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Google Page Rank Update

For those of you who follow Google Page Rank, this has been a pretty exciting week. After an almost 6 month wait, Google has finally updated the rank value it assigns web sites (which then contributes to how well the sites rank in the search engine results). The major change for this update has been in the way Google looks at “paid links”. For years, webmasters have used the google page rank of their site to trade, buy and sell links.

For example, if you were to start a new website, you would have a starting page rank (PR of 0). To reaise your PR you would have to get sites with a higher PR to link back to you. This would in effect put sites with high PR in a good amount of power. They could now sell links on their site, and the higher PR, the more money they could get for the links.

Google has obviously never been a fan of this. They want sites to link to you because you have quality content, not because you paid them off. In effect, you would be cheating the google algorithm and make google think you are a good site that deserves to be higher in rankings (while in reality, you just paid off some high PR sites).

After several months of speculation, Google has finally rolled out their “paid link penalization” page rank update. Although this in itself wasn’t surprising, the kind of sites that got hit is shocking. Forbes, New York Times, and many other notable web properties were hit the hardest. In fact, Forbes.com now has a measly page rank of 4, while our three new websites that were started just a month ago now rate at PR5!

On that note, although I don’t claim to be an SEO expert, I have been experimenting with some SEO for our new websites. Surprisingly, I must have figured out the correct formula because all 3 of our new sites were ranked at PR5 – something that is unheard of for a brand new website! Unfortunately, those rankings came at a cost of lowering T35.com from PR6 down to PR5. I am hoping that once the next PR update rolls around, the new sites will be considered *established* and will boost T35 to PR6-7 instead of dragging it down to 6.

With Google now officially frowning on paid links, and even link exchanges, I wonder how this will impact the web development landscape? At the same time, more and more people are becoming frustrated with the vagueness of the Google page rank. It might be a good opportunity for another company to come out with their own site ranking tool. Yahoo, MSN, and Ask.com are all good candidates.

I would love to hear some feedback from all of you guys. How was your site affected by the new page rank update? Do you plan to change the way you conduct business (link exchanges, etc..)?

Is Fantastico for cPanel becoming obsolete?

I was setting up another server for T35 Hosting yesterday and noticed something new in cpanel’s WHM (the administrative side of cpanel). They now seem to have a pretty comprehensive list of one-click-install scripts that can be offered to customers.

For those not so familiar with Fantastico, that has pretty much been their business model since they started a few years back. In fact, Fantastico has been so popular that it’s now a standard feature on most cPanel web hosts. Now that cPanel itself is offering the same service, has fantastico become obsolete? Why pay an extra $10/month per server and deal with the setup hassles when cpanel seems to offer many of the same one-click-install scripts? Granted cpanel’s list of add-on scripts isn’t as comprehensive as fantastico’s, they do seem to offer many of the most popular and the most used ones.

I’m curious to see how Fantastico responds to this new challenge from cPanel — especially when cPanel controls the software and interface that Fantastico’s scripts are built for.

Results of Removing Ads on T35 Free Web Hosting

It’s now been a full 3 months since we removed ads from T35 hosting member pages… Time to do a follow up test and see how we did! To back up a little bit, the removal of all ads from member pages was one of the biggest decisions I have ever made at T35 Hosting. Pop-up Ads (and Banner Ads before them) have been the primary driver of revenue at T35 since the beginning.

In fact, without the ads, we can’t even cover our costs and the issue of sustainability comes into question. Unfrtonuatly, removing ads was perhaps the only way to stay competitive and try to grow the business while facing increased competition from the likes of google and yahoo.

Fortunately, we came up with a multi-pronged solution to supplement revenue enough to keep the company running. The new plan involved increased monetization of our 404-not-found pages while at the same time banking on an increase in member count. We also decided to keep our “hosted by t35” footer text link and supplementing it with several other small links.

These new ads did not even come close to replacing pop-up revenue, but the hope of this bold plan was to increase membership and overall traffic to offset the loss of revenue. So enough with all of this talk… let’s see the results!

Although traffic didn’t increase as much as expected, we still saw a decent boost! Hopefully the increase continues in the upcoming months. Was removing ads a good decision? Well, I can tell you that all of our members have been ecstatic about the removal of the ads. At the same time, daily sign ups are at an all time high. Was this a good decision? Only time will tell. For the time being, I am satisfied with the preliminary results.

Pop-up Ads removed from T35 Hosting member pages!

Hate pop-ups? Why shouldn’t you? They are annoying, interfere with your web browsing experience and can often be very frustrating (especially when you try to close them). While that has been the general view on pop-up advertising over the last few years, it’s important to look back and see why they became such a popular form of advertising.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to pop-up ads is their ability to not interfere with the content of the site. Unlike banners, the pop-up ads are not placed directly in the site design/code, but instead open a new window! At the same time they can be popped up minimized, so you can check out the ad at your convenience.

Those were the primary reasons of why T35 Hosting switched from banners to pop-ups almost 7 year ago. In a sign that the tide is finally turning on pop-up ads, we have recently decided to get rid of ads on our member pages all together. My personal opinion is that a few bad apples ruined this form of advertising for everyone else.

For example, when you think of pop-up ads, what do you think of? You’re picturing the dozens of ads all poping up at the same time with no way to close them… sometimes even crashing your computer. As anyone can tell, that isn’t the best way to show an ad to a potential customer. As visitors became irritated by those ads, new pop-up blocking technology along with a strong resentment towards pop-ups developed.

To be completely fair, the advertisers have fought back and have developed pop-up blockers blockers. Yup, you read it right. Check with a few of the biggest pop-up advertisers today and they will show you their layered ads and other technology meant to block the ad from being blocked (ie: showing the ad to even those with pop-up blockers). Thus, even with the current trend’s, it’s still pretty profitable to run pop-up ads.

Alas, with overwhelming customer demand we have finally given in and removed all pop-up ads from t35 free hosting member pages. All that is left is a ‘hosted by t35 hosting’ footer link along with 1 more text footer link that we intend to sell. What’s interesting is that since the change, we have seen a DECREASE in traffic and account activity.

My theory is that over the years we have become the host for those that actually did like pop-ups and what we are seeing is the loss of those customers. I’m hoping that a few more weeks should start bringing in the much bigger majority of people who have come to dislike pop-ups and have avoided our hosting for that very reason. Only time will tell if this is an actually good move, but I’d love to hear some opinions. How do you feel about pop-ups?

First WebHostingMind Update of 2008

Ahh.. I finally got a chance to make another post on the blog! Sorry for the absence, but I am still catching up on work all the way from thanksgiving break! A real post is on the way, but for now let me just update everyone with what’s been going on.

In terms of this blog, everything seems to have stayed pretty much the same. We now get a consistent 20 visitors/day from google searches (which is impressive since we haven’t done any SEO optimization). I’m also extremely surprised by the amount of spam we have been getting – there are over 100 spam comments that get submitted EVERY DAY. You’d think that people would eventually figure out that all comments are manually approved? On top of that, they come from different ip’s (so banning an ip or two doesn’t help). I guess that’s the price you pay for an increase in traffic?

On the T35 front, we have removed all pop-up ads from member pages, but I’ll post more on this later in the week. In the mean time, I had a chance to put together a quick site for myself and you can visit it at www.alexmelen.com. I’ve used the domain for my personal email account for years, but never had the chance to have anything up there. It’s not amazingly designed, or completely comprehensive, but at the very least gives a quick snapshot of the projects I’m currently involved in. You can also add me on the two social networking sites that I participate in – Facebook (personal) and LinkedIn (professional).

I again apologize for being absent for so long, I promise to follow this up with some actual posts in the coming week!

T35 Hosting Featured in BusinessWeek

Those of you who follow business week might have noticed that I was selected for the top 25 entrepreneurs under 25 years old around this time last year. They just did a follow up interview and article, so for those who are interested:

Then:
Over the years, Melen has batted away offers from big Internet companies looking to buy out his T35 Hosting service for fear that they would take away the offering that most distinguishes it from competitors: unlimited space and bandwidth hosted for free. Last year, Melen had set out three goals to expand his company in 2007: advertise more, offer domain name hosting for free, and boost features to its paid hosting offerings.

Now:
Melen says he met all three goals and increased his customer base to about 400,000, up from 300,000 a year ago. Still, one unforeseen competitor emerged: Google (GOOG), which launched free Web-hosting service Google Pages in February. Melen believes the search giant’s presence will help boost overall growth in the Web-hosting space, but in order to prevent losing market share, T35 will have to provide more unique offerings. Some of his strategies include starting a blog about Web hosting and adding social networking features to hosted pages.”

Here’s the link to the article:
http://images.businessweek.com/ss/07/10/1022_under25_finalists/source/17.htm

And here’s the actual “Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25″ from 2006:

http://images.businessweek.com/ss/06/10/bestunder25/index_01.htm

New blog features and a quick update

I just wanted to give you guys a quick update about the things going on with the site. First and foremost, I managed to spend some time playing around with the blog and I added a bunch of new features. You can now see “recent readers” in the right column, as well as avatars for people commenting on the posts. If anyone has any feedback or suggestions, please let me know!

I am also hard at work wrapping up the php free web hosting comparison that I promised. If anyone has any last minute suggestions of free web hosts they want me to test, please let me know asap! I’m also open to suggestions on future testing and comparisons I can do. I’m thinking it might be worthwhile to start keeping track of up-time and other stats on the major free hosts. What do you guys think?

On the T35 Hosting front I’ve been racking my brains trying to figure out why we come up #9 for “free web hosting” on yahoo, and barely break top 100 on google. Any SEO experts out there that want to help? On google, T35 Hosting isn’t even ranking high for its own company name of “T35 Hosting”!

Unmetered and Unlimited Space and Bandwidth

While browsing a web hosting forum yesterday I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Unlimited and unmetered hosting is becoming a big taboo in the hosting world. In fact, most web hosting and webmaster forums have begun banning all posts about such plans.

First a little background, including the difference between unlimited and un-metered.

Unlimited space and bandwidth is something that has been around since the beginning of web hosting. A web host usually offers this as a way to attract customers, while at the same time hoping that nobody uses any significant amounts of space or bandwidth. Unfortunately, many hosts offered such a service with the intention of terminating accounts that used more than a few megabytes of space or bandwidth. Thus in the late 90’s there was a significant customer backlash to companies offering “unlimited plans”. As a result, many hosts started clarifying that they didn’t offer “unlimited plans” but instead were offering “un-metered” plans. The difference they claimed is that they just didn’t meter or keep tack of bandwidth usage on the servers.

The present day situation

Almost half a decade later, it now feels like we are experiencing a second coming of the unlimited/unmetered backlash. What’s interesting is there are companies, like T35 for example, that still offer unlimited plans without any intention of deleting accounts that use a lot of resources. In fact, many companies have found ways to offer these plans by placing restrictions on other features to keep everything balanced. At T35 Hosting for example, we limit file sizes to 512kb. That makes it hard for a customer to use tens of gigabytes of space for legitimate reasons (although we do have a few using over 10gb). Unfortunately, the hosts that have abused the unlimited/unmetered offerings seemed to have ruined it for everyone. We now find ourselves at a point where we can’t even advertise these kind of plans in some of the largest webmaster forums on the ‘net!

What now?

All of this reminds me of the automobile industry, where based on bad experiences in the 1980’s, Americans have come to associate hatchbacks with something very negative — making it very hard for any car company to successfully launch such a car. I wonder if the hosting industry has come to a point where we need to re-brand unlimited plans to something that would make them more marketable? Kind of like calling hatchbacks “sports wagons” (audi a3, etc..). What do you guys think? Are unlimited and un-metered plans still worth keeping around? Are the companies offering hundreads of gigabytes (or even Terabytes) of resources the new “unlimited” web hosts?

What happened to free web hosting?

With T35 Hosting celebrating our 10 year anniversary this year, I was digging through some old boxes to find something cool to put on the site. To my surprise, I found the original web hosting business plan! Thumbing through it brought me to the largest section: “The Competition.” Quickly skimming down the list, I was shocked to see so many old names… names that weren’t around anymore. Partially for the benefit of the readers and partially for nostalgic reasons I decided to come up with a list of the biggest free web hosts of the late 90s and take a quick look at where they are today.

FortuneCity
Late 90s
fortunecityold
Alex Ranking: ~ #200
Free Hosting? 100mb Today
fortunecitynew
Alex Ranking: #1,660
Free Hosting? No

FortuneCity, founded in 1997, was one of the first free web hosting providers. They also grew to become one of the largest, consistently ranking in the top 200 web properties in the world. These days they have completely dropped their free web hosting plan (which used to be the only service they offered). Their new site looks sleek, but the paid hosting plans (and prices) are nothing to write home about.

Geocities
Late 90s
geocitiesold
Alex Ranking: ~ #100
Free Hosting? 5mb Today
geocitiesnew
Alex Ranking: #70
Free Hosting? 15mb

Geocities is perhaps one of the most well known free hosts. So popular in fact, that it eventually got Yahoo’s attention and was purchased in early 2000. Re-branded as Yahoo! Geocities, it now caters towards paid business plans, although a 15mb free hosting plan is still offered.

Hypermart
Late 90s
hypermartold
Alex Ranking: ~ #150
Free Hosting? 75mb Today
hypermartnew
Alex Ranking: #18,931
Free Hosting? No

Although Hypermart was relatively late to the scene in 1999, it became a quick favorite by offering a whopping 75mb of space. Unfortunately it has since stopped providing its free web hosting plan. In a somewhat botched maneuver they attempted to force-convert their free members to paid accounts. Since the late 90s they have went from being in the top 150 web properties to barely making the top 20,000.

Xoom
Late 90s
xoomold
Alex Ranking: ~ #500
Free Hosting? 500mb Today
xoomnew
Alex Ranking: #26,384
Free Hosting? No

Xoom was also a fairly popular free web host that got a significant boost when it was purchased by NBC in 2000. Unfortunately the new management had very little experience in running a web host. The company soon failed and closed up shop. The domain itself was unused for years until recently when it was purchased by paypal-like company.

Crosswinds
Late 90s
crosswindsold
Alex Ranking: ~ #1000
Free Hosting? Unlimited Today
crosswindsnew
Alex Ranking: #161,001
Free Hosting? No

A medium-sized web host, Crosswinds eventually gave up on its free hosting offerings. Today it’s a regular paid hosting provider and its rankings have consequently dropped from 1,000 to not even cracking the top 100,000. There are rumors of the company bringing back its free hosting operation, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

T35 Hosting
Late 90s
t35old
Alex Ranking: ~ #2,000
Free Hosting? 35mb Today
t35new
Alex Ranking: #5,000
Free Hosting? Unlimited

Although T35 Hosting was never as big as Fortunecities and never had the financial backing of NBC-Xoom, it has surprisingly survived where most others have failed.

A quick look at this list shows a very pessimistic view of the once flourishing free hosting industry. Some of the biggest names in the industry have closed up shop and have repositioned themselves as paid hosting providers. Even companies with deep financial pockets (like NBC-Xoom) have folded under the pressure. What do you guys think? Is there one common link that caused the downfall of so many of these companies? Is this really the end of the free web hosting era? What does it take to survive as a free web host in the 21st century?