Hosting with FatCow: A (Paid) Testimonial

Eclecticism has always been implicit in Diderot’s Diary, but this is something of a first: a review/testimonial (revmonial?) of my hosting provider, FatCow.

Before we begin: In the interest of full disclosure (which is actually a condition of FatCow’s affiliate policy), this post was prompted by a blanket, unsolicited e-mail I received from FatCow encouraging its customers to consider writing an honest review of its services. And there are several operative words in there — encourage, consider, honest — that made the company’s request seem far less pushy and seedy than it might have otherwise.

There was also a juicy carrot on this particular stick. Namely, a $25 account credit, regardless of favorability. I’ve generally been a fan of FatCow, and have mentioned as much on Twitter from time to time, but I’d never had the incentive to devote more than the occasional 140 characters to saying so. The account credit, I admit, made a few extra words seem worthwhile.

FatCow logo

With that out of the way, let the revmonial commence.

I switched to FatCow in late 2011 after maintaining a domain name with GoDaddy for a couple of years. It was GoDaddy’s support (or at least its lack of clear opposition) of SOPA coupled with the site’s hideous, byzantine user interface and the asinine antics of its redneck CEO that prompted me to switch providers.

Among the alternatives, FatCow stood out for a number of reasons:

  • Free domain transfer
  • Free domain name
  • Unlimited storage and bandwidth
  • Dedicated WordPress support
  • 100% wind-energy powered (i.e., energy consumption offset by RECs)
  • Promotional pricing of something like $3 per month

For my purposes (specifically, no-hassle blogging and ubiquitous FTP storage), this feature set was pretty tempting. So I hit the Google circuit. Though there were (and still are) a fair number of gripes about FatCow to be found across the Internet, mainly with regard to its customer service, these tended to be countered by more than their fair share of positive reviews and testimonials about the company.

More or less convinced, I signed up and transferred my domain name. In the process, I started afresh and relaunched my personal and professional websites — which had previously been hosted in a limiting but convenient way with MobileMe and Blogger — as WordPress blogs.

It’s been nearly two years since then, and for the most part I’ve been pleased. Transferring the domain name and changing the MX records to point to Gmail was no more complicated than it would be with any other host. Setting up WordPress multisite wasn’t fun but it was doable, and I think any fiddly intricacies of that process are more a shortcoming of WP than FatCow. Unlike my experience with GoDaddy, FatCow also has a nice control panel that provides an simple, at-a-glance overview of all the features it offers, most of which (like ad credits, PayPal integration, drag-and-drop site creators) I have little use for. Advanced options such as editing the MySQL database or the .htaccess file are top-level; there’s no need to go hunting for them.

The FatCow Control Panel

The FatCow Control Panel

On most occasions my interactions with FatCow tech support have been positive too. When a CNAME entry was giving me jib early on, the America-based phone rep handled the situation promptly and without me having to explain the issue sixteen times. When the WordPress multisite configuration wasn’t going smoothly, a different phone rep (also American) provided as much help as he could offer, even though multisite configuration admittedly didn’t exactly fall under FatCow’s remit.

The only time I’ve been disappointed with FatCow’s customer service was on two related counts of using their live chat feature, which seems to be internationally outsourced and suffers for that reason. Neither chat rep appeared to understand my issue when I said my WordPress install was sluggish on both the front- and backend, and after many terse exchanges and long wait times, I felt like I was given a hasty one-size-fits-all solution (i.e., installing the W3 Total Cache plugin) in an attempt to close the support ticket as quickly as possible. For me to end any customer service interaction feeling satisfied, whether my issue has been resolved or not, it’s important for the reps to be patient, knowledgable and respectful. As I recall, the phone reps have been all three; the chat reps have been none of the above.

That lackluster support incident would seem to be the only hiccup. My WP install has since sped up considerably (despite me deactivating W3 Total Cache). I was also surprised to have recently been assigned a dedicated rep known as a FatCow Web Coach. The Web Coach doesn’t handle tech support questions, unfortunately, but (s)he does help you to “establish your website and expand your presence on the web.” That, I think, means they try to upsell you with Adwords and the like, but my sole conversation with Gillen, my own Web Coach, was anything but unpleasant. She seemed genuinely concerned when I recounted my negative live chat experience, and she conveyed a real curiosity about my actual usage of FatCow’s services. Once I explained that far-reaching self-promotion wasn’t really a focus of my sites, she made no attempt to rope me into premium features. For anyone with more ambitious website goals, however, I can see how a Web Coach might be welcome and useful.

With one year left to go before renewal, nothing has happened so far that would make me want to move away from FatCow. In fact, I feel almost unreservedly positive about remaining with them. Yes, the hosting prices will more than double ($115 to $270) upon renewal when the 3-year promotional pricing ends, but I still feel as though I’m getting service that is worth the rate increase. From a practical standpoint, the unlimited bandwidth and storage are big draws (although the FTP transfer speed generally maxes out at a paltry 60 KB/s), and as someone who bikes everywhere he can, the company’s unique eco-friendly angle appeals to my conscientious side. Quite honestly, the only thing that might incline me to switch would be a catastrophic event such as horrific customer service in the face of massive data loss, or the discovery of a more local hosting provider that offers the same feature set for less money.

If you found this “revmonial” useful and would like to sign up for FatCow hosting, please don’t hesitate to do so through my affiliate link.

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