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HostGator Web Hosting review

Powerful shared hosting for a fair price

(Image: © HostGator)

Our Verdict

HostGator's high-end plans are short on configurability, but its feature-packed 'unlimited everything' shared hosting plans are a great deal, and the live chat support is responsive and helpful.

For

  • Good value
  • 'Unlimited everything' shared hosting
  • Speedy and helpful live chat support
  • 45-day money-back guarantee

Against

  • Limited VPS/ dedicated server configuration options
  • Managed WordPress hosting covers basic features only
  • Average server response times

Texas-based HostGator is a well-known web hosting company with more than 15 years in the business. It's now part of Endurance International Group, along with Domain.com, Bluehost, iPage, SiteBuilder.com and more.

HostGator offers a solid range of products covering all the core hosting essentials: shared hosting, a drag-and-drop website builder, cloud and VPS hosting, dedicated servers, a handful of Windows products, a reseller account and more.

There's not a lot of depth to any individual area, though. HostGator only offers three VPS server plans and three base dedicated servers, for instance, and these only have very limited configuration options. 

Dedicated servers only allow you to choose Windows or CentOS operating system, for instance. Meanwhile, Hostwinds has four VPS plans available in Linux and Windows flavors; its dedicated servers enable choosing up to three additional drives, adding RAID support, extra RAM, choosing from five operating systems and multiple versions, and adding extra IPs and bandwidth.

The products HostGator does offer are surprisingly capable, though, especially at the budget end of the range.

Shared hosting

HostGator's shared hosting range delivers from the start. Even the cheapest shared hosting plan, Hatchling, gets you unmetered disk space; unlimited bandwidth, MySQL databases, email and FTP accounts; a free SSL certificate, easy WordPress and shopping cart installation (osCommerce and ZenCart) and full-featured cPanel-based site management. That's more than enough power for many personal and business websites, yet it's priced from only $2.75 a month on the three-year plan ($6.95 on renewal).

At the top of the range, the Business plan supports hosting unlimited domains and adds professional features such as a free dedicated IP and a premium SSL certificate. This has a very low headline price from $5.95 a month over three years, and renews at a still-reasonable $14.95-$16.95, depending on subscription length (1 month to three years.)

(If you're looking for more detail, there's a technical comparison of the various shared hosting plans on the HostGator site.)

The only small issue we could see was in HostGator's choice of automated installers. Many web hosts offer Softaculous, a smart platform which simplifies the process of installing WordPress, Joomla, phpBB, PrestaShop, Drupal, Magento and hundreds of popular web apps. HostGator is mostly focused on WordPress, with just a handful of others. That will be fine for most users, but if you're looking for something else, you may have to install and set it up yourself.

Application hosting

HostGator offers simple WordPress hosting for a very low price, but without the high-end features you'll get with the more specialist competition.

The company claims'2.5X Faster Load Times & Increased Website Performance' due to its 'supercharged cloud architecture, low-density servers, CDN, and multiple caching layers.'

HostGator also offers a free migration service to transfer your existing WordPress site to the new account, while automatic WordPress updates should keep your site securely patched.

Prices are less than some basic shared packages, starting at $5.95 a month over three years (renews at $9.95.)

If you'd like a little more WordPress management power, InMotion Hosting's WordPress plans include a staging environment to enable testing updates without breaking your production site. Prices start low at $6.99 a month over two years, $8.99 on renewal, but the plan only supports 20,000 monthly visitors. HostGator's starter plan can handle 100,000, so if you only need the WordPress basics, it's still the better deal.

HostGator makes signing up easy by putting all of the information you need onto a single page

HostGator makes signing up easy by putting all of the information you need onto a single page

(Image credit: HostGator)

Signing up

While many web hosts force you to work through multiple pages to buy the simplest of products, HostGator crams everything you need - account details, your choice of plan, any extras you need, your preferred billing method (card, PayPal) and personal details (name, email and physical address, phone number) - onto a single page.

That makes for a lot of vertical scrolling as you make your way through the detail, but otherwise it's a smart approach. It's easy to see what's involved, the choices you've got and their consequences, for example adding the daily backup option ($2.00 a month) with a click and immediately seeing the final price update to match.

It's good to see a reminder of HostGator's 45-day money-back guarantee, too. That's more generous than usual, but keep in mind that there are the usual restrictions: you're not covered for dedicated servers or domain registration, for instance, and you won't get a review if HostGator has given you one before.

We worked our way through the form and handed over our cash in the usual way. Some web hosts force you to wait for an email telling you they’ve activated your account, but not HostGator. The website  redirected us to a 'please wait while we set up your account' web page, but after a brief delay, barely a minute, HostGator's dashboard appeared and we were ready to go.

WordPress

With HostGator you can build your site using WordPress or using a Weebly-powered drag-and-drop website builder

(Image credit: HostGator)

WordPress

Launch HostGator for the first time and you're presented with two website creation options: installing WordPress, or using a Weebly-powered drag-and-drop website builder.

Choose the WordPress option and you're asked to choose your domain, and, optionally a directory. 

Tapping Next enables entering a blog title, admin username, your first and last name and the email address. One further click on the Install button and the site installs WordPress for you.

While this works, it's basic, and short on detail. What is the 'admin' user, newbies might wonder? Why does the site need your first and last name? There's nothing on the page to tell you more.

It's also very limited. Bluehost's automated WordPress installer asks for your development experience, for instance. Your blog tagline. Whether you'd like to install a web store. You're even able to choose a theme for your site. And despite all the extra functionality, it's still more clear and straightforward than HostGator's very stripped-back approach.

There's a possible explanation for this at the top of the WordPress setup page, where HostGator suggests you 'talk to a WordPress expert' and offers a phone number. Alternatively, scrolling down takes you to a 'Let a Pro do it for you' panel, where HostGator offers to set up your site for a fee. 

At its most basic, the company can install WordPress and your theme, and give you $49 WordPress Theme Credit, for $99. Well, okay, it's there if you need it, but we would prefer HostGator offered a smarter setup process which made it easier for anyone to do this.

HostGator Website Builder

HostGator provides a free Weebly-based website builder but there are some restrictions

(Image credit: HostGator)

Website builder

HostGator's Weebly-based website builder sounds appealing, at least initially, but beware: there's a catch. It has some significant restrictions.

What you're getting is essentially Weebly's $4 a month Connect plan. There's the same excellent drag-and-drop editor, you can use it with your own domain, and there's free SSL thrown in. But your website is limited to a tiny 500MB, perhaps a problem if you've big web design ambitions.

The feature still has some value, of course, especially if your hosting plan supports unlimited domains. It's a simple way of allowing your kids to build and manage their own small family sites, for instance. Or you could use it yourself as a testing ground to try out various website ideas, see what might work for you.

HostGator also offers paid plans to remove these restrictions and add further useful features: site search, a shopping cart, site statistics, password protection and more.

Prices are reasonable at $8.68 a month on the annual plan, significantly cheaper than the $12 you'll spend if you buy Weebly's Pro account direct (for the annual plan). And there are more savings available if you're happy to extend your subscription, with prices falling to $5.99 a month for the three-year plan

From HostGator's dashboard you can view all the information you need to know about your website and your account

From HostGator's dashboard you can view all the information you need to know about your website and your account

(Image credit: HostGator)

Site management

HostGator's customer portal is an online dashboard where you're able to manage your account and take full control of your web space.

This is very text-heavy with a stack of links, but many of these relate to optional extras. 'CodeGuard Backup' sounds intriguing, for instance, but unless you purchased it during signup, you'll just get an upselling attempt trying to persuade you to buy it now.

A 'Search our knowledgebase' box wasn't as useful as it looked, either. We typed 'cancel' in the box and hit Enter, hoping to see the knowledgebase display a pop-up window with a link to a 'how to cancel your account' article. Instead, the site simply opened a new tab at the Help site, without even displaying matching articles. We had to search for 'cancel' again.

Despite these hassles, the dashboard scores for its many convenient touches. A 'Control Panel' section includes links to common site management modules - Email Accounts, Webmail, Databases, File Manager - and with one click you can get on with uploading files, creating email accounts or whatever else you need to do.

If you need more, a full-strength cPanel installation is just a click away. FTP, phpMyAdmin, Awstats, Webalizer and all the usual tools are ready and waiting.

Overall, while there's room for improvement here, HostGator's portal works very well. Once you've found your way around, it's a comfortable place to work with plenty of useful shortcuts.

HostGator Website Builder

HostGator provides 24/7 support via live chat and telephone

(Image credit: HostGator)

Support

HostGator's first line of support is a comprehensive web knowledgebase, where a stack of articles are organized into sensibly chosen categories: cPanel, Database, Domains, Email, Security, VPS/ Dedicated and more.

If you're unsure about the category, enter a keyword in the Search box and a list of matches appears.

HostGator's search engine generally does a great job of displaying the most relevant articles first. When we typed 'import WordPress', for instance, the site highlighted articles on transferring WordPress sites from WordPress.com or other sites, moving a WordPress site or using the standard Import and Export tools.

That's just the start. When we hit Enter, the site gave us 100 matches of similar and related articles, including others which might be relevant (How to move your blog from Tumblr to WordPress.)

Most articles include plenty of detail, too. The official 'How to Transfer Your WordPress Blog From One Host to Another Host' advice, for instance, explains that HostGator might be able to transfer the site for you, points you to resources where you can find out more, explains four key steps (backup, download, create a new database, import), and includes some useful tips (don't update WordPress on the new host until you've imported your database.)

If you run into trouble, support is available 24/7/365 via live chat and telephone (toll free in the US.)

We've always had good results from HostGator's support, and this time was no different. When we tried live chat, a helpful agent responded within a minute, understood our question immediately and gave us sensible and accurate advice: exactly what we needed.

We used the service Uptime.com to check the availability and response time of our HostGator site for a week

We used the service Uptime.com to check the availability and response time of our HostGator site for a week

(Image credit: Uptime.com)

Performance

We began our performance testing by setting up a simple static website on our HostGator plan, then using the site Uptime to check its availability and response time for a week.

Our site was never down during the monitoring period. That's what we would expect after only a week of testing, but it was still good to see.

Response times ranged from 216ms to 807ms, with an average of 251ms. That's at the slower end of 'mid-range' (the very best hosts average around 100ms faster) but in most cases you're unlikely to notice any issue.

There's better news in HostGator's consistent response times. Strong variations in response times suggest an overloaded server (or network) with too much competition for resources. But HostGator's response time chart was (for the most part) reassuringly flat rather than worryingly spiky, perhaps indicating that the server and network had resources to spare.

As a final check, we ran Bitcatcha's Server Speed Checker on our test site. This tested the response times of our site from multiple locations around the world - North America, London, Singapore, Sydney, Japan and more - and was more enthusiastic about HostGator's performance, awarding our server its highest A+ rating.

Final verdict

HostGator's high-end VPS and dedicated plans are short on configurability, but its shared hosting plans offer loads of features for a very fair price, there's top-quality support to ensure everything runs smoothly, and a generous 45-day money-back guarantee ensures there's no risk. A smart choice for shared hosting users who need more.