Something I see literally every day, between all the Facebook groups I participate in, is at least one person per day asking “how do I leave bluehost?” or “I’m having massive Bluehost problems and I need to find a new host – who do you guys recommend?”. This rash of site owners (read: uncomfortable, irritated, concerned) all report similar issues – their sites go down without warning and without support, they lose their sites and all of their data, their posts… it’s a nightmare come true, because for so many of us, our websites are the beating heart of our businesses (not in the figurative/emotional way, but in the more literal way in that it keeps all of the other parts of our businesses alive).
Yet in those same groups, there are bloggers recommending Bluehost to each other and perpetuating this cycle, and seriously, every time I say to avoid Bluehost and other EIG companies, you’d think I’d called someone’s firstborn unexceptional. Frankly, I’m burned out with the backlash and writing over and over again why bloggers should avoid Bluehost (and Host Gator and A Small Orange). Like I get that they have a great affiliate program, and a lot of bloggers have “a great experience!”. However, there are enough complaints and problems to at the very least give any serious blogger pause before signing up for their services (or renewing them).
The Root of the Problem: EIG
EIG is the parent company of Bluehost, ASO, Host Gator, and a slew of other cut-rate hosting companies. Their apparent core business strategy is acquisition, with Host Gator being their crown jewel.
Why is that a bad thing?
It isn’t always necessarily a bad thing if the product is already excellent, scalable, and bugs are ironed out. It’s also not a bad thing if the focus is on the product itself and bringing more small names into that fold. Alas, this isn’t the case, and that’s resulted in massive growing pains.
Overstuffed Shared Servers
One of the most common complaints about Bluehost is that users sites go down frequently. Like 30 minutes a day for weeks on end frequently. Most recently, I saw a blogger stressing over missed sponsor deadlines because her site had been down for 5 days and Bluehost couldn’t so much as migrate her to a different server.
Now any time a site uses too much of a shared server’s resources, it gets throttled or temporarily blocked. That’s pretty standard practice for most hosts, and if you’re getting traffic spikes that would merit such service interruptions, 1. congratulations! 2. it’s time to consider upgrading.
But with Bluehost, this is such a common occurrence because they cram LOTS of sites into their shared servers. Now, yes, shared servers are going to be home to hundreds of sites for many hosts, but Bluehost is notorious for the downtime associated with overloaded servers with low CPU limits.
The worst consequence I’ve heard of is complete site loss – truly just gone (stay on top of your backups, yo), and this is alarmingly common among hosts that are transitioning to EIG ownership (the most recent victims being sites hosted by Site5).
Outsourced, Non-Specialist Support
I don’t want to get too political here, but outsourcing really gets my goat. I understand trying to keep business costs down – I do, I really do – but it’s also pretty horrible for local economies, not to mention that it undercuts and devalues those of us working (and/or struggling for work) stateside.
However, that’s neither here nor there.
The problem at hand is support management, which EIG companies do so poorly. Maybe I’m spoiled because Liquid Web sets a high bar, but I’d like to think support representatives for a technical service like hosting should.. I dunno, specialize in hosting. Like I personally should not work as a hosting support rep because I know nothing about what happens server side. However, the problem I’ve experienced with Bluehost support is that they’re not specialists – really, they seem like generalized tech support, and when you get into the nitty gritty, their reps are lost.
Part of that could also be credited to language barriers, so nuance is lost. For example, making the distinction between self-hosted WordPress and WordPress.com is… well, nuanced. And it’s led to a number of issues for my own clients.
My favorite example of this was a client who had purchased hosting with Bluehost, and once we tried to take the site live, it was set up as a wordpress.com site. Bluehost was charging her for a FREE wordpress.com site. No joke. The support reps insisted that it was correct, and even after showing them the development stage we’d set up within her hosting account, they insisted that the wordpress.com site was what she’d paid for. Only after I told them I’d recommend migrating her to another host did this issue get a response (and even still, my ultimate recommendation for this client was to leave and forevermore avoid Bluehost).
Even more recently, I had a client whose Bluehost account renewed and on the same day, her site reverted back to her wordpress.com blog from 6 years prior. We were fortunate not to lose the work we’d done thus far, but it pushed her launch out by an extra day. Bananas.
A lot of these issues can be avoided, though – if a host has dedicated WordPress hosting, you’d expect that the reps would at least have been trained to recognize the difference between .com and self-hosted. I mean, if you’re going to outsource your support, at least train your reps. Alas, poor training is a major factor at play in the horrific support experiences that so many others have run into.
Anecdotes aside, their support has a 2 star rating from WebHostingGeeks.com, averaged from more than 600 reviews. I know experience is pretty hard to quantify for all you data nerds, but I think this is substantial enough to give any person pause.
High Return Affiliate Programs
I know you must be wondering how Bluehost is still so successful if they’re so awful. First and foremost, they offer a low barrier to entry – $7.99/month (and often with a first month of $3.95) is a pretty agreeable price for anyone. On top of that, there are lots of other bloggers recommending them.
But Resa, why would they refer it if it’s so bad?
There are a few factors at play here:
1. They have a high payout affiliate program – like $65 per referral high. That’s pretty darn hard to resist, especially when you get that payout even for the base level, $7.99/month referral.
2. Referrers don’t know any better. Most bloggers have no experience with the technical side of their hosting, so they really don’t understand what they’re dealing with. On top of that, their only experience in dealing with hosting at all is through their own site. If you want strong, well-based referrals, look to designer/developer communities, and especially those that specialize in your platform.
3. The referrers haven’t come into any problems with them. It’s really easy to say “well, I haven’t had any problems, so it’s good.” At least until you experience catastrophic failure.
With so many bad experiences, it’s really hard to ignore all the horror stories at this point. I totally understand speaking from your own experiences, but when there are at least 2 bloggers per week in a single group trying to jump ship, you start to listen and maybe consider making a switch before it’s too late.
So what am I supposed to do? I’m stuck in a contract with them.
BACK. DAT. SITE. UP. If you aren’t doing consistent backups, get started, and this is somewhere that investing an extra $10/month is a complete no-brainer. I HIGHLY highly recommend Blog Vault for backups (hellz yeah, that’s an affiliate link), which starts at $9/month or $89/year and offers secure, remote backups with 30 days of backups made available to you. Additionally, they offer an auto-restore option AND a test restore option (because you’ll want to make sure that what you revert to still works, right?). On top of that, your backups are encrypted and your backup storage space is unlimited for fair usage.
I know there are lots of others out there, but this combination of features for such a low price point is pretty unbeatable. Just remember, if you choose a free backup tool, have your backups sent to you via email at the very least – don’t store them locally. If your server goes down, your locally stored backups will go right down with it. #nolifeboatsforsteerage
Okay, then who should I host with instead?
Based on unofficial polls, lots of research, and my experiences with my own client’s sites, I recommend the following hosts (so much so that I’m sharing them with affiliate links):
Green Geeks wasn’t included in the initial list because I’d never tried them before, but after several reviews and a chance to try them myself, I’m a big fan – so much so that I’ve made the switch myself. Based out of LA, Green Geeks stands out not only for its price point (accounts start at $3.96/month for WordPress hosting on sale, but it’s usually $9.99/month) but for their dedication to sustainability. They use green energy to power their facilities and each account has a positive energy footprint (I hadn’t even considered the carbon footprint hosting might have, you guys).
On the technical side, they’re super easy to use, have a solid record of consistent uptime, and 24/7 US-based support & monitoring. I especially like that they offer Managed WordPress Hosting, AND you can manage your own php.ini file (which comes up for bloggers who upload high resolution images or bigger graphics). And on the people side, I’ve seriously heard nothing but glowing reviews. You really can’t go wrong.
Siteground is reliable, offers dedicated WordPress support and hosting (WORDPRESS SPECIALISTS, YOU GUYS!), and awesome features like free CDN (this makes your site run faster), dynamic caching (also makes your site run faster), and 24/7 support.
The biggest upside to Siteground is their prices – their single site WordPress hosting starts at $9.95/mo (and right now it’s $3.95 for the first month). As your blog grows, they also offer incredibly reasonable cloud hosting plans starting at $60/mo. What’s more is they don’t try to nickel & dime you with a constant barrage of upsells (I’m looking at you, GoDaddy). As far as shared hosting in this price range is concerned, Siteground runs circles around its competition.
WP Engine is a top-tier host with plans starting at $29/month for sites that get up to 25K visits per month. This is certainly not a budget host, but at a certain level, you’re not going to want one. They offer incredibly responsive AND proactive support, plus they’re dedicated to optimizing the WordPress experience. The experience is fully managed, highly secured (like your site’s security is included in the cost of your hosting), and incredible scalability.
What I love most about WP Engine is their staging, which allows users to test out new themes and plugins without having to take down your site to do it. This is an EXCELLENT option for developers and DIYers alike to tool around.
I edited this post to add Flywheel, because at the time of publication, I thought they largely outsourced their work. WRONG WRONG WRONG, girl. Based out of Omaha, Flywheel is another managed WordPress solution, and it’s pricing sits between Siteground and WP Engine at a base of $15/mo for smaller sites. They boast excellent customer support, free migrations, automatic backups, and one-click restores, all big wins in my book.
The reason I’m probably going to end up switching to them myself, though, is that they allow users to set up development stages and transfer billing. This means that for designers, you can set up the site as a preview for the client, then once they’re ready to launch, there’s no backup, install, reconfigure song & dance – it’s really simple and saves a lot of time and the client doesn’t have to pay for a hosting account until their site is live and running. NICE.
I used LiquidWeb for basically the first 10 years of my online career – they own and manage all of their own data centers, rather than renting out servers remotely, their 24/7 support team comprises incredible specialists, and they’re incredibly kind, helpful, and responsive. I have never felt like their reps were talking down to me, and they always work to speak at your level without condescension.
The sole drawback to LiquidWeb is they’ve stopped offering their more affordable shared server plans that started at $15/month. If you’re a growing blog, though, they offer stellar VPS (virtual private server – it’s basically like having your own dedicated section of a server, so in case someone else’s site is having problems, yours won’t suffer for it) plans starting at $50/month.
Bluehost is not a solution for serious bloggers. It just isn’t. Unless you’re 100% on top of your backup, security, and optimization game (and I don’t just mean SEO, but minification, caching, the whole shebang), hosting with an EIG company is a risk that just does not behoove your business. My final advice? Avoid Bluehost. You can do so much better.