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Bluehost review

Feature-packed web hosting for the more demanding user

Bluehost
Image Credit: Bluehost

Our Verdict

Bluehost is more expensive than it seems at first, but the plethora of features backed up with a great support site are solid reasons to give it a whirl.

For

  • Helpful support site
  • Well-designed management console
  • Includes basic Weebly Site Builder
  • 30-day money-back guarantee

Against

  • Pricing can be misleading
  • No option to pay monthly
  • Relatively expensive

Cheapest Bluehost Shared Plan | $7.99 $2.95 p/m | 63% off
A fantastic bargain for TechRadar visitors, Bluehost has cut the price of its Shared Plan (regularly $7.99 p/m) down to a mere $2.95 per
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Founded in 2003, Bluehost is a popular Utah-based website 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 includes 5 email accounts with only 100MB of storage space each and 50GB SSD storage, making this a very basic plan indeed. However, users also get a free domain, a Website Builder and backups.

The pricing is a bit complicated and some users might find it misleading. The website highlights it as ‘$3.95 per month’. However, this is only applicable if you sign up to a three-year plan meaning you have to pay $142.20 upfront. Users can opt for the 12-month contract where you pay $71.40 for the year, which works out as $5.95 monthly.

Bluehost’s ‘Plus’ plan includes unlimited websites, storage space, subdomains and email accounts, along with spam filtering. This weighs in at $7.95 per month when you pay for 12-months upfront. The lengthier the contract you commit to, the more of a discount you receive, as is normally the case.

Bluehost’s ‘Choice Plus’ plan includes all the ‘Plus’ plan has to offer along with domain privacy and more backup functionality. However, the renewal fee after the initial discount is higher than if you opt for the ‘Plus’ plan.

All plans include free SSL certificates, domains, resource protection and backups. The more advanced plans above Basic offer integrated CloudFlare, multi-server management and access control. These can also be purchased as add-ons if you opted for the Basic plan. Bluehost offers a 30-day money-back guarantee if you are unhappy, and users can cancel either by calling the company or through online chat.

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. However, the live chat feature is particularly helpful even if you are not a customer. Agents offer presales support and will answer any queries related to any plan you’re considering.

Account setup

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: $3.95 per month over 36 months, compared to $5.95 monthly over 12 months.

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.

Once we had considered our options and paid for our new contract, we were ready to get started.

Image Credit: Bluehost

Image Credit: Bluehost

Creating a site

While some hosts take a while to set up your account, Bluehost races into action. Once we had paid, we were immediately able to set up our password details and log in to the control panel.

We received an email in speedy fashion which provided details in relation to name servers, FTP logins, the 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 did not contain instructions on how to do any of this, but there was plenty of support available through the online chat or via the support site.

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, hiding 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 which is more than many hosts offer with a basic account, and paying to upgrade may get you more.

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.

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.

Image Credit: Bluehost

Image Credit: Bluehost

Performance

Our hosting tests begin with a look at how the support system performs. Bluehost got off to a good start with its convenient integration of help and the hosting control panel. 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 connected to chat and entered a query; we were connected with an agent in less than a minute. They were able to answer our initial query in a speedy fashion and responded to further queries just as quickly. They were exceedingly helpful and polite.

After probing the support site and pestering the live chat agents, we did some further testing by running Bitcatcha on Bluehost. Response time from the US was excellent, as you would expect from a US-based site – this was especially the case for the West side of the US. Ping times from London also performed well.

However, responses from further afield, such as Singapore and Sao Paulo, were particularly poor. That said, on an overall level, Bluehost performed well during our tests.

Final verdict

While Bluehost’s prices can be high compared to other providers, the company does offer a wide range of services and is generally easy to use.

Pricing lacks transparency, though, and it’s disappointing to see headline monthly prices which then turn out to only be applicable to longer contracts (and you have to pay upfront).

However, Bluehost more than makes up for these niggles on the pricing front with its powerful site management and fantastic customer support.