Today’s post is a bit more serious than normal. One of the reasons we set up Lyrical Host was because we were tired of all the pricing tricks and bait and switch tactics used by so many domain registrars and web hosting companies. Here are some of those tricks and how to avoid them.
No one is expecting a business to offer everything at cost price/a loss, or telling them what their own pricing should be. The issue is with how the following things are done: that they work on deliberately misleading people, hiding the truth, relying on customer apathy or lack of knowledge, and just plain dishonesty. There’s an attitude of, “We’ll do it for as long as we can get away with it.” They are some of the main reasons why people are so jaded and suspicious of registrars and hosting companies. And even worse, many people don’t even know they’ve been tricked.
It’s time that changed.Currently reading: 15 Domain & Hosting Pricing Tricks: What Your Web Host Doesn't Want You To Know Click To Tweet
01. The classic “introductory offer” trick
This is the most iconic and well-known one, and most people are aware of it and know to be suspicious of it. You see $2.95/month web hosting and it sounds great. The problem is that you only get that $2.95/month price if you agree to be locked in to a contract, in some cases up to five years (!) It may work out at around $2.95/month (usually more when you add in taxes/costs/random fees), but you have to pay it all in one go. Which doesn’t exactly qualify as a monthly price or plan. Then when you renew at the end of your contract it won’t be $2.95/month anymore, because that was the introductory offer. So suddenly that one or three or even five year contract is a lot upfront: usually 60% or more per month.
They’re relying on you getting halfway through checkout or getting the bill and then going “oh well.” They’re relying on apathy when you come to the end of your contract. You may also wonder why it is they’re so determined to lock you in for such a long time, as opposed to you wanting to stay that long of your own free will.
How to avoid it: Investigate regular prices without any “introductory offers.” Make sure you look at renewal costs. Calculate what the real spend will be. Be careful what length of contract you get tied into, especially if you’ve never used the service before. And if it’s already too late and you’re faced with this issue, don’t be afraid to question it or complain – say you’re canceling and want a better deal, and keep pushing: they will generally be able to come up with a better deal because so many people complain about this tactic. Or just avoid companies that do it altogether!
02. The “free” domain name trick
Some hosts offer a “free” domain name when you buy a hosting package. For some hosts, this means taking the hit on the cost of the domain name because they want you to buy a hosting package (there’s not much profit in domain names). For others, it’s a cascade of different methods of hiding the truth. This trick is quite involved, and any or all of the following could be at play:
- They charge you more for something else that’s “required” as part of the package or that you’re likely to buy. For example, some hosts offer a “free” domain name with super expensive domain privacy ($21 + tax per year) attached. All they’ve done is just rolled the cost of your domain name into the privacy charge (typically $5/year at most, sometimes free now thanks to GDPR) and told you your domain is free.
- Your domain is “free” for the first year but you’re required to pay a minimum of 2-5 years to initially register it, with the additional years typically being more expensive than average (to cover the cost of your first year being “free”).
- Your domain is part of your hosting package bundle, so if you ask for a refund you can legally be told you can’t have one because a domain name is a custom product that doesn’t fall under distance selling regulation requirements for refunds.
- They roll the cost of your domain name into your hosting package, so you’re still paying for it, they’re just calling it free.
How to avoid it: Do your pricing research carefully and read any terms and conditions thoroughly. Don’t be afraid to ask via phone or live chat what the actual situation is, and always ask if you’re required to pay anything extra for your domain in the future. Generally, if you really want to go for this kind of hosting package, do it because it has other advantages and not for a “free” domain.
03. The “0.99” domain name trick
Register a domain for 99p or 99c! Sounds good right? The reality is often that you’re required to pay 2+ years up front and only the first year is 0.99. Even so, that’s not a bad price. But since this is the hosting industry, there’s another trick that goes further. With some registrars, if you’re not paying attention, your 99c domain name will renew for $50+. What’s worse is that because of the classic “introductory offer” trick above, many people believe that $50/year is a standard price for a domain name renewal (spoiler: it’s not).
How to avoid it: This is one trick you can use to your advantage if you’re just testing a site/name out for a year or so to see how it does/if you like it. Transfer or cancel your domain before it’s due to renew, and always read the small print so you’re not legally tied in to renewing it. Ask what the price will be on renewal.
04. The “free but only for higher plans” trick
This is a trick that’s most commonly utilized on sales pages and emails before you get to checkout. It’s pretty simple: something is listed as free on a general product page or as a general offer, for example “Free SSL Certificate” or “Free Backups” but it’s only actually available on more expensive plans. The host relies on you either upgrading mid-checkout, carrying on anyway because you’re invested now, or adding it for a fee.
How to avoid it: Go partway through checkout to see the real pricing and features if you need to, or try and find an in-depth features table for the plan you want to see what’s actually included. Decide if it’s really a good deal or if you can get it cheaper/free elsewhere.
05. The “free backups” trick
This trick is a bit more of a hidden one. A host claims “free website backups,” and they do free backups of your site…but if you actually want one of your backups, they’ll charge you. Or they’ll only store one backup for you. Or they’ll only do free backups up to a certain amount of space. Or if you want more than one backup, they’ll charge you for subsequent backups. This could be anywhere from $50+, even up to the $200 mark, because they know people will pay anything for a backup if that’s the only choice they have.
How to avoid it: Find out if free really does mean free and what’s included. Ask live chat before you buy and take screenshots. You also want to ask how often backups are taken, whether they provide any control panel tools for you to take your own backups easily, and where they store your backups. Also, take your own backups or use a separate service that guarantees your backups. You can never have too many!
06. The “doesn’t actually do anything worth paying for” trick
The average web host has a ton of upsells. A lot of these are old school legacy upsells. The ones you definitely should avoid are any kind of search engine submission service (you can do this yourself for free in around five minutes and you only need to do it once), and security scanning services. There are some security service upsells that aren’t terrible, but they’re more to lull you into a false sense of security than anything else. Even though you’re already paying for a (largely automated and generic service), if your site does get hacked you’ll still be quoted a few hundred bucks to get it cleaned.
How to avoid it: It’s rare that hosts do any of the above for free (although we do!), but you’re better off not buying an upsell or using a company your host recommends. There are some premium security plugins out there there are worth upgrading from free if you’re so inclined, but if you’re looking after your site you should be fine. For anything else, such as SEO services, google what you want to do or hire a trustworthy person who can give you advice specific to your website rather than a generic, automated system.
07. The “doesn’t actually do anything unless you pay more” trick
This is generally applied to security services, as above; you’re paying a small amount for a monthly add-on, but when push comes to shove you’re suddenly quoted a lot more to fix the problem. One host will charge you $200 to clean your site and then bill you for a $50/month security service that doesn’t necessarily solve your issue and bumps the cost of your hosting up considerably.
08. The “we’ll sell you everything at checkout” trick
Continuing on the upsell theme, you don’t actually need any of the upsells listed at checkout. Many of them are no better than placebos. The only one you may want to consider is domain privacy, although since the introduction of GDPR many registrars are offering it free, so it may be worth shopping elsewhere for your domain since you can link it to any host.
How to avoid it: Don’t add anything extra to your cart at checkout, and watch out for any pre-ticked boxes or extra domains being added to your cart.
09. The “we list all these fees separately” trick
You’re at checkout and suddenly the price is more expensive. Some hosts list every single thing separately: sales tax is fair enough, but sometimes there are extras like ICAAN fees which should really just be included as part of the default domain name cost. Unfortunately these aren’t avoidable, but again check for anything that looks weird, and make sure you don’t make a final buying decision unless you’re happy with the final price.
10. The “we don’t upgrade your package” trick
This is one to watch out for with older, bigger hosts. Hosts often upgrade and add new hardware and platforms, but some of them only roll out new stuff for new customers. If they don’t update or move legacy customers, you stay on your old server, which is only going to get slower and more crowded and vulnerable.
Some hosts even release newer, shinier hosting packages with better features but don’t upgrade old customers, meaning you’re still stuck with your original amount of web space from five years ago while new customers may get double the amount for less money. In extreme cases, hosts have been known to charge more to host old packages requiring older versions of software and languages.
How to avoid it: Check your host’s site regularly to see how the package specs compare to yours. Hop on live chat and ask if there are any newer servers or platforms your site can be moved to. Don’t be afraid to try and re-negotiate on price or specs if you can see new customers are getting something better.
11. The “support on commission” trick
So you have an issue with your hosting, you call or live chat your hosting company’s tech support. Great, they can help you, right? Well…not always. Some companies have support staff on sales commission, so the first suggestion they have will be something that costs money. Sometimes an “upgrade” really will fix your problem, but it’s not always the case and rarely the best way to approach the issue.
Of course if it doesn’t, or if they’re selling you something you don’t understand, then you’re no better off, but they don’t care. Because when you contact them again with your problem, you’ll get someone else who will try and sell you another service or upgrade to magically fix your problem. Your “support” person may not even have any technical knowledge or be trained as anything other than a sales rep. This is usually a company policy, not the fault of the individual.
How to avoid it: Say, “Thanks but I’m not looking to upgrade my plan or increase my spending with you at this time. What support can you give me for free since I’m paying for a service that’s unusable?”
12. The “CPU/RAM restrictions” trick
Most people look at space and bandwidth when choosing a shared hosting provider, but not many consider CPU and RAM. Many hosts set very low CPU or RAM limits on cheaper packages so that you’re forced to upgrade your plan even though you may not be anywhere near your space or bandwidth limits. Broadly speaking, CPU and RAM are used by processes, so things like plugins/scripts that usually run regardless of whether you have visitors on your site loading things or not, or whether you have lots of pages and images or not.
Web hosts love creating this problem because it’s an easy way to get people to upgrade and spend more money. Often it’s also the only way to fix the problem (although it doesn’t always, if you have rogue or excessive scripts you could be upgrading to the end of time). You could also strip some plugins and scripts off of your site, but that can mean a lot of compromising.
How to avoid it: This is a really hard one to avoid. You could talk to the host about their CPU and RAM limits, but it really depends on each individual site and it’s hard to gauge what you actually need. You could also try googling the host along with “cpu issues” or “ram issues” to see if you can find any evidence of it being a problem for that particular host. You could also look at the next plan up from what you’re buying to see if it would be a reasonably priced upgrade for you if needed (although it’s still annoying!); never buy a higher plan to start with unless you know you need it because most hosts will let you upgrade but not downgrade.
13. The “security scaremonger” trick
This one is super easy to spot because it’s usually a phone call. A sales rep from your hosting company calls you up with some kind of upsell – it’s usually a security service or paid SSL certificate – and they tell you you really need it because the hackers will get you/there’s a been a sudden surge in malware/Google wants you to have it.
In most cases there’s a grain of truth in there somewhere – for example Google does want you to have an SSL certificate, which is why they help fund free ones – but your host will tell you there’s some kind of cost involved.
How to avoid it: Say “Thanks but no thanks” and move on.
14. The “we don’t want to pay you your affiliate commission” trick
Hosting affiliate programs are super lucrative. And have a super amount of small print in their terms and conditions. Even some of the most popular hosts have some sneaky clauses in there, for example only paying affiliate commission on orders over a certain amount (meaning you promote their amazingly good sale and don’t actually earn anything because none of the orders reach their threshold), or requiring that a website be built, active, and the account in regular use before commission is paid.
How to avoid it: Read the small print. It’s annoying, but you’ll know exactly where you stand.
15. The “selling premium domains” trick
Many hosts and registrars offer a domain reselling service. You list your domain, they tell you that someone wants to buy, they take a cut of the sale. And it’s often a huge cut; 40% is pretty common. There are also a lot of other potential hidden costs involved: requiring a year-long auction membership to be a seller, extra fees on completing a sale, and if you’re buying a domain, you also have to pay both for the renewal and to transfer it away in some cases.
How to avoid it: If you’re thinking of selling a domain, throw a quick maintenance mode page or single page up with a contact form for people to contact you if they want to buy. You won’t be listed as having a domain for sale on the auction sites or premium domain listings, but you also get to keep a much bigger chunk of your sale price, and not pay anything else out either.
The biggest trick of all
The biggest trick of all is the ones the customers of these companies play on themselves. They tell other people that all the things above are okay because “that’s just how it is” and “everyone does it.” It doesn’t have to be this way. And not everyone does it. It’s not okay to lie to your customers. It’s not okay to scare people into buying junk services. It’s not okay to pull tricks with your pricing with the intention of deliberately misleading customers.
Please share this post with someone who is at risk of being a victim of one of these tricks and hopefully the industry can move towards a positive, transparent, and honest approach.
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