I’d like to share my one-month experience of using FatCow web hosting which is one of the brands owned by Endurance International Group (EIG). And I’ll give you tips how to avoid being manipulated as a customer and how you can leverage you marketing efforts as an entrepreneur by revealing you the FatCow lessons I’ve learned.
From this article you’ll know:
- Why numerous top web hosting review sites promote EIG hosting brands including FatCow as best web hosts.
- How ‘best’ it was for me, as a FatCow client, from the very beginning.
- What server performance FatCow offers their clients.
- How companies can allure you, as an innocent customer, and then squeeze money out of you (with FatCow example) and tips to avoid it (INCLUDING EASY BUT VERY MIGHTY PSYCHOLOGICAL TRICKS for both buyers and sellers!).
- Why it is a problem to leave FatCow even if you want to.
- What web hosting providers can do to avoid issuing absolutely legit refund to you during a money-back guarantee period and what you should do (my case study with FatCow).
- Bonus tips: What you can do if your current web hosting provider does a bad job (hint: it’s not not always changing your hosting immediately)
Why EIG hosting brands (including FatCow) are promoted here and there?
In short, there are several reasons:
- EIG pays a lot of money for referrals. For example, one will get $100 for bringing one new shared hosting client to FatCow.
- Many of the most promoted hosts belong to EIG. And internet marketers simply avoid promoting unknown hosts (because buyers prefer well-recognized brands). Meanwhile, EIG tends to turn into a subtle monopoly by acquiring hosting brands and operating them as if they are independent competitors. EIG cuts costs by optimizing their business infrastructure and decreasing the quality of service. Most users simply don’t realize that different well-known hosting names mean in fact the same parent company. And when users get awful hosting service they keep moving from one ‘best web host’ that belongs to EIG to another.
- Many bloggers promote EIG hosting simply because they haven’t done a good research and just repeat what others promote.
A lot of newbies fall for manipulatively inflated ratings on fake, paid and affiliate-biased hosting review websites and then, having chosen FatCow, begin to suffer. Now I really feel their pain. And I want to review it so that you don’t get into EIG’s misleading marketing traps. Ever.
Update: I’m happy that this review does make a change in the world. For example, Jerry Low from webhostingsecretrevealed.net has changed his mind regarding FatCow after reading this post. He even published a Q&A session with me (you can read it in the section “FatCow User Review: Q&A With Michael Bely” on this page).
My background story before test-riding FatCow
About a month ago I was offered to write a short research on FatCow hosting. So as a part of my research I registered an account with it to check its user interface, some features and current server performance.
Now I have collected a month-long data on its performance and I bet you’ll be thrilled when you see it.
Yes, from the very beginning you can feel that it’s not going to be a positive review. But be assured, it’s really reasonable.
More than a year ago I did a research on shared hosting providers (which is actual as I update it when necessary). And since then I’ve been obviously avoiding EIG hosting by all means. I just didn’t need to try it myself to make sure EIG hosting sucks.
In addition to massive EIG hosting outages and failures that resonated in mass media, there are problems that thousands and thousands of users experience on a regular basis being EIG clients. If you are curious, just Google something like “what’s wrong with EIG hosting” and enjoy reading.
And so came the time when I had to try EIG hosting myself. So enjoy my ride report. Here it is:
And now seriously.
FatCow’s vDeck4 instead of cPanel, and it was a bad surprise
FatCow uses vDeck4 as a control panel (you are not likely to know about it until you sign up, because FatCow doesn’t explicitly put about it in its hosting feature list). But the industry standard control panel for shared web hosting is cPanel.
For you as a user using vDeck means more troubles if you decide moving hosts one day. With cPanel you have very good chances to move a full account flawlessly from one cPanel host to another. You can do it even without your participation (hosting staff will do it for you free of charge as a rule). But moving from vDeck to cPanel requires manual backing up data , restoring and setting up the new account, which can be a time-consuming pain.
And be prepared that if you migrate from vDeck to cPanel your emails associated with your former account will be lost.
FatCow: problems installing a default WordPress site and drag-n-drop website builder did not work
It was ridiculous! I could NOT install a default WordPress site. I tried all possible ways I could find in their Control panel (one-click installing, then from Simple Scripts section, then from menu, then from a their tool called Mojormaketplace). But as soon as I clicked on them, the system either gave me a blank page or a ssl error page in my browser.
After installing and setting up many dozens of different websites on different hosting, this time I could not progress any further with FatCow. Finally I had to give up and contact its support.
FatCow’s support said I had to wait for 24-48 hours before installing WordPress.
That was unexpected, mildly speaking.
And it was absolutely new domain that had been just registered (so it did not require its DNS to be propagated or whatever).
“Okay”, – I thought, – “let’s wait if you insist”. And decided to play a little with its website builder Weebly for a while.
It allowed me to edit website content, but as soon as I pressed “Publish” button, my website showed a FatCow default “site under development” page. Yes, that was very ‘user-friendly’!
If I were a newbie, I’d probably contact support (the second time for several minutes, haha). But I just didn’t want to spend my time on it because I knew it was something with home page files on the server.
So I went to File Manager and found out that Home.html file (or a setting in .htaccess) was causing the issue.
But I could not edit .htaccess in File Manager and did not want to spend my time finding a way to do it from FatCow control panel. So I just deleted Home.html.
By the way, File Manager was full of annoying bugs like no folder content refreshing or no file renaming option.
Heck, I felt like a beta-tester for FatCow hosting!
Alright. I thought it was enough for that day and waited for 2 days as the support suggested me before installing WordPress.
After 48 hours passed I still had the same errors and could not install a poor simple default WordPress site.
And I had no choice but to contact FatCow support again.
This time the support said that there were no problems with my account (which was not true, because there WERE installation problems indeed).
As a short-cut to a solution, the support offered to install WordPress for me. I needed to get it done ASAP and just agreed without arguing.
So it was too much of hassle for installing WordPress with FatCow.
A decent hosting should not allow such a bad user experience happen. You should expect to be able to install WordPress quickly and flawlessly with literally a couple of clicks from cPanel.
FatCow server response time monitoring
After I got WordPress installed, I added 300-word article on the front page. That was enough for my simple test site.
Then I added my site to a monitoring system to watch server response time. (If you don’t know what response time is for, it’s a very important factor showing how fast your website downloads for users. By the way, real-experience full page download time is even moer than server response time.)
So guess what? FatCow hit number one worst hosting in my list. I got huge, no, HUGE, number of warning emails from my monitoring system notifying me that my website was down or did not response.
Before you see one of the worst server performance I’ve ever experienced (and I monitor dozens and dozens of hosting servers, here’s an example), look how a pretty good server response time (in milliseconds) for shared web-hosting looks like:
And now have a look at what kind of grass FatCow gave me to eat (its server response time is tens of times slower!):
The monitoring system shows the site is down if its response time is more than 10 seconds.
if you’re brave enough, look at other 20 days of FatCow’s server recorded performance by clicking the link below.
Impressed? So was I. But do I want to say that absolutely all FatCow users get the same performance for their websites? No, I don’t think so. Otherwise FatCow would not last long I guess. So consider I was unlucky to be hosted on a problematic server. The very first hours of Day 0 (not on the screenshots) my test website was actually quite fast, but it did not last long…
Anyway, such an awful FatCow server performance is not an exception. If you do your research, you will find that a lot of people complain about slowdowns. It means that FatCow (and EIG in general) do not manage the servers well, or simply overcrowd their servers with websites.
How companies can persuade you into buying a (sh!tty) product (FatCow example). And what you can do with it
One of the most successful tactics to persuade people into buying anything is to appeal to emotions and do psychological tricks. The most effective manipulations are based on people’s emotions. Let’s see how FatCow persuades people into buying its products.
You, as a consumer or a customer, may learn from the stuff below how to resist such manipulations when looking for a good product. At the same time you, as a entrepreneur, may learn how to use such tactics to talk people into buying your great products.
One of the most famous manipulation experts, Robert Cialdini, points out 6 key principles of influence (and my comments regarding buying products):
- Reciprocity (Someone did anything for you, and you will feel kind of obliged to do something, for example buy a product from them, in return),
- Commitment and Consistency (someone will have more chances to persuade you to do the whole thing or buy a more expensive product by making you do little steps or make micropayments),
- Social Proof (we love to be with the masses, it let us feel safe and lighten our burden of responsibility of making a right choice when we buy anything),
- Authority (we tend to obey authorities or even simply famous people like celebrities and subconsciously we are much less critical to what they recommend us buying),
- Liking (if you like someone, you are more likely to agree to buy what he or she offers you),
- Scarcity (you are more likely to buy anything if there is a shortage of it, kind of “Hurry up! This offer ends in 0 days 3 hours 14 minutes and only 8 copies are left” etc)
In general, I’m not against of using these principles in business (of course, considering good ethics and good products are in place).
But FatCow was an awful hosting service for me (as well as for many and many other clients). That’s why I am going now to take FatCow as an example of bad manipulation and reveal it here for educational purposes.
1. Reciprocity (doing something in return)
Look at this FatCow banner below:
The company plays a good and caring role by giving to the society a share of its revenue for taking care of the nature and human health. How nice! Many people will want to buy the hosting as a reciprocity act of the input they can do from their end.
As a whole, donating is a good move. But the point is that it doesn’t have anything with hosting. So, donating can make a good company look better, but it can not turn a bad company into a good one only because of donations.
For you, as a customer:
- Don’t let your emotions fall for misleading reciprocity tricks. Focus on what matters most in the first place (hosting quality in this case).
For you, as an entrepreneur:
- Use reciprocity (by giving out something free of charge) to help people out and make a world a better place, and you will earn a good reputation.
2. Commitment and Consistency (several little steps instead of one big leap)
You see different discounts and promo prices. One offer is better than another:
Looks like a good deal for you compared to an original price.
After you buy hosting that is advertised as if it has all the bells and whistles, you realize that some features are limited and you need to pay additionally for a full access (for example, a free website builder is only for first 6 pages, then you have to upgrade your account, etc).
Besides, you are offered different up-sells, which are not included in the original price like automatic backups (surprise!) and other features. By the way, you can get some of those features cheaper, better or even free of charge somewhere else.
If you look at the attractive price discounts more carefully, you’ll see that they are all temporary (e.g. first billing period is cheaper, but then prices increase dramatically).
Thus, the point of FatCow’s strategy is to persuade you do the first step and sign up. And then they will increase prices and up-sell you different additional stuff, some of which you even don’t need (but telling you as if you do need it) or which doesn’t work. Finally it will be not cheap at all as you might be thinking in the beginning.
For you, as a customer:
- Look for renewal prices (it’s the easiest what you can do, but it’s still very effective).
- Read carefully the fine print and Terms (yes, easier said than done).
- Keep in mind that if you have difficulties finding company’s pricing and features in one place, then there are chances that the company wants to make this mess on purpose to keep you unaware and make you sign up and then increase prices and up-sell.
For you, as an entrepreneur:
- Commitment and consistency is the strategy with a great potential. Use it wisely to keep you customers happy. You may start with a little price to establish relationship and trust first.
3. Social Proof (the more people use or buy something, the more likely you’ll do the same)
It’s one of the most effective tactics to persuade people to do anything.
Here’s how FatCow uses it. FatCow gives numerous highly positive reviews and feedbacks on its website. FatCow is smart to select and display those feedbacks that emphasize its branding (by the way, branding is how a company want to look like, not how it really is):
- polite and fast support
- it’s easy and fun
Many people repeat the same again and again in their reviews using different wording. And it seems to persuade and convert.
After using FatCow for nearly a month, I can say that positive reviews that touch the technical side of FatCow do not correspond at all with my experience with FatCow.
Nevertheless, I bet numerous positive reviews are effective to persuade many other people who don’t know much about hosting or who didn’t do a proper research before signing up.
I know that FatCow used to give its customers $25 credit for a single review. So no surprise how FatCow could get a lot of positive feedbacks.
By the way, here’s a psychological trick – if you are paid, then your review will tend to be much more positive than if you wrote it without compensation. And in addition to that, many people will write whatever just in order to get the money.
Let’s look at just one good example of FatCow testimonial (which is listed as number one reason why FatCow clients are mooing with delight):
So what do we see? It’s not about hosting, it is not about features, it’s not even about satisfaction in general, and it’s not about benefits. It’s just fun and pure emotionally driven piece of creative writing. That’s what persuades FatCow’s target audience.
For you, as a customer:
- Don’t rely too much on a social proof factor. It can be easily faked. Even if all the numbers, people, reviews etc are real, it may not mean a lot in many cases because of many things including people’s conformity or their incompetence.
- Try to ignore purely emotional or unspecific feedbacks (even if there are tons of them)
- Stand against the crowd – do your own research.
- Don’t follow FatCow’s advice to join the herd.
For you, as an entrepreneur:
Social proof is a very powerful way to persuade people. You can even change people’s beliefs and behavior radically. Here is one of my favorite videos about the subject:
- So, use and leverage social proof (but be ethic)
4. Authority (famous people or members on a higher level of hierarchy can talk other people into buying anything easily)
Although FatCow didn’t hire Chuck Norris to promote the hosting, there is a kind of authority’s moo in the testimonials:
A person claims to entrust a hundred clients sites to FatCow. Newbies may think that the guy is a kind of expert with such a big client base and his hosting choice must be good.
Authorities may have their benefits or reasons when promoting or recommending something. It can be a direct compensation, a part of business collaboration, partnership, friendship or some other kind of relationship.
For you, as a customer:
- Resist trusting authorities that you don’t know well, especially if they are not experts in the field in question. Nicole Kidman agreed to advertise Channel in the most expensive short TV ad ever not because it’s her favorite perfume, but because she got paid $3 mln:
For you, as an entrepreneur:
- Find $3 mln and hire Nicole to promote your product! 🙂
- If seriously, have a great product and cooperate with experts (or other authorities) to get it promoted
- Reveal yourself to the public as an authority in your field of expertise
- Learn something and become an authority in your field
- If you are just starting your business and don’t have business connections yet, here’s a piece of my experience: help people out and you’ll get truthful and sincere feedbacks that you can use to build your authority. For example, check out one of the emails that I got after chatting with a person whom I could help:
You can be helpful for someone not when you know everything, but when you know more than that person.
5. Liking (you are more likely to buy stuff if you like the seller)
FatCow uses a definitely consistent and appealing design that turns into a story. It’s a story about nature- and health-friendliness, community-like herd, love, humor and politeness of technical support.
The story creates a pleasant atmosphere and people like it, especially if they are newbies and all technical stuff is so difficult and even frightening to them. And here is a kind and friendly fat cow mommy that will help you, a little newborn calf cattle, set up your website, surrounding you with care and support.
I don’t deny it, it’s a good story that FatCow has (even if it’s not 100% truthful story) and it converts into new sign-ups on and on.
People like all the love that FatCow displays on its website, even if it is not what hosting should be about in the fist place.
FatCow doesn’t even guarantee its servers uptime (at least I could not find it on their website).
And what’s more funny, look what FatCow tells its clients about email notifications from an uptime monitoring system regarding FatCow outages:
By this FatCow confirms that multiple downtimes is kind of normal and simply suggests to turn the annoying notifications off 🙂
Well, if to put the irony aside, a hosting that charges as much as about $11/mo should make sure that outages are as seldom as possible. Suggesting to ignore the downtime notifications is a sheer mocking!
For you, as a customer:
- Try to separate emotional liking and sympathy from the stuff that really matters when making decisions
For you, as an entrepreneur:
- Develop your business image so that your clients like your brand, or like what you do, or like how you do, or like you as a person, or even like how you look like.
6. Scarcity (makes your pointer finger tip itch and click ‘buy now’ button)
One of my previous posts was devoted to time scarcity, abused my marketers.
FatCow uses this mighty psychological trick to make people buy their hosting ASAP.
And FatCow uses this tactics very straight: it just puts “this offer ends soon” every time when a current offer expires. The simplest way to make little cows take their place in FatCow’s hosting stall as soon as possible.
Just check out the history of FatCow offers snapshots in Waybackmachine. The offers are in place everyday, although the banner on their websites says it expires soon or time-limited offer etc (or even gives a specific deadline so that you act ASAP):
Check out the dates on the screen shots above: the similar offers and sales are continuous and not really a time-limited discount. So this time-scarcity “Act now” trigger is just a marketing trick.
For you, as a customer:
- Very often time scarcity is just a marketing trick and doesn’t have anything with a real time-limited offer. So keep it in mind before impulsively clicking ‘buy now’ button. It can save you sometimes from a bad decision.
- Read the second half of this post if there’s a time-limited offer that ends soon, but you don’t want to act now and would like to think for some more time.
For you, as an entrepreneur:
- Time scarcity is a very effective approach to make people, who tend to buy impulsively, act ASAP. But if you don’t want to look like a cheap cheater, use it wisely.
Want to quit FatCow? You’ll get problems.
So let’s assume you got it enough and want to quit. Some companies (including FatCow) may do quite an effort to make you stay with them or continue charging you against your will.
Taking your domain as a hostage
One of the shortsighted moves you can do when registering your domain is to register it with your hosting provider. Why is it bad? Because when you decide to change your hosting, you may have issues taking your domain under your control.
There are some evidences that FatCow uses this domain-hostage practice:
When I for a testing purpose registered a free domain with FatCow, the domain was registered under my WHOIS data. So formally, the domain belonged to me. (However, some really bad hosting companies register domains under their credentials, so the domain even don’t belong to you at all.)
As regards FatCow, I assume (although I don’t know for sure), that the problems that people have when they try to quit FatCow hosting are connected with that FatCow somehow resists changing DNS. And as a result you can’t use another hosting with your domain while it’s still registered with FatCow.
Anyway, according to messages in the web, people do have difficulties with domains registered with FatCow when they try to quit the hosting. And that’s a bad argument against FatCow.
So, It’s a good practice not to take a free domain from your hosting company. It’s recommended to have your hosting and domain registered in different places.
Say goodby to your emails
One of the caveats of FatCow hosting is that when you decide to change hosting, your emails are likely to stay with FatCow forever and you aren’t able to move them to your new hosting. Probably it’s due to the reason that FatCow uses vDeck and most other web hosting companies use cPanel as a control panel.
Big hassle of manual migration
You will have to face another problem when you decide to move from FatCow to another host. Since most other webhosts use cPanel as control panel, you will have to move your files, databases and all the setting manually. I’ve already wrote about it above so will not repeat here.
FatCow does NOT guarantee unconditional 30-day moneyback
FatCow recommends to pay with credit card, saying in its Terms that only so you are guaranteed to get a refund during 30-day money-back guarantee. It sounds BS to me. I suspect that FatCow wants you to use a credit card because they know that you have less control over automatic payments scheduled on your credit card by FatCow.
Moved from FatCow but still charged
Using Paypal you can go into your account and cancel recurring payments at any time. Whereas using credit card, if you forget to cancel your account with FatCow, you need to go to your bank when you are charged and request a charge back, which is a lot of hassle. And there are chances that you simply forget it.
As regards me, when I bought FatCow hosting, the first thing I did was that I went to my PayPal account and canceled the scheduled recurring payment. And thus I just didn’t need to contact FatCow support asking them to cancel my account and then check after a year if they really did not charge me again. With PayPal I have more control over my payments and feel safer for my credit card credentials.
You want refund during a money-back guarantee? You’ll not get it!
In addition to FatCow’s terms about guaranteeing refund during 30-day money-back period only if you paid with credit card, it will not refund you the money that you paid for additional services and add-ons such as spam protection, backups etc.
Moreover, when I requested a cancellation of my FatCow account and a full refund during 30-day money-back guarantee, the support simply did not want to give me refund. Only insisting and digging into FatCow’s Terms helped me to get my money back. Anyway, it was not about money, it was about FatCow’s attitude towards clients.
Here’s our chat:
The chatting manner of the support made me think that the support is simply instructed to avoid refunds as much as they can. No surprise if they get some bonuses for that.
A good hosting would not simply assert that the website is fine when a client says it’s not. And a good hosting would suggest ways how they can rectify the situation or finally explain the options how a client can get a refund. But it’s not the case with FatCow.
How to get a refund if you are right and even if your are not right according to Terms of Services
First of all, the best way to avoid such situation is simply to avoid such hosting.
But if you appear in the situation like mine, and you know that you are right, then keep insisting and demand explanations. Then go to their Terms of Services and try to find a way how to get what you want.
Even if their Terms are against you but you feel that you are right and the money that you are loosing is significant to you, then you may record your chat and publish it on some public place in the Internet, for example a forum where the company in question is being promoted.
I know many cases when people got refunds regardless any terms of services only because hosting company wanted to save its face. And if you are polite during public discussions, you will have more chances to get a refund, because it will be about sympathy and ethics and not about terms of services (which hardly any customer reads at all, by the way).
What you can do if your host does a bad job
Of course, you may just leave it for good if you’ve got it enough. In many cases it’s the best decision.
But if you used to like it and then something went wrong with the hosting, then you may give it a second chance. Just contact its support and try to talk with them like with partners and explain them your worries. A good hosting company will do as much as they can to make you pleased, because they don’t want to loose you as a client, especially if you are a polite client.
The most expensive thing in our life and business is our mistakes. And you can avoid a lot of mistakes if you do a proper research. But it may take tons of time and efforts for you. So I hope that this 5,000-word article about hosting and marketing manipulation will help you to save your time by getting a piece of my experience and thus become smarter.
Thank you for reading!
Share in the comments your thoughts, ask any questions, or just let me know what do you appreciate or expect most of all in a good web hosting?