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Why You Shouldn’t Trust Your Web Host’s Uptime Guarantee

Jacob Roach
By Jacob Roach (Writer)
— Last Updated: 2018-05-18T07:54:12+00:00

One sure fire way web hosts seem to want to get your business is by promising a so-called uptime guarantee. This marketing term runs rampant throughout provider copy, from cheap web hosting to WordPress hosting and beyond. One thing is certain, though. You shouldn’t trust your web host’s uptime guarantee.

Over the course of this article, we’ll break down exactly what uptime is and how it impacts your experience with web hosting. We’ll look at a few examples of uptime guarantees and explain how easily the numbers can be skewed out of your favor.

If you want to skip the whole problem altogether, you can always host your own website and be in charge of your own uptime. It’s a cumbersome process, but one that’s still enlightening. Make sure to check out how to host your own website to learn more about doing so.

Gauging Uptime

In web hosting, uptime refers to the total time in which your site in online or “up.” In the majority of cases, the term is thrown around by a web host as a marketing ploy, stating that a service is better than the competition because it stays online for a longer period of time. It’s kind of a null phrase at this point, though, considering just about every web host uses it.

You’ll see variations between 99.9 percent, 99.99 percent, 99 percent and, sometimes, 100 percent. It’s easy to pass by each as meaning essentially the same thing, but breaking down the math shows that each figure equals a vastly different result.

Let’s use a 100 day timespan and apply the numbers. The typical 99 percent guarantee means that, over that 100 day span, you’ll have 24 hours of total downtime. 99.9 percent, on the other hand, means you’ll only have 2.4 hours of total downtime, a vastly different amount.

Now, we’re not claiming you can’t perform basic arithmetic. Even so, it’s pretty easy to glance past the difference between the uptime guarantees. Another easy thing to overlook is when the downtime on your site takes place.

Again, we’ll use a 100 day frame with a 99 percent uptime guarantee. 24 total hours of downtime could be divided in any number of ways. For instance, an hour of downtime on 24 random days is far less concerning than an entire day of downtime.

Between these two, it’s pretty easy to see that guaranteeing anything is tricky. Your web host could cut off your website for an entire day and still make true on the 99 percent uptime guarantee, or cut off your site when traffic reaches a peak while still staying in the clear.

In nearly every case, uptime is used as a measure of performance when, in reality, it doesn’t prove much. Reliability plays a key part in web hosting and your provider should have a history of consistent uptime. Even so, it in no way shows the power of the web host in relation to other competitors.

Take DreamHost and Bluehost. Both are among the best web hosting providers, but show different performance relating to speed and uptime. Historically, DreamHost has worse uptime than Bluehost does. However, Bluehost has a slower overall response time when compared to DreamHost. To learn more about these providers, make sure to read our Bluehost review and DreamHost review.

There is no strictly better provider in this situation. One fills in the spaces left by the other, making the comparison a bit of a wash. The extra .1 percent of uptime really means nothing in the end. What matters when making your choice are features, usability and speeds, not a marginal difference in uptime.

The Uptime Guarantee

As such, this performance facade leads to the “uptime guarantee.” This phrase is a bit like a satisfaction guarantee, a difficult to quantify figure that can only be fought with attrition. You can put a name to a face with uptime, though, a concrete number that’s difficult to dispute. However, not all downtime is created equal.

Scheduled downtime, for example, would not factor into the uptime guarantee. If in a given month you had 99.2 percent uptime with .8 percent of that going to scheduled downtime, the host would still make good on the guarantee.

In the same vein, there’s also emergency downtime. It’s the same as unscheduled downtime, just that a host happened to notice it before the server went offline. Once again, these periods would not factor into the guarantee, even though they weren’t technically scheduled.

Between the two, you may have a few percentage points of variation without any compromise in the uptime guarantee. The fact of the matter is that this phrase guarantees very little. Web hosts deal with massive server rooms fit with computers that isn’t perfect. Hard drives fail, DDoS attacks happen and, sometimes, the host just needs to switch some hardware out.

Even with a perfect server, your site could go offline because of your own doing. It’s unlikely that it shouldn’t connect simply due to some faulty code, but it is possible that an issue with your DNS settings or CDN could cause an outage that your web host is in no way responsible for.

It may seem like we’re dragging web hosts through the mud here, but we promise that’s not the case. For instance, HostGator (read our HostGator review) has a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee that pays out a full month for any number below that threshold. Even so, this shouldn’t influence your decision.

An uptime guarantee is a marketing ploy and nothing more. It’s not disingenuous, just the way the web hosting world operates. Most providers sit within a small margin of the golden 99.9 percent, but it’s still a number that can fluctuate from month to month and from site to site.

Final Thoughts

In the end, your choice in web host shouldn’t rest of such a vague claim as an uptime guarantee. While there is validity to it, it means very little in a sea of high quality web hosts that put up impressive numbers month after month. Instead, you should look at factors that make a difference like speed, usability, support options and pricing.

We cover these topics in how to choose a web hosting provider, diving deep into each so you can grasp what’s important and what’s just marketing. We also go into the specifics of each provider, some times comparing two directly like HostGator vs Bluehost and HostGator vs GoDaddy.

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Once you’ve settled on a choice, there are plenty of tools to track your uptime. Our favorite is Pingdom, an all in one suite for measuring the performance of your website. If you want to test your site under load, you can try out LoadImpact as well. This tool will send a large number of virtual users to your site very quickly, seeing at what point your hosting breaks.  

There are a ton of options for hosting your website, so make sure to let us know your favorite host in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading.

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