Monthly Archives: March 2015

Drupal and WordPress Have Sold Us Out

Don't trust web hosting recommendations. They are always bullshit (at least that should be your attitude until proven otherwise*).

First off, I'm not the first person to know or say this. It's been known in the industry and by tech savvy users since forever. TechCrunch even wrote web hosting reviews are a cesspool when they covered this site. It's this pervasive semi-secret that everyone seems to have accepted, but it screws over countless people who aren't in on the secret. They get tricked into using sub-par services that authorities are recommending.

 

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Let's take a look at Drupal's hosting recommendations page:

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Oh that's interesting. What does that disclaimer say?

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These companies are great choices but you don't endorse them? That seems like a nonsense disclaimer. The only reason they have such a stupid disclaimer is because if you click that advertising policy you find out those spots are sold to the highest bidder and based on nothing but how much a company is paying.

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At least in the past they were upfront about how much they cost. If you go further back you can even see shared hosting prices.

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$7,000/month for the top spot and you must sponsor events. So we're talking $100,00/year commitment roughly. They've removed that pricing information though and one can only assume raised prices since 2013 (we saw PaaS jump from $100 to $500/month). They changed the wording to "minimum monthly guarantee plus an affiliate commission once the guarantee is met." The hosting companies must still be making a lot of money, let's get even more from them.

So when did they give up even listing companies that didn't pay? Seems around 2011 you could be a bronze level hosting provider without payment or affiliate commission.

So when did they sell out? 2010-2011 it would seem. If you look at the 2010 version of the hosting advertising document they still demanded affiliate links to be tier 1 and tier 2, but at least they pretended to care with language like this, "Retains a high Better Business Bureau rating and consistent positive reviews around the Internet" and being a member of Drupal Organization didn't cost thousands. Tier 3 seems to be bronze equivalent and free.

So since approximately 2010, quality didn't even factor into their 'great choices,' but what does factor into it today? If you're a member of the Drupal Hosting Supporter Program, which is just another fee. They even do a security test!

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Oh right. You're not required to pass a Drupal security test to become a member. Thanks for your money and here, have a badge, you're awesome! That payment ensures you can pay us more and get priority to pass us more money for your advertisement to be masqueraded around as a recommendation, but not really since we say you're great but not endorse you.

Update (4/21/2015): I managed to find Drupal's 990 tax filing. It's fun to see how in 2010 there was zero hosting affiliate income. 2011 had $32,701. 2012 had $219,824. (2011 and 2012 were combined hosting and advertising revenue). 2013 had $247,927 in hosting affiliate revenue.

tl;dr: So selling out pays out pretty nicely.

 

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WordPress.org recommends BlueHost, DreamHost and Laughing Squid. They have for years. Apparently nothing has changed in the WordPress hosting space over that span. Except there's dozens of companies specializing in WordPress hosting. BlueHost and DreamHost are just joining the managed WordPress hosting game and are quite late. But these are the best and brightest for years? Sorry, that's just not true and we've got performance and real consumer opinions to back that statement up. Less than 50% of the opinions on BlueHost we see are favorable. DreamHost isn't much better at 55%.

One thing I am sure of though, is that they are probably pretty good at paying to be listed in places. BlueHost is listed first on both Drupal and WordPress. I can't fathom what sort of money that costs if Drupal is 2% of the CMS market and WordPress is 23.5%. Using some old Drupal numbers, $7,000/month x (23.5 / 2) = $82,250/month. That's ~$1,000,000 per year based on some napkin math.

Need more math? Take a look at Endurance International Group (parent company of BlueHost and many other brands)'s 10-K filing with the SEC. "During the year ended December 31, 2014, the Company made a strategic investment of $15.0 million in Automattic, Inc. (“Automattic”), an entity that provides content management systems associated with WordPress. The investment represents less than 5% of the outstanding shares of Automattic and better aligns the Company with an important partner."

How important is that relationship? "In addition to word-of mouth, PPC and reseller and referral channels, we have also entered into strategic partnerships, such as our partnership with Google through the “Get Your Business Online” initiative in the United States, India, Africa and Southeast Asia and our strategic alliance with WordPress, which help us reach additional subscribers." It's mentioned as one of two partnerships that they called out specifically by name at the top of their filing. Pretty damn important.

But is that even plausible? Sure. More gems from the 10-K filing, "The Company engages in sales and marketing through various online marketing channels, which include affiliate and search marketing as well as online partnerships. The Company expenses sales and marketing costs as incurred. For the years ended December 31, 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Company’s sales and marketing costs were $83.1 million, $117.7 million and $146.8 million, respectively." So between PPC, Affiliates and Partnerships they spent nearly 150 million last year.

Update (April 2, 2015): It's been pointed out that WordPress and Automattic are separate entities, but both are run by Matt. I've also managed to find WordPress Foundation 990 document for 2013. It shows $848,925 in contributions/grants. My best guess is that is mostly the web hosting recommendation 'donations.' If I am correct, my napkin math doesn't seem to bad considering that number more than doubled from 2012's $357,451. I can't wait to see 2014's numbers, if the trend continues they definitely should clear that one million dollars I guessed.

This is why we can't have nice things

Do I blame BlueHost (and EIG) or any of the other companies paying to be listed and get these deals? Nope. I've even privately told friends running companies in these spaces that it's probably worth it for them to be paying to get listed. Competition is fierce and whomever has the most customers and reach is winning the game. Ask GoDaddy or EIG. They will go to whatever length they need to in order to get new clients and that's their job. I expect that behavior from the web hosting companies.

I am disappointed in WordPress and Drupal though. They've sold out their community for presumably a fairly large sums of money. At least call it what it is and be transparent they are ads and not real recommendations without using intentionally misleading language. The best and brightest and great companies these are not. These are the companies who paid you the most money.

*So where does that leave people looking for honest web hosting reviews?

Here at Review Signal. Of course. We have a vested interest in telling this story. And if you listened to the first thing I wrote you've got a healthy dose of skepticism (great!) about Review Signal too. Web hosting reviews are bullshit. That's why I started this site and the only way to cut through bullshit is with transparency. Every algorithm we use to display / rank companies is published in our How It Works section. We also link every single review to its original source (on Twitter) so you can verify who said it and if you're really interested, figure out their intent. We publish how and what we classify as positive and negative reviews.  So what we're left with is Trust, But Verify. Our entire system can be verified by anyone with enough will to go through it.

Is it perfect? Nope. Based on the scale of data we process, it's almost entirely automated, and automated classifiers make mistakes. Luckily our users report mistakes, we fix them and our system tries to learn from its mistakes by getting better and better over the long run.

We also have affiliate deals with most companies. That's the most common complaint against us. It's impossible to compete for free and maintain this technology without making some money. Affiliate deals can be corrupting when they pay so much, but our belief is that the transparency protects us manipulating the rankings based on affiliate pay. Currently, the highest rated company on Review Signal, FlyWheel, doesn't even have an affiliate program. I hope for my financial sake that they do open one in the future, but will that change FlyWheel's ranking? Not one bit. (Update: FlyWheel did announce their affiliate program and Review Signal was just accepted into it)

If you're ready to see what honest reviews look like, check out our web hosting reviews.

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Arvixe Web Hosting Reviews

I'm pleased to announce in our effort to maintain the best web hosting reviews, we've added yet another company to our database here at Review Signal. Introducing Arvixe Web Hosting Reviews. They are one of the few companies we track that offers Windows web hosting. They also offer nearly every type of hosting: Shared, Reseller, VPS, Cloud, and Dedicated.

Arvixe was purchased by Endurance International Group in October 2014. EIG is the parent company of many brands listed on Review Signal: A Small Orange, BlueHost, HostGator, HostMonster, iPage, JustHost, and NetFirms. EIG brands span the gamut in terms of ratings at Review Signal. A Small Orange is one of the top rated companies we track. Unfortunately, Arvixe joins the majority of the EIG brands on the lower half of our ratings.

See Arvixe's Overall Rating over the past year below:

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Check Out Arvixe Web Hosting Reviews

 

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Site5 Web Hosting Reviews

I'm pleased to announce we've added Site5 on Review Signal today.

Site5 currently has 707 reviews, with 431 positive ones giving it a 61% overall rating. That makes Site5 our 4th highest rated Shared Webhost. They also focus on Reseller and Managed VPS hosting.

You can see Site5's performance over the past year below:

Site5-trend2015-03-24

Read Site5 Reviews

 

Playing With Data for Fun and Profit (SlideShare Presentation)

Original post from my personal blog

I was asked to talk at Howard University to their digital business class, which focuses on the use of Social Media, Mobile Apps & Platforms, Data Analytics, and Cloud Computing as strategic assets to be utilized in business.

If anyone is curious to learn about the history of Review Signal and where the idea came:

I also built a demo to let the students learn about and play with sentiment analysis in real-time. It used the Movie Review corpus from Cornell. It's a very primitive keyword based system but I thought illustrated the concept well.

Sentiment Analysis Demo

The demo is the close to the first try I made at sentiment analysis. What is in use at Review Signal is infinitely more complex, but if you're curious to learn about sentiment analysis and prefer visual learning, I think it suits that purpose well.

Kinsta WordPress Hosting Review

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This post is based off WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks (2014).

 

Overview

Kinsta is yet another new comer in our testing with something to prove. Kinsta easily shot to the top of our performance charts. Kinsta's plans have changed quite a bit since we tested them. When our testing was done they offered a $27/month plan. However, they've gone up-market and their cheapest plan is now $157/month. It seems they're targeting people who want serious performance.

The Plan

All testing was done on a shared account, which is no longer available.  This plan tested had 1 WordPress site, 1GB SSD disk space, 50GB bandwidth and costs $27/month.

Performance

LoadStorm

The first performance test was done with LoadStorm. Kinsta made it to the final round of testing where 2000 concurrent users were logging into WordPress and browsing the test site. The test was designed to test non-cached performance by logging users into WordPress. It caused many hosting setups to crumble. You can see Kinsta's result in this graph (click on it to play with the interactive results):

Load-Storm-Kinsta-2000

 

Kinsta aced the LoadStorm test. It had zero errors and one of the fastest average response times at 316ms. Kinsta also had the absolute lowest peak response time at 942ms. That's an astonishing feat, that over 30 minutes Kinsta served nearly 250,000 requests and not a single one took over a second to be delivered. Amazing.

Blitz

The second load test that was run on Kinsta was Blitz. Blitz was used to test cached performance. It simply requested the home page from 1-2000 times per second.

Blitz-Kinsta-2000

I can't draw lines this straight. The response time was flat. As you would expect from a company that aced the cache busting test, they didn't struggle in the slightest. Full Blitz Results (PDF)

Uptime

Two third-party uptime monitoring services (StatusCake and UptimeRobot) tracked the test site for a month. The results for Kinsta were perfect. 100% uptime according to both sources.

WebPageTest

“WebPagetest is an open source project that is primarily being developed and supported by Google as part of our efforts to make the web faster.” WebPageTest grades performance and allows you to run tests from multiple locations simulating real users. Kinsta was tested from Dulles, VA, Miami, FL, Denver, CO, and Los Angeles, CA.

Company Dulles,VA Miami, FL Denver, CO Los Angeles, CA Average
Kinsta 0.759 0.752 0.947 0.592 0.7625

Kinsta had the second fastest average response time of all the companies we tested. No issues with this test in the slightest.

Conclusion

Kinsta, a new-comer to our testing, jumped straight to the top of the performance tiers. Kinsta’s performance was amazing in the Load Storm 2000 logged in user test. They had the lowest peak response time and zero errors over a 30 minute test. They didn’t struggle with any tests whatsoever and showed zero downtime. Kinsta’s performance was undoubtedly top tier.

Visit Kinsta

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WebSynthesis WordPress Hosting Review

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This post is based off WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks (2014).

 

Overview

WebSynthesis [Reviews] had an extremely strong showing in our first round of testing once I got by a security issue. They managed to defend their status as a top tier WordPress web host.

The Plan

All testing was done on a VPS account. The plan tested had 2 GB ram, 40 GB disk space, 650 GB bandwidth, 20,000 visitors/day and costs $97/month.

Performance

LoadStorm

The first performance test was done with LoadStorm. WebSynthesis made it to the final round of testing where 2000 concurrent users were logging into WordPress and browsing the test site. The test was designed to test non-cached performance by logging users into WordPress. It caused many hosting setups to crumble. You can see WebSynthesis's result in this graph (click on it to play with the interactive results):

Load-Storm-WebSynthesis-2000

 

WebSynthesis stayed under the threshold of 0.5% error rate, but it was close. This grueling 2000 user test really put a strain on the server as you can see from the spikes but it held for 30 minutes without failing.

Blitz

The second load test that was run on WebSynthesis was Blitz. Blitz was used to test cached performance. It simply requested the home page from 1-2000 times per second.

Blitz-WebSynthesis-2000

WebSynthesis was better than flat. There is a slight downward trend in response time. WebSynthesis led the pack, again, delivering 57,776 hits in one minute with a single error. The best results of anyone on this test. Full Blitz Results (PDF)

Uptime

Two third-party uptime monitoring services (StatusCake and UptimeRobot) tracked the test site for a month. The results for WebSynthesis were 100% uptime according to both sources, again.

WebPageTest

“WebPagetest is an open source project that is primarily being developed and supported by Google as part of our efforts to make the web faster.” WebPageTest grades performance and allows you to run tests from multiple locations simulating real users. WebSynthesis was tested from Dulles, VA, Miami, FL, Denver, CO, and Los Angeles, CA.

Company Dulles,VA Miami, FL Denver, CO Los Angeles, CA Average
WebSynthesis 0.407 0.835 0.982 1.024 0.7812

WebSynthesis handled this test fine. In fact, they had the single fastest average page load from a single location of any company at 0.407 seconds from Dulles, VA.

Conclusion

WebSynthesis [Reviews] was teetering on the Load Storm test of having too many errors (0.5%), but they were under it and handled the test quite well. They also had no weird security issues this time around, and WebSynthesis led the pack on Blitz testing. They went from 871 hits/second last time to 963 hits/second this time; leading every provider on the Blitz tests with a whopping 1 error to boot. Sprinkle in some perfect up time numbers and it’s clear WebSynthesis is still a top tier provider and is continuing to get better.

Visit WebSynthesis

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Pagely WordPress Hosting Review

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This post is based off WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks (2014).

 

Overview

Pagely came in with a title to defend. Pagely was one of the top tier web hosts in our first round of testing and didn't show any signs of struggling. My biggest complaint was SFTP was an addon, which they now include with every account. Performance-wise Pagely was back at it again with another top tier performance.

The Plan

All testing was done on a shared account, the Personal / Business plan.  This plan allows for 1 WordPress site, 5GB disk space, 10GB bandwidth and costs $24/month.

Performance

LoadStorm

The first performance test was done with LoadStorm. Pagely made it to the final round of testing where 2000 concurrent users were logging into WordPress and browsing the test site. The test was designed to test non-cached performance by logging users into WordPress. It caused many hosting setups to crumble. You can see Pagely's result in this graph (click on it to play with the interactive results):

Load-Storm-Pagely-2000

 

Pagely did well on this test. There was one error total which caused a response time spike (blue line in the graph). Other than a single error, the performance was impeccable.

Blitz

The second load test that was run on Pagely was Blitz. Blitz was used to test cached performance. It simply requested the home page from 1-2000 times per second.

Blitz-Pagely-2000

Pagely's Blitz result was exemplary. There were 43 timeouts and errors combined. There was a near flat response time which means it had no issues at all. Pagely didn't blink at this test, as expected based on their performance last time on this test. Full Blitz Results (PDF)

Uptime

Two third-party uptime monitoring services (StatusCake and UptimeRobot) tracked the test site for a month. The results for Pagely were 99.95% and 100% uptime. It's hard to complain about those numbers or find any issue with Pagely's uptime.

WebPageTest

“WebPagetest is an open source project that is primarily being developed and supported by Google as part of our efforts to make the web faster.” WebPageTest grades performance and allows you to run tests from multiple locations simulating real users. Pagely was tested from Dulles, VA, Miami, FL, Denver, CO, and Los Angeles, CA.

Company Dulles,VA Miami, FL Denver, CO Los Angeles, CA Average
Pagely 6.831 0.86 0.913 0.709 2.32825

Pagely was the only company that had any issue with the WebPageTest component of our testing. The test from Dulles had bizarrely high load times for no explicable reason. The other locations were all sub one second, so I dismissed it as a real issue because it's likely some fluke networking issue. But there was a weird networking issue.

Conclusion

Pagely easily defended its title as one of the top tier WordPress hosts. They handled the Load Storm test with 1 error. Blitz results stayed similar to the last run. They handled more hits, but had a few more errors+timeouts (1 last time, 43 this time). If performance is the name of the game, Pagely continues to be at the forefront.

Visit Pagely

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LightningBase WordPress Hosting Review

lightningbaselogo1600x290bThis post is based off WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks (2014).

 

Overview

LightningBase was a new comer to our WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks. Lightning Base's founder, Chris Piepho, was incredibly helpful giving feedback on how the testing in Round 1 was done. His feedback played a bit part in the differences you see in Round 2, namely, cache busting. So it's without a large surprise that someone that cares so deeply about performance that their own service did remarkably well in our testing.

The Plan

All testing was done on a shared account, the Personal plan.  The personal plan allows for 1 WordPress site, 10,000 visits/month, 1GB SSD disk space, 10GB bandwidth, 20GB CDN and costs $9.95/month.

Performance

LoadStorm

The first performance test was done with LoadStorm. LightningBase made it to the final round of testing where 2000 concurrent users were logging into WordPress and browsing the test site. The test was designed to test non-cached performance by logging users into WordPress. It caused many hosting setups to crumble. You can see LightningBase's result in this graph (click on it to play with the interactive results):

 

Load-Storm-Lightning-Base-2000

LightningBase handled the test with minimal errors (23) and showed minimal signs of struggling with the load. There appears to be a bit of delay every so often that looks like a cache update. Other than that minor detail it looks excellent.

Blitz

The second load test that was run on LightningBase was Blitz. Blitz was used to test cached performance. It simply requested the home page from 1-2000 times per second.

Blitz-LightningBase-2000

LightningBase's Blitz result looks textbook. There were no errors and no timeouts. There was a near flat response time which means it had no issues at all. LightningBase aced our Blitz testing. Full Blitz Results (PDF)

Uptime

Two third-party uptime monitoring services (StatusCake and UptimeRobot) tracked the test site for a month. The results for LightningBase in both cases was perfect uptime. In the uptime department, LightningBase had a flawless performance.

WebPageTest

“WebPagetest is an open source project that is primarily being developed and supported by Google as part of our efforts to make the web faster.” WebPageTest grades performance and allows you to run tests from multiple locations simulating real users. LightningBase was tested from Dulles, VA, Miami, FL, Denver, CO, and Los Angeles, CA.

Company Dulles,VA Miami, FL Denver, CO Los Angeles, CA Average
LightningBase 0.584 0.787 0.936 0.675 0.7455

There was absolutely no issues with their WebPageTest results. LightningBase had the fastest average load time of every host compared in our testing.

Conclusion

LightningBase is another new-comer that jumped straight to the top. One of the cheapest too starting at under $10 per month. LightningBase aced the Blitz testing and did excellent on Load Storm tests. There was zero downtime monitored. LightningBase belongs in the top tier of WordPress hosting companies and is delivering amazing value on top of their stellar performance benchmarks.

Visit Lightning Base

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Media Temple WordPress Hosting Review

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This post is based off WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks, where you can read the full details of how Media Temple performed against the competition.

Overview

MediaTemple [Reviews] is a new entrant into the managed WordPress hosting space along with its parent brand GoDaddy. It was acquired by GoDaddy in 2013 and both have jumped head first into the WordPress space sharing a lot of technology. Media Temple has a generally more positive reputation than its parent company and targets developers and designers with a premium offering. MT wasn't in our first round of testing but they did very well in our second round of testing. Media Temple also recently changed their plans and pricing structure, offering plans that scale much higher than the one size fits all plan originally offered. The plan used during our testing was more expensive and had a slightly fewer features. So it seems new customers would get slightly better value and the ability to scale.

The Plan

All testing was done on Media Temple's WordPress hosting package. The plan had 20GB of SSD disk space, unlimited bandwidth usage, allowed 3 sites and had Git and Staging technology. The cost was $29/month.

Performance

LoadStorm

The first performance test was done with LoadStorm. Media Temple made it to the final round of testing where 2000 concurrent users were logging into WordPress and browsing the test site. The test was designed to test non-cached performance by logging users into WordPress. It caused many hosting setups to crumble. You can see MT's result in this graph (click on it to play with the interactive results):

 

Load-Storm-Media-Temple-2000

Media Temple handled this test barely showing signs of struggle. A staggering low error count of 9 (out of more than 249,000 requests)  one of the lowest peak response times at under 1.5 seconds.

Blitz

The second load test that was run on Media Temple was Blitz. Blitz was used to test cached performance. It simply requested the home page from 1-2000 times per second.

Blitz-Media-Temple-2000

Media Temple's Blitz results were near textbook. Flat response times while users scaled to 2000 and a <0.1% error+timeout rate. Full Blitz Results (PDF)

Uptime

Two third-party uptime monitoring services (StatusCake and UptimeRobot) tracked the test site for a month. The results for Media Temple showed 99.81% and 100% uptime respectively.

WebPageTest

“WebPagetest is an open source project that is primarily being developed and supported by Google as part of our efforts to make the web faster.” WebPageTest grades performance and allows you to run tests from multiple locations simulating real users. MT was tested from Dulles, VA, Miami, FL, Denver, CO, and Los Angeles, CA.

Company Dulles,VA Miami, FL Denver, CO Los Angeles, CA Average
Media Temple 1.516 0.983 0.955 0.555 1.00225

There was absolutely no issues with their WebPageTest results, it loaded very quickly with a great average speed of one second.

Conclusion

MediaTemple [Reviews] is interesting because I was told it was running the same technology as GoDaddy (GoDaddy bought Media Temple a year ago). They have a few more premium features like Git and a staging environment. Media Temple’s performance was superb. It actually beat GoDaddy’s performance in just about every measure by a marginal amount on both Load Storm and Blitz’s load testing. If GoDaddy's WordPress Hosting has top tier performance, Media Temple certainly does as well.

 

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