Sunday 27th May 2018

HostGator Review

Overview

Overall rating:

6.1/10

Price:

$4.95

Uptime (Jan 18):

99.76%

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Overview

Overall rating:

6.1/10

Price:

$4.95

Setup:

6 hours

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Overall

Hostgator’s cloud hatchling package is a bit like a rebellious teenager – full of promise but rough around the edges. Hostgator was acquired by EIG in a $225 million deal in 2012.

  • We were initially very impressed with performance, however it has lagged as time has gone on. Response time is still among the best however uptime has worsened to the point we’ve witnessed 1 hour and 45 minutes of downtime in January 2018.
  • According to their live chat operators they don’t support HTTP/2 (which is quite disappointing considering a number of hosts do eg Siteground and GreenGeeks); nor do they offer free SSL (unlike a number of web hosts at or below this price range) which is perhaps due to the fact they discourage customer from using HTTPS unless it’s ‘essential’ (more below)
  • Their terms of service need to be updated (what their live chat operators tell us is often nowhere to be found in their TOS).
  • You can only host 1 domain under their cloud hosting package (shared hosting accounts offer unlimited websites).
  • They offer a 99.9% uptime guarantee, however they don’t accept data from performance monitoring software to verify this. It also states in their terms of service that it only applies to shared and reseller accounts (theoretically ‘cloud’ accounts are ‘shared’ accounts, however they’ve used both terms to refer to different services throughout their website) however live chat operators state that it also applies to cloud accounts. If they fall below 99.9% uptime then they’ll give you one month of hosting for free.
  • We aren’t impressed with their live chat support. We contacted them as new customers and the chat operator took 2-3 minutes to respond between questions and then declared they were having ‘server problems’ (not what you should be telling a new customer).
  • Unlike Bluehost (also a subsidiary of EIG) they offer free website migrations (Bluehost charges $149.99). They can even migrate all of your emails if your previous host used cPanel.
  • They offer a 45 day money back guarantee (which is more than many web hosts offer) however, again, their terms of service don’t include cloud hosting as a qualifying account type (except apparently it does qualify). More information below.
  • Storage is advertised as ‘unmetered’ (however the actual storage limitation in cPanel is 1TB) but there are some restrictions (see more below) eg according to their terms of service any shared hosting account taking up more than 20GB of disk space or 100,000 inodes will be removed from their free weekly backups.
  • There used to be an option to enable CloudFlare (a ‘content delivery network’) in cPanel, but this option seems to have disappeared. All internal links to CloudFlare help articles no longer resolve. In other words, from what we can see, there’s no CDN at cloud package level but you can of course use CloudFlare yourself.
  • The only form of automated backup available is a weekly backup. CodeGuard backups (daily backup and restore) are available however you have to pay extra.
  • Hostgator provides numerous ways to contact support: live chat, support ticket or phone. From we can see they only recently reinstated ticketing as a form of support. We don’t like being made to enter our billing password to access live chat though.
  • All cloud accounts come with Varnish caching.

Features

6.5/10

service

5/10

Performance

7/10

Cost

6.5/10

Host overview

Performance: January 2018 (to date)

Response Time:

440ms

Uptime:

99.76%

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

The hatchling cloud account – the entry-level account – is priced at $4.95 per month excluding taxes. Then again, it isn’t really. If you want to qualify for that rate you have to pay at least 36 months in advance.

If you want to take a monthly option the cost is $12.95 excluding tax (which, over the course of a year, works out at $155.40). We settled for the 12 month option which comes in at $7.95 per month excluding tax but is payable 12 months in advance (the total cost is $95.40).

This package also automatically renews at the end of your 12 month term and for $131.40 payable in advance for another 12 months (be careful with this!)

Based on this we advise you try to lock in the discounted rate for as long as possible.

Setup was relatively painless; we unearthed Hostgator’s nameservers quickly and opted for a 1-click installation of WordPress from their control panel. We were live within a few hours.

Unlike a number of other web hosts, Hostgator offers website migrations free of charge (a lot of hosts either charge a premium or don’t offer this service).

Restrictions

Like most hosts Hostgator places restrictions on CPU usage (a quick glance through historical forum posts shows a number of users experiencing this issue) and like most hosts these restrictions aren’t particularly transparent (to their credit they do go into significantly more detail than others).

While shared hosting accounts ‘risk suspension’ (or having their pages cached) if their CPU usage is too high (defined as 25% of CPU usage for 90 seconds at a time), cloud accounts are throttled and remain live even during high demand (they will be throttled until their usage returns to ‘normal’ levels).

This said, it’s also worth noting that cloud accounts are still shared accounts in the literal – not marketing or advertising – sense (ie it’s not dedicated resource).

The restrictions below were pulled directly from their help pages and relate exclusively to cloud hosting packages:

  • A cPanel may have sustained usage of up to 50% of its resources without ever being throttled.
  • A cPanel may use 100% of its purchased CPUs for up to 300 seconds.
  • After 300 seconds of 100% usage, the cPanel will be limited to 75%.
  • After 300 additional seconds at maximum usage, the cPanel will be limited to 50%.
  • After 300 additional seconds at maximum usage, the cPanel will be limited to 25%.
  • After 300 seconds of reduced usage all resource limits are reversed in the same order.

We’re not sure what’s meant by ‘sustained’. To make this all slightly more confusing, when you login to cPanel you’re presented with a tooltip over the metric ‘CPU usage’ which states: “it’s best to ensure your scripts do not consume more than 25% of the server’s CPU resources for a duration of 90 seconds at a time.”

This is the restriction Hostgator advertises as applicable to shared hosting accounts, not cloud accounts.

As an aside, there’s an image on a Hostgator help page (see below) which stipulates that just under 3,000 CPU seconds over a 24 hour period is ‘extremely high usage’ (compare this to Siteground which permits up to 10,000 CPU seconds over a 24 hour period).

We contacted a sales representative to verify this, however he said such limitations aren’t placed on Hostgator accounts.

Hostgator - CPU seconds

There are other restrictions buried within Hostgator’s terms of service:

  • You can’t run cron jobs (automated or scheduled tasks) with intervals of less than 15 minutes (a number of hosts set this at 30 minutes)
  • You can’t run any MySQL queries for longer than 15 seconds

There’s another particularly interesting restriction in their terms of service and in relation to SSL:

 “[You may not] use https protocol unless it is necessary; encrypting and decrypting communications is noticeably more CPU-intensive than unencrypted communications.”

We find this particularly counter-intuitive considering some of the world’s largest internet companies have been screaming at webmasters to utilise HTTPS. Their point about HTTPS being more CPU-intensive is correct, however:

  1. What is ‘necessary’?
  2. If you’re a webmaster who likes to follow Google’s recommendations to the letter, you may want to think twice (Google stipulates in their official webmaster blog that utilising HTTPS can give you a minor ranking boost and that ‘security is a top priority’)

Bandwidth is unmetered and, like storage, has broadly been taken out of the pricing equation, however they do mention in their terms of service that they restrict file storage to 250,000 inodes (an inode is basically meta data for a file, 1 inode broadly equals 1 file). It’s also worth noting that 1 email is equal to 1 inode).

There’s also a limit on MySQL disk usage size which only becomes visible in cPanel and is set at just under 1TB (the same limit is visible for storage in your admin panel).

Hostgator - disk usage

So, there you go. That’s all the information we have for you, and while these limitations are unlikely to affect the vast majority of users, they will affect some of you and it’s important to be aware they exist – and question live chat if you think any of the restrictions will pose you problems – before purchasing.

Backups, guarantees and security

Hostgator offers a 45 day money back guarantee, however it’s not clear if this applies to cloud hosting (as with the uptime guarantee the terms of service state it’s exclusively for shared and reseller packages).

We brought up live chat and asked the question – along with a few others – and the live chat operator informs us cloud hosting does qualify for the money back guarantee (however it would be worth confirming independently before registering, just so you have written confirmation).

Across the board, and we suspect due to cloud hosting being a relatively new service, Hostgator seems to be lagging when it comes to updating their help pages to include information on cloud hosting.

It’s also unclear whether any free domain promotion you may have taken advantage of is factored into the refund (as far as we can tell it isn’t and it’s kept as a Hostgator registration and will renew automatically unless you choose to cancel).

A lot of web hosts typically deduct the retail cost of the domain from any refund they provide but we don’t see any mention of this in their terms of service.

It’s also worth noting all domain name renewals are billed 30 days before the actual renewal date.

They offer a 99.9% uptime guarantee; if they fail to honour the guarantee they ‘may’ (direct quote from their terms of service) credit you with one month of free web hosting.

However, again, there’s no mention that the uptime guarantee applies to cloud hosting (they state it only applies to reseller or shared hosting), however live chat operators inform us it does apply. Again, if you plan on hosting with Hostgator, we encourage you to get this in writing before you part with any money (and for your own records).

All cloud hosting accounts come with ‘varnish caching’. You can update your caching configuration in the Hostgator control panel. It allows you to purge the cache and set a duration over which the cache will expire.

Disappointingly, backups don’t appear to be included as standard (which contrasts with a lot of hosting providers at or below this price range), apart from a single weekly backup which overwrites all previous backups (again though, their terms of service state this service only applies to shared or reseller services).

CodeGuard is available at extra cost. The basic CodeGuard package costs an extra $2.01 per month and includes automatic daily backups of your website as well as 3 restores per month.

There are options to do manual backups of your website through cPanel.

The admin panel

The admin panel isn’t great. It’s a customised cPanel installation but we found it to be quite slow – and we’ve got a very fast connection – and a little disorientating.

Rather than the traditional cPanel user interface which uses icons to display all options on a single page, Hostgator has decided to split everything out across a navigation menu and the experience suffers as a result.

You only land on the ‘traditional’ cPanel if you click on certain options or access directly via port 2083.

One bright side is the scalable resource option available on the homepage of your admin panel. It allows you to upgrade at the click of a button and also gives you some insight into existing usage.

Hostgator - upgrades

Needless to say, it’s a perfect upsell opportunity for Hostgator, however it could also be convenient if you ever find yourself in the very unfortunate position – sarcasm – of hosting a very big and popular website.

All of the standard options you’d expect to be available on a cPanel installation are there.

Hotlink protection, which stops other websites piggybacking on your server resources by stealing images, is available and easy to set-up.

The IP addresses feature allows you to block traffic originating from certain IP addresses and SpamAssassin is also included for users looking to set-up email accounts.

SSL certificates are only included at the cloud business level (as are unique IP addresses) without incurring additional costs.

SiteLock, which helps protect your website from malicious threats including SQL injection and malware, is also available for an additional cost.

HostGator Customer Service

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

Like Bluehost (another EIG web host), Hostgator no longer offers ticketing support. They still have a ticketing option in their control panel, however all it does is provide you a series of options to select, and subsequently a link to live chat or an article in their outdated help pages.

A number of their help pages are out of date (even the help page advising customers about how to seek help is out of date – it claims you can still submit tickets).

We’ve tested their live chat twice. The first time we simply wanted to find out whether their uptime guarantee applied to cloud hosting or whether, like it states in their terms and conditions, it only applies to shared and reseller packages.

It took around five minutes for them to respond. The first chat representative who responded to us apologised and told us “we’re having a server problem right now” (we were posing as new customers, and that’s about the last thing you should tell a new customer).

Despite posing as a new customer he asked for our billing details. He went away to ‘check’ for the answer, came back and told us the uptime guarantee “is only for cloud hosting.”

Yes, we questioned whether the uptime guarantee which, according to their terms and conditions, only applies to shared and reseller hosting and their live chat representatives tell us it only applies to cloud hosting. He’s obviously wrong, however we’re now at the point of feeling like we have to state our question in absolute terms, with precision clarity, simply to get a straight answer:

“Are you telling me your 99.9% uptime guarantee applies to cloud hosting?”

The answer is “yes.”

In our experience it really depends on the chat representatives, however it’s not unusual to experience significant delays and a lot of back and forth.

 

Pay Monthly - Cloud Hatchling

Price

$12.95

Bandwidth:

Unlimited

Storage:

Unmetered

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12 Month Term - Cloud Hatchling

Price

$7.95

Bandwidth:

Unlimited

Storage:

Unmetered

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24 Month Term - Cloud Hatchling

Price

$6.95

Bandwidth:

Unlimited

Storage:

Unmetered

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36 Month Term - Cloud Hatchling

Price

$4.95

Bandwidth:

Unlimited

Storage:

Unmetered

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