Canadian webs host Netfirms was founded in 1998 and went on to host 1.2 million domains, before being acquired by tech giant Endurance International Group back in 2011. Some Endurance companies maintain their own individual product ranges - HostGator, Bluehost – but Netfirms seems little more than a brand name for a standard set of EIG products.
Compare Netfirms.com with EIG's Domain.com and Dotster.com, for instance. Same style of website; the same menu bar; very similar products at very similar prices.
Right now, hosting plans are limited to a simple shared hosting plan, a graphical website builder and relevant extras (domain registration, SSL certificates, Office 365 and G Suite email hosting.) There are no VPS plans, no dedicated servers, no Windows hosting or anything even slightly advanced: this is just about as basic as hosting gets.
- Want to try Netfirms? Check out the website here
Pricing is reasonable, at least. For example, the single site, unlimited storage plan is $3.49 a month over three years, $4.95 on the annual plan (these renew at $4.99 and $6.95, respectively.) HostGator's similar Hatchling plan looks cheaper at $2.75 over three years, $3.95 annually, but renews at a much higher $6.95 and $8.95.
The Website Builder range is a little more interesting. All plans include free SSL, blog support, lead capture forms, social media integration, email and chat support and more. You can set up a simple six-page site from just $1.99 billed monthly on all terms ($4.99 on renewal), a great way to try the service out. The $6.99 a month Business plan ($9.99 on renewal) gets you unlimited pages and phone support, and the $12.99 eCommerce plan ($14.99 on renewal) includes - you guessed it - a capable web store. (We don't have space to discuss the store features here, but the plan comparison table should give you a good idea.)
The website doesn't make it clear which, if any plans have a money-back guarantee plan, unfortunately, and this isn't clearly spelled out in the Terms of Service, either. If that's a concern, keep it in mind when you sign up, and don't hand over any cash until the company confirms this in writing.
We spotted another website issue in a commitment to a 'free domain name for a year' with shared hosting, which turned out to be based on a coupon which expired more than three months before our review. Professional? We'd say not.
Choose a plan and you're able to select a subscription length. The Website Builder range gives you monthly, one, two- and three-year options; shared hosting has no monthly billing, so you must choose from one, two or three years.
At this point we noticed a problem: having selected a plan, the website demanded we 'add a domain to continue.' We wanted to use a domain we had already, and most providers give you the option to do this, but not Netfirms. You're forced to choose a new domain.
This wouldn't matter very much if you really did get a free domain. You could register anything, and just now renew it later. But because the 'free domain' coupon had expired weeks earlier, this isn't possible.
If this is a problem for you, we did manage to solve it, eventually, by talking to a support agent via live chat. But this took a long time, and required us handing over all our personal details to the agent, and following the PayPal links he provided. And that really, really, really shouldn't be necessary.
If you can get over that hurdle, or maybe you need to register a new domain so it's not an issue at all, the rest of the signup process works more or less as usual: hand over your details, pay via card or PayPal, and receive an email moments later with your account login and other details.
Creating a site
Netfirm's shared hosting doesn't include cPanel, but instead provides a dull-looking dashboard with basic information on your web space (IP address, FTP path, control panel URL, more) and links to various site management tools.
This is oddly designed, with the main area of the dashboard including modules you're unlikely to use regularly (Archive Gateway, Disk Usage, Web Cache Control.) Another, Comodo DNS, pointed us to an ad suggesting we buy Comodo Premium DNS for $6.99 a month, while clicking the Bing Ad Credits link opened a web page where we were told the offer wasn't available in our area.
Check the sidebar top-left, though, and there are more useful modules. FTP and File Manager tools help you upload whatever files you need, there's a module to create and manage MySQL databases, and more advanced options to edit your .htaccess file or configure scripting languages.
There are some disappointments, too. Click the Website Backup & Restore link to see what'll get, for instance, and the answer turns out to be nothing. Except an ad recommending you purchase a backup service from $2.13 a month.
A separate Domain screen includes a WordPress auto-installer. This gets the job done, but it only installs WordPress. Other shared hosting accounts often include Softaculous, which enables installing 400+ other apps.
While these features cover the basics, they don't begin to touch the power of cPanel. And that's a problem for Netfirms, as many providers include cPanel with even their most basic shared hosting packages. Namecheap's starter plan 'only' gives you 20GB storage and 30 email accounts, for instance, but you also get a free domain name with privacy protection, easy installation of WordPress and hundreds of other popular apps, free integration with Supersonic CDN, and cPanel thrown in. And all for $1.44 a month in year one, $2.88 on renewal, a fraction of the Netfirms price.
Our Netfirms testing began with a look at the website support. This starts with a Support link on the vDeck control panel which opens a page at a ‘support console’. There's a search box, buttons representing common topics (Email, WordPress) and some useful-sounding ‘popular topics’ (‘FTP: How to connect to your website’, ‘Navigating File Manager’).
Running some test searches, we found the knowledgebase had little or no content on advanced topics, and typically only one or two articles on even common tasks. When we searched for 'install WordPress', for instance, the closest hit was an article on 'How to access your WordPress dashboard', which assumed it was already installed.
The content seems poorly maintained, too. The Email Client Setup Guides included links covering Outlook 2003, 2010, 2013, iOS 8 and 9 and Windows Phone 8. And if you're thinking 'well, maybe someone's still using those', you might be right, but there's another problem: every link was broken.
Person-to-person support is better. Our two chat queries were met with speedy responses and answered accurately. There's a US phone number, too, although we didn't try that.
We completed our tests by running various server performance tests, and whatever issues we might have had with the rest of the service, speeds were great.
For example, we used Uptime.com to check our test site every five minutes over a week. Uptime was a perfect 100%, average response time topped our recent performance charts at a speedy 202ms (average shared hosting is around 300ms), and even the worst-case time was only 398ms (most competitors are 600ms or longer.) Bitcatcha and Google PageSpeed delivered more typical results, but Netfirms still performed very well overall.
Netfirms website issues, dated support content and limited product range create a poor first impression, but its plans are fair value, and with servers as fast as we've seen, the company could be worth a look.