Beware of “Web Hosting Review” and “Top 10 Web Hosts” Sites

As many readers of this site may already know I own and operate MDDHosting, LLC – a web hosting firm based out of Franklin, Indiana and we have been in business for over 2 years and 3 months as of the writing of this post.  Over the last 27 months I have seen just about every type of fraud, scam, and lie and in my personal opinion affiliate scams have to be one of the larger issues facing web hosting consumers today.

Anybody with enough experience in the industry knows that most “web hosting review” and “top 10 web hosts” type of sites are simply affiliate link farms where the goal is to pull in as many visitors to click on their affiliate links as possible.  Someone experienced in the industry who has “been there, done that” will often see through this and knows to conduct their own research and won’t fall for these tricks but someone new to the industry and turning to Google for advice won’t.  While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, what bothers me is when the site makes commission in a misleading way.  Some sites actually do write up a decent review of the provider and provide links to sign up which is entirely understandable but some are not so honest and straightforward in their dealings.

One such site that is operating in a misleading way is “AlreadyHosting.com” which is operated by Jonathan Burdon of Murray, Kentucky.  While going over our affiliate sales I noticed that one particular affiliate had an extraordinarily high conversion rate and to be honest I wanted to know what they were doing to achieve a conversion rate of 9%.

MDDHosting "Review" at AlreadyHosting.com Their site “reviews” as of this writing 111 companies which is not a lot when you look at the hosting industry itself as having thousands of individual providers.  When you look at any one of their providers that they review you may be surprised at the utter lack of any content or reviews (I certainly was).  I have pictured the page that I found was sending the affiliate referrals to us and commented directly in the image as to how their methods are misleading. Not only does every host that they “review” offer links to “Promo pricing” and “Coupon Codes & Promotional Links”, but every one of these links goes directly to the provider dropping the affiliate code without giving any promotional codes or pricing.

I contacted Jonathan (read entire conversation here) and explained to him that we felt that he was misleading his visitors by offering links to coupon codes and promotional pricing when those links actually just dropped them on the affiliate URL where no such information can be found.  We let him know that we were doing so pro-actively and that while we could have let him continue sending us visitors and simply refused to pay him any money at a later date but that we simply were not that type of company.

AlreadyHosting.com uses it’s SERP power to be seen for “[Hosting Company Name] Review” which means that the customer isn’t simply browsing for a list of providers but is looking for specific information on a provider that they are already considering.  At the time of this writing I did a Google search for “GreenGeeks Review” and in 9th place is “GreenGeeks Review & Coupon Codes | AlreadyHosting.com”.  Upon visiting this URL you will see that there is no review but there are links promising promotional pricing and coupon codes which anybody that is already considering that provider is going to click on.  As soon as the visitor clicks on the link they are taken to the provider’s site and should that visitor continue researching the company before buying – AlreadyHosting will obtain commission on the sale due to the visitor having been interested in coupon codes and promotional pricing.

In my conversation with Jonathan I explained to him that we were more than happy to keep him on board with us as an affiliate as long as he was willing to modify the page to actually link to the content it claims to link to (i.e. promotional information or coupon codes) or to simply not claim to link to such content if it isn’t doing so and rather than editing the review page to modify or remove the misleading hyperlinks Jonathan decided to respond with a threat:

If you do not reconsider we will keep your
review active and will tell our readers how you treat affiliates and will
directly recommend that they sign up for another company. I will also
invest a lot in SEO for that page to ensure that it ranks high for all of
your keywords.

Upon visiting the “MDDHosting Review” on AlreadyHosting.com after this email exchange I found that he has updated the page with an “Important Note” stating that we had discontinued his affiliate account with us, which we have.  I have no particular problem with this but what I do find interesting is the site claims to be a site containing the “BEST WEB HOSTING REVIEWS” which would lead the average hosting consumer to believe that they either have tried and reviewed the services they “review” directly or they have input from third parties who have done so and as such list them based upon their quality of service and support which is obviously not the case.  Should any of these “best web hosting providers” find that AlreadyHosting.com is misleading their potential customers and committing affiliate fraud by using misleading hyperlinks AlreadyHosting.com may end up having to place this notice on more pages than just ours.

At the end of the day I don’t suggest trusting any of the “Web Hosting Review” or “Top 10 Web Hosts”  sort of sites as they are all affiliate driven and a vast majority of them are simply misleading.  If you do happen across a site offering coupon codes or promotional codes and it turns out there are none to be had make sure to clear your cookies so that you don’t pay these crooks for misleading you.  I highly suggest a resource that is not affiliate driven for researching hosting providers such as the WebHostingTalk.com Forums.

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45 comments

  1. This does not change how I feel about mdd at all. I have ran into far to mainly bad review sites and top 10 hosting sites it is not even funny. I avoid them like a plague. I will only read reviews on webhostingtalk.com or webhostingboard.net and no other sites, any other site besides those specially if they have a top 10 are junk.

  2. Mark :

    The only review site that I trust is http://www.hostjury.com !

    Even HostJury is farily biased but at least they actually have real reviews submitted by customers and appear to make an effort at providing a real service to their visitors (if not actually doing so).

  3. Having run a reviews collecting site for a while now, I can understand why Hostjury would make enemies, or would have a hard time keeping the site perfectly clean. The amount of spam and self promotion one receives is impressive. For me, about 75% of submitted reviews are proven shill attempts. You can easily have a few percents passing even the best scrutiny.

    Well run forums are indeed the better choice when it comes to web hosting research.

    As for what you did Mike, you have my commendation. Affiliates running worthless sites are ruining and stealing the efforts of proper affiliates. It is actually quite hard to have someone click on a link and buy from a company for the right reasons, and very easy when you trick them into clicking. Sadly, few hosts put any kind of effort into protecting their hard working affiliates, and will side with these “high earning” ones, which often do little than piggyback on the host’s name/keywords.

  4. Dan :

    Having run a reviews collecting site for a while now, I can understand why Hostjury would make enemies, or would have a hard time keeping the site perfectly clean.

    Absolutely – HostJury does as good a job as they can to provide factual reviews and information that is actually helpful and I see no problem with them making money using affiliate programs in the process.

    Dan :

    As for what you did Mike, you have my commendation. Affiliates running worthless sites are ruining and stealing the efforts of proper affiliates. It is actually quite hard to have someone click on a link and buy from a company for the right reasons, and very easy when you trick them into clicking. Sadly, few hosts put any kind of effort into protecting their hard working affiliates, and will side with these “high earning” ones, which often do little than piggyback on the host’s name/keywords.

    Thank you Dan, coming from you it does mean a lot to me to have your commendation.

    This post is only one small part of the process I’ve set in place to help expose this site for what it really is. I gave Jonathan the opportunity to clean up his act in respect to how he represents information about our company and he has chosen to disregard it. Jonathan could simply have dropped the listing for MDDHosting but instead he chose make an attempt at being damaging. It’s unfortunate for him that I’m not the type of person that lets himself or anything that he represents be steamrolled quite so easily.

  5. I get SO frustrated when I click on a link that says “COUPON CODE” when really it’s just an affiliate link that I don’t even buy from that link, maybe I need to clear my cookies though. Scammers & liars annoy me.

  6. @MikeDVB Would love to hear more about how we’re biased @ hostjury. Other than myself having my hands in multiple cookie jars (e.g. sources of income) for diversification purposes — the only ‘bias’ I have is my dislike for false reviews.

    I would love to see some proof in the other direction, but thusfar only two sources have come out. One company (Hostingplex) which had paid employees actively shilling on Webhostingtalk calling us a ‘scam’, and the other being repeated attacks from Jedito re: us removing a review from his paid web designer.

    As Dan stated — 75% are mostly false reviews even on his own websites and webhostingtalk, the difference is we get attacked for removing them.

  7. @MikeDVB And do understand I’m not here to pick a fight, I just find the default stance of ‘Oh, hostjury is biased because David…’ as an invalid one. Yes, I run a web hosting company. No, I don’t involve myself with Hostjury at all from anything beyond a development standpoint. I don’t have time — Fused Network has ~2,000 clients and our eight team members eat away @ 100% of my time.

    The last time I logged into Hostjury was to post a forum post regarding our plans / upcoming functions. My involvement is solely in website direction and some advertising I do.

  8. David McKendrick :

    @MikeDVB Would love to hear more about how we’re biased @ hostjury.

    It’s a conflict of interest and no matter what you say or do or how hard to try to prove that it’s 100% unbiased… it isn’t going to matter. If I didn’t feel HostJury was a valuable resource I simply wouldn’t have linked to it 🙂

    David McKendrick :

    Other than myself having my hands in multiple cookie jars (e.g. sources of income) for diversification purposes — the only ‘bias’ I have is my dislike for false reviews.

    There’s nothing wrong with having multiple sources of income and that’s actually probably a good thing.

    David McKendrick :

    I would love to see some proof in the other direction, but thusfar only two sources have come out. One company (Hostingplex) which had paid employees actively shilling on Webhostingtalk calling us a ’scam’, and the other being repeated attacks from Jedito re: us removing a review from his paid web designer.

    As Dan stated — 75% are mostly false reviews even on his own websites and webhostingtalk, the difference is we get attacked for removing them.

    That’s simply the nature of a review site – there’s no way around it. Try as hard as you might there are going to be fake reviews that inevitably get by.

    David McKendrick :

    @MikeDVB And do understand I’m not here to pick a fight, I just find the default stance of ‘Oh, hostjury is biased because David…’ as an invalid one.

    You are obviously welcome to your own opinions as am I.

    David McKendrick :

    Yes, I run a web hosting company. No, I don’t involve myself with Hostjury at all from anything beyond a development standpoint. I don’t have time — Fused Network has ~2,000 clients and our eight team members eat away @ 100% of my time.

    Having interest in a hosting provider and a hosting review site is a conflict of interests no matter which way you split the hair. I’m not saying you’re doing anything bad because personally I’d like to start my own honest review site but I simply don’t have the time.

    David McKendrick :

    The last time I logged into Hostjury was to post a forum post regarding our plans / upcoming functions. My involvement is solely in website direction and some advertising I do.

    Good to know.

  9. WHT.com is a fair resource, but also filled with hosts just responding to a thread to get their signature out there. I suggest to look at the offers section to select a few hosts and then check them out before making a decision.

  10. You are correct… What I would do as a potential customer is look for the providers that are genuinely trying to be helpful when making their responses and aren’t making a short blurb just to get the signature in the thread.

  11. As mike and others have said, take “top 10 review” or “the best web hosts” with a pinch of salt, their nothing but rubbish which the hosting companys have paid for top location banner placements. Also avoid unlimited hosts or hosts which offer the world for little less then a cup of starbucks, As they say, You pay peanuts and you,ll recieve monkeys, I.e You get what you pay for in life, Regards.

  12. I was having a nightmare trying to find unbiased reviews. Every single website I came across was clearly trying to hustle affiliate sales. Thank God I found WHT!

  13. @Gene

    I’m fully aware of what Mr. Burdon has done and I’m working on a new article to outline the recent events.

    His actions are already getting my articles and his information some publicity: http://www.webhostingtalk.com/showthread.php?t=963915 What’s really funny is had he just been willing to work with me this could all have been avoided but unfortunately for him he’s set some gears in motion that aren’t going to be able to be stopped.

  14. With regards to the “already hosting” image, I am confused. You say it goes to mddhost.com, then redirects to a url with his affiliate link in it which drops the affiliate cookie. Now I am confused.

    Isn’t the .com/support/aff.php?aff=069 what you want in order to get a commission? How does that url drop a cookie? I thought that is what sets a cookie?

  15. The issue isn’t that it was linking to a location that dropped the cookie – the issue is that it claimed to go to promotional information/coupon codes and it did not. If it simply said it was taking the visitor to MDDHosting.com, then there would be no problem with the link. It was eventually updated to where the links did go to promotional information but at that point the whole page was set to drop the cookie even if the visitor never went to our site which is cookie stuffing and definitely a form of affiliate fraud.

  16. Host Jury started well but down the line greed took over their minds and they became similar to other review sites that have Top Rated Host Lists that are made keeping just one thing in mind, “The Commissions”

    Host Jury seem to have honest reviews from public but their top list is Truly FAKE. Claim from the site owners that they are not biased is shameful because there own host is at No.1 in the list.

    * Fused Network <<<
    * Hostgator
    * JustHost
    * Dreamhost
    * LunarPages
    * Dot5Hosting

    See the list? Now how is this list honest? Mediocre Hosts make most the list.

    It's funny that when you click most of their top hosts you get reviews that are negative. So, they say we have this "top rated host" and then they have reviews that contradict those Top Ratings.

    I really want people to do their research on Legit Forums like WHT and not go for these review sites.

  17. I think it’s great that you held you affiliate accountable instead of just running with the cash.

    Unfortunately, most companies are just thankful for the business, even if people get burned along the way.

  18. I don’t trust any of the reviews I come across. Think people are just going to have to do their own homework in this. Then make a decision based on their findings. webhostingtalk, is trash … crawling with affiliates, shills, wannabe hosting company owners. It’s ridiculous and I feel sorry for people who think they can believe a word most the folks there say.

    The hosting industry itself seems to be ridiculous. Out of control, I could install a server on my desktop and start telling people I’m a “hosting company”, lol. Ok might not be that bad, ( yet ) but getting pretty close in my view.

    Really messed up, new to the whole issue of web hosting. Took me 2dys to figure out all the “top host review” , “best web hosts 2010/2011” etc sites were all affiliate spam. Sighs, looking mdd over more closely atm. New company, but Mike seems to have a lot going for him.

  19. hey buddy

    you are full of bullshit. i am actually doing a video about you and your business..guess what? you are busted. you are just full of bullshit and i will show it in the video how you actually operate.

    want to know how you got busted? pretty smart…but, you forgot that i can check the IP of your servers.

    better luck next time.

  20. @NewsJournal

    I’m not entirely sure what you’re referring to, we’ve not mislead anybody about us or our services. I saw your support ticket today asking details about our facility and asking if you can come tour it and I answered your questions honestly. If you want to point out what you feel is misleading, I’ll be happy to review it. Just so that everybody is on the same page here, I will post your ticket and questions from our support system as well as my responses.

    Your message:

    hi Michael,

    on your website, you are mentionning that you have over 4,000sqf for your data center for your servers.

    what is the physical address of your data center?

    your phone is a mobile number and the only address for your business is a P.O. box!

    can we go visit?

    let us know

    Name Redacted for Privacy
    NewsJournal

    My Response:

    > on your website, you are mentionning that you have over 4,000sqf for your data
    > center for your servers.
    > what is the physical address of your data center?

    We are in the Handy Networks facility which is located in Downtown Denver, Colorado in the old Qwest tower (I forget who owns the building now, it was recently sold). The data center is located on the second floor and the address is:
    1801 California Street, Suite 240
    Denver, Colorado

    > your phone is a mobile number and the only address for your business is a P.O.
    > box!
    Neither number is a mobile, but they do ring to our mobiles as most of us work remote. We do receive mail at a local P.O. box as most of us work from home/wherever we are and to be honest I wouldn’t be too happy if anybody showed up at any of our houses without prior consent.

    > can we go visit?
    I’m sure you can, we don’t own the facility – we only have a cabinet in the facility – but if you get with Mike or Jay from Handy Networks (http://www.handynetworks.com/ ) I am sure they will be happy to give you a tour as well as show you our cabinet.

    Just in case anybody wants to see what the ticket looks like in our ticket system, you can see it here. The message is from bottom to top as our system displays the most recent message on top to avoid scrolling down for every response.

    As far as your comment about being able to “check” our IPs, yeah, so can we and anybody else… This isn’t some elite tactic that you’ve figured out. You can see on our company information page that we clearly state “We place our servers in the Handy networks datacenter in Denver, Colorado.” You can also see in the web archive from 2011 of that same page that the same statement existed (i.e. we didn’t modify the page recently to include that, it’s always said that).

    If this is the type of journalism you conduct, I wish you the best of luck.

  21. I like Mike and I like MDDHosting. But I do take the opposite view from Mike on this issue. The customers got to MDDHosting.com through AlreadyHosting’s affiliate link. There’s a good chance that they wouldn’t have found MDDHosting any other way. Therefore, AlreadyHosting deserves that commission, even if their link to “coupons” didn’t lead to coupons. So what? It seems to me now that Mike is making a Mountain out of a mole hill (Making a big issue out of nothing).

    I say this as someone who has tried MDDHosting and finds them to be excellent in every way.

  22. Having a link that causes the affiliate cookie to be set is fine… Setting the cookie the moment the person views the page is not, especially when the page promises a promotional code and then doesn’t provide one.

    People were searching for discounts, loading the page (and being marked as a referral) when they were not provided what they were looking for and did not use the site as a part of their decision making process. I’m not just speculating, we contacted every customer that signed up and was marked as an affiliate from that site – and none of them even remembered visiting the site. They went there for the coupon code, got none, and moved on.

    All of that being said – so long as you provide what you say you’re going to provide to your visitor, don’t offer misleading links (i.e. say you’re linking to promotional codes when you’re not), and don’t stuff affiliate cookies the moment your page is loaded – you’re fine.

    Bear in mind his page was created, and this issue handled, long before there ever was a promotional code on our front page as that’s a new feature.

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