Why You Should Take Web Hosting Reviews with a Grain of Salt

web hosting review

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Whether you’re preparing to launch your first website or you’re interested in switching Web hosting companies, you’ve probably thought about reading a few Web hosting reviews. After all, you’ll get to see what real customers think of the different hosting companies and that’s a good thing, right? Well, yes. But the term “Web hosting review” can sometimes be a little bit misleading.

We want you to always know what you’re getting into, and that includes understanding Web hosting reviews, how they work, the different types that exist, and how you can weed out misleading information. Let’s break it down:

What are Web Hosting Reviews?

Web hosting reviews are ideally honest reviews written by real customers. Some will be good. Some will share some bad experiences. Some will be downright vicious. Still others will seem fairly balanced.

For example, I host several of my own sites with HostGator. I love the company, and they would have to screw up pretty badly for me to ever leave them. I recommend that host to everyone who’s starting out and looking to host multiple sites. I’ve reviewed them favorably on my own blogs, and I give private reviews and referrals fairly often. That said, when I review something I’m almost never completely “glowy.” Very little in this life is perfect, and the same goes for Web hosting companies. There have been some problems over the years. However, compared to my previous host the problems were incredibly minor. On top of it, their support team is always a pleasure to work with and they’ve always fixed my problems quickly.

That’s what a real customer review might look like. You’ll also find Web hosting review sites that specialize in ranking or “reviewing” Web hosting companies. These reviews are a little different. Now don’t get me wrong. Sometimes these reviews are written by people with real experience with the hosting companies. But other times they’re not. These “reviews” are really just profiles that allow you to look at different features for different hosting companies side by side, and the “reviewer” might rank them or place a grade on them based on those features rather than actual experiences.

Why would Web hosting review sites do this? Generally it’s because:

  • It’s information a lot of people are searching for (meaning a lot of potential site traffic).
  • There’s money in it.
affiliate marketing

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Let’s look at that second reason. When you go to review sites, you’ll often find a lot of affiliate advertisements for different Web hosting companies. That’s the reason the reviews exist — to pull in visitors through search who are interested in a hosting company and then to try to sell them on that hosting package through their affiliate link.

What’s so Bad About an Affiliate Link?

Let me be clear. I don’t believe there is anything at all wrong with affiliate links in general. In fact I find that they’re an excellent way to hand pick products, sites, and companies that you can genuinely get behind while monetizing your websites and blogs.

Then why did I bother to bring them up? Because affiliate links (or let’s say “an overabundance of affiliate links”) can be a sign that a Web hosting review is all about the money and not really about giving you honest information that can help you make decisions about which hosting company to choose.

I’m not saying that a review can’t be trusted if there is an affiliate link present. What I’m saying is that a site needs to build trust before throwing affiliate-sponsored reviews around. Site readers need to have a feel for the owner and / or author so they know when to trust a review and when something is simply there for the sponsorship money. That comes with time.

What would concern me as a reader would be if every single Web hosting company on a hosting review site was reviewed positively, with little to no downsides ever listed, with no personal anecdotes shared, and with affiliate links plastered all over the page to try to get you to sign up. One link early on? OK. It might direct you to the site to learn more for yourself. One call to action link near the end to try to get you to sign up? I’d be cool with that too. It makes sense — inform the reader than give them the opportunity to take action. But if there’s an affiliate link in every paragraph or big flashing banners all along the page, I’d run.

Other Things to Consider With Web Hosting Reviews

The biggest thing to consider when reading a Web hosting review is the intention of that review. We’ve already discussed that in detail. There are other things to look out for though. Here are a few things to pay attention to:

  • angry customer

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    Overly negative reviews — Is a review completely scathing? Don’t be so quick to judge the hosting company based on that alone. Some customers blow even the tiniest things out of proportion if they don’t get their way (let’s face it — the customer isn’t always right), and sometimes one-time problems do happen. The review is probably the exception and not the rule. How can you tell? Look at other reviews of the same Web hosting company. Are most of them very negative? Then there might be something to it, and it might be better to choose another host. Are others positive? Then you probably just stumbled across someone who was having a bad day or an unusually bad experience.

  • Reviews that sound too similar — Do a lot of those really negative reviews you found sound the same? You might want to ignore them or give other reviews more weight in your decision. It could be that a heavily disgruntled customer is leaving reviews all over the Web to try to hurt the host’s business. Even worse, sometimes unscrupulous competitors will do this under fake customer names, but making very similar complaints. Don’t be so quick to sign up if a lot of positive reviews sound too similar either! You might have come across a company rep or even someone pushing their affiliate links trying to get more sign-ups.
  • Reviews that contain no opinions — A review by its very definition should include someone’s opinion. We’ve already talked about profiles “reviews” versus real reviews, but I want to reiterate this point — if it contains just facts about packages, it’s not really a review. By all means, look at the profile information too. Just understand up front what you’re looking at.
  • Generic comments — If all of the opinions in a review are fairly generic, I’d have to question whether or not the reviewer really had experience with the company. For example, if I’m talking to someone about HostGator, I’d probably tell them about when some of my stats were lost, but then how the company helped me figure out the issue. Maybe I’d share a story about how my .htaccess files became royally screwed up somehow (still not sure what I did), and the guys with HostGator spent all night working with me to create backups and replacements until we sorted out all of the issues. That’s personal experience; it’s not a generic review. Comments like “I love this host,” “The host is so easy to work with,” etc. don’t necessarily tell you much. That’s not to say that you should disregard every generic comment, but rather that you should supplement them with more in-depth reviews to give you insight into the company before making decisions.

Switching hosting companies or getting setup for the first time isn’t easy. It’s a good idea to know what you’re getting into up front, and reading plenty of Web hosting reviews when comparing hosting companies is a great way to start the process. They might not help you find the perfect host alone, but they can absolutely help you weed out some of the not-so-great choices for your needs. Just be careful when you read these Web hosting reviews so you don’t buy into bad information and end up misled.


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4 Comments

  1. Web hosting is the most dangerous area in terms of fake reviews, I think. So this is some valuable piece of advice, thanks.

  2. It used to be that web hosting reviews would attempt to be honest impartial reviews when they are in reality doing to the review in order to pitch the web hosting company that they are an affiliate for.

    While I don’t think there is anything wrong with pitching an affiliate product especially if it’s a quality product. This tactic acting like an impartial party is kind of sneaky. However I think this has to change now due to the recent FTC changes regarding disclosure of affiliate links.

  3. Yep, the FTC rules apply (but only to those writers or review sites based in the U.S.). I’ll be starting the review series here soon actually, and I’ll be abiding by them. Here it’s a little bit different in that I’m a staff writer on the site and not the owner — I therefore get paid the same no matter what opinion I give in a review, and I don’t directly earn from the inclusion of affiliate links. And from a previous discussion it seems the owner and I are of the same mind regarding keeping all reviews honest (I’ve been asked to work with the less ethical types on review projects where they want to force positive reviews, and when those situations come up, I walk away — I’m not the type to sell my integrity for a quick buck). So hopefully that’s something you’ll never have to worry about here. :)

  4. I really enjoyed this post. I’m convinced that some of the “just in it for the commissions” review sites are also resorting to using typo domains of the hosting companies in their reviews, and then rake in commissions from them with the stolen traffic.

    I’m going to dig into this further – it’s a scam that’s infesting the hosting industry affiliate programs and needs cleaning up.. by the hosting companies who are losing the stolen profits.

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