Update circa 2013: Since launching, our review process has received positive feedback. Here’s an excerpt from Joe Eitel’s piece on Developer Shed:
“Essentially, Clickfire will be the one guaranteed reliable source online where users can be certain that the reviews offered are not influenced by web hosting marketers whose influence completely clouds objectivity, as is the case with many websites claiming to provide trustworthy web hosting reviews.”
In this article, I explain the Clickfire web host review process which we have developed over the years and are now formally adopting wherein independant reviewers:
- log in and evaluate each host
- Install scripts, upload files, test speed
- Interact with customer support
- Report strengths and weaknesses
- Rate each host
We review all sorts of products and website apps here at Clickfire, essentially anything of interest to someone who wrangles with websites. And by review, I mean our writers give a general critical assessment of what they have experienced themselves or uncovered from their investigations and research. This might include a features summary, comparisons, how to, downloads and recommendations with or without affiliated advertiser links. There is no set methodology for writing reviews. The form is up to the writer and how they want to present and the readers judge accordingly.
Why Web Host Reviews Must Be Different
Ever wonder why you haven’t seen a web hosting review site with no ads? Web hosting providers are extremely competitive. Many have found that the affiliate advertising model works well for growing their customer base. A website owner recommends his host to visitors and in return receives a referral fee. Larger hosts that have grown because of the success of the affiliate advertising model can offer more bandwidth to customers due to volume purchasing. The host offering the highest bandwidth and most disk space has an easy time selling. Who wants the VW when you can have the Ferrari for the same price?
With all the big bucks being offered for acquisition of new hosting customers coupled with the ease of cut and paste affiliate advertising, it is easy to understand why web host reviews tend to raise suspicion among consumers and invite criticism from website owners. This is why we place our web hosting reviews in a class of their own with a separate set of standards and review process.
A Few Things to get out of the Way
The hosts reviewed at Clickfire are typically shared web hosts that use a control panel user interface like cPanel (cpanel.net). I have used this type of software successfully for many years and it speeds up administration and cuts cost for the weekend website wrangler.
The lowest priced hosting package is normally selected for review.
We don’t review reseller hosting separately. It is my belief that most hosts that offer reseller accounts use the same servers, support and standards as with regular shared accounts. So, as a rule of thumb, the qualities or deficiencies of a provider’s shared hosting package should translate to its reseller side fairly well, if they offer both.
I don’t personally endorse any one host over another. Reviewers can say what they want (more about these guys later). Readers use the reviews as tools to help along in the decision making process.
Clickfire is not a promotional site, but a content site that uses affiliate advertising to earn revenue (in case you haven’t noticed the ads). Clickfire is my 10 year plus labor of love. I like making money. But, I don’t feel right about hyping products just to gain ad revenue.
Reviewers control the ratings. I don’t try and get them to change their reviews. If there is a particularly egregious rating given, I do reserve the right to ask for reconsideration. I don’t change reviews based on requests from web hosting companies—believe me, I have been asked on more than one occasion!
Who are the Web Host Reviewers?
I will tell you that it is horrendously difficult to find a suitable web host reviewer and if you even think you may be cut out for the job, please contact me after reading ahead. To provide the best results for site visitors, web host reviewers must abide by these web host review guidelines. I have performed a few hosting reviews myself and you may find an exception or two, but by and large the people performing the reviews have to meet these qualifications or it doesn’t work.
Independent – We contract reviewers and pay them a set fee. No questionable relationships or under-the-table-deal-making occurs. No one working for or affiliated with the company being reviewed can review that company’s host. No one affiliated with Clickfire or who might benefit from skewing a review is allowed to write web host reviews.
Knowledgeable – Reviewers have to know the inner workings of web hosting providers from the technology to operations. Reviewers have to know where the potential weaknesses lie and where to look for them. For example, in the review of BlueHost, the reviewer phoned in to ask about support for mod_security, Ruby on Rails, PHP 5 support and whether or not he should use localhost as the host name with the script he was trying to install.
Experienced – Reviewers have to be skilled in the ways of web hosting. This means hands on experience working with website files. Many have worked in the web hosting industry or own their own sites and work with hosts regularly.
Honest – We love reviewer opinions! But, I didn’t work this hard to build a site for fellow website owners to then have someone ruin our credibility by distorting the truth. I check for plagiarism and have no sympathy for violators.
Critical – Reviewers have to call it like it is. If a host sucks, say it. If there is an issue with a host, we want to shine the light of truth upon it! Critical skills must go beyond looking at the control panel features. We ask reviewers to look at any possible areas of consumer dissatisfaction and often that includes delving into the host’s terms of service agreement.
Communications Skills – Reviewers have to be able to ask the right questions when performing tests and making inquiries to customer service. For example, in the HostGator review, the reviewer lists his chat log with customer support where he asked about a particular kind of delivery option for overseas customers.
The Hosting Review Process
- First, I contact an independent reviewer and negotiate a price for the review. I mentioned that we pay web host reviewers, but they have to meet a our criteria such as having web hosting industry experience, hands on hosting skills, critical abilities and not having an affiliation with the host being reviewed.
- Once we agree on the price, the reviewer signs up for an account with a web host.
- When the service is active, the reviewer begins to evaluate the host. Usually, the reviewer looks first at the control panel and tries to assess how it stands up for usability.
- Then he starts installing CMS scripts and working with files to test functionality and speed.
- The reviewers can look at any feature or aspect of a host that they want and be as critical as they want. For example, some reviewers look within the fine print of the terms of service, a favorite hiding place for policies that can affect buying decisions and harm consumers.
- Next, the web host reviewer contacts the host directly without the host knowing that they are being reviewed. I ask all reviewers to do this because hosting support is such a big issue with webmasters. The reviewer reports on all this and gives Clickfire readers his assessment based on his personal experience–key point here.
- Each reviewer is required to list specifically what he believes are the pros, cons and bottom line based on what he has seen.
- Finally the reviewer is required to give his rating of between 1 and 5 stars.
- If the host has an affiliate program, I usually install their referral code to recoup expenses (signup, paying the reviewer) and hopefully make a profit.
- Lastly, the web hosting review is published at Clickfire where users add their own comments and the web hosting companies respond if they so choose. I publish both positive and negative comments if they follow basic rules of commenting etiquette.
- One more thing, I place various hosts on the top ten list from time to time with pricing, ratings and highlights of interest so that Clickfire readers can compare them. The list order is subjective and not scientific or based on user rankings. I try and quote the price for the cheapest plans with the lowest possible pricing options. This means that the price is often for the longest duration (2 or 3 years, for example) with the full term typically paid up front and with coupon codes and discounts from Clickfire review pages. The idea is to give you the absolute lowest price available. Prices change and I cannot guarantee the price, but I can tell you that I consider it extremely important to keep updated. Always check the individual hosts for the final word on pricing.
The whole review process from start to finish can take several months, but it’s to sit back when it’s over and read comments and criticisms from users who have tried the services and responses from the hosting companies themselves. I believe that using a methodology like this with standards and guidelines in place, readers can take away something of value that helps them make the right decision as consumers. The best hosts get new customers. I earn money to review more hosts and create more content for Clickfire, which I love doing.
If you have any questions or thoughts on how to improve the process, don’t hesitate to contact me.