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What’s the Best Hosting for Client Websites and Why to Host

April 17th

Sam

Offsprout is the only WordPress website builder for freelancers and agencies.

TLDR;

We use WPEngine and we’re happy with them. They have a good combination of features, customer service, and price. Here’s a link to their pricing page. If you follow that link and choose a plan, they’ll automatically apply a 20% discount.

Related: WPEngine Website Hosting Review


When I began my web design career as a freelancer, the idea of hosting client websites gave me chills.

I thought, I’ll just build these websites for them, get them set up on the hosting of their choice, collect my check, and then they’ll be someone else’s problem.

No worrying about updating themes and plugins. No worrying that something would break and I’d have to fix it. I handed over a nice, working website, to spec, then the client was on his/her own.

Don’t be like me.

It might not have been a complete failure. But I was leaving a ton of money on the table, and even with training, clients were almost never able to keep the website updated properly.

In this article I’ll make the case for why you should host client websites. Then I’ll talk about the positives and negatives of different hosting options.

Why You Should Host All Your Clients’ Websites

Before we talk about all of your website hosting options, of which there are too many to count, let’s discuss why you should host your clients’ websites in the first place.

Also, let me clarify – when I recommend hosting your clients’ websites, I’m not saying that you should set up servers, install linux, etc. Nor am I saying you should get a Linode account.

By hosting, I mean:

  • taking care of setting up a hosting account with a reputable host
  • hosting your clients’ websites there
  • maintaining and updating their sites
  • acting as a middleman (or middlewoman) between the client and the host whenever there are hosting-related issues that need to be addressed.

Recurring Revenue

The biggest reason to host all of your clients’ websites is the recurring revenue. I can’t stress this enough: recurring revenue is the lifeblood of a web design business.

Development shops strive to work on a retainer basis where they’ll be paid a certain monthly rate for a certain number of development hours.

Design agencies earn recurring revenue with hosting, maintenance, and marketing. I repeat this point a lot, but not charging monthly is the single biggest mistake that I see web design agencies making.

Recurring revenue evens out your revenue month over month, making hiring much less risky and growth much more achievable, even without increasing lead flow.

If you want some ideas for how to earn recurring income and how to price web design hosting and maintenance packages, I wrote an entire article on web design pricing.

Upsell Potential

Another benefit of hosting your clients’ websites is that the additional touch points create more opportunities to upsell your services. When I was running my design agency, I would estimate that about 30% of our new recurring revenue each month came from upselling.

That’s huge!

Not all of your clients are going to be ready to start paying monthly for a big marketing package. But when you’re in consistent contact with them (by sending monthly reports, or making quick website edits) when they become ready for marketing, you’re top of mind.

A typical path could be:

  • Client gets website redesign with base maintenance package. At this point, the client thinks he/she will have time to blog so she doesn’t want a marketing package.
  • Client submits a few content update requests over the next few months
  • Client receives monthly traffic and leads reports
  • Client decides she doesn’t actually have the time to blog that she thought she would have and so reaches out to you to get a blogging/SEO package

This happens all the time!

But if you don’t host the client’s website, you won’t have the touch points, so the client may well just search Google and find someone else when she’s ready for marketing.

Customer Satisfaction

The last benefit of hosting your clients’ websites is better customer satisfaction.

Let’s face it – the typical client doesn’t know his cPanel from his FTP, his caching from his cookies. He’s hiring you because he wants you to know about that.

So, let’s say you build his website, then tell him he’s on his own and should ask his hosting company any further questions.

When his site launches, everything is good and customer satisfaction is at its peak. But satisfaction will quickly plunge as soon as there’s a hosting problem or he wants to update his website.

Further, you are likely to run into a situation where the client is asking you for help after the site has launched. So you’ve done everything that you’ve said you were going to do under the contract.

Even though this is a situation where there is clearly scope creep, you’re in a situation where:

  • if you don’t help the client, the client will be pissed
  • if you do help the client, you’re working for free.

This whole situation can make it hard to maintain references or get testimonials. You’ll also find that clients may hire another company and change their website up within a year of working with you, so your portfolio becomes out of date.

BEWARE

There is one major caveat when you’re hosting websites for your clients: DNS.

If, for any reason, you end up having to switch hosts, or sometimes even just upgrade your hosting account, you may have to switch IP addresses.

This is a MAJOR pain in the butt if you don’t control your client’s DNS, because when your server IP changes, that means that all of the A records need to be updated.

So here’s how to mitigate this:

  1. Use Cloudflare’s free DNS hosting
  2. Control your clients’ DNS
  3. Use CNAME flattening

(Shameless plug: Offsprout uses Cloudflare with CNAME flattening and includes DNS management in our centralized dashboard so this is largely taken care of for you)

Where Should You Host?

Hopefully by now you’re convinced that you should be hosting all of your clients’ websites, even with that DNS caveat.

So now the question is, where should you host?

There are quite a few hosting companies out there (total understatement), but they generally fall into 3 different categories for our purposes:

  • Shared/Budget
  • Managed/VPS
  • Hosted Platforms

Note: WPShout has a great overview of the current hosting landscape and customer satisfaction with various different hosts.

Shared/Budget Hosting

Examples: HostGator, BlueHost, GoDaddy

These are cheap hosts and cheap for a reason. Customer satisfaction with these hosts is typically pretty low.

But more importantly, site speed generally suffers due to the fact that customers are sharing hosting space with so many other sites.

My recommendation is to stay away from them.

Managed/VPS Hosting

Examples: Flywheel, WPEngine, Pagely, and, again, GoDaddy

Managed WordPress hosts are fairly recent, becoming popular in the last 5 years. These hosts provide much more optimized hosting and additional functionality like staging sites, free Let’s Encrypt SSL, automated backups, and one-click backup restores.

Offsprout is hosted with WPEngine, and WPEngine has been great for us. They have 24/7 chat support, and it’s good support. I’m actually surprised at how knowledgeable their support staff is sometimes.

GoDaddy is an interesting entrant to this category. While a couple years ago, GoDaddy was one of the most reviled hosts in the industry, in recent years they’ve really tried to turn that around. I still wouldn’t recommend them yet, but I’d keep an eye on them.

Hosted Platforms

Examples: Squarespace, WordPress.com

Hosted platforms provide the most features out of the gate. In addition to the fast and optimized hosting of managed hosts, they provide can design functionality. They also ensure that updates are taken care of for you and that all of the plugins and themes that you use work well together.

If the feature sets of a hosted platform are sufficient for your needs, they can be a great way to boost your efficiency without any work on your part.

By taking care of hosting, updates, plugin compatibility, etc. for you, you’re free to focus less on the technology that you’re using and more on your business.

However, their downfall can be when your needs surpass those of the hosted platform. At that point, you’ll likely be forced to migrate your site off of the hosted platform.

Conclusion

At this point, you’re hopefully convinced that you should be hosting your clients’ websites. Even with the additional considerations that come with managing DNS, the recurring revenue, upsell potential, and increased customer satisfaction are more than enough to make hosting worth it.

Now, it’s just a matter of determining which is the right host for your business. So let me leave you with this recommendation:

If you’re building a productized web design agency in a specific niche, you’ll probably grow faster with either Managed hosting or a hosted platform.

If you want to do more development and offer custom functionality, or there is a piece of functionality that you really need that isn’t available in any hosted platform, definitely go with managed/vps hosting.

Which hosting do you think is right for your business?


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9 comments on “What’s the Best Hosting for Client Websites and Why to Host

  1. Great article, should I provide hosting to my client with hosting account in there name or should I use my personal account for their hosting?

    1. The most cost-effective way to host is to host all of your sites on a single hosting plan. However, if you have a lot of personal sites, it may be best to separate your hosting into 2 different accounts, one for your personal sites, and one for your business sites. The reason for this is that it becomes easier to disentangle the business assets from your personal assets in the future should you be acquired or merge with another agency.

  2. Do you create a new hosting account for each client, or have a single account that contains all of your clients’ websites? And do clients pay you, or do they pay the web host directly?

    1. The most cost-effective way to host is to host all of your sites on a single hosting plan. Clients pay you a monthly fee for hosting, maintenance, support, and maybe reporting. And then you pay the host.

  3. One of the best web design advice articles I have ever read, straight to the point. I’ve recently begun the start up of my own freelance web design business and this has put it in perspective for me in terms of whether to host or not and if I want to obtain anything sustainable then you need to go ahead and host your client websites and keep them around long term for the consistent stream of income, because in the end why are we doing this, money.

    Thanks for this article!

  4. Hi Sam,

    Thanks for the article.

    Just to clarify, you’re not talking about becoming a ‘reseller host’, but rather, just the ‘implementer’ between a standard hosting service in which you would just pass onto the client?

    I’m curious as to why you went down this route instead of the usual resell hosting solutions that most Web Agencies adopt?

    Thanks!

    1. Hey Ana, there are a few reasons. The first is that when we started, there weren’t really any good reseller plans. But also, being the ‘implementer’ is usually cheaper, provides us with more control, and adds more separation between us and clients (who generally don’t want to deal with hosting). That said, I’d say if the reseller plan doesn’t lock you into the host, is the same price, and still means that the client doesn’t have to interface with the host at all, go for it!

  5. Hi great article. My plan was to let clients create their hosting account and then install the new website for them. One thing is giving me a headache though: How do you create the hosting account of the client? Do you tell them to set it up themselves or do you set it up for them with their credentials? The latter would mean that the client would have to share email, password and payment information. I don´t think that new clients do that very often? What do you think about doing it like that? Thanks, Jens

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