Monday 20th August 2018

Bluehost Review

Overview

Overall rating:

6.6/10

Price:

$2.95

Uptime (Jan 18):

100%

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Overview

Overall rating:

6.6/10

Price:

$2.95

Setup:

3 hours

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Overall

We’re very happy with Bluehost’s performance, however it’s severely lacking in other areas (relative to other web hosts). Bluehost, like a number of web hosts, is owned by Endurance International Group.

  • We’ll start off with the good (it gets worse): Bluehost’s performance is excellent. Our performance tests rank Bluehost above average on uptime and response time.
  • They don’t appear to offer an uptime guarantee to shared hosting customers (unlike a number of web hosting companies at this price range). If it weren’t for their performance this would be reason enough for us to disregard them as a suitable web host.
  • They offer a 30 day money back guarantee (this is about average – Hostgator offers 45 days, A2 Hosting offers ‘anytime’, InMotion offers 90 days and Dreamhost offers 97 days), however there are caveats and restrictions. More information below.
  • They charge $149.99 for website migrations (requesting their help to transfer your existing hosting account to their servers). We’re not sure why any host would charge to help with site migrations (Dreamhost do as well) when they stand to make so much profit from your business, but they do. A number of hosts provide this service free of charge.
  • Their WordPress hosting plans offer free SSL and support for HTTP/2 (they also start at $39.99 per month), however this doesn’t appear to apply to their shared hosting accounts (cheaper web hosts like Siteground offer both for free for shared hosting accounts). We say ‘doesn’t appear to apply’ because their admin panel does have a 1-click free SSL option however, when activated, it doesn’t work (maybe this is temporary) and their price comparison tables signify a free SSL isn’t provided for basic accounts (despite the fact they gave us one).
  • They set a number of restrictions on storage. The advertised restriction is 50GB, however they also set a restriction of 50,000 inodes (they won’t take action until you surpass 200,000 inodes). An inode is like meta data for files; 1 file broadly equals 1 inode.
  • Bandwidth is advertised as unmetered (‘it’s not monitored’) and unlimited (‘you can use as much as you like’). More information below.
  • CPU usage is restricted but unlike a number of hosts they don’t appear to communicate the specifics of the restriction (other than stating what types of activities are likely to be defined as excessive usage). There’s more information below.
  • Their help pages claim they integrate with CloudFlare (a content delivery network), however the instructions in their help pages are out-of-date since they’ve updated their control panel (which is the case for a number of their help pages). CloudFlare no longer seems to be available, however you can still sign-up to it yourself free of charge.
  • They offer you a free domain with your shared hosting account, however it’s more expensive to renew a domain that it is to register one and if you take advantage of their 30 day money back guarantee the cost of the domain will be deducted from your refund (unless you cancel within 3 days – more information below)
  • Their live chat isn’t anything like as responsive as other web hosting providers. We’ve asked a few sales questions about CPU usage, I/O and bandwidth only to be given links to pages we’ve already viewed. We waited 2-3 minutes in-between questions for a response.
  • It’s very WordPress-friendly. Bluehost has recently (2017) further simplified the process for installing and managing WordPress websites (see below for more information)

Features

6/10

service

5/10

Performance

8.5/10

Cost

7/10

Host overview

Performance: January 2018 (to date)

Response Time:

430ms

Uptime:

100%

Average uptime for all hosts in January 2018 (to date) is 99.80% while average response time for all web hosts in January 2018 (to date) is 1,254ms.

Cost, setup and website migrations

Despite the fact they advertise monthly rates, you can’t actually pay monthly for shared hosting accounts with Bluehost – you have to pay at least 12 months in advance.

Their ‘basic’ package, the entry-level package, is advertised at $2.95 per month however you can only qualify for this rate if you’re willing to pay 36 months in advance.

If you only want to pay 12 months in advance it actually costs $4.95 per month (total cost is $59.40 per year excluding tax). This is the package we opted for when we decided to test Bluehost.

You’ll qualify for a free domain with this package, however it’s worth noting the renewal cost for this domain is $15.99 (which contrasts unfavourably with the $11.99 it costs to register a domain). If you want to opt for domain privacy you’ll need to pay an additional $14.88 per year.

You’ll see a lot of promotional pricing on Bluehost however it’s important to read the terms and conditions where it explicitly states any promotional pricing is only available for the first term and normal rates will apply going forward (Bluehost subscriptions renew automatically unless cancelled).

On this basis, your plan will renew after 12 months and for a total cost of $95.88 (excluding tax) per year (if you were paying monthly this works out at $7.99 per month).

Bluehost also charges for site migrations. If you want their support to transfer your website, they’ll charge you $149.99 for up to 5 websites. A number of web hosts offer this service free of charge.

As far as setup is concerned it was remarkably easy. We located Bluehost’s nameservers without a struggle (some web hosts like to hide them we assume in the home that we’ll give up looking and transfer our domain) and we went through the distinctive and probably helpful automated process to install WordPress (this is a brand new feature Bluehost has rolled out – and it makes it WordPress-centric).

Restrictions

We couldn’t find any mention in their user agreement, their acceptable use policy or their admin panel about I/O, entry process or RAM restrictions for shared hosting accounts (which doesn’t mean they don’t exist, merely that they don’t communicate them.

However, if you click on one of the features in Bluehost’s price comparison tables for shared hosting accounts you’ll find this:

“We regularly examine customer bandwidth and disk space utilization data in a series of statistical analyses and use the results to define “normal”.”

While they advertised that bandwidth is ‘unmetered’ – and they also claim in some places that it’s ‘unlimited’ – it’s also pretty clear that your bandwidth (which we think they treat synonymously with ‘data transfer’) is ‘examined’ and what’s ‘normal’ will be determined by average resource usage on the server.

This also applied to CPU usage, for which Bluehost states in their terms of service:

“Bluehost expressly reserves the right to review every user account for excessive usage of CPU, bandwidth, disk space and other resources”

What is excessive usage? It’s an instance where your resource usage surpasses – to some degree set by Bluehost – the average resource usage of everyone other customer utilising the server.

Needless to say, we don’t like this. We’re buying a service but we’re not being told what the limitations are for using that service, other than ‘it depends on what everyone else does’

To be clear, this isn’t in any way unusual – all web hosts have these restrictions and many of them advertise their services as ‘unlimited’ – however, relatively speaking, there’s very little information from Bluehost around specific restrictions relating to CPU or bandwidth (except that they exist).

In terms of specific restrictions, there are a few others:

  • You’re restricted to 1,000 database tables (more than enough for most users)
  • Storage is restricted to 50,000 inodes (a lot less than some hosting providers however it should be enough for most users)
  • Storage is restricted to 50GB on their ‘basic’ plan
  • Databases are restricted to a maximum size of 2GB (more than enough for most users)
  • You’re restricted to hosting 1 website (a number of hosts at this price range allow multiple installations)
  • You’re restricted to hosting 20 databases (more than enough for most users)

Backups, guarantees and security

Does this look like a free SSL option to you?

Bluehost - SSL

Yeah, that’s what it looked like to us too. However, if you look at Bluehost’s shared hosting features page, it very clearly articulates there’s no free SSL for shared hosting customers on the ‘basic’ plan:

Bluehost - Comparison

Perhaps that explains why it doesn’t work. It’s yet another of a number of Bluehost help pages which are out of date.

Bluehost does provide a free monthly, weekly and daily backup as a ‘courtesy’, and they also make it unbelievably difficult to find in their admin panel.

Their out-of-date help pages claim it’s located in cPanel in the ‘files’ section, however we couldn’t locate it anywhere. We eventually found it under ‘Marketplace’ and ‘add ons’ which is under their alternate admin panel (you have to scroll down this page until you find ‘Site Backup’.

As a ‘basic’ shared hosting customer you’re granted access to the ‘basic’ version of this platform. The service provides a backup of your website files, your email messages and your database; it will also allow you to restore all of the above too.

At first glance it may not seem as if the ‘restore’ option is available to you for a database restore, however if you click browse you’ll then be taken to a page which allows you to restore.

All in all it’s not the most user-friendly backup system we’ve ever encountered, and they appear to have strangely removed the default manual backup option from cPanel.

Bluehost offers a 30 day money back guarantee with a few caveats.

  • If you’ve taken advantage of the free domain promotion then the cost of the domain will be deducted from your refund (they don’t charge the registration fee which is $11.99, they charge the renewal fee which is $15.99).
  • The money back guarantee only applies to the first term (which can last 12, 24 or 36 months), not any subsequent terms.
  • Unlike a lot of hosts you can get a refund on your free domain name if you cancel within 3 days of purchase.

Disappointingly, Bluehost doesn’t appear to offer an uptime guarantee to shared hosting customers. This is reason enough to consider choosing an alternate host.

The admin panel

We really can’t figure out whether we like the ‘new and improved’ Bluehost shared hosting admin panel or not. To give you some context, Bluehost has as an ever-growing affinity for WordPress – this, we suspect, is partly motivated by their – well, EIG’s – acquisition of MOJO Marketplace.

MOJO is a theme provider similar to Theme Forest, and there’s no greater upsell opportunity for a web host than web development and marketing services – let alone commoditised web development services. It strikes us that Bluehost is evolving into a service which is as much about selling complimentary services as it’s about web hosting.

What’s our concern with the admin panel? Well, in their desire to take users through the buying process towards buying themes, plugins and marketing services, they’ve left us with no option other than WordPress.

When you first login you’re presented with an option to install a theme – and you’re away. The presumption has already been made that you will use WordPress, largely because it’s in Bluehost’s interest for you to use WordPress (and it’s the most popular ‘content management system’ in the world).

Where are all the 1-click installations for other CMS or forums in cPanel? We can’t find them. If you want to install anything else you’re going to have to go through FTP because in their desire to upsell themes and marketing services, Bluehost has removed every other installation script from cPanel.

It kind of feels like we’re being sold limited options masquerading as ‘convenience’.

Aside from this, and if WordPress is your CMS of choice, you’re awash with choices. Bluehost’s control panel has been transformed into a quasi-wordpress-administration panel, one which links through to core areas of your WordPress installation (eg plugins, users and themes), offers you simplified control over caching and allows you to set conditional rules for comments, content and updates.

Stylistically, the admin panel looks great but loads a little slowly –  if you want more control then you can click on the advanced button to get through to their aesthetically pleasing installation of cPanel.

Within cPanel, you’ve got most of the options you’d expect, including:

  • A file manager
  • Database management
  • Email management (create mailboxes, setup autoresponders, configure filters, etc)
  • Cron jobs, SSH and a link to PHPMyAdmin
  • FTP details
  • Security features eg hotlink protection and IP blocking and metrics on server usage

To configure DNS you have to go through the ‘domains’ option within Bluehost’s custom admin panel (your zone file records are fully configurable).

Bluehost Customer Service

  • Live chat support: yes
  • Ticket support: no
  • Phone support: yes

Bluehost’s live chat isn’t particularly responsive. We’ve initiated a few conversations – the last one was on 23rd January, 2018 – and we were left waiting anywhere between 2-5 minutes between each interaction.

Aside from this, the main reason Bluehost loses marks for customer service is in their decision to discontinue ticket support. This is a recent decision however, as far as we’re concerned, ticketing is an essential component in providing effective and efficient customer service.

It’s also worth noting they send a large number of marketing and conversion communications – over the first month of service we received 19 communications from Bluehost (this was partly due to adding a product to cart but not purchasing it – Bluehost send you additional communications to try and get you to convert).

Basic - 12 month term

Price

$4.95

Bandwidth:

'Unmetered'

Storage:

50GB

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Basic - 24 month term

Price

$3.95

Bandwidth:

'Unmetered'

Storage:

50GB

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Basic - 36 month term

Price

$2.95

Bandwidth:

'Unmetered'

Storage:

50GB

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Basic - 60 month term

Price

$2.95

Bandwidth:

'Unmetered'

Storage:

50GB

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