Back to Normal – Lessons Learned (Things Hosting Companies don’t tell their Customers)

I was panic stricken when I discovered Happy Hotelier was suspended by my Dutch Internet Hosting company. Were hours and hours of work possibly put down the drain? What amount of work involved the quick unforeseen move? I really didn’t have that amount of time available…Luckily we’re back to normal now…more or less, because the page loading speed is not what I was used to…

1) The Story they told me
They informed me that due to “They didn’t know what caused the problems” they were not prepared to host me any further on their shared hosting packages. I needed an upgrade to the next deal they offered: an approximately $120.- per months VPS plan…..Not in 120 years!
If I agreed to move the two main blogs over to another host they would block my two blogs permanently and would put my hotel site and other commercial sites back up immediately. Just when I was negotiating with the hosting company I was having several potential guests on another line claiming they couldn’t access the hotel website and wanted to make reservations…

2) The Solution
First question was: How to find a reliable host within a couple of hours and to move over the stuff (two blogs with together over 3,000 posts and approximately 45,000 unique visitors and 65,000 page views per month? I remembered having read a reasonably recent post from Yoast WordPress Hosting. Go VPS cloud hosting! Nice advice, but unless you are willing to pay $ 99,- monthly for a managed plan, you are facing a tremendous steep learning curve in implementing the thing. According to Yoast the second best thing is Westhost shared hosting. So after a live chat with a sales rep of Westhost, which is one of their nice features by the way, who claimed that they could handle the blogs in one shared hosting business plan and reassured me that they would try to help find an amicable solution when the load would prove to be too heavy.

3) What they don’t tell you
Apart from ten obvious things hosting companies don’t tell you (do read this nice summary Ten Things the Web Hosting Company didn’t tell you from Thai devellopers!), I’ve faced the following issues:

4) Do never register your domain names with your hosting company.
Yoast should have had this advice included in one of his two main articles.

There are several dedicated registrars out there who can do that.

I have made this mistake and have paid for that by heavy loss of traffic. When you transfer a domain name from one hosting company (or registrar) to another, it will take time! It takes at least 5 working days, but in practice more days. Also it has a relation with which types of domains are registered by whom. Westhost for instance does not register .nl domains…..and they don’t seem to be able to transfer an .eu domain correctly.

The reason you lose traffic is that when you move your site to a new provider, you can put a simple 301 redirect for your site on the server of your old provider. However chances are huge, that the links of your old site that are in the caches of the search engines point your readers to the wrong pages of your site and cause your readers landing on your site’s homepage only only, not to the page of the image, or keyword they found in their search. Consequently too long Happy Hotelier didn’t show a lot of stuff and was not completely accessible.

If you have a separate registrar for your domains, all you have to do is replace the two references to the DNS (Domain Name Servers) addresses of your old provider to those of your new providers. That also takes time, but is in most cases limited to 24 hours only.

There is another reason not to register domain names with your hosting company: They usually have this info on the same shared server as your hosting package…if that serer is wacky due to old software or being overcrowded, the pointing devices are down as well as I have seen several times happening with my temporary installations

5) Do make sure your provider has competent measuring tools in place!
My old provider apparently did not have top notch measuring software for its server configurations.
I must admit I haven’t discovered them at Westhost yet, but they do have CPanel to manage your account which has a bit of a steep learning curve in itself… and some items I can pinpoint more easily than I could at my own provider: Total traffic and total use of disk space.

6) When you move, preferably do not install a working WordPress installation on a temporary or a subdomain.
I had the idea to move the sites as fast as possible, apply a 301 at my old providers site. Wrong. I should have known this because I had to change server when hosted by my old provider. The temporary name I used then affected many image urls. They are still haunting me now after the second move and I have still manually change them in many posts (while I had been doing that already during a cou[ple of months this year).

Actually I didn’t realise when you upload your stuff to the server of another provider, you virally don’t move your site when your DNS details are pointing to the new server…..I tried to give Google notice of a move from my domain name to a temp domain name (a socalled subdomain which in this case read as…guess what? Google does not accept subdomains in their webmasters tools program…

7) I now use Pingdom, but they are not clear how to use their free measuring tool
Yoast somewhere claims that whenever your ISP takes your site down, you will lose SEO advantages. Even a 5 minutes down might cause you loss of Google traffic. I’ve seen several downs in my pindom screen the last couple of days. Even a blogging friend told me he wanted to have a look at my site, but found it down…However, Pingdom itself is not clear itself how many tests you may run under it’s free schedule.

8) Have several FTP clients in place.
Some do see hidden files, others don’t see hidden files. Some do permit grouped resetting of file permissions, others don’t. Part of the problem of non visibility of photos here had to do with the fact that the file permissions were too low. Being ale to reset file permissions by the map is far less time consuming than doing that by the file.

9) Be aware on the sequence the server in questions resolves
When the site was down, I quickly put up an apologizing static html page. However it took me some time and help from Westhost to realize that one server has a preference for index.php notwithstanding there being an index.html in your root directory and other servers don’t read the index.php file if there is an index.html file in place…..

10) Definitely delete W3 Cache from your installation prior to moving or reinstalling WordPress!
It has cost me a lot of time to figure out that several files belonging to the W3 Cache plugin could be interfering with the way WordPress operates….Sometimes it helps to download and reinstall a “clean” WordPress version…sometimes it helps to set permalinks to default, delete the .htaccess file in your WP root and then reset the permalinks to your usual settings.

11) Long live Firebug
Going through these moves, you should use Firefox and it’s Firebug addon, with firebug you clearly can debug WordPress installations because you can see clearly which elements of your site don’t load in the browser.

12)I’ve now ditched and replaced the professional multi language plugin here
I did this already at Chair Blog but now I’ve done it here as well.

This plugin caused so many errors and was taking much load time. You have the choice of putting translated pages into your WordPress database, which then you cannot handle anymore, because it inflates up to 50 @ 60 MB. Very inconvenient if you want to make a daily backup, as is my practice and as has saved me now in these unplanned moves….

The alternative is much lighter, albeit it only translates on a post by post basis and not on a page by page basis and maybe the SEO advantages pro claims are lost. So be it.

14) How the F** does WordPress handle photos and videos?
A long time ago there was a promise that version 3.0 of WordPress would solve all problems with photos….What I see is that be it WordPress itself or Thesis, the theme I use for this and other sites, causes photos I upload to replicate (and use server HD space) like F***ing rabbits. For each and every photo you get 2 or 3 in return…do we need this waste?

15) Provisional conclusions
Westhost has impressed me with their quick service (24/7!) and their chat functionality and price/performance ratio. Less impressed I am with their explanations on their site. I believe they need a hosting wiki. They have a forum, but forums are soo slow and soo nineties…They have hidden fees, because they charge extra for spam filters, that is like Hotels charging for WiFi access. Also they want to charge extra if you want your Whois id’s hidden….same category. Unclear is what their exact relationship with VPS.Net is, because I’m considering to go one step further and plunge into cloud hosting. Chris Pearson of DIYthemes (thesis) also seems to be on a virtual cloud somewhere, but experimenting away has also made me wondering whether Thesis is the right theme for me, whether it is slow by itself….

Post Alia
I’ll publish this rambling first as it is. I may flesh it out later with links and so.

And: I’m really happy I found Nerd’s Eye View about bad blogging habits which enlightened the past dark days..

And: The photo features Yoast. It was taken at the first ever WordCamp in NL last November. It was one of my UFO’s (Unfinished Objects) to post here about the speakers at that fabulous venue. I’m geared up for the second edition, but am almost sure it will never beat the first edition. It also reminds me of posting here about the use of avatars which I have in my sleeve for a long time now.

4 thoughts on “Back to Normal – Lessons Learned (Things Hosting Companies don’t tell their Customers)”

  1. Woo, hopefully you are coming back to normal!

    By the way, was impressed by your unique visitors number.



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