SiteGround Managed Hosting Review: Excellent Support, Not Really for WordPress
With a focus on providing a web hosting service “crafted with care,” Bulgarian company SiteGround has come a long way since launching in 2004.
But what exactly does handcrafted mean as far as web hosting goes? Does that mean reliability, speed and features? Or is it just another marketing term?
We get asked all the time for web hosting recommendations and do our best to point members in the right direction, but who you go with ultimately comes down to your site’s needs – and also how much you’re willing to spend.
To help make the decision a bit easier, we’ve put some of the biggest WordPress managed hosts to the test, with a focus on customer experience. There are already plenty of reviews out there that look at speed and stability, but the ease of use and support capabilities of a company are just as – if not more – important because you’ll run into trouble sooner or later and a great host will always go above and beyond to help you out when disaster hits.
With all that in mind, this is the second of eight reviews, this time putting SiteGround to the test.
Check out the other posts in this managed WordPress hosting reviews series:
- Cheap – great for beginners
- Excellent support
- Active in the WordPress community
- Marketing as WordPress hosting is misleading – it's just a repackaged shared environment
- Not very powerful – not for websites with high traffic or professional developers/admins anyway
- No WordPress-specific tools and features
The Bottom Line
The harsh truth is that if you want professional WordPress service and top-notch WordPress specific hosting, SiteGround is not what you are looking for. Don't get me wrong, I love the company and all they do for the community, but they just can't provide the level of service a managed WordPress service like WPEngine can. That being said, if you have some low traffic websites SiteGround is a great option. For $8 a month ($16 after your first period) you get unlimited installations.
SiteGround: Company History
SiteGround is not the new kid on the block. It was founded back in 2004 in Bulgaria quickly rising as it reached about 1,500 clients in mid-2005. It shows how long ago this was that Mambo CMS was the most popular one used by their clients. I’m betting that has changed.
The company has a long history of contributing to projects they use. Back when the company started, it contributed to Mambo, now it does the same for the WordPress community, actively taking part in WordCamps – not just sponsoring but organizing and speaking as well.
As far as I can tell SiteGround has been active in the WordPress community since 2006 when the company released free themes for its customers.
The year 2007 is a perfect example of SiteGround’s rise to fame. In February, the host reported its 50,000th website on its servers and by July this number had grown to 100,000 domains. That’s what I call a healthy growth rate!
SiteGround has since continued to sponsor events and make itself known to the Joomla and WordPress community especially. They are there at most events, offering freebies, hosting packages and smiles all-around. Having met the team I can safely say they’re a fun and lovely bunch, but how does their service stack up?
In 2016, SiteGround now has five offices in three continents and large body of employees managing a multitude of hosting options for companies large and small.
Just like all the other hosting websites I had a look at, it’s impossible to gauge the effectiveness of SiteGround from its website. The copy is usually full of vague and unverifiable claims:
“Why are our speed, security and support better? Because we do things most other hosting companies wouldn’t even consider possible! We developed our own solutions to help protect your website from hacks. We invented new techniques that can make your website run over a hundred times faster.”
I am sceptical about the second statement especially. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t apply to all situations, even if true. That said, the website does try and give you everything to make a decision based on your needs. I especially like how you can try out the cPanel on their Web Hosting page.
Each hosting sub-section lays out all the plans very clearly, focussing heavily on the primary applications you would want to use: WordPress, Magento, Drupal and Joomla.
SiteGround has a very well-organized site, well-suited to casual onlookers. With chunky icons, readable typography and a nice layout, it’s a pleasure to cruise through to figure out what your needs are.
Plans and Pricing
To be honest, I was a bit taken aback by how the packages are structured. Despite appearances, SiteGround does not actually offer managed WordPress hosting. I did some confirming with their support team just to be sure. Here is how it all works: SiteGround provides shared hosting, VPS and dedicated servers. Within the shared hosting category they have three plans: StartUp, GrowBig and GoGeek. These are the exact same plans you find under the WordPress and Joomla sections – there is absolutely nothing WordPress or Joomla-specific in these services.
I have no problem with this setup, apart from the fact that there is some deliberate miscommunication involved. The StartUp package cannot be “Crafted for a Great Start with WordPress” or also “Crafted for a Great Start with Joomla.”
This is like manufacturing a shot glass and packaging it separately as a shot glass and also a glass for drinking beer out of. Technically you can do it and you can even do it easily. It’s not really crafted for the task at hand though, is it?
Overall, the signup process is not bad, but not as enjoyable as some of the other services. I started out by writing this as a far more negative review, but since I started working on this article they’ve revamped their signup process, making it a lot better. This is a great sign – companies that focus on user experience tend to be better at what they do in general.
I didn’t like how it’s never mentioned, only at signup, that you can’t actually just grab a month for $3.95, but only if you pay for 12 months. If you want to go for a month only, you’ll have to pay a $14.95 setup fee. As with the hosting plans, I don’t much mind the fee, but what I do mind is the obvious misdirection. This is a risk hedging fee for the company and it has nothing to do with setup.
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At the very end I read the very small text: “You save 50% on the regular $29.95/mo for the first invoice.” This means that the special low price you see on the front page only applies to your first payment. To be fair, this payment could be made for 3 years in advance, but it still left another frown on my face.
Ease of Use
The backend of a host hopefully won’t be your most visited page but it’s important to make sure it provides all the necessary features to make your life that much easier. Let’s see how SiteGround holds up in that respect.
The first thing I noticed is that the homepage of the dashboard is utterly useless. Perhaps it’s because I just don’t have a ton of information and sites, but even so there is just no information there apart from the fact that my payment information is outdated. Seriously, look at my homepage:
Once I got past the initial shock, everything was just fine. As I mentioned before, the interface is a little dated to my eyes, but consistency counts for a lot more and the admin panel does well there. The “My Accounts” section lists information and settings you’ll need and also lists your WordPress installations.
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If you want to control aspects of your domain like FTP access, subdomains, DNS zones, email accounts and so on, you can do that by going to the cPanel. It’s contained within the framework of the SiteGround admin, which is great for reducing confusion and providing continuity.
If you’re familiar with cPanel you know that it’s not the most beautiful things to look at but it does its job well. One of the advantages of the fact that SiteGround is not a true WordPress host is access to various features like the ones I’ve mentioned.
Creating New Installs
Adding a new installation is not as easy as some other managed WordPress hosting solutions, like WP Engine or Kinsta, but it’s still not too involved. The process is handled with the Softaculous package within cPanel, which can handle a lot more than just WordPress. Interestingly enough I couldn’t do it by clicking the main “Add installation manually” link because that went to the import feature of Softaculous, but once I figured things out it really was easy. Not full marks for user friendliness, but not too bad.
I was pleasantly surprised with the big banner on top of my cPanel telling me that it was easy to create a staging environment. It really was a one-click solution. cPanel made a subdomain for me and copied my live site to it within a minute or so. Even better, you can push changes made on the staging server live and do some more advanced stuff easily.
SiteGround offers plenty of features, but since it isn’t a managed WordPress host, it’s difficult to compare it with the real deal. If you’re looking for a general host it’s just fine, owed in large part to cPanel support. You’ll be able to install anything you need, create email accounts, measure performance, password protect and a lot more.
If you’re looking for features that are inherent for managed WordPress hosting you’ll be unhappy. There is no WordPress-specific architecture in the server, since they need to account for lots of apps, the admin interface is more cluttered and way less streamlined, and you won’t get the same of server-level caching and protection you can get using other hosts.
I was hopeful when I saw the “WordPress Tools” section, but out of the seven tools there was only one that wasWordPress specific – resetting the admin user account. The others had to do with fixing permissions, SSL certificates and so on.
Support is an area where SiteGround excels. From the visuals to the helpfulness, they aced everything. My questions were all answered quickly and honestly. The feeling I got when talking to support was that instead of having guidelines for what they could and couldn’t say, they are told to be honest and genuinely helpful.
One of the best examples was their reaction to an unrelated question I had. I noticed that many companies offer high-end VPS servers which are cheaper than their lower-end dedicated counterparts. I asked a couple of companies wether their high-end VPS is better (power-wise) than their low end dedicated solutions and SiteGround was the only company who honestly acknowledged that it is, unless you need special features that you can only use on dedicated servers.
My – more to the point – question was about a temporary URL I can use to test my websites. Even though there were apparently 22 people in the queue I received an answer inside a minute and a solution within 3.
SiteGround’s support was really one of the best I’ve dealt from the point of view of helpfulness and responsiveness which is saying something for a company this large.
Regretfully, since SiteGround isn’t a dedicated WordPress host, their techs are not WordPress experts. They’ll be able to help you out in a bind, but if you’re looking for powerful WordPress centric support, you’re looking in the wrong place. To be fair, I haven’t seen top-notch WordPress tech support at any company, apart from the big WordPress-only hosts.
As this review is focusing on customer experience rather than speed, I won’t get into a super-deep speed review because there are just so many factors here that it would be unfair to judge any company based on casual tests.
I installed three websites:
- Vanilla Twenty Fifteen theme filled with demo content – 1.49Mb, 53 requests
- WooCommerce shop running on Twenty Fifteen, Shop Page – 0.479Mb, 55 requests
- Out of the box Avada installation using the Cafe demo – 24.3Mb, 134 requests
When uncached, the vanilla Twenty Fifteen site loaded in about 4 seconds. The WooCommerce shop loaded in around 2.3 seconds and the Avada demo loaded in 9.4 seconds.
When cached, vanilla Twenty Fifteen loaded in around 1.6 seconds, the WooCommerce shop took about 1.3 seconds and the Avada Cafe demo clocked in at 3.4 seconds.
As always, my own tests are not indicative of speed as a whole. You can always have a faulty server, the company may be having a bad day, anything could happen. The community has mixed feelings about SiteGround.
On hostingreviews.io there are only eight comments on speed, two of which are negative – that’s 25%. Compared to WPEngine, which has 14 speed reviews, one of which is bad (7%-ish) it doesn’t seem great, but it’s not as bad as it seems. They have fewer reviews and people are far likely to leave bad reviews than good ones, so I wouldn’t say SiteGround is a gamble speed-wise.
As long as you follow best practices SiteGround will be there to host your website with sufficient speed, up to a point. My opinion on SiteGround speed-wise is the same as on other counts: it is a perfectly good option for smaller sites, the price makes up for any shortcomings. If you are looking to host a site with a large throughput I would recommend choosing a different host or look at their dedicated/cloud options.
Disclaimer: In putting together this review, we received a free account from SiteGround. They did not know if and when we would run any tests and we did not receive any special treatment support or otherwise.
Stay tuned for the last article in the series, which will compare all eight web hosts side-by-side to decide which one is best.
Have you used SiteGround? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.