Nottingham-based Heart Internet has been a popular domain registrar and hosting provider since 2004. It's a part of the same corporate group as 123-Reg, Host Europe and Webfusion, and now owned by GoDaddy, but runs its own data centres and networks, offering its own individual products and services.
The company's beginner-friendly website stands out immediately. Instead of listing product categories and assuming you know exactly what you'll need, the site asks who you are (personal user, business, blogger, reseller, and so forth), what you want to do (create a simple website, a blog, sell online, etc) then recommends suitable plans.
Heart Internet's products aren't aimed at extreme bargain hunters. The baseline Starter Pro plan supports a single website, gives you 5GB of web space and 30GB monthly bandwidth only, with no MySQL, WordPress or SSL, not even a free domain. But it still costs £2.50 ($3.10) a month excluding VAT for payment via direct debit (4% off the credit card price), with a £10 ($12.50) setup fee and no first year discount.
The Home Pro plan at £9 ($11.25) a month lifts many of these restrictions, with unlimited web space and bandwidth, one-click WordPress installation and as many MySQL databases as you need. It can also be billed monthly, an improvement on other hosts.
The Business Pro plan – which is £13 ($16.25) a month – takes this even further with support for up to three sites, unlimited subdomains, email addresses and FTP logins, and automatic malware scanning added to the mix. SSL costs from an extra £50 ($62.50) per year, but this is still a well-specified package which could be enough to run multiple business sites.
Managed WordPress hosting is available from £9 ($11.25) a month. VPS and dedicated hosts are available at very reasonable starter prices, £10 ($12.50) and £50 ($62.50) respectively.
Heart Internet offers a 30-day money-back guarantee for hosting, but this doesn't cover domain costs, dedicated servers, SSL or other ‘add-on’ services.
Live chat is available with the sales team if you have any product questions. We asked about an apparent contradiction on the website and an agent read our message, checked the site and posted a helpful reply within 90 seconds.
Heart Internet's product pages are refreshingly short on the usual ‘£0.99 per month only’, or ‘free this, free that’ hard sell – and the purchase process is much the same. The company doesn't add trials to your shopping cart without asking, and it doesn't force you to wade through lengthy lists of add-ons before you can buy the product you actually want.
There are no domain-related complications. You can register a new domain along with the hosting order if that's what you need, but the company doesn't force you to do that, or require you to transfer an existing domain. If you're not ready, or maybe haven't decided on a domain name yet, that's not an issue. You can leave it until later.
This all makes for a quick and easy setup. Choose a product, create an account, read the terms and conditions and pay as usual. We had no hassles at all.
A post-payment web page gave us details on what to do next. A welcome email arrived within moments with more instructions and a signup link, and there were no delays for ‘activation’ – the account was ready to use right away.
Creating a website
We'd enjoyed Heart Internet's lack of upselling so far, but that all comes to an end when you log in to the customer control panel, a mess of thirty icons which is stuffed with ‘buy this’ and ‘order that’ options. Fortunately, you can bypass this in a click or two, choose your hosting package and check out the management features.
Site building starts by associating a domain with your website. If you don't have one just yet, you're able to use a ‘host reference’ instead. Enter mydomain.com and you can start setting up your site as though you had the mydomain.com host registered already. That could be convenient if you're not quite sure which domain to choose (and you can change it later, if necessary).
Your domain is managed from Heart Internet's eXtend Control Panel, a hybrid system which combines a novice-friendly File Manager with access to MySQL, SSH, AWStats, Piwik and more. CPanel is more powerful and other custom consoles are easier to use, but it's a likeable system. There's a demo available here.
The standard Heart Internet hosting accounts don't include any form of WYSIWYG Site Builder. Scroll down the eXtend console and you might spot an icon for Web Templates, but this is from same worthless Web Resources content provided by 123-Reg. The templates are horribly basic, dated downloads include an Adobe Reader build from 2008, and there are links and material from sites which vanished years ago. Heart Internet seems to have forgotten about this section entirely, and we'd suggest you do the same.
The Heart Internet Customer Area does give you a free-ish copy of Serif's WebPlus X7, and in theory you could use it to create a website. It's a relatively old version, though – the specs don't even list Windows 10 as supported – and there's an unexpected gotcha. The page warns that if you just download the software, you can't claim the 30-day money-back guarantee on your hosting. Click carefully.
The 1-click installer tools are much more effective. We chose WordPress, ignored the option to set our home folder and let the installer do its work. WordPress was ready within a few seconds.
If you've built your site offline, there's a file manager which may be able to upload it manually. It's simple to use, although there’s a file upload limit of 200MB. FTP access is available if you need more control, and every Heart Internet plan above Starter Pro has optional SSH access, too.
Whether you're a hosting newbie or an old hand, you're sure to run into problems occasionally. Every web host needs a good support setup and we were keen to see what Heart Internet had to offer.
We started by clicking Help from the eXtend Control Panel. This seemed a smart move and displayed a long list of support categories and a search box to look for specific keywords. But then we browsed it and found stacks of ancient articles, including ‘Using FrontPage’ (discontinued in 2006), ‘using Freeserve/Wanadoo as your ISP’, ‘connecting via FTP in Dreamweaver CS5’, and other products and services which haven't mattered for five to ten years.
This was, well, surprising, but then we realised there was a second support database available from the main site. This was much better, up-to-date and featuring some thorough yet readable articles. We checked a page on diagnosing FTP connection errors, for example, and found it covered custom Heart Internet settings, domain issues, suggested FTP settings for your client, firewall issues, Googling for FTP errors and more. If web-based support is important for you, check the knowledgebase for yourself here.
Heart Internet has an unusually lengthy and detailed Status page highlighting recent issues and their causes. That's always a plus as it helps you understand whether an issue is specific to your site, or something more widespread. It's also a useful indicator for prospective Heart Internet customers to assess service reliability.
Oddly, there's a second Service Status page available from another button which gives you a little less information. We're not entirely sure why, and once you understand where to look it really doesn't matter, but life would still be easier if the site was a little more unified.
If the website can't help, Heart Internet's other option is a support ticket system (there's no telephone support). This is hidden away under the Customer Services area rather than Support, but once you've found the option, it’s easy to use. There's a box to check if your site is ‘completely inaccessible’ which presumably gets you speedier help, a nice touch you won't always see elsewhere. Ask your question, add any attachments, tap Submit Ticket and your issue is in the system.
We raised a simple question asking how we could import the content of an existing WordPress site into our new Heart Internet 1-click installation. We had a reply around 25 minutes later, fine for a non-urgent query, but the text wasn't as useful. We were told: "You cannot do this, I am afraid. The one click install is for install a new version of WordPress, not importing an existing version. You would need to upload it to the 'public_html' folder in 'File Manager' using FTP."
This isn't correct. You can import a WordPress site, although it's not always straightforward. The first part of the reply suggests that maybe the agent thought we were talking about importing the WordPress code itself, rather than the site. But even then his answer isn't helpful as you can't just upload the source – you'd need to recreate the database, too.
We completed the review by running Bitcatcha's server speed test and some other simple benchmarks. There are so many factors affecting performance that these usually don't tell you very much, but the service gave us fractionally above-average results. That's very acceptable for basic shared hosting, and there are faster servers and extras like load balancers if you need more speed.
Heart Internet's not for bargain hunters and the website has issues, but there's better value for more demanding users and some welcome small bonus features.