You may not know the name, but New York-based HostRocket has been providing hosting services since 1999, runs its own data centres, and currently manages around 50,000 websites.
The company's own website doesn't inspire much enthusiasm, unfortunately, being a dated-looking list of HostRocket's various products: shared hosting, VPS, reseller, dedicated servers and so on. These aren't presented well, and it's not always easy to compare what the various products have to offer.
HostRocket's starter Website Hosting product offers unlimited everything - storage, bandwidth, websites, email accounts - for $5.99 (£4.28) a month. That sounds good, especially with a free website builder thrown in (RVSiteBuilder), but there are some concerns. You must pay for two years' service up-front to get the advertised price, and if you choose a monthly or six-monthly cycle you're hit with a $29.99 (£21.43) setup fee.
An SSD Shared Hosting plan gives you speedy SSD RAID storage, but limits storage space, bandwidth, and the number of sites you can host, while also costing notably more. For instance, the baseline SSD Premium plan gives you 5GB SSD storage, 200GB of monthly bandwidth and one free domain name, but is priced from $9.98 (£7.13) a month. Again, that's for a two-year plan, although there's no setup fee this time for shorter subscriptions.
Other products on hand include some very configurable VPS plans starting at $39.95 (£28.54) a month, and dedicated servers priced from $119 (£85).
While the prices seem reasonable, HostRocket's dated website left us wondering about the service. Why, for instance, is the site boasting that it supports PHP 5 with the Apache module suPHP, when the state-of-the-art release is PHP 7, and suPHP is no longer maintained and hasn't seen even a bug fix release since 2013? We can guess why - HostRocket probably hasn't updated this part of its website for a very long time - but that just leaves us wondering what else has been neglected.
If you're tempted to sign up anyway, a 30-day money-back guarantee will return your hosting fees (less setup costs and domain registration charges) as long as you cancel in time. There are no special conditions, the company says, just close your account in the first 30 days and you'll get your money back.
HostRocket has a wide range of products, and finding the right one for you can be tricky. The website doesn't provide an easy way to compare products, and the plan pages don't clearly highlight the total prices for their various billing cycles. You have to reach for a calculator or click the Buy Now button to see exactly what you'll be expected to pay.
Make your choice anyway and you'll be offered a choice of two data centres. Normally that's a benefit well worth having, but here your options are New York or Chicago, and unless your target audience is close to one of those cities, your decision is unlikely to make much difference.
HostRocket asks for all your usual contact details - name, company name, email, physical address and phone number - and goes even further by asking for an SMS number to receive notifications. It's good that the company can notify you this way, but we think this should be optional, not compulsory for all.
Payments are accepted by card only, but HostRocket gets a bonus point here for allowing users to turn off recurring billing.
We filled in the form, handed over our payment details and the process mostly completed as we expected, although for some reason the acknowledgement page was displayed in Danish. Moments later HostRocket's welcome emails arrived, also in a mix of English and Danish, and logging into the web console revealed a largely Danish interface.
This was the perfect opportunity to test support, so we raised a ticket immediately. An email response arrived only three minutes later stating that HostRocket had made a 'change to the system', and sure enough, the interface was mostly back in English (one or two fields on some pages were now displayed in Chinese). That was an impressive response time, but the fact that it could happen at all, and wasn't fixed at the first attempt, was a concern.
Unfortunately, there was an even more significant problem elsewhere. Although the website promised 'three free months' with an annual plan, this wasn't included with our order. We had expected a discount or 15 months for the price of 12, but no-- there was no saving or extra subscription time.
It was time for another support query. We raised a ticket and 75 minutes later an agent said they had changed our billing date to extend it by three months. That's fine for us, but if this is a regular issue, how many customers don't even notice they've been short-changed? It shouldn't be up to the end-user to ask for an advertised benefit.
Creating a site
HostRocket accounts appear to be set up manually, so you may not be able to access your web space right away. This can be a little annoying if you're used to the instant activation you'll sometimes get elsewhere, but you may not have to wait too long: our plan was ready to go in around 90 minutes.
Logging in to HostRocket's site took us to a very standard account management screen where we could view our plans, domains, tickets, invoices and more. The only oddity was a 'Recent News' section with a single article dated Thursday, October 27, 2016. Recent? It seems this was yet another area of the HostRocket site which hadn't been updated in some time.
The HostRocket website claimed its shared accounts included RVSiteBuilder, an online site-building tool with a large library of templates. It's far from the best website builder, but would still have been a welcome addition to the package.
Except, well, we couldn't see RVSiteBuilder linked anywhere in our account interface. It didn't rate a single mention in the support knowledgebase or anywhere else on the HostRocket site, other than the shared hosting feature list.
What was going on? We raised yet another support ticket to ask, and a reply arrived within minutes telling us RVSiteBuilder was only available on 'select newer servers', but not the one hosting our account. The suggested solution was that HostRocket could delete our account and recreate it (free of charge) on the new server, finally giving us access to RVSiteBuilder.
While the company deserves a little credit for offering a workaround, this is another issue where a standard feature wasn't included with our order, and we think that's unacceptable. Whatever features are promised on the website must be provided by default to all customers, otherwise the company appears unprofessional at best, untrustworthy or even dishonest at worst.
Fortunately, there were other website creation options around. Selecting our hosting account displayed a simple control panel where we could quickly create email accounts or launch a (cPanel-based) File Manager to manually upload our website files.
If you know what you're doing, you can log in to cPanel directly to manage every aspect of your web site, or use the bundled copy of the excellent Softaculous to easily install WordPress, Joomla, PrestaShop, Magento and hundreds of other popular apps.
Support is a key element of every good web hosting service, so we like to spend some time checking out how a company performs.
HostRocket's web console offers a clear and very obvious Support menu with links to account management, a web knowledgebase and an option to submit a ticket. Ticket and email-based support is available 24/7, but there's no live chat and telephone support is for dedicated, reseller and colocation clients only.
The Knowledgebase has more than 300 support articles organised into well-chosen categories: cPanel, Domain Registration and DNS, Email, FAQ and Troubleshooting, Sales and Billing and Website Development.
The Knowledgebase also highlights 5 'Most Popular Articles', and unusually these really do cover the details that many new customers will want to know: how to create email accounts, which nameservers to use, how to upload files to your web space, and more.
The content of the articles typically covers the basics, but nothing more. There are very few screenshots and technical content is kept to a minimum. For example, the page on changing your PHP version and settings doesn't discuss why you might want to do this, or what your options are, or what the effects might be, or give you any examples of settings that could be worth changing. There's little more than 'go here to change the PHP version, and once you've done that you'll be able to tweak some settings.'
If the Knowledgebase can't answer your question, it's easy to create a ticket and ask a real support agent. As we've mentioned above, our questions were answered by a friendly and helpful agent within just a few minutes.
As ever, we completed our review by running multiple speed tests on our demo website, the default WordPress installation. Performance was inconsistent but generally above average, more than acceptable for a budget shared hosting plan.
HostRocket's shared hosting isn't bad, but having to ask the company to deliver advertised features is a major red flag and makes the service very difficult to recommend.
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