Commentary: Scratch just below the surface of that monthly rate and you'll probably find yourself paying more than you think.
Zachary McAuliffeStaff writer
Zach began writing for CNET in November, 2021 after writing for a broadcast news station in his hometown, Cincinnati, for five years. You can usually find him reading and drinking coffee or watching a TV series with his wife and their dog.
ExpertiseWeb hosting, operating systems, applications and softwareCredentials
Apple software beta tester, "Helps make our computers and phones work!" - Zach's grandparents
Comparing the details of web hosting service plans can be stressful, even before you get to the price. Some services flaunt their $3, $4 or $5 a month price tags like peacocks, but many make it too difficult to understand some key aspects of the price.
While many web hosts show prices broken up into monthly payments, you'll really be paying for a whole contract when you check out. Some services also don't make it clear that, in some cases, the price is going to go up exponentially after your contract renews. Even the advertised savings may be misleading for people looking for long-term value.
I've outlined these issues and what customers should look out for beforehand, but what could these services do to better serve their customers? It's easy to say "services need to clearly price their products," but the details can be complicated. Add-ons can cause prices to grow exponentially and contract lengths play a part in determining final cost. However, there are some clear steps services can take to be more transparent about the cost.
Here are four things these services should do so customers aren't blindsided by their web hosting price tag.
Display contract prices as yearly where applicable
Advertised prices are usually listed as monthly costs, but are ultimately attached to lengthy, years-long contracts that customers are expected to pay up front. Month-to-month contracts are available, but are rarely advertised since they are usually more expensive than yearly contracts.
Services need to make it clearer that customers are expected to pay for whole contracts up front. Or they should actually charge by the month like their plans advertise.
Clearly explain renewal prices
If services insist on using the current model of offering discounted introductory rates and then switching to much higher standard rates later, customers should have information clearly presented to fully understand the pricing model.
Some of the services mentioned above, like GreenGeeks, at least show their standard rates alongside their discounted rates, but more needs to be done. Customers should be shown the total they will pay today and what they'll pay upon renewal. A popup could also open at checkout that ensures customers understand that the price reverts to the standard rate later, and explains what the standard rate is.
Show customers a scale of what they could pay today
Some services offer customizable plans to better fit the needs of their customers. AccuWeb Hosting's VPS plans are highly configurable, allowing customers to choose things like what operating system their server will use, how much disk space and bandwidth their server will have and how many additional IP addresses to include.
However, the initial price doesn't take into account any of these add-ons. Adding 5GB of disk space to AccuWeb's base VPS plan, called VPS Mercury, causes the checkout price to jump from about $95 to $155. Then, choosing a managed server doubles the price to about $311. These two add-ons cause the initial price to triple.
A scale would give customers an idea of what they would pay for plans with no add-ons, plans with a few add-ons and plans with all the add-ons included. These different priced plans should also reflect what is in them so people know what they are paying for. Checkout is no place for a guessing game.
Get rid of the misleading figures and language around deals
Web hosting services routinely display savings figures near advertised prices. Bluehost, for example, shows its Basic web hosting plan with a 12-month contract is 70% off, and the same plan with a 36-month contract is 50% off. It's easy to see 70% off and think that's the better deal, but you have to remember that's only for 12 months until the discount expires. Once you do the math, the 12-month plan plus two more years at full price costs about $275, whereas the 36-month plan will only cost you about $178.
Some services also advertise deals and guarantees, but don't explain up front that these deals and guarantees only apply to a handful of plans. Mochahost, for example, has a LifeTime Discount Guarantee. While this guarantee is advertised on their homepage -- potentially leading some people to think it applies to all plans -- it only applies to about one-third of all plans.
I understand these tactics are marketing 101, but that doesn't make them any more acceptable. When the deals aren't as great as they sound and the guarantees only apply to select products, this hurts the company's reputation and could make customers upset and lose trust in the company.
Happy customers are more likely to remain loyal to a business or service, and they are likely to recommend that business or service to others, according to Forbes. By being upfront with customers about what they are paying and not hiding price points until the last minute -- or until their contract renews -- services could retain customers and not potentially put livelihoods at risk.