Many web hosting providers offer an uptime guarantee as part of their marketing strategy to promote their reliability and uptime performance. The guarantee usually provides for compensation should they not provide between 99 percent and 100 percent uptime.
We set out in the video below what these web hosting uptime guarantees provide for, including the amount of time a server is allowed to be down before compensation is payable, and the level of compensation ultimately paid out. Ultimately, we discover that these guarantees are not worth the paper they are written on.
Do you know how many hours your web hosting is permitted to be offline under your web host’s uptime guarantee?
We thought not.
Web hosting providers usually advertise the guarantee as a percentage, so 99 percent, 99.9 percent or even 99.99 percent. Some will even offer a 100 percent uptime guarantee.
Sounds great right?
Let us take a look at these three percentages in a little more detail:
99 percent uptime
- Daily: 14 m 24.0s
- Weekly: 1h 40 m 48.0s
- Monthly: 7h 18 m 17.5s
- Yearly: 3d 15h 39 m 29.5s
99.9 percent uptime
- Daily: 1 m 26.4s
- Weekly: 10 m 4.8s
- Monthly: 43 m 49.7s
- Yearly: 8h 45 m 57.0s
99.99 percent uptime
- Daily: 8.6s
- Weekly: 1 m 0.5s
- Monthly: 4 m 23.0s
- Yearly: 52 m 35.7s
Not quite what you were expecting, right? Even with 99.9 percent uptime you are still looking at nearly 45 minutes of downtime per month, or where web hosting providers use a yearly average to base their uptime guarantee (some do), eight hours 45 minutes per year.
What is an acceptable amount of downtime?
This depends on whether your website makes you money. If it does, we would argue that any downtime is unacceptable.
But we are realists.
Unless you want to build a more expensive load balanced custom server configuration, then a small amount of downtime from time to time is inevitable, but it should not be regular. Nor should it be for any lengthy period.
- We believe that any web hosting provider should be aiming for that 99.99 percent uptime, averaged over a year. This would be more than acceptable for a $5-$10 per month web hosting plan.
- An uptime of just 99.9 percent, meaning just under 45 minutes of downtime per month would not be acceptable.
Unfortunately, a more expensive provider or service (such as VPS or dedicated) won’t automatically be more reliable. For ultimate reliability, you would need a load balanced server configuration (i.e., Digital Ocean or Linode).
Even then, a network issue at the data center might cause downtime. One way to overcome this is to sync your website to another data center and use a failover Domain Name System, or DNS.
What is the definition of downtime?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the full definition of downtime in the context of a web hosting server is as follows:
time during which a computer or machine is not working.
However, it is not quite as simple as it seems.
The definition that web hosting providers assign to the word “downtime” is completely different to its ordinary dictionary meaning.
Web hosting providers in their terms and conditions heavily qualify what causes or events would count toward your uptime guarantee. This is something that is common to most providers.
A Small Orange — A relatively typical uptime guarantee
Clause 14 of their Terms and Conditions state that they provide a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee. The uptime guarantee only applies to shared hosting plans. Requests for compensation must be made by the 10th day of the following month to be successful.
The following circumstances are not eligible for compensation:
- Scheduled maintenance
- DDoS or similar attack
- Hardware failure
- Third-party software failure
- Customer maxing its resource container
- Issues resulting from errors or omissions by the customer
- Issues relating to the customer’s ISP
- Firewall blocks/bans, or any other circumstance beyond our reasonable control.
Any payouts are at the absolute discretion of A Small Orange.
SiteGround — A little more compensation, but very much the same
Section A of SiteGround’s service level agreement for 99.9 percent network uptime. We are unsure why they specifically mention “network,” as the restrictions on claiming seem to indicate Emergency maintenance and hard failure will be compensated if it exceeds one hour. Here is the full list of events that do not count toward their calculation of uptime.
- Scheduled maintenance
- Emergency maintenance, hardware and software failure remedied under one hour
- Distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks, hacker attacks and other similar events
- Downtime caused by you, your own configuration or third-party applications you use
- Downtime caused when you reach the maximum resources allocation for your plan
- Downtime caused because you have violated this TOS
- Downtime during work on your technical support request(s
- Force majeure
As you can see, they are reasonably similar to A Small Orange, and from our own knowledge, typical of the industry generally.
The big issue with SiteGround is that they base their guarantee on the average of a 12 month period. Therefore, a troublesome month can easily be absorbed by other good months.
Editor’s note: You shouldn’t worry too much about the terms of any guarantee. As you will see later in the article, we think they are worthless.
So, assuming you qualify for compensation under the uptime guarantee, how much would you be compensated?
In a similar way to the definition of downtime, this is heavily dependent on the terms and conditions for your individual web hosting provider.
Let us take a look at the two web hosting providers we commented on earlier:
A Small Orange
A Small Orange issue a credit to your account equivalent to one day of service for every 45 minutes of downtime, but the first 45 minutes shall not be counted for this purpose.
The guarantee only relates to shared web hosting, and not their Virtual Private Servers, or VPS, Cloud Hosting, Semi-Dedicated or Dedicated Server packages.
There does not seem to be a limit on the maximum amount you can claim under the guarantee. Usually, it is restricted to the amount paid for the service, i.e., a month’s hosting fee.
Assuming you have their $5.84 per month shared hosting plan, you would be paid following amounts for the differing levels of downtime:
- One hour — Nothing.
- Two hours — one day of hosting — approx. $0.20.
- Five hours — five days of hosting — approx. $0.97
- 12 hours — 15 days of hosting — approx. $2.92
- 24 hours — 31 days of hosting — approx. $6.03
SiteGround has a slightly more generous compensation amounts, assuming you qualify. Between 99 percent and 99.9 percent uptime, you get an entire month hosting applied to your account. It does not seem to be restricted to any particular plan, so their cloud or dedicated hosting should qualify.
For every 1 percent of downtime beyond that, further months hosting would be credited.
Assuming you have their $9.99 (renewal price) plan, you would be paid following amounts for the differing levels of downtime:
- One hour — Nothing.
- Two hours — Nothing.
- Five hours — Nothing.
- 12 hours — 1 months free hosting — $9.99
- 24 hours — 1 months free hosting — $9.99
Because the uptime figures are averaged out over the year, you need eight hours 45 minutes of downtime to qualify for compensation. To qualify for that second month of downtime, you need three days 15 hours 39 minutes of downtime.
As you can see, it is very unlikely you will be paid more than $9.99 for the entire year, no matter the frequency of issues.
Why it is not just about downtime, but consistent performance
Quite often, it is not the web hosting providers fault that your website is slow. While a full discussion on what causes your website to be slow is outside the scope of this article, we have highlighted a couple of reasons below:
- The number and size of the external resources included on the website — Examples include third party commenting scripts, third party fonts, adverts.
- The number of database queries the website makes when loading a page — Bloated themes or plugins can exacerbate this. We recommend reducing the number of plugins and implementing page caching to reduce this.
- Non-optimized images — You should ensure your images are correctly reseized and optimized for the web.
Of course, assuming your website is optimized, and your website is still sluggish, it is natural to look for your web hosting provider for answers.
Under the terms and conditions, no guarantee is made to the performance of your web hosting server.
Why should you monitor your website downtime?
If your website is mission critical, then we recommend monitoring for downtime. This will enable you to submit support tickets within minutes of an issue being detected.
Furthermore, we recommend choosing a monitoring solution that can identify the performance of your website.
While a full discussion of the different monitoring systems is outside the scope of this article, one we use is Pingdom. With Pingdom, you can configure multiple monitors, for example:
- Monitor your website, and set the monitor to check for a particular word or phrase.
- Monitor your content delivery network
- Monitor both your cached and uncached pages
- Monitor not only the uptime but also response times
- Monitor page speed.
Ultimately, your uptime guarantee is worthless
If you navigate all the exclusions and have sufficient downtime, you will find that the level of compensation is extremely poor.
They say “time is money,” right? With the level of compensation offered by some web hosting providers, it is almost not worth seeking.
Furthermore, you have to consider your likely action should your web hosting provider consistently provide bad uptime \ service? That’s right. You are likely to leave them, and go elsewhere. In light of this, do you want credit or service time added to your account?
So yes, these guarantees are worthless.
The best way to avoid downtime is to choose your web hosting provider wisely. One that has a proven track record when it comes to reliability, and most importantly has the support infrastructure in place so that when things do go wrong, they are dealt with quickly and efficiently.
You can view our top user rated hosting providers here.
Jonathan Griffin Editor, SEO Consultant, & Developer.
Jonathan Griffin is The Webmaster's Editor & CEO, managing day-to-day editorial operations across all our publications. Jonathan writes about Development, Hosting, and SEO topics for The Webmaster and The Search Review with more than nine years of experience. Jonathan also manages his own SEO consultancy, offering SEO developer services. He is an expert on site-structure, strategy, Schema, AMP, and technical SEO. You can find Jonathan on Twitter as @thewebmastercom.