The next contestant in our Best Web Hosting $1000 Case Study is one of the heavyweights in the shared hosting space, Bluehost. They are one of the most popular shared hosting options and there is no doubt you have seen their search ads or been bombarded with affiliate offers from them. But, it seems to be working because users are flocking to them.
Due to the low introductory price, they are a staple for new bloggers who are looking to create their first blog and website owners who don't have a lot of cash, but want to get started on their own host instead of the various free options. We don't recommend free blogging platforms for new blogs or websites.
Bluehost (like most hosting companies) pays a commission for each referred sale which is why you see so many other bloggers promoting it. This may color some of the review so keep that in mind. We'll focus on the facts in this review so you won't hear about how 'it is the best thing since the internet' to try and get you to buy it for yourself. Read our facts, then decide for yourself.
BlueHost offers three standard packages for their shared hosting. While they offer cloud hosting, dedicated hosting, and VPS solutions as well, we are going to stick to the shared hosting option in this review since that is the most common server type for new websites.
In a shared hosting environment, your website shares the physical server resources with tens or hundreds of other blogs. Since WordPress only uses compute resources when a visitor lands on your page there is quite a bit of downtime when you don't active visitors. Shared hosting was created so that many different accounts can utilize the hardware to the fullest extent. There are nice cost benefits to this, but there may be some hidden performance problems as well that you should understand.
It isn't all roses though. Since these shared servers are often oversubscribed (just like airlines) there might be some cases where the servers are overloaded (just like when airlines are full and people are bumped off). In these unfortunate situations your website performance may suffer so you should understand what you are buying before diving in.
Bluehost will pay for your first year of domain registration for free (it renews yearly at $15.00/yr. This can be great for new bloggers who don't want to deal with the hassle of working with domain registrars directly.
Bluehost has builtin email support and you can create as many accounts as you want under your plan. Depending on the plan, there are storage limits for your email, but it is nice that it is included in all plans if you don't want to use an external email provider (such as GMail that will charge $5/mo for a business account).
Included in all of their packages are a set of backups. From their documentation it looks like every day the daily backup is overridden and every week the weekly backup is overridden. This is OK, if your site isn't used that much and you may want to opt-in to a paid backup solution if you need higher granularity for your backups (specific files) or a different backup schedule or retention policy.
You aren't charged for the bandwidth that you or your visitors use on your website. This is great if you have a sudden spike in traffic or a website that has a lot of downloadable content. Your performance may suffer if you have too much downloaded content, but you won't be charged extra.
They use a JBOD architecture for their shared hosts and have "custom software" to help predict errors and overload conditions and help migrate shared hosts so that they don't experience problems. This isn't as great as the failover capabilities on cloud hosting systems that utilize multiple shared servers, but it nice to know they have but some software to work to help preempt issues.
1st Year $/mo
Before you base your entire purchase on the price, you should understand that Bluehost uses a tiered pricing model where you only get the low introductory rate if you purchase 36 months up front. (Basic plan @ 12mo is $4.95/mo and @24 mo is $3.95/mo.
The TCO (total cost of ownership) table below will help you understand the total amount of money you should expect to pay just for the hosting (excluding domain registration fees and any add-ons you purchase).
If you only want to prepay for 12 or 24 months at a time you will be paying more than the introductory rate. Here is a table to help you understand the total cost.
The 3 and 5 year columns represent your total cost after that much time. The 1 year cost is what you will have to pay on day 1.
1 Year Cost
3 Year Cost
5 Year Cost
1 Year Cost
3 Year Cost
5 Year Cost
The basic plan from Bluehost is targeted at very small and new blogs or websites that don't have a lot of traffic.
They don't specify a number of visitors, but a few forums have stated that around $5,000 a month is about all it can handle. Even at that number your visitors are likely to see some slowdown when there are multiple connections open to your site.
It also depends on how many pictures your website uses as well. Each visitor's browser will need to download pictures so too many can cause strain on the server.
If you opt for the Plus Plan you will have all of the restrictions lifted. You can put as many websites on a single host as you want (although we don't recommend it due to performance issues) and can store as many cat pictures as you want on the server for your website.
Again, bluehost doesn't list average visitors requirement or anything else with their packages. If it falls inline with other shared hosts it can probably handle between 10,000 - 20,000 visitors a month before you run into issues with your website not loading.
In addition to removing the restrictions, the plus plan gives you SSH access to your host so that you can directly manage your files. This is useful if you want to use a specific .htaccess file or directly modify the files of your website.
This is also the first plan that gives you integrated CDN (Content Delivery Network) from Cloudflare. You can still use the CDN on a basic plan, but you won't have the ease of use that comes with the integrated UI.
After signing up with this plan, you will also get $200 of marketing offers which is usually Adwords, or Bing Ads credit. In most cases, you can get the same offer directly from the advertisers at no cost.
If you are a larger business this is probably the plan for you considering the cost doesn't go up all that much.
With this plan you will also get SiteBackup Pro included for free to help you schedule and manage backups of your website if it is hacked. You will also get free domain privacy which means that your real contact information won't show up when someone searches your website on Whois.net.
Similar to the other web hosts in our case study, Bluehost offers a set of add-ons that you attach to your order to give you extra features for your web hosting. I'll walk you through them here so you know what you are getting if you decide to use Bluehost for your website or blog.
SiteLock is a third party service that monitors your website for hacks and vulnerabilities. It contains a massive database of "signatures" of different hacks and will email you if they are detected.
If you are hacked, you can use a backup service (assuming you are subscribed to one) to restore a previous version of your website and patch the vulnerability.
For $2.99/mo you can add this service from SoloSEO to your hosting package. The information states that it will help you get your site indexed and get a free ebook and DIY SEO help.
To be honest, there is plenty of SEO information online for free and $40/yr may be a bit high depending on the content. Read through their site, see what you are getting, see what is free elsewhere, and then decide if it is worth the upgrade.
This is included free with the Prime plan and offers daily, weekly, and monthly backups that you can restore with their interface.
If you are serious about your website, you need to have a backup solution. There are a few free options out there so be sure to weigh their ease-of-use and functionality to their $2.99/mo price tag.
It is also a good idea to test the backup & restore functionality early on so that you know how it works and wht you get so you aren't surprised when you really need it.
If you site is using "too much" of their shared server, they will start to limit the CPU that your website can use. This will result in immediate downtime for your website and you will have to wait.
In most cases, cpu capping is based on a credit system. You have a certain number of credits at the start and earn them at a fixed rate over time. If you use all your credits, you need to wait to get them back based on the fixed-rate before your website will be accessible again.
Bluehost is part of the EIG behemoth and you get what you would expect out of a large company call center. There are numerous accounts, just search for "bluehost support slow" on Google to see the issues. Keep in mind that people are more likely to complain about bad service than recommend good service (just like Yelp reviews) so the reviews may not tell the whole story.
Since they are such a large company and have millions of active users, they have an extensive support database and a lot of the "how-to" questions and general issues are easily solved using their search functions.
If you have an existing site and are hoping to transfer to Bluehost, you are going to have to pay $149.95 to have them do it for you. Many other hosts offer this for free since they are getting a new customer in exchange. You can still migrate it all yourself if you are technical enough.
Bluehost (and all of the EIG partners) offer the three support options:
They don't list any information about standard wait times or hours of operation for the phone or ticket system.
To test their Live Chat response and quality we asked to learn more about the renewal price of their free domain. As a perk, they offer a free domain when you first sign up, but domain names renew yearly. We wanted to understand if it was free for life or what we would expect to pay next year since it wasn't clear in the sales pages.
3:05 PST Wednesday
Time to 1st Contact
Time to Answer Question
5 minutes 30 seconds
Almost 6 minutes later
It took awhile for me to get my question across to the support agent, and there was a definite upsell attempt if I already had my domain. But, at the end I got a range of prices for the renewal. The range is most likely due to the renewal prices of .coms vs .nets vs. others.