end in pain and, most likely, loss of both time and money.

3. If a host (or some fool claiming to be a host) leaves you lost out in the weeds if you ask too many questions, run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.

Praying Mantis 010

An Internet entrepreneur, or even just a creative individual seeking an outlet for self expression, is a bit like that big yellow 18-wheeler in the top photograph. There is plenty of drive available, plus all sorts of marvelous ideas in that 53 foot van trailing along behind…but unless things are right where the rubber meets the road, delivery is a problem.

By January of 2008, I’d figured that much out. Giving up on ScamHost, I began searching the Internet in earnest for a website host that possessed at least a modicum of integrity. My wife and I’d written off the eBay idea as a losing proposition–unless we were of a mind to set up an eBay store per se, and that was never in the cards.

Affiliate marketing sounded possible, though. Create a popular website, attract all sorts of viewers, and they would pay per click us right out of the poorhouse.

Uh-huh. Sure.

But you go with what you got. You can’t know what you don’t yet know. Besides, even if someone had been nearby, handing out good advice, who listens to that? I know I don’t…at least, not often enough.

My next web host was Ken Evoy’s Site Build It. It was relatively expensive ($299 per year if memory serves), but I really didn’t have any major complaints while I was using it to create and operate a poetic humor website.

That site piddled along for close to four years before I pulled the plug and sent it down the drain. Looking back, the production kind of sucked. The writing, despite being my own, was basically third rate. The size was piddly, topping out at something like 101 supposedly comical poems on 101 pages.

As for Site Build It…well, I learned quite a bit. During my time with Site Sell as a host, it became second nature for me to whip out a page of text that is SEO friendly without being ridiculous. Ken Evoy gets a lot of the credit for the fact that Google generally likes my stuff to this day.

But, once the training wheels were off, Site Build It was definitely not the right web host for me. It was not as user friendly as one might like, and the cost seemed higher than really necessary for the service provided. As for support, you could find most of the answers to your questions through the forums, but if those failed, it was off to war and kiss the farmer’s daughter goodbye.

Most of all, especially toward the end, it just didn’t feel…right. I couldn’t hate Site Build It, but working the pages got to where it felt kind of like making out on a blind date, then discovering when the lights came on that you were kissing your sister.

The ugly one.

Or perhaps another analogy is closer. Today, I think of Site Build It almost exactly like I think of my first wife, whom I divorced in 1973. I remember her fondly, learned a lot during our time together…but can’t in the wildest stretch of imagination contemplate ever getting in bed with her again.

I think of Site Build It the same way I think of my first wife...fondly, but I'm not about to get into bed with either one of them again.

I think of Site Build It the same way I think of my first wife…fondly, but I’m not about to get into bed with either one of them again.

Early in 2008, actually during my first months with Site Build It, an online marketing course popped up that did me a lot of good. It was through that course that such cyber spots as Facebook, MySpace, Squidoo, Examiner, HubPages, and others came to my attention.

Prior to that, I had no idea–none–that any of them even existed.

In April of 2008, unfortunately, we were once again facing the financial wolf at the door. I had to give up the dream of online wealth and go back to trucking in order to pay the mortgage and keep food on the table.

One year later, in April of 2009, that job was gone (the drilling boom went bust the minute Barack Obama was first elected President), we were living dead broke on four acres of bare land in southern Arizona, and it was time to get real.

No one would hire me unless I’d work nights, which I love–but my wife is disabled, our place was one mile from the Mexican border with northbound illegal immigrants trekking through our property almost nightly, and leaving the redhead alone after dark was not an option.

For several years, I hoped it might not be necessary to run a site of my own. I had it narrowed down to writing at HubPages only, with (eventually) more than a thousand published pages, a readership that kept building, and–

–and there were always warning signs.

In 2011, alarmed at some of the restrictions imposed by HubPages management, restrictions that bordered on serious censorship where none had existed before, I tried setting up a website of my own with Fat Cow as web host. Their ads were cool, and they lived right next door, in New Mexico.

What could go wrong?

It took three days to give that up as a lost cause–the tech problems were insurmountable–and thirty days to get them to cancel my brand new account. They sent me unwanted emails for more than a year after that.

The Fat Cow web hosting ads had me excited to sign up...but I couldn't get a page working, and the company's tech support failed udderly.

The Fat Cow web hosting ads had me excited to sign up…but I couldn’t get a page working, and the company’s tech support failed udderly.

At this point, mid-2012, my experiences with web hosts had not been terrifically encouraging.

What to do next?

One thing was clear: I was going to need to do something. HubPages was getting bossier and bossier; what had been a great place to write in 2008 was not nearly as much fun in 2012. The territory covered by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution did not appear to be prime real estate as far as they were concerned.

Hey, it’s not how many times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you bounce back up. Right? Just because the saying is old does not mean it’s untrue.

Enter DreamHost. Like every web host I’d ever tried (including half a dozen not even worth mentioning on this page), DreamHost was located via Internet search.

Once I’d found them online, I circled warily, a shark smelling blood in the water but hoping to avoid adding its own vital fluids to the mix. I’d known for a long time that someday it would be necessary to control my own online writing destiny. I’m an old Montana cowboy, a fiscal conservative now living in Arizona, while the HubPages people are San Francisco liberals who most likely vote for both Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.

Maybe even Barbara Boxer.

DreamHost, I realized pretty quickly, was different from the other website hosts I’d tried in that they didn’t try to tell you they had the perfect software with which to run a site. Instead, they liked WordPress software, which is open source, free to use unless you really insist on spending money few of us need to spend.

Free sounded good.

It took a while to learn how WordPress worked, but DreamHost had a 1-click installation process set up. Beyond that, the learning curve wasn’t bad, even for this old dog.

In 2013, meeting the right people at DreamHost’s first ever user conference (DreamCon) in Los Angeles enabled me to find the solution to the site’s problem with spam commenters. I’d been troubled by that, kind of hanging fire, sure there was an answer but unable to pin it down. With that out of the way, I didn’t envision any more real difficulties with the machinery, and there weren’t.

DreamCon had given me the information needed to solve my site's comment spam problem.  It was time to get to work.

DreamCon had given me the information needed to solve my site’s comment spam problem. It was time to get to work.

Beyond that, however, it was the people themselves who convinced me I’d finally found the right web host, one I could live with for a long, long time.

Jonathan LaCour, for instance, DreamHost’s V.P. of Product and Design Development. At DreamCon’s meet-and-greet social event the evening before the real program started, Jonathan was the first DreamHost employee to say hello when I walked into the group with my cowboy hat clearly marking me as an outlander.

I liked the guy. This was a good sign.

That’s Jonathan, in the next photo.

Jonathan LaCour, DreamHost VP of Product Development.

Another key human contact that evening was Dallas Kashuba, one of DreamHost’s co-founders. During our chat time together, he told me the most important thing I heard at DreamCon, namely that he and his people all believe strongly that people have the right to say what they want to say. He even gave me an example: One of the California Ku Klux Klan chapters wrote to thank DreamHost for helping them set up their website.

I knew I was home when I heard that. Defining moment, right there. Dallas (see photo below) is clearly no KKK dude, but he’ll defend to the death the right of the Klan to have its say.

CAM DreamCon 035

These DreamHosters were my kind of people. This was becoming crystal clear.

But there was one more key contact to make, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top of the whole shebang: The DreamHost CEO, Simon Anderson.

For an hour or more, before stepping into the breach and introducing myself, I watched Simon at the social. He clearly had the qualities any smart company would want in a top executive. He exudes rugged good he-man looks while focusing, really listening to whoever is talking to him at any given moment.

Then, when the time and opportunity seemed right, I got my bit of time, face to face with Simon…and was even more impressed. Not only that, but he handed me his business card, which provided both his email address and his cell phone number.

Wow. I now had a major web hosting company with direct access (if needed) to the very top guy in the whole operation.

Cool.

 DreamHost CEO Simon Anderson, who was VOTED into office by the employees.


DreamHost CEO Simon Anderson, who was VOTED into office by the employees.

Fast forward, let’s see…roughly 45 days since my return home from DreamCon. With this site (hosted by DreamHost and powered by WordPress) now running as smoothly as Usain Bolt in the Olympics, I decided it was time to say so. Wrote a piece on how WordPress was getting the job done for me, with several DreamHost mentions on the page. HubPages couldn’t badger me about the piece being about web hosting (which is one of the topics they detest over there at HP). Sent a link to Simon via email, letting him know the services his company provides were really doing well for me.

Simon emailed me right back…and included a link to a breakthrough interview he did with the New York Times.

That article is too good to ignore, too much pure Simon Anderson and pure DreamHost, so here it is, either via this link or through the series of photos below.

Simon Says 003

Simon Says 004

Simon Says 005

Simon Says 007

Interesting? To me, it is. Frankly, I’ve not seen many groups of people–even groups of two, like in marriages–who could implement a concept like “shameless honesty” and make it work. In my case, even without going to what Simon refers to as “rude honesty”, the attempt to practice “shameless honesty” frequently led to “messy divorce”.

(Pam and I’ve been hooked at the hip for 17 years now, but she’s my 7th wife, not my 1st. Just like it took me a while to find the right web host, it took me a while to find the right wife. I never said I was a quick study…just persistent.)

Beyond that, I don’t pretend to understand the term. “Shameless” is defined as “being without shame” and is not usually considered to be a positive sort of adjective.

Fortunately, DreamHost people are more creative than I am. They think way outside the box…and I don’t necessarily need to understand them. I just need to know their products and services perform as advertised.

Which they do, at least for me.

What? Oh, you want to see that New York Times photo of Simon enlarged a bit?

Sure. I’ll be shamelessly discreet, won’t even ask why that trips your trigger. Here you go.

Simon Anderson, CEO of DreamHost.

Simon Anderson, CEO of DreamHost.

Summary: How to know when you’ve finally found the right web host is not the same for all of us, but here’s the deal for me.

1. The people running the web hosting service have impeccable integrity.

2. They’re also extremely competent, able to tell webmasters how to fix problems.

3. Charm and friendliness certainly don’t hurt. We work better with people we like.

4. A sense of humor is a must. (Note: DreamHost includes “irreverent and fun” in their list of work goals.)

5. They’re able to KISS, Keep It Simple, Stupid–especially for the dinosaur Luddites like me. I grew up on a ranch that first got electrical power when I was about six years old but never did acquire either a television or a telephone until long after I’d left the nest. Simplicity is absolutely necessary for me.

That’s all for now. If you have other (perhaps better) ideas regarding how to know when you’ve found the right web host, feel free to sound off in the Comments.

In the meantime, as a reward for plowing through all this material, here’s a bonus photo, just a pretty little flower thing, and thanks for reading.

Simon Says 001

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