I thought some of you might be interested about my experiences with having my own website. Why? Because maybe you’re thinking about starting a blog or website and don’t know where to start. Anyways, here’s my entire history of websites, the ups and downs and everything in between.
Around 1995, I had an AMD K6-2 400MHz desktop with a CGA monitor. Yep, CGA. Text! This was pretty limiting, and I used Lynx and PINES – all that early days stuff. It was the Internet – ooh! Was pretty cool. I’d had a few BBSes in the late 80’s and early 90’s I ran. That was a lot of fun – except the fact that calling a town less than 20 miles away was long distance where I lived. Time passed though and I got a better computer and the phone company decided to allow people to call that little town 20 miles away as part of local calling.
Around 1998, I got a hold of an old Apple Performa 6320CD. I had been tinkering with Netscape Communicator’s Netscape Composer app – it was like a WYSIWYG web page design app – easy to use and fun. I started running a web server off of the Apple (WebStar) and in the next year got cable broadband. Ah the speed! No more connect tones – it was all so nice.
In 2001, I found out about this company called NameZero. They offered a free one year’s worth of any domain name. Anything! So, I started registering some domain names. I used DHS.org to redirect the domains to my server, and everything worked pretty well. I played around with Flash animation a bit, and it was a lot of fun.
In 2002, I registered www.ramenrater.com and made a simple table in Netscape Composer. These very short and simple reviews were where everything started, albeit quite inept and nothing more than a curiosity at the time. I did about 50-60 reviews on and off for the next year or so and then stopped when I started the Atkins’ Diet and switched to reviewing hot sauces with www.saucerater.com. That was a lot of fun – I did kind of the same thing – contacting hot sauce makers and asking for samples, and met a lot of nice people. But after 250+ reviews, I found most of them to be about the same and had all but dropped off the diet too.
In 2009, I thought why not do something with The Ramen Rater again. I copy/pasted the reviews over onto a Blogger.com site and thought maybe it would be fun to start again. I did maybe 5 reviews.
Later in the year, my life became turned upside down from divorce. I ended up moving back to the little town that didn’t have long distance way back in the day and lived in a friend’s garage. Times were tough, and instant noodles again seemed like something of a respite. I got a $9 single electric burner, had a pot, and had my computer. I was using a Wi-Fi antenna that was spotty at best to share signal with my friend whose router was in the house about 50 feet away. I decided to also move my site over to WordPress.com, the free option.
In December, I found the woman of my dreams through an online dating site – she was all the way down in California and it seemed an impossibility; I don’t drive as I’m legally blind, I’m poor, and that was just so far away. The first night we talked for six hours. The following days were amazing – Christmas Eve we talked on the phone for a total of 14 hours. She was going through an ugly divorce as well, and we connected through mutual understanding of how horrible it felt. Christmas Day, she asked if I would like to come and spend New Year’s with her and she sent me a plane ticket. The worst time of my life became the best and things started happening.
We moved into a small apartment just north of Seattle in early 2010. The lucky part was that it was near a lot of Asian grocery stores. Where I’d lived before, Asian groceries weren’t easily gotten to, and so reviewing now was easy. I started walking to the store every day and buying a pack of instant noodles to bring home and review.
I used 1&1 at this point as my domain registrar, and WordPress.com for hosting, which was free. Easy peasy.
Fast forward to 2012. The site was garnering some attention – the Top Ten List was released. I got in a couple newspapers. Nongshim America had us down to visit. I thought ‘wouldn’t it be neat to have an Android app for people to use to access the website?’ I put out an ad on Craigslist to see if I’d get a bite. I did get quite a few of them, which were mostly spam and was really annoyed. Then I got one from a fellow in Oregon who thought it sounded interesting.
To do the app, the site would need to be hosted by a real hosting provider. After lots of discussion, we partnered up and he started funding The Ramen Rater being hosted at WPEngine.com. WPEngine is a really nice hosting provider – main idea is that they host WordPress – that’s about it. What’s more is that they also give you a ‘sandbox’ for developing your site in the background without actually messing with your site as it’s online. I spent a few months resizing images, giving them all a naming convention, and watermarking everything. It was a lot of hard work but it all got done and it launched in March of 2013.
Since the site wasn’t hosted by WordPress.com anymore, this allowed more freedom. We could host advertising, make serious modifications like The Big List and a special mobile theme, which were all things not allowed with WordPress.com’s free plan. This was great! Only one problem – the site wasn’t generating much money at all and WPEngine was expensive. Really expensive.
Some hosts charge a flat rate for a certain amount of bandwidth. WPEngine charged a flat rate for 100,000 pageviews a month, and then charged a dollar for every 1,000 over. In August, the site hhit 170,000 pageviews and my partner was ready to bail on it. I can’t blame him; it was a lot of money.
At this point I was faced with a choice: what hosting provider do I go with? I looked around and kept seeing HostGator. I thought hey – $15 a month isn’t bad… I can afford that!
So then the process of transferring the site from WPEngine over to HostGator began. It was an arduous journey. What we found was that the WPEngine install of WordPress is rather proprietary; lots of bells and whistles that they add in which made it very difficult to transfer. Finally, the site was transferred to a clean install of WordPress. All Was well, but I was on my own. Pretty daunting. There was some security when the site was on WordPress.com – except the fact that I couldn’t really do a full backup, everything worked and worked well. I felt like if something went wrong and no partner who had a lot of experience, I could be doomed.
At the beginning, I really liked HostGator. They were very nice and everything seemed to work fine. Then it happened – database crashed. Then again. The shared hosting was way too crummy. I ended up having to switch to one of their VPS solutions. $50/month for a single 1.13GHz core, 768MB RAM, 30GB of space and 500GB of bandwidth. Well, this was all fine until I got the database crashing again. Their support said ‘oh – it’s probably because you need a better plan.’ Great. $50 a month and it’s still running poorly. A few weeks later, I got an email. They had upgraded everyone’s hosting plan on my level and now it was a 2.23GHz core, 1GB RAM and 60GB storage. Still, the site was a slug.
Now it’s 2014. I’d gotten a couple advertisers and wanted everything working nicely. I decided to ask a fellow at MOZ.com, an SEO expert who had mentioned my top ten list in one of his articles if there were better hosting providers for the same price. He tweeted to his 300,000+ followers and asked what they thought. Lo and behold, my salvation was here.
Price and speed weren’t the only issues with HostGator. For some reason, they couldn’t invoice me. No clue why, but they said that it only affected a few people and I would just have to tell them monthly to send me a bill. Screw that – that’s ridiculous. Not only that, they were quite rude when I asked if I could get some kind of perk for doing their job for them. The billing/invoicing really was disturbingly inept from the start, and so when I found out about A Small Orange, I was really interested.
For the same $50/mo, I was looking at 2 2.5GHz cores (Xeon), 2GB RAM, 40GB drive space and 1TB of monthly throughput. They also assured me that their billing works just fine.
I also decided that I wanted to transfer my domain to them. 1&1 was still tending to my domains. Moving away from them was an absolute pain in the ass. It was very slow – I know there’s a required time for transfer by ICANN rules, but they use the most allowed. It was horrible. That’s why the site was down for a whole week around the end of March.
A Small Orange facilitated the transfer from HostGator over to their servers quickly and flawlessly. What’s more, they had a deal on April 1st to double your RAM and disk space if you upgrade to the next tier. So now it’s 2 2.5GHz Cores, 5GB RAM, 100GB space and 1.2TB of bandwidth for $60/month. Their service is fast, dependable, and they’re really quite nice – tech support seems to actually read your questions rather than just ‘sort of’ read them and really help you. I’ve not needed to use tech support really much at all.
In closing, my recommendations would be first to look at everyone out there. Going for the cheap-o $15/mo shared hosting isn’t always the best bet; especially if you’re running a WordPress install and expect a lot of traffic. Second, the most expensive hosting doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what you need. Again, research a bit. You can always research later. Finally, for those of you with the burning question: how do I get a ton of people coming to my website/blog. I don’t know. All I do is post every day. I try to be descriptive and include a lot of pictures and a video. Most everything is of my own mind with some referenced material from YouTube and Wikipedia, but most it’s just all my writing and pics. People seem to like that, thankfully and it’s taken a lot of time to make it to this point. If you want to start a blog, just do it and ad to it every day. It’s a lot of fun!
UPDATE: So there’s a new chapter in the story of hosting. So while at the beginning AS Small Orange was absolutely wonderful, downtime and outages kept happening. You see, at first they were awesome – personable and reliable. Then they got bought out but a big company called EIG. EIG buys small hosting companies and adds them to their flock of dozens – one is HostGator. Sure enough, as EIG moved in, A Small Orange’s service and quality diminished bit by bit until I was ready to leave. Even leaving was hard; they didn’t want to refund the $ I’d paid for that month, but after some pushing, I got it back.
So I had to change hosts; something I’m not a big fan of. It’s like moving to a new house – got to make sure you’ve got everything ready and packed up. Well, I went with a company called People’s Host. Being a Bernie Sanders fan, I liked the sound of the name. I also liked how anti-EIG they were. I spent some time talking to a guy named Adam about the transfer. Everything he told me happened and everything went through perfectly smooth. It’s going well and anytime I have an issue, I get a response. They’re fast, knowledgeable and good people. So I’m currently very happy. The end!