First of Seb, please tell us a little bit about yourself and how Vidahost came about?
Dominic and I started running our own hosting in 2004 when we wanted to give our own sites the best possible hosting platform. We started offering hosting to others on an ad-hoc basis, and word spread that we were doing it well! Gradually the word got out on forums and online communities. The first ‘Vidahost‘ website was setup in 2005. Our growth really took off in 2008 when we both graduated from University.We now run some 150,000 sites for 50,000 customers around the world, and are growing at a very high rate. We account for a substantial number of migrations away from the big players in the industry, with those customers now coming to us for long-term reliability and support.
1. You guys are regarded as one of the best UK hosting companies around. What sets Vidahost apart from the competition in your opinion? (could you include how many sites are hosted, etc)
There’s no big secret to our hosting. We use excellent hardware – everywhere from high-end Dell servers to advanced Cisco/Juniper networking equipment – and pair that with great support. We don’t employ any ‘sales drones’ either, or first line support – everyone here knows what they are talking about, so we do everything we can to avoid antagonising customers.
2. I’ve hosted Social Colleague with you now for a few months and in that time you’ve provided better support than any previous hosts – what’s the secret?
Don’t treat the customer like the enemy, be polite, and helpful. But mainly, if the hosting is reliable and quick, then the support calls we get are either technical questions we enjoy helping with, or new sales enquiries. If our servers were down all of the time, support would be a lot more difficult for us, and the experience a lot worse for you as a customer.
3. What are the products or services you are most proud of?
Definitely the Cloud. Entirely built in house, it’s a hosting system spread over multiple servers and soon multiple locations. Sites on that platform scale to many millions of hits per hour with no impact, and we offer it from £10 a month. We looked at the problems our customers call us about, and tried to fix them right at the core.
4. Social Colleague is now hosted on your cloud hosting package. For those looking for a hosting package, why should they consider cloud hosting?
Here are 6 reasons:1. It minimises the risk of server failure by reducing the need for any individual piece of hardware.2. It’s scalable in terms of resources and also how many sites you have – if you have 10000 sites you can still manage them in one place.
3. It runs both Linux and Windows sites, as well as the standard Email, FTP, SSH, Databases and so on
4. You can auto-install software such as WordPress in under 20 seconds
5. The control panel is brilliant.
5. In terms of social media, you seem to have a decent handle on your Facebook and Twitter accounts – from the point of view of a hosting company. Do you have any goals or objectives which you aim for?
Not at all. To be honest, we don’t focus on it too much. I think it’s more that we’re a laid back friendly company, and that comes across. We sometimes have meetings with suppliers who have also visited a competitor and had to sit in a boardroom for hours. We just go to one of the many brilliant pubs within 5 minutes’ drive (Hinds Head, Royal Oak, The George at Holyport) and talk about cars.Our office dog, Xerxes, is obviously a big draw. We can post a picture of £50k worth of brand new servers and it will get 2 likes on Facebook, but if we post a picture of Xerxes playing with the empty server box it gets 50!
6. Does Vidahost have a dedicated staff member who is responsible for social media marketing?
As I write, no BUT we are looking for someone at the moment. The advert is up on Reed (and our Facebook). We are looking to put more Newsletters and articles out. We also want to look at some more ‘corporate’ marketing which we are not currently doing. For example, we host some household names but don’t let anyone know – when the minimum we could do is release a press release or two.
7. I noticed you have a Google+ page, however it’s not been updated since November of last year. Is this a conscious decision?
It’s not conscious, no :) Would you say it’s a good tool? Should we be putting more effort into Google+ ? You’re the expert :)
8.You have a forum at Vidahost. Is this part of your long term social media strategy and do you foresee a time when the forum becomes a go-to-place for web masters – or are you content to simply provide support for your customers?
There’s not a long term strategy as such. However, a few years ago we realised that it would be good for us to help our web designers and developers as much as we can as they’re our bread and butter and we work well with them. That’s why we have a developer listing (https://www.vidahost.com/page/designer-directory) and such an attractive affiliate scheme.We started the forum before Facebook pages became popular. I definitely think the way we’ll go with it is to integrate it more closely with our Facebook page and Twitter. Currently certain forum posts update Twitter and Facebook, which is a useful way to send out important information. The forum also lets our customers meet each other which we hope is useful for them, especially for website reviews and tips.
9.Are there any other social media channels or social networks you utilize at Vidahost, or plan to in the future?
We have a very good reputation on various online forums. None of that is manufactured, and most are built up over several years. We also have a small number of videos on Youtube, and are building more which we hope to use for help guides, introductions/feature tours and so on.
10.Finally, what hosting advice would you give to web masters who are starting out with a small ecommerce website for the first time?
Firstly – always take a backup before making any changes! When we upgraded our own site recently, we briefly overwrote our very important robots.txt file. Obviously it’s a simple file to replace, but it could have been something larger.Secondly, pick a technology or CMS which has a good community where you can find support, updates and new features. If you develop your own software, make sure you have some clear boundaries and consider bringing your site online sooner rather than later – no website is ever 100% finished.We omitted to build in a blog/news section which was probably an oversight, but we’re hoping our new employee will help us resolve that. New content allows your visitors to see the site is still relevant, rather than something which was developed years ago and doesn’t receive any attention. If a visitor sees effort put into a website, it shows the company values its online presence and means they’re likely to be active and responsive with any queries.
Including something which involves/engages visitors is also a very good idea – we launched our new site with a competition driven by Facebook/Twitter which got people talking about us more, increasing our visitors and our conversion rate.
Personally I like following companies on Facebook to learn about them and what they’re doing, and if there’s a chance to win an iPad or a fluffy toy, I’m sold!
A massive thank you to the guys at Vidahost for their continued excellent support, and to Seb and Dom in particular for agreeing to this interview. I’ve hosted many websites on different hosts and whilst I don’t think any company can be perfect, they are certainly the most diligent. I wish them all the best in their continued growth.
If you have any comments about any of the answers, feel free to drop a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.