Founded in 2003, Bluehost is a popular Utah-based hosting company. It's now owned by Endurance International Group, the people behind a lot of big tech names: Domain.com, iPage, HostGator, SiteBuilder.com and more.
Bluehost's shared hosting packages start with the home user-oriented ‘basic’ plan. This only gives you 5 email accounts with a stingy 100MB storage space each, along with 50GB of website space, but you do get a free domain, a free Website Builder to create your site, 1-click WordPress installation and even integrated CloudFlare.
Pricing? That's, well, complicated. The website highlights it as ‘$2.99 a month’ (£2.40), but that's only true if you pay for three years upfront at a total of $181 inc VAT (£145). The shortest billing period is a year, and that will cost you $71 (£57), equivalent to a much more average $4.95 (£4) a month plus VAT. After that it renews at $8.99 (£7.15) a year.
Bluehost’s ‘plus’ plan supports unlimited websites, storage space, subdomains and email accounts, and adds spam filtering. The yearly price is around $100 (£80), with discounts available if you opt for a longer term. After the initial deal, this subscription renews at $155 (£124) a year.
Bluehost's ‘premium’ plan adds a couple of extra features to ‘plus’ – domain privacy and more backup functionality – but for exactly the same price. Why? Because you'll then pay a higher renewal fee, probably: $204 (£163) for a single year.
None of these plans include SSL, but certificates are available as an add-on from $50 (£40) a year. That's a similar price to most hosts, although a few offer deals on a wider range of products (Namecheap offers basic certificates for £1.60 – around $2 – in the first year if you buy one with your hosting).
Bluehost's other products are more oriented to the power user than the bargain hunter. The standard WordPress hosting starts at $20 (£16) a month, VPS hosting is from $20 (£16) a month, and dedicated hosting costs from $80 (£64) a month. All these are discounted introductory rates and the long-term costs are higher.
The main website doesn't do a good job of presenting all this. You don't get as much low-level detail on the individual plans as most other hosts provide, and full pricing details aren't available until you reach the small print. We found a page on the Help site which displays extra details on each plan and enables comparing them side-by-side.
All hosting comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, although as usual, domain costs aren't included. If you took up the offer of a free domain name you'll have $16 (£12.75) deducted from the refund.
The Bluehost signup process starts by asking you to enter the domain name you'd like to register. If you own the domain already you can enter that separately. There's an option to transfer the domain to Bluehost, but it's not compulsory and you can simply update your name servers later.
Next up is the account creation page, where you're asked to enter the usual details: name, address, email address and phone number.
Scroll down and you finally get to the package information section with prices for your chosen plan. As we mentioned above, it's a surprise to see that the low monthly price actually requires paying 36 months upfront, a bill which Bluehost thoughtfully bumps up even more by adding backup and SiteLock extras to your cart.
This is easily fixed – drop to a 12 month plan and clear a couple of checkboxes – but the per-month price rises drastically: $2.95 (£2.40) per month over 36 months, compared to $4.95 (£3.95) per month over twelve.
It's important to look carefully in the payment information section, too. This only displays a ‘Pay by credit card’ option by default, but if you notice and click ‘more payment options’, you'll find a PayPal choice. We understand why a provider might prefer you to use a credit card – PayPal is more expensive, and it's easier for you to block renewals – but hiding the payment option still seems sneaky.
It's not the only issue. If you don’t need a plan anymore, you can set it to ‘do not renew’ online, but if you need to cancel right there and then, maybe to get a refund, the small print says “you may cancel at any time by calling customer support at +1 855 984 4546”. Yes, there’s no website or email ‘cancel now’ option – you must call an international number.
We parted with our cash anyway, Bluehost presented us with a summary of our purchase, and it was time to get started.
Creating a site
While some hosts take a while to set up your account, Bluehost races into action. After paying we were able to immediately create a password and log in to our customer management panel.
Moments later a welcome email provided more details: name servers, FTP logins, mail server and a temporary URL, an address where we could access our files until we'd set up a domain and its DNS. The email didn't spell out what to do with these, or point us to a starting tutorial, but this is easy to find in the online help.
We logged on to the Bluehost control panel, and were surprised by the contents. Other hosts usually open with a customer area which is all about listing your products and trying to sell you more, and hide website management away in a dedicated console, but Bluehost presents all the main top-level tools – email, FTP, file and other managers – upfront.
If you already have your site built this will probably save you time. There's no need to go searching for another control panel – you can use the file or FTP manager to upload whatever files you need.
Bluehost provides a simple Weebly-based Website Builder. This is very basic, with no templates – just a WYSIWYG browser-based editor to create a site of up to six pages. But it's also more than many hosts offer with a basic account, and paying to upgrade may get you more. (While testing, the site also told us it was about to be updated to a new Weebly editor, so it's possible there may be more functionality by the time you read this.)
Another option is the automated setup for WordPress and other popular apps. This uses a Mojo Marketplace-powered system which works in a similar way to other hosts, asking for a few basic details and then installing your app.
There's some annoying marketing, too. While one message told us ‘WordPress installation complete’, another said ‘overall site progress... 45%’, which was really just an invitation to click through a lengthy list of ads for themes and other extras. Fortunately, you can ignore these, and as you normally only install WordPress once it's not a major deal.
If you need more control, links at the top of the page give you access to low-level features. Clicking Email took us to an area where we could set up auto-responders, email forwarding, enable specific spam filters and more. And a Databases link displayed all the key MySQL details, including lists of existing databases and users, and tools to create more.
There's also a separate cPanel-based area for experienced users. Whether you're looking for AWStats, PHP Config, Cron Job or SSH management you'll find it somewhere here.
This system doesn't always work smoothly, but overall Bluehost deserves credit for what it has done. Other hosts typically focus on being easy-to-use, or powerful, but this system is brave enough to try and do both. And it's often very successful.
Our hosting tests begin with a look at how the support system performs. Bluehost got off to good start with its convenient integration of help and the hosting control panel. Clicking Support doesn't take you to a new page, but just opens a new panel with a search box. Enter a term and results are subsequently listed, then clicking an article opens the page in a new tab. Whatever hosting task you were working on before remains open in the original, so once you've found an answer you can test it out immediately.
The knowledgebase is far better than most of the competition. We tried our ‘how do you import a WordPress site’ question and were pointed to an excellent tutorial which covered the main steps, warned of some potential problems, and pointed us to useful articles with related advice.
We tried again with something vague – simply ‘PHP’ – but the site still gave us some useful articles, which in turn linked to others.
The search panel only displays the best five articles, but run another search from the help site and you can view up to 50, sorted by relevance, most viewed, most helpful (as voted by other customers) and more.
If you can't find a solution in the database, there's live chat available. We tried this with a simple query and had an accurate reply within three minutes. Bluehost doesn't have a support ticket system anymore, though, so if chat isn't enough then all you can do is call the company on its US support number – not an ideal situation.
To round off our tests we ran Bitcatcha and other performance benchmarks on the site. Speeds were excellent from US connections, just as you'd expect from an American host. Ping time from other locations could be a little slow, though, and Bluehost gave us average performance levels overall.
Bluehost's prices can be high, and the constant prodding to buy more products is annoying. But the company scores where it matters, with lots of features, powerful site management and an excellent support site.