Bluehost Review: Cheap and Unreliable Shared Hosting

Bluehost Review: Cheap and Unreliable Shared Hosting

Bluehost: A Bit of History

Bluehost
Bluehost website
The Bluehost website is cluttered and the navigation is confusing.

Headquarters: Utah, United States

Employees: 300+

Marketed as a hosting solution for small and medium businesses, Bluehost was founded in 1996. Former CEO Matt Heaton started the company after deciding he wanted to offer free web hosting. The former missionary who was based in Taiwan opened his first computer hardware store at 21 and by 23 had three stores operating with about 35 employees. At 26, he sold the stores to concentrate on developing web statistics software before moving to web hosting. And then along came Bluehost.

In 2011, Endurance International Group bought out Bluehost, adding the company to its stable of more than 50 hosting brands, which includes HostGator.com, iPage and Domain.com

After eight years as CEO, Heaton stepped down in June 2011, admitting he was a “techie distracted by shiny new things”. He assigned himself to work as a system architect within the company so he could concentrate on the design and technical structure of the hosting platform. COO Dan Handy took over as CEO at the Utah-based company.

Bluehost copped some flak in 2009 for censoring users affiliated with foreign countries. A Newsweek article claimed that Belarus-born Washington DC lawyer Yaraslau Kryvoi received a notice from his web host that the blog he administered for his local Belarussian American Association chapter would be suspended and he had 10 days to remove his content. Bluehost had mistakenly thought that Kryvoi was a citizen of a country of the US government’s list of rogue states.

You can tell Bluehost was founded by a true geek – the company runs its own datacenter and builds its own servers. It has its own nationwide (North America) fiber network and builds it own custom linux kernel. Bluehost’s facilities also include its 50,000 square foot headquarters with two secondary data center locations totalling more than 20,000 square feet of data center space, including UPS power, diesel generators and multiple 10GB fiber connections to locations all over the world.

Cost

Servers
Bluehost offers shared, dedicated and VPS hosting plans.

Bluehost offers shared hosting from $6.95 a month ($4.95 on sale) and includes:

  • Unlimited domain hosting
  • Unlimited GB hosting space
  • Unlimited GB file transfer
  • Unlimited email accounts
  • Free domain (for 12 months)
  • Free site builder with templates
  • Secure shell, SSL, FTP, Statistics
  • CGI, Ruby (RoR), Perl, PHP, MySQL
  • $100 Google advertising offer

There are three Dedicated Hosting plans:

  • Standard – $149.99 a month (first month $74.99) – Dual core, 2.3 GHz Intel Xeon processor, 3MB cache, 4GB RAM, 2x500GB HDD, 5TB a month, free domain name, 3 dedicated IPs, CentOS 6.4 (64-bit) Virtualization: KVM
  • Enhanced – $199.99 a month (first month 99.99) – Quad core, 2.5 GHz Intel Xeon processor, 8MB cache, 4GB RAM, 2x1000GB HDD, 10TB a month, free domain name, 4 dedicated IPs, CentOS 6.4 (64-bit) Virtualization: KVM
  • Premium – $249.00 a month (first month $124.99) – Quad core, 3.3 GHz Intel Xeon processor, 8MB cache, 16GB RAM, 2x1000GB HDD, 15TB a month, free domain name, 5 dedicated IPs, CentOS 6.4 (64-bit) Virtualization: KVM

A one-time discount of $75, $100, or $125 will automatically be applied to your order, regardless of whether you choose a 1, 3, 6 or 12 month plan.

Each plan includes:

  • Instant provisioning so you can use your site straight away
  • Root access
  • An enhanced cPanel
  • Dedicated support
  • Mirrored storage
  • Bundled resources
  • 30-day money back guarantee

There are four VPS plans:

  • Standard – $29.99 a month (first month $14.99) – Single core, 2GB RAM, 30GB, 1TB a month, free domain name, 1 dedicated IP, CentOS 6.4 (64-bit)
  • Enhanced – $59.00 a month (first month $29.99) – Dual core, 4GB RAM, 60GB, 2TB a month, free domain name, 2 dedicated IPs, CentOS 6.4 (64-bit)
  • Premium – $89.99 a month ($44.99 first month) – Triple core, 6GB RAM, 120GB, 3TB a month, free domain name, 2 dedicated IPs, CentOS 6.4 (64-bit)
  • Ultimate – $119.00 a month ($59.99 first month) – Quad core, 8GB RAM, 240GB, 4TB a month, free domain name, 2 dedicated IPs, CentOS 6.4 (64-bit)
Cloud technology
Bluehost’s VPS plans use cloud technology.

These plans include:

  • Cloud technology
  • Enhanced cPanel control panel
  • Root access
  • Guaranteed server resources
  • Instant provisioning
  • Multi-account management

I signed up for a basic shared hosting plan by clicking on the hard-to-miss “Sign Up Now” button on the homepage. Registering was easy enough – I entered my domain name details, personal details, credit card details and I was ready to rock ‘n’ roll.

However, I was surprised after a few days my credit card was debited a full year’s hosting with no warning on when or how often I was going to be charged. At no stage did I select how long I wanted hosting for. Other hosts charge monthly so I was disappointed I wasn’t given this option. Not a great start.

Features

Bluehost offers shared and dedicated hosting, as well as VPS.

Features includes:

  • Unlimited disk storage
  • Unlimited domain hosting
  • Free drag and drop site builder
  • POP3/POP3 Secure email support
  • IMAP/Secure IMAP email support
  • Unlimited GB of site transfer
  • cPanel account control panel
  • Spam Assasin protection
  • FTP access
  • CGI/Databases
  • Site promotion
  • Free website scripts, including WordPress
  • E-commerce features
  • Multimedia features
  • Site backups

Check out Bluehost’s site for a full rundown of services.

SimpleScripts
1-Click WordPress install is available though SimpleScripts.

WordPress is available to install quickly and easily using 1-Click script installs available through SimpleScripts.

Email hosting is also provided, which is super convenient for businesses and organisations wanting to set up email address for staff.

Migration comes as a $99 a year add-on with VPS hosting. For customers on shared or dedicated hosting you’ll need to migrate your site yourself. A How to Migrate a WordPress Site guide is available in the host’s Help Center Knowledge Base.

Bluehost tackles site traffic spikes using a proprietary shared CPU protection system. The system ties your account to its own dedicated core temporarily to keep your account from dominating too much CPU time. Customers can also enable CloudFlare, a Content Delivery System, in their cPanel for free. Sites that become popular and suddenly have tens of thousands of simultaneous users are encouraged to look into dedicated hosting.

Wildcard DNS/Subdomains are supported. Just head to your account and select Domains > Subdomains to enter your details.

Hacking has been a problem for many Bluehost customers who have vented their frustration online.

When I searched for “hacking” in the Bluehost Knowledge Base, it returned 12 results, but nothing really comprehensinve to help customers secure their sites.

However, Bluehost has partnered with SiteLock to provide customers with protection from hackers, malware and other threats for a yearly fee. I couldn’t find any mention of SiteLock on Bluehost’s website other than in the Knowledge Base. It’s not even listed on the hosting features page. It’s not until you sign up for an account that SiteLock appears as a paid option. This isn’t exactly convenient for potential customers looking for an assurance on site security. If you decide not to sign up for SiteLock immediately it is available to activate at any time.

Alternatively, if you are happy with your account you can upgrade your hosting in your account settings under “Upgrades”.

Usability

There’s no easy way to say this – Bluehost’s website is ugly. Has it been updated since the company launched in 1996?

Bluehost phone support
Bluehost offers 24/7 phone support.

I must given the company credit, though, for removing the awful text that was at the bottom of the homepage just a few weeks ago. It looked like an error message, but on closer inspection it was actually a rundown of the host’s services.

Scattered throughout the site are cliche stock images of women wearing headsets and people standing around in groups looking. Doesn’t Bluehost have real staff they could feature on their site? The stock images give the site a faceless, corporate feel.

The site’s navigation also needs a redesign. It’s not immediately obvious what kind of hosting Bluehost offers. Dedicated hosting is in the navigation panel at the top, but not shared hosting or VPS. What I also don’t get is why the Founder’s Blog is featured in the navigation before Dedicated Hosting. The blog has had two posts since Heaton announced he was stepping down in June 2011 – one post about BetterLinux and another complaining about the iPhone 5. Hardly a good use of space.

When you log into your Bluehost account it brings up a minimalist admin page that is easier to navigate. Like many hosts, Bluehost uses cPanel. When you login to cPanel for the first time, there are options to set up email, migration and website design – all for a fee, of course. I opted to set things up myself as I’m familiar with cPanel.

Installing WordPress from the cPanel is easy peasy. All you need to do is click on “WordPress” in the Site Builders section and scroll down to WordPress in the script list. After you install you will be bombarded with offers to also install UppSite, SmallBiz Thtme, Cashie Commerce and SiteWit.

As with some other web hosts, Jetpack comes pre-installed.

Jetpack

Customer Service

The day after signing up for an account I received a voicemail from a woman asking me to send a verification email and include my name and domain. I sent off the details and 5 minutes later I received two emails telling me my account had been verified. I must admit, it was strange having someone call me for this simple check and I wonder if it’s really necessary?

Bluehost offers a regularly updated Knowledge Base (containing 721 articles), a Getting Started guide, video tutorials and a user forums, as well as 24/7 email, phone and live chat support. It’s safe to say they’ve got support covered.

I like the small details on the Help Center website – the green lights that indicate the current status of email, phone and live chat support, and the links to the most popular help content, which in this case is the Getting Started guide and Managing Your Email.

After checking the unimpressive uptime and response times for my site (see below), I decided to ask Bluehost what was going on. So I headed over to their website and opened live chat support.

Bluehost live chat
What’s with the butterfly on the live chat window?!

The support member was friendly enough and got down to business trying to answer my questions, confirming that 15 hours of downtime isn’t “typical”. He said the site hadn’t been throttled in the past 24 hours (which I could have checked myself in my hosting settings) but may have been over the life of the account and recommended I ask to be migrated to another server.

It took 26 minutes to have my questions resolved and even then they weren’t really resolved. Admittedly, the support member was helping other customers at the same time and warned me of that at the start of the session.

I went back to the Help Center and opened a support ticket detailing my test site’s downtimes. I received an email auto-reply moments later telling me to expect a minimum 24 hours for a reply. I had to wait a whole day?! I really don’t see the point in advertising 24/7 email support if replies take so long. In the end I got a reply about 11 hours later.

The support member, or “Web Advisor”, said he had run a performance test on my site and checked the server logs and found there hadn’t been issues such as throttling in the past 24 hours.

I was very specific in detailing my site’s outages in my ticket request and had attached a transcript of my live chat, which showed the first support member had already looked into any issues over the past 24 hours. The second support member’s email was just a confirmation of what I already knew. I was disappointed he had done exactly what the live chat guy had already done instead of just telling me he wasn’t able to check the history of the account.

So my issue remains unresolved and I’m still experiencing outages and slow response times.

At this stage, my options are to ask to be migrated to another server to see if the site’s performance improves or just cancel the account and move to another host. If I was a regular, paying customer I would probably do the latter. I don’t like to muck around and when you’re managing a website, hosting is the last thing you want to worry about, especially when there are other web hosts out there.

For customers who are not satisfied with their hosting, Bluehost offers a full refund within 30 days of registration. After 30 days you get a pro-rated refund for the amount of period unused. For example, if you sign up for a year and you cancel after five months, you will get seven months of hosting fees back.

Speed

Bluehost sells itself on the fact it runs its own servers and even built its own datacenters, so you would expect your site to run smoothly. Not so.

I monitored my test site using Pingdom and the response times for the lifetime of the test site weren’t great. The slowest average time of 2571 milliseconds and an overall average of 1125 milliseconds. The fast response time was 856 milliseconds.

During the past seven days, the slowest average response time was 16,206 milliseconds – fail. However, the fastest average time was 687 milliseconds and the overall was 1102 milliseconds.

For the past 30 days:

Bluehost response times

The uptime for the account wasn’t much better. The test site was down for 15 hours and 28 mins – not great. Pingdom counted 198 downtimes, with an uptime of 98.63 per cent. In the past seven days the site was down a total of 3 hours and 59 mins, with an uptime of 97.58 per cent and 11 downtimes. These are the results for the past 30 days:

Bluehost Uptime

Disclaimer: In putting together this review, we bought our Bluehost review account just like any other customer – via the sign-up link on the homepage. We didn’t let Bluehost in on the fact we were reviewing their services to avoid any special treatment.

Have you used Bluehost? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

To read the reviews in this series:

Image credits: getButterfly, Wikimedia Commons.

The Good

  • Cheap hosting options.
  • Feature-packed.

The Bad

  • The website is confusing for new customers and needs a redesign.
  • It's not clear how often or when your credit card is going to be charged.
  • Slow and unexplained outages and site response times.

Our Verdict

  • price:
  • usability:
  • service:
  • speed:
  • features:
  • Overall: