PowWeb says it offers 'the perfect hosting solution', 'unmatched' and easy to use. Sounds great, and with 20 years in the business, and now owned by hosting giant Endurance International Group, maybe the company has built up the expertise to deliver. But then we took a closer look, and doubts began to appear.
The product range is, well, limited, with a single shared hosting plan, and no managed WordPress, VPS or dedicated products. Who needs an upgrade path, anyway.
PowWeb's shared hosting has a reasonable specification: a free domain, unlimited storage space, unmetered bandwidth, easy installation of WordPress and other apps, a free SSL certificate, 24/7 live chat help and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
The website also boasts of its support for the antiquated Shockwave and Midi, though, and the dated-looking fixed-size website (responsive? what's that?) suggests PowWeb hasn't had many updates in the past few years.
Support is available 24/7 via live chat and telephone, and there's a 30-day money-back guarantee.
PowWeb's plan is priced from $3.88 a month for the initial two years, or $4.18 on the annual plan (there's no monthly billing). The website warns that this is a 'sale' price, and you should hurry because this 'ends soon', but when we checked the Wayback Machine, we found PowWeb had been charging $3.88 for more than ten years.
The front page of the PowWeb website claims this renews at $11.95, but the Hosting Renewal page says it renews at $14.95 over one year, $13.95 over two, and $12.95 over three.
Whatever the real price, PowWeb is too expensive for what you get. GreenGeeks Lite gives you unlimited storage and bandwidth for $2.95 a month over three years, and that's the standard price - it won't triple at renewal. HostGator's single domain plan is $2.75 a month over three years, renewing at $6.75, and its Baby plan supports unlimited domains for an introductory $5.95, renewing at $9.95.
PowWeb may only have a single hosting plan, but the order page includes a few options which may help to extend its abilities.
The $3 a month 'WordPress Optimization' offers themes, plugins, automatic malware detection and removal and support from 'an elite team of WordPress experts.'
A Website Builder is available for $10.99 a month. That looks expensive as an add-on, especially when there's so little information on it. Many shared hosting packages throw in a simple website builder for free, or you could buy a specialist package for less (GoDaddy's starter Website Builder package is $10 a month on the annual plan.)
Automated daily backups are available for $1.25 a month, SiteLock malware scanning and removal costs $1.99 a month, and Google's G Suite is $6.
We skipped all that, handed over our contact and payment details (card and PayPal are supported), and our account was activated immediately. An email arrived with a link to set our password, and we were ready to go.
Creating a site
PowWeb's control panel is based on vDeck, rather than the more popular, industry-standard cPanel.
Is this a good idea? Well, as it's underpowered, sometimes awkward to use, short on features, and the current major release (vDeck 4) first appeared back in 2010, and the vDeck.com site now appears to be dead, we'd say 'probably not.'
(It's likely that using vDeck rather than cPanel saves PowWeb a pile of cash, but keep in mind that PowWeb's hosting is far from the cheapest around. Planet Hippo's starter hosting is very basic, but it'll handle simple sites, costs just $1 a month over the first 3 years, and yet the company still gives you a full cPanel setup.)
Although vDeck isn't the best website management tool, PowWeb does include some worthwhile website-building options.
You're able to automatically install WordPress via Mojo Marketplace, for instance. We would rather have Softaculous, or maybe Installatron - they have more features, they're easier to use, there's less intrusive marketing - but it gets the job done, and hopefully you'll only have to use it once.
A decent drag-and-drop website builder enables creating simple sites of up to six pages.
Weebly integration allows you to create a site with Weebly's excellent editor, but host it on your PowWeb web space. You're only getting Weebly's free service, so features are limited and there's Weebly branding, but you can at least try the editor out, see if it works for you.
VDeck's own file manager enables uploading a static website or other files to your web space.
The control panel menus point users to other useful functions: email features, domain management, database handling and more. These mostly worked as expected, although there were some surprises.
You might think an 'SSL' menu option would be important, for instance, something a web host would be very keen to get right. Here, it redirected us to dead link and a 'this site can't be reached' error.
And we were surprised to see a 'Business Funding' menu item which redirected us to a website offering business loans, with an affiliate link. We're used to web hosts trying to sell hosting-related products from other companies, but pushing business finance is something new, and not exactly professional.
If you have any PowWeb problems, 24/7 support is available via telephone and live chat.
We opened a live chat window, posed a simple product question - does WebsiteBuilder have any page or website size limits? - and an agent responded to us in less than a minute.
Unfortunately, the service then slowed down as the agent insisted on authenticating our account, asking for our email address and an answer to our security question. It's hard to see why this was necessary, when we were asking a basic question about the service, with no account-specific detail involved.
But the real problem isn't that we were asked for authentication, it's that it took too long. We waited minutes after providing our email address, minutes more after answering our security question, and the end result was it took 8 minutes to finally see the agent type: 'you can build a site of up to 6 pages with the free WebsiteBuilder.' (We've not edited it: that was the advice we had to fight so hard to obtain.)
That probably wasn't the agent's fault. He was mostly likely following a script, and dealing with several queries at the same time. But it should have been easier to get such basic information, and we suspect that any more complex questions could leaving you waiting a very long time.
PowWeb's disappointing performance throughout the review didn't leave us with much hope for its performance tests, but we were still interested to see the results.
We began by signing up for a test account, then put a simple static website online.
We used Uptime.com to monitor the availability and response time of our website. Checks were made every five minutes for a period of seven days, a total of more than 2,000 samples.
Uptime was 100%, without a single outage. That's not a great surprise with short tests, but PowWeb still deserves some credit.
Average server response time was faster than average at 192ms. That's not quite market-leading - as we write, WordPress specialist WP Engine is hitting 154ms - but most of the shared hosting competition is lagging well behind at 200-350ms, and some are even slower.
The results were exceptionally consistent, too, ranging from 177ms to 265ms. Many hosts have worst case responses times of a second or more, so 265ms is excellent.
While these are great figures, it's important to keep them in perspective. Our test was mostly focused on network speed, and it doesn't take account of available RAM or CPU time, which could be very important if you're using WordPress or any other resource-hungry platform or app.
PowWeb's low starter prices and decent speeds might draw you in, but you'll pay in the long run with expensive addons, steep renewal costs, the underpowered vDeck control panel, broken website links, sluggish support and the lack of any upgrade path. Don't waste your time, there are many better hosts around.
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