Business Musings: Website Issues

Business Musings: Website Issues

Note: I wrote this post weeks ago, when my website went down…again. I posted this on Patreon, but waited to post here until I had moved out of the hosting service that was causing all of the issues. I’m out now, but the website is still settling. The migration will take a bit more time to shake out, so please be a bit patient with me.

Here’s the post!

It’s tough to write my blog when my website is down…for the second time in two weeks. Both times had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the website hosting service, which is so monumentally incompetent that I’m speechless.

I learned a lesson during this incident. A big important lesson. 

I have had a website since 1997. When I first typed in my web address, for an editorial in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (which I was editing at the time), I got the http part wrong. I think I typed httb or something. It was so strange to me. I had no idea what I would do with a website, but I figured I’d figure it out.

Which I slowly did. Initially (around the year 2000), I decided I would make my website into an online “magazine” with regular content, and expected features. I did that for a while, before I settled into the recommended reading list, the free fiction every Monday, and a nonfiction blog every Thursday.

A lot of that early content remained on the website—which is important as you will see. But because I came to websites organically and very slowly, I didn’t have the benefit of automated programs and decades of advice that many of you had when you started up your websites.

In the early days, a friend hosted my website. Literally. Eventually he and his wife (wisely) got out of the business (although I suspect the hosting service caused their divorce), and I went to a few other small providers. There weren’t many in those days, and you actually could meet the owners. They were techy people who knew what they were doing, and were on the cutting edge of website design.

When websites got fancier, I ended up hiring the guy who designed Barnes & Noble’s website which was cutting edge back in the day, and stopped being cutting edge almost immediately. I upgraded grumpily and as needed.

Eventually I went to a hosting service, recommended by a friend. Another friend ended up managing the website for a while, and he was the one who found the first porn site that had attached itself to my website (which was not an unusual occurrence, back then.) We slaughtered the porn site, and went to a mid-level service provider.

That provider went out of business really fast. And so did the next and the next. Finally, after many recommendations, we settled on Bluehost.

We—Dean, my friend, and I—researched the crap out of Bluehost. Then we met the CEO, and did more research. It was one of the best mid-size providers in the mid-2000s. We signed on.

We were happy.

I built my website bigger. I had problems, but in those early days, Bluehost was responsive.

As the site grew, I ended up with weird problems. Bluehost contacted me about a problem about 2010 or so, because my site was using so much space. I was just doing my free fiction (which I took down every week), the recommended reading list, and the nonfiction plus the older stuff still lingering, but in no way was I using as much data as they said.

Guess what? Another porn site had attached itself to the back end of the website (I don’t know the technical term) or maybe it was the same old one, regrown. (It reappeared a few years ago, as well, but we were watching for it, and it vanished fast.)

When I needed Bluehost, they responded. They were smart, savvy, and helpful. Also, available 24/7, unlike the friends or the smaller sites. That was so nice.

For years, I didn’t have to think about it.

Then, as you folks noticed, long about 2015, I started having serious problems with my website. It wouldn’t load fast. It would go down for an hour or two. Sometimes only a few pages would load.

The responses I got from Bluehost sounded clueless and blamey. They blamed me a lot for my lack of knowledge or for something I was doing. This is an old trick of the incompetent, but hey, I figured, I don’t know these things, so I hired a friend to deal with Bluehost.

She told me in no uncertain terms that their lower level techs didn’t know anything about anything. Those weren’t the words she used. In fact, she used one word, and it was a pejorative.

That was my sense, and I put finding a new provider on the to-do list. But I figured I would have time.

Then I got sicker, and lacked the bandwidth to deal with much. WMG Publishing took over dealing with the website (thank you, all!) and got more and more frustrated.

In the past year, my website kept going down. So we bought a higher package, one that put the site on its own server, and the problems got worse.

The site was down more than it was up. Bluehost couldn’t get the security forms renewed. They shut me down several times for their mistakes.

And then, at the end of June, they threatened to shut down for nonpayment, in July. Except…we were paid in full. They shut the site down because the security certificate wasn’t up to date…even though they were responsible for updating it.

It took WMG three days to get the website back up only to have the site go down on July 15, for nonpayment.

As I write this, the site has been down nearly 48 hours—for Bluehost’s mistake. It seems they can’t get a site back up, even though, in theory, I’m one of their major customers.

So what happened?

Well, in the intervening years, Bluehost went from a small owner-operated company to one that got eaten by a major conglomerate. When the CEO and founder left (or got pushed out), the conglomerate went through a CEO for Bluehost every year or so. Which is a terrible sign. That meant the conglomerate was interested in profit, not service. And boy oh boy, did it show.

But I was a bit oblivious, partly because of my history. I figured this ancient creaky website, with bad code and all kinds of past history (including porn sites and DoS attack leftovers) was causing its own problems.

Nope. No. Not at all.

I wasn’t paying attention. And I should have been.

Here’s the lesson:

I hired Bluehost in 2007 (or so). I was really happy with them through 2013 (or so). And then things went downhill. The blamey stuff happened, but I figured they had a bad employee.

Never once did I think to vet the company all over again. I should have started investigating what was going on with them just as a matter of course, just to make certain they still had a great reputation, or to see what kinds of problems others were having.

I should have done this even if I wasn’t having problems. After all, my website is important. I should have made sure that the host—the place where it was living at the time—was doing what they promised.

I didn’t.

I won’t ever make that mistake again.

I’m going to spend the next few months migrating parts of my website to a new provider. I’m not going to move the whole thing. The ancient code, the potential viruses, the early early early posts, they’re all going to get left behind. [Note: They didn’t. It was too hard to do that way. We’ll be pruning the website here over the next several weeks, using a different method…I hope.]

The only things that will move are the business posts and the recommended reading list. Everything else will be consigned to the dustheap of the past.

And as I (and the kind folks at WMG) rebuild, we will be doing so with an eye to a 2018 website, not a 2010 website. We’ll make information easy to find. The weekly features will remain as well. 

It’s going to take a bit of time, but it was something I needed to do. Bluehost forced me into it.

They also taught me a valuable lesson. Every few years, I need to re-evaluate every service that I hire to help with my business, not just to see if the service is doing well, but also to make sure the service itself is the same company that I hired a few years before. 

Things change quickly in this modern world, and I really need to incorporate that awareness of change into my own business planning.

And so should you.

***

Just a reminder that this blog is reader-supported. So if you like what you see here, please share, comment,or consider throwing a few bucks into my virtual tip jar. You can do that with the link below, or go to my Patreon page.
And thanks, thanks, thanks for your support in this year of change. I greatly appreciate it.

Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynrusch to go to PayPal.

“Business Musings: Website Issues,” copyright © 2018 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog © Can Stock Photo / Baz777.




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31 responses to “Business Musings: Website Issues”

  1. D.K. Wall says:

    I do feel your pain. My very first website was hosted by a company called StartLogic. Rated as one of the best hosts out there with tons of terrific reviews. And then it was bought by the Enormous Internet Giant (er, I mean Endurance International Group). Problems ensued and I moved the website (and added a couple of others to a new host. Worked great, until they were bought by EIG and service deteriorated. Moved to a third host. Bought by EIG. Had to move again.

    At that point, I gave up on hosting. Taught myself just enough to spin up my own VPS and now I host my websites on myself. Best move I ever made.

    P.S. – Re: the discussion in the comments on hosting email. Other options are Rackspace and registrars like Namecheap. Professional quality email hosting with all of the bells and whistles, branded with your own domain names, and easy to set up.

  2. I upgraded to an actual host almost two years ago, from Blogger. I wanted total control of how it appeared, without having to manually change template code. And I wanted greater control over page naming. Bluehost was never even an option for me. Terrible service and too expensive for what they offer. GoDaddy was never an option either. They’re all about profit too and I don’t like their ad campaigns.

    I’m still tiny, and I ended up choosing SiteGround. It consistently places top 10 on best WordPress hosting lists, across the board. Doesn’t matter who’s making the list, SiteGround is on it. The prices are great for just starting out, and it’s paid annually. They have a lot of cool stuff, great help sections, and super responsive customer support. I recommend them to everyone who’s just starting out or doesn’t need a whole lot of bells and whistles.

    One of the best things is they were early to jump on the Let’s Encrypt bandwagon and they made it super simple for me to set it up and have it auto-renew. They also make it super easy to integrate a GSuite account and run your email through Gmail.

    I had the whole thing set up in WordPress and live within two hours. Highly recommend SiteGround for anyone who’s just starting out in the wonderful world of websites.

  3. We had practically the same experience with Bluehost. They used to be so good, the best in the business. But yeah, as soon as profit became the driving goal, they wen’t downhill fast! I’ve been looking at our own server we can host in our house because I’m just sick of dealing with foreign web providers who aren’t in our time zone and don’t know anything about anything.

  4. mcahogarth says:

    When I was shopping for a provider, I couldn’t even get Bluehost to figure out how to do the migration after I paid them. I immediately demanded a refund, which they took their time processing, and left. I definitely feel you on your problems with them.

  5. Phil says:

    One suggestion: Inmotionhosting.

    I had Bluehost. It was a NIGHTMARE. I had an entire forum screaming at me about problems. Suddenly an hour downtime turned into days. I contacted Bluehost because it wasn’t me and it wasn’t my software [I knew how to check], it was their server. They told me and I quote, “It’s your computer causing the problem.” I went off on them and I quote “Gee, I had no clue over 200 people have been flying in from all over the world to use my computer to access that site. How could I have missed that and the waiting line out my front door? It is YOUR server. EVERYONE from all over the world is bitching.” Dead silence. I moved. I closed that sucker out and I moved. Now I know how to move a site. I couldn’t get it off Bluehost. I had to go to Inmotion. I begged them to get it. They said no problem. Three days later they messaged me and said “Problem. We can’t get the site. We’ll keep trying” A week later, they tell me they got the site. I go, I check. The entire site is a total wreck because the reason for the downtime and problems was the Bluehost server was dying and it crashed repeatedly corrupting the entire site. I had to rebuild it from scratch. Those jerks knew it was happening and denied it nor would they move anyone from a dying server.

    Inmotion is the exact opposite. They went above and beyond trying to get that site and did some strange unusual voodoo to get it off Bluehost. They were more upset than I was that it was corrupted and apologized. They have always been there. Fast, efficient, helpful. They listen. They explain. They assist. They are everything that Bluehost is not. I have NO downtime unless they tell me they are doing maintenance and warn me way in advance so I can put a notice up for my users. And they are never stupid enough to think they can get away with “It’s your computer.” mainly because they are honest.

    [and to rebuild the site? I recommend WordPress Total theme. I’m having a blast and it’s so easy]

  6. Good luck, Kris. Always a pain.

    I budget two consecutive days a year specifically for web site cleanup. My site’s gotten much more maintainable since then.

  7. mrhelm says:

    I went through this with three different webhosts, one of which was Bluehost, and all of which ended up subsumed by the same super-conglomerate. They find companies that get good reputations, buy them up, cut down their service, kill their tech support and then repeat again and again, with almost every lower end cost host I can find now under their control. It’s one of those weird things that doesn’t get talked about much outside of heavy tech blogs either.

  8. Widdershins says:

    Painful lesson, painfully learned … hope the change-over goes as smoothly as is possible. 🙂

  9. LL says:

    I’m really happy with WordPress.com. I’m a small fish and it’s worked well for me. 🙂

  10. Lisa @HermitWerds says:

    Another thing about web hosting: sometimes you really do just need to ask to be moved to a newer server. My previous website was an old account and there came a time when we wanted to try new things with our site that the server couldn’t do. Customer service told us we were on a very old sever since we’d been with them so long. They moved us to a newer sever, the site worked better than ever before, and my ex-husband could do all the little server things he’d been longing to do.

    It’s kinda like cable modems, I guess. If you’re renting yours from Comcast and the like, you can ask for a new cable modem every year. But if you don’t ever ask, you can be like my parents and use the same one for nearly a decade, slowly getting a more degraded performance over time…

  11. Harvey Stanbrough says:

    It’s all very daunting. I have the same host you had, and haven’t had problems with them (yet). Now I’m casting a net, fishing for the right host. Unfortunately, I also have several add-on sites that belong to folks for whom I built websites. So going easy. Thanks for the post, Kris.

    • You’re welcome. I asked a lot of friends. Fortunately, my teaching and my sf contacts keep me in touch with people who do this sort of thing for a living, so they know all kinds of dirt on the various sites. Each person warned me to have an annual contract only, because all of the services change. Lesson learned. (The hard way.) Good luck with your migration as well!

  12. Natalie K. says:

    Oh man, what a mess. I’m sorry you had to deal with this, Kris. I hope your new host works out!

    Also, I wish we knew each other better… I’m super nosy, so I am just DYING to know what sort of ancient code and potential viruses you’ve got on there. Back in the day, I did some freelance website maintenance/development stuff. I’ve used WordPress extensively. I’m marveling at the incompetence of Bluehost for letting this happen—anyone competent should have caught this ages ago and been able to help you! Anyway, if you need any help, my email address should display with this comment on your end. 🙂

  13. Vera Soroka says:

    I never understood the whole host thing and why you would need it. I’ve just had a plain ole blogger and never had any issues but then again, all I have done is post fiction, nothing else. I have been setting up a WIX sight and I do like them. So far so good.

    • Catrin Lewis says:

      Same here. The only “trouble” I’ve had so far is that the author template I chose is rather ambitious. But that was my decision, and it should provide me with added incentive to get books written.

      But as my gut told me and Kris has confirmed, I paid for a year, only, in advance.

  14. I had to change my web host about 2 years ago. I’d started out with Verio when I did actor David Hedison’s site in 1997 (until 2007 when someone else took it over). My brother recommended the service highly (though he later had problems when he tried to cancel his site). When I put my first site with the co-writer up, I went with them, and handed the site off to co-writer when we broke up (that’s gone now). I put up a new one with my own name. Things were fine while Front Page existed. I could just go in FP and update the site and publish to it.

    Then my FP went away. I got Expressions and started using that. And a power outage fried my computer. Expressions no longer could link up to Verio. I really couldn’t spend the time to figure out why, so I went with Verio’s template wizards. I wasn’t entirely happy with the template choices. They were just too business-like, and not really for a writer. Then I started indie publishing, and I ran into trouble with the wizard. It assumed that once you created the site, you weren’t going to update it again. And I had 40 short stories!

    Horrible, horrible trying to update the site. Every time I added a single book listing, I had to go through the entire wizard like I was building the site again. It was so time consuming that I wasn’t doing it! So I migrated to what I have now, which works much better.

    But web design is still tricky. I always built my site like I had done for David Hedison. He’s an actor. Everyone knew who he was and was coming in to see what films or TV shows he’d been in, and what he was doing. Books couldn’t be that far from movies, right? Well…I had someone write to me about one of my posts and say she could not find my books. I’d thought it was obvious, but I’d called the links to the books Science Fiction, Fantasy, etc. So back for a restructure and folded them under one link that say My Book. Never ending process…

  15. Catrin Lewis says:

    Are you sure it wasn’t the Popcorn Kittens? 😉

    Funny you should post about this just now. I’m trying to get my own writer website up and running by the time my first novel goes live on Friday (the 24th) and I find myself blundering around trying to decide what exactly what I need to have on it by then and what I can leave Under Construction.

    I’m using one of the services that provides templates and hosting (I have my own URL from a separate provider). I paid for a year in advance and a year only, thinking I’ll decide if I still like them 12 months from now. That kind of periodic evaluation is what you’re recommending, isn’t it?

    At the moment I’m wondering if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with the template I chose. It’s made for authors, but won’t look really good until I have three or four books out. Never mind. I’ll come up with something.

    Thanks for the article. That’s too bad about Bluehost, and rotten about the grief they put you through. For what it’s worth, I didn’t go with them, even though they were highly recommended by several people who are supposed to know about these things. Maybe they were basing their opinion on how the company used to be.

    • The periodic review is exactly what I’m recommending. And think of a website as a process. Because it’ll never be finished. That’s 20 years of website experience talking.

      • Catrin Lewis says:

        You mean it won’t be Perfect right out of the gate? 😀

        Sounds like it’d be a good idea to set myself a reminder to review it a month or two before renewal. That way if I’m not happy I won’t be caught out and pay for another year because I’ve run out of time to change

  16. nhaines says:

    This is a good lesson. My webhost was a small service owned by a single person with amazing support. And it was acquired maybe three or four years ago, but for as seldom as I needed support, it wasn’t an issue. Then they removed the customer forums, and switched to outsourced live-chat support before you could open a ticket. And this didn’t bother me because I usually just do things myself. But when it was time for renewal this year, I found that my price had gone from $50 a year to $80, and the lower tier (which was very cheap) that I was thinking about dropping back down to (since I don’t use a lot of storage after all) was now gone.

    And the thing is, I can host the site on my own server myself, but I don’t want to deal with email. So later this year, I’m going to start looking into alternatives. Because my site is static (it doesn’t use software on the server, I generate updates locally and upload the files) and can be hosted anywhere. And my web host is nothing special and isn’t worth what they charge.

    It was just the status quo that kept me there after the change in management, and if I’d known about the change at the beginning of the year, instead of a month before the renewals, I’d have started plans to migrate right away.

    And if they’d grandfathered in my rates, I never would’ve minded. But it’s never to late to reevaluate the services you’re using. I don’t recommend my host anymore (and specifically recommend against them) and will take the steps needed to either self-host or find something far more reasonable next year.

    It’s not worth worrying too much about past mistakes or failures when it comes to business practices you haven’t been focusing on. It’s enough to sit up, look around, and do better in the future.

    • SeanR says:

      Why would you have to deal with email just to host your own website? My employer has our email hosted on GMail. We check it the same way as you check any gmail account, except we type our full addressess in, rather than just the first part. I would be surprised if the other major web-based email providers don’t have something similar.
      Our website is hosted with a different service. Until this month, the website was hosted by our ISP, (which only serves government clients, so I can’t recommend them, although they do have excellent, knowledgeable, tech-support.) Sending our email to Google was remarkably easy.

      P.S. Mrs. Rusche, the bottom two checkboxes don’t have any caption to tell what they’re there for. Not in Firefox with various privacy add-ons, nor in Chrome, incognito mode, or IE. I didn’t try Edge.

      • I’m not sure what you mean, Sean, by check boxes. I’ll send your comment to my tech guy. It might still be migrating. Thank you!

      • nhaines says:

        Because by “host my own website” I mean “stop paying someone else to host my website and instead run a webserver on a virtual server I am in control of.” Which I am already doing for my Nextcloud instance (sort of a do-it-yourself Dropbox: way more powerful, but the core features are similar).

        I don’t user a web-based email provider (other than GMail because of my Android phone, but I don’t use the account for email.) Right now, email hosting is included with my web hosting. If I host my own website and want email services, I have to either pay someone for email hosting (which I could continue with my current host if not for the price) or install and configure mail services on my own server, myself. And while it’s dead simple to install, the security features used to combat spam didn’t exist when I was learning this stuff in the late 90s/early 2000s. So that’s all stuff I have to get right, and get right before I switch over or else a lot of people won’t receive emails from me.

        (Sorry I missed your comment! Those two checkboxes didn’t have captions for me, either, back then. :))

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