Reflections on 15 Years of Hosting with Network Solutions

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Overview

One of my websites has been hosted with Network Solutions for about 15 years. It’s given me quite a bit of experience with the services and support offered by the company. So, this article is an effort to share some of that experience.

Update – 8 May 2014

Without notice, Network Solutions charged me for hosting renewal, and instead of charging the usual yearly fee they charged for three years of hosting at about $490 and offered no discount. They are charging about $164 per year ($13.67 per month) for hosting. That rate is about a 300% markup over what everyone else in the industry is charging. Why would anyone voluntarily pay for three years without any discount at all? I’ve asked for a refund. We’ll see what happens.

Update – 9 March 2014

Today I signed in under one of my client’s Network Solutions accounts to check on their hosting and domain name renewal details. Upon signing in, I was presented with a special Welcome Back offer. It had been a few months since logging in. The offer was for $9.29 per month hosting with a 3-year purchase agreement. An unsuspecting person might select that offer. However, I knew better. So, I skipped it. I went to the hosting renewal page. There I saw hosting for as low as $2.99 a month. Hosting prices were advertised as being discounted. The $3.99 per month plan says it was previously $18.95 per month. The $2.99 per month plan was apparently $12.95 per month. The images are below. Click to enlarge. One wonders at what point in history was shared hosting $18.95 per month. This either represents very sloppy pricing and advertising policies, or an intentional effort to mislead people.

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UPDATE – 5 MARCH 2014

I don’t promote or advertise this website widely. The content is mostly put out there as reference for my immediate circle of family, friends, colleagues, and clients. So, I was surprised today, less than 48 hours after posting this article, to receive a phone call from an assistant to the CEO of Network Solutions. The person began, “I’m calling to let you know we’ve read your blog and…” I presumed I was being called by their in-house attorney with a cease and desist request. Instead, what I got was an apology and an acknowledgment that improvements are needed. As someone who has worked with Network Solutions for 13+ years, this person was quite knowledgeable. During our 24 minute phone call, we discussed many of the points addressed below. The takeaway from our conversation was that they are concerned about these issues and addressing them at the highest level of the company. Because the company is quite large, and now part of an even larger family of companies (Web.com), it may take some time to implement some corrective solutions and changes. What’s interesting to me, from a business success standpoint is the proactive and professional attentiveness that the phone call represents. Apparently the folks at Network Solutions are not passively sitting back, but going out of their way to see what people are saying about the company and considering how they might improve things. Kudos for that. Below is my original posting. I plan to update this in the future as I become aware of corrective actions. At some point I plan to provide a review of hosting companies, and unlike other similar articles on the topic that list “top 10 hosting companies” with one company being the #1 choice, I plan to recognize that various hosting companies have different strengths. Knowing those strengths can help people make a better choice.

Original Article from 3 March 2014

Below is the original article posted on 3 March 2014.

Barriers to Changing Hosting Companies

In recent years, as unresolved issues seem to be accumulating, I’m beginning to consider other hosting providers. Something that’s kept me with Network Solutions this long are the challenges of switching to another hosting company. Usually there is downtime, and some email correspondence can get lost in the transfer – since the old email system may contain some emails that came in during the switch over, but now that old host isn’t accessible. Yet, now I’m beginning to think the inconvenience and disruption of a transfer may be less than the ongoing problems that I’m having with Network Solutions.

Current Hosting Concerns

Here’s a list of my current concerns about Network Solutions.

  1. Rising Cost. Over time Network Solutions fees have been increasing, yet their service and support seems to be decreasing in quality. They charge $35 a year for domain registration, and $15 per year for forwarding services, making the cost about $50 a year just to point to another service provider. This is more than double the going rate elsewhere.
  2. Misleading Price Match Guarantee. They advertise that they have the best prices in the industry and offer a misleading Price Match Guarantee that is only good for 6 months and only on a single hosting package.
  3. Excessive Downtime. They promise 99.9% uptime, but I’ve had extended periods of downtime on numerous occasions. When my site is down, I check other websites hosted with them and discover those sites are down also.
  4. Slow Load Times. Sometimes my website pages load in 2 seconds or less. Other times they take 10 seconds to 30 seconds to load. When notifying them about this, I’m told the problem is probably with how my site is designed and not with their servers. Yet, the problems come and go even if I make no changes to my site at all. I also see these slow load times on other sites hosted with them, as well as occasionally slow load times with the Network Solutions main site. The problem is that they feel these excessive load times aren’t the same as the site being down so they don’t calculate that as part of the downtime.
  5. Site Inaccessible. I’ve started getting occasional messages from Google Webmaster Tools telling me certain pages of my site weren’t accessible (presumably due to downtime). These issues are confirmed by monitoring reports from services like Chartbeat.com that also indicate erratic availability of the site. Eventually I signed up for site monitoring solutions (at $10 a month) to monitor when my site was down and alert me. I’m not on my site all the time, so I wanted to know what visitors were experiencing throughout the day. So, that’s another $120 a year beyond the cost of hosting.
  6. SQL Problems. Most websites these days have a database that provides site content. Network Solutions seems to overcommit their SQL servers, so the shared MySQL servers often get overloaded and crash – sometimes from users misconfiguring or misusing the servers. I’ve had to setup alternate redundant MySQL databases for my WordPress install so on those occasions when one server stops responding, I can shift to another.
  7. Poor Support. Support requests created as tickets go unanswered for days, then when the answer comes, the message says they can’t provide assistance in writing online so I should call their support phone number. Or, the message will say, “we don’t see anything wrong now.”
  8. Negative Impact on Site Traffic. I used to get 2500 visits a day with peaks of 50,000 visits per day after national media exposure, but in recent years with all these hosting issues, my traffic (and revenue) has dropped by about 70%. I can directly correlate drops in site traffic and lower search result rankings with times when my site was down and inaccessible to search engines and site visitors. There are hours of blackouts when the site was unavailable.
  9. Mail Servers Blacklisted. Their mail servers sometimes get blacklisted, so then everyone suffers because outbound emails from their systems are identified elsewhere as spam. I’ve patiently and persistently worked with their top-tier support on this, but it’s a major hassle.
  10. Mail Not IMAP Compliant. Their email system is supposed to be IMAP compliant, but messages read or junked on mobile devices don’t show up as read elsewhere. All other email service providers have fully IMAP compliant systems that work with various clients on numerous platforms.
  11. Target for Hackers. Because they host for some high-profile government agencies and businesses, they (and their customers) have become a popular target for hackers.
  12. Poor Billing Practices. They sometimes charge for services without advance notice. Customers only discover the fees later when they get their credit card statement. I’ve had sales people tell me they can’t offer a refund for a service even two days into a 5-year service period. Only after pressure do they offer a refund.

Web.com Merger

In 2011, Web.com acquired Network Solutions. That merger seems to have resulted in a the continued decline described above. Perhaps with 9 million domains and 3 million paying subscribers it’s easy to loose the personalized customer experience.

What Next

Perhaps you’re also a dissatisfied Network Solutions customer and wondering what you should do next. There are a lot of hosting companies out there, but the overall decline in the quality of products and services is an industry-wide problem. The quality of support has also declined in multiple industries. In some instances, customer service and technical support people are rude and not sufficiently trained for their jobs. The problems that Network Solutions has are problems representative of many companies. So, it’s not clear where consumers should go for quality website hosting. So, I plan to do more research on this topic.

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