Having your own patch of digital space is vital in the new media economy. While I have been involved in publishing web-based projects for the last 14 years, it was the discovery of WordPress in 2008, and the recognition it offered an easy way to be online, that revolutionised my work.
Your digital space needs to be stable, fast and well supported to function effectively. And that means you need good web host to provide peace of mind – especially, if like me, you don’t have sufficient technical skills to manage the hosting of your site personally. After some troubled times, I’ve finally found a web host I trust.
[For 2014/2015 updates to my recommendation see the links at the end of this post].
The dark ages
I’ve had some bad experiences with UK-based web hosts in recent years. In November 2011 this site was down for a month because of shockingly bad service from Fasthosts. A server upgrade they recommended went haywire, my site went off-line and a lot of content was lost despite having independent backups. I was left scrambling for help, but got no assistance: I couldn’t reach a live person, I was directed to online forums to see if other users had insights, and when that proved fruitless I received an email from them stating “we are unable to help any further”.
When you’ve paid for service, such a dismissive attitude does not go down well! Unsurprisingly my site was rebuilt on the server of a new host, Force 36. All seemed to go well until my site was the target of a spam attack in March this year. Security is a major issue given WordPress’s popularity – it runs 1 in 6 of all web sites on the Internet – and there are many ways to protect yours site, but you need a knowledgeable and understanding host to make that security possible. So it was very frustrating when my new host was more interested in shuttering my site and getting it off their servers than helping to defend and restore it. Another move had therefore become essential.
Finding a better home
My site is not a big operation on the web, but it is vital to me as the platform for my work. What I wanted above all else was a web host who understood that personal importance and offered timely support when problems came up. After extensive searching followed by phone calls to test customer service, I settled on Fresh Sites. I transferred my domain and took out a package costing only £40/year. The service I have received since then has been exceptional.
My web site/blog is running again, hosted @FreshSitesUK, who have provided very good customer service throughout the transition.
— David Campbell (@davidc7) April 19, 2013
The transition to Fresh Sites went very well, their SEO review was helpful, and the telephone guidance on how to increase site speed by reviewing plugins was illuminating (tip: install P3 – Plugin Performance Profiler to see load times). Unlike my previous hosts, they know WordPress inside out.
Their security guidance and support has helped the most. They have ten excellent tips to make your site more robust (as well as another suggestion for their clients), and they made the suggested code and file changes quickly and for no additional cost.
— David Campbell (@davidc7) May 4, 2013
Even when you have taken all precautions, it is speedy customer support that is most important, as I have twice found out, beginning in May:
Web site has warded off brute force attack thanks to @FreshSitesUK and their recommended security tips: http://t.co/8BF5l3WhLn
— David Campbell (@davidc7) May 29, 2013
Yesterday my site came under a sustained botnet attack, of the kind that has been directed globally at WordPress sites over the past few months.
My web site is off-line as preventive measure b/c it is under sustained bot net attack from hackers. Good work again by @FreshSitesUK
— David Campbell (@davidc7) August 19, 2013
When Fresh Sites couldn’t mitigate the attack by blocking the IP addresses of the hacked computers involved, they protected this site by temporarily suspending the account until the botnet had cleared. I was off-line for less than 12 hours and nothing was lost. My only reservation with this latest episode was that I would have appreciated being contacted shortly after the suspension was activated so I didn’t have to find out via a user. But once I was in touch with them I received instantaneous email and telephone support.
After four months of great service, and with my site running faster and better than ever, I’ve today joined the Fresh Sites affiliates programme. I’ve never recommended a commercial service before, but given the role Fresh Sites play in keeping my work online, they have my vote if you are looking for the best UK-based WordPress hosting.
UPDATE 14 October 2013
Happily Fresh Sites continue to offer great service. Yesterday I went online and found my site header had been hacked and the pages were full of random text. I was relieved to find all the security measures we had put in place protected the content.
Woke this morning to a hacked web site. But @FreshSitesUK continue to perform – service request answered in 30 mins on a Sunday morning.
— David Campbell (@davidc7) October 13, 2013
And 90 mins after request site cleaned/restored. Service on a Sunday one of the reasons I recommend @FreshSitesUK http://t.co/wBplQr9g5j
— David Campbell (@davidc7) October 13, 2013
You can’t want for more than speedy customer service on a Sunday morning that sorts your problems. If they let me down I would let you know, but as the brilliant work continues they definitely have my wholehearted recommendation.
UPDATE 2 JUNE 2014
The best news from the last six months is that, despite all the daily attacks on WordPress sites around the world, all the security measures recommended by Fresh Sites have meant no more downtime because of hacks. It has been a period of smooth running, and I’ve set up other sites on Fresh Sites because of their continued excellence.