Why an $8/month web host costs you thousands

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It happened twice this week — corporate websites that I was working with (not ones I manage or host, mind you) were hacked into and disabled, seemingly at random.

Was it random? I think not. Invariably, when I look into the hosting packages for these sites, they are hosted on shared “low cost” servers.

You know the ones I’m talking about — “$7.99/month Hosting!” “UNLIMITED BANDWIDTH” are the siren calls they use to lure in unsuspecting business owners and Webmasters.

Location’s importance

So why does it matter where your site is hosted? Because the success of your site depends on the success (or at least cleanliness) of all the other sites on your server.

Here’s how it works: On a $7.99/month host package, your beautiful corporate site is nestled between nearly 7,000 other sites — all on the same server.

That’s right: 7,000.

Of those 7,000 sites, about 6,590 are pornography sites or attack sites (which contain dangerous viruses meant to destroy any website or computer they touch).

The only thing separating your site from these sites is a flimsy little server partition. While theoretically a server partition should keep you safe, viruses and malicious software inevitably somehow manage to break through. It’s sort of how you catch a cold after the guy in the office (even with a closed door) catches a cold.

Think of it this way: Would you move your corporate offices to the dirtiest, most crime-ridden part of town? Then why put your website there? Just say no to cheap (shared) hosting.

Better answer

When looking for a host, either shell out the bucks for a dedicated server or work with a developer who has a dedicated server that the company runs for its clients. Request a list of websites that are hosted on that server and then visit them all to make sure there are no attack sites.

If your host refuses to provide a list, then you are probably going to get into trouble somewhere along the line.

A dedicated server is about $150/month, but you will have a clean environment for your website. If you’re part of a trade association, you can offer to share the cost of this dedicated server with some of your friends. They can all host their sites on the server (all with their own separate log-ins, of course) and then you get all the security of a dedicated server with shared cost.

Too much trouble?

I know you think this is overkill, but that’s only because your site hasn’t been hacked yet.

I’ve heard grown men weep and young men promise me their firstborn if I can get their site back up after an attack. There are few things more upsetting than visiting your website, only to see the red attack screen with a warning from your browser that the site contains malicious software.

So file this one under “better safe than sorry” and “stop thinking with your wallet” — and let’s all get a better hosting plan. Hopefully you’ll see the wisdom in it.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at marci@mdvinteractive.com.