Today I was doing research for the optimal hosting provider for my new business (ContextQ). I had fairly modest needs, but with anything that requires a commitment of time, or perhaps even more important, that technology works as intended, I am a stickler for research and especially customer reviews or testimonials. Perhaps I even go a bit overboard. (My daughter and fiancée would say I definitely go overboard.)
Like anyone reading this (I imagine), I am fairly used to getting around the web, and fairly used to sorting the wheat from the chaff. However, I was not quite prepared for the chaff-to-wheat ratio of this particular type of search. The level of bogus pages to actually useful reviews was astounding.
In hindsight, it makes sense. The web hosting sites are all going to use whatever tools they have in their arsenal to make sure that their entries appear top-most in any search results. These folks are perfectly equipped to spin up as many “sites” as needed to saturate the search engines.
Many of these pages purport to be unbiased, but are clearly propped up shills for various hosts.
I guess I should say at this point that I don’t know for a fact whether any of these pages are shills. I suppose it’s possible that they could be very badly-written and horribly incomplete attempts at unbiased reviews, but I doubt it. What follows then is a recounting of my searching efforts and my opinion about the sites I found. I did find some good pages, and I will link to those in the end.
I should also say that I think the proportion of negative reviews to positive is pretty high. The energy to fuel a review that comes from frustration is much higher than the energy that comes from complacent satisfaction. A sad but commonplace fact of human nature. This is what steered me away from my original plan of having my page hosted by the original registrar of my domain.
1) The first phenomenon I encountered was the pseudo comparison page:
What’s interesting is that each page promotes the service that is contained in the domain name. It’s not that they are biased toward a particular provider; it’s just that they are almost information-free. My guess is that these pages exist simply to support referral revenue.
2) So, what were the mediocre sites? (By mediocre I mean: has what may be legitimate reviews, but only for selected hosting providers).
Amazingly enough, two of my “go-to” sites for reviews (PCMag & CNet) had next to nothing to offer for web hosting.
3) What were the “bad” sites? (By bad I mean, deceptively or poorly organized and clearly biased). [Note that I am not linking to the bad sites …]
4) So, what were the decent sites? (By decent I mean not stellar, but a good faith attempt at real reviews and balanced coverage).
webhostingsecretrevealed.com (good supplemental info)
5) So, what were the good sites?
What did I end up doing?
I went with a hosting provider that a trusted friend had recently selected. I did also vet the reviews for this provider, but that was a secondary, confirming effort. The decisions and opinions of friends count for a lot!
A tangent: What is needed?
It’s a safe statement that Google’s behavior-derived valuation of pages and their robust web-crawling revolutionized the web. I remember (pre-google) when the problem was that the page was there, but there was no catalog or spider that linked to it so if you didn’t already know the URL you were SOL.
We seem to have solved the indexing problem, but now there is too much garbage in the search results. And the “chaff” is smart enough to generate sufficient clicks to appear in top search results.
I am hopeful that the additional value offered by search engines like Kumo/Bing will help us humans find the wheat again. Let’s hope for a chaff-factor to make its way into the bigger search engines.
Final note: if I had known the hassle and delay involved in transferring a domain, I probably would have just let my original registrar host my site. Live and learn. (I can hear my daughter and fiancée chuckling now…)