The company has been around since 2002, and its experience was obvious from the moment we visited the site. Product areas are clearly highlighted at the top of the page. Each section presents you with three plans, core features are shown upfront, and a ‘compare’ page tells you much more about what's on offer. The website is easy to navigate and user-friendly.
HostGator's prices aren't quite as clear. The bottom-of-the-range Hatchling plan has a headline price of $2.75 a month, but what you won't see on the front page is that's for buying 36 months upfront. The price jumps to $5.95 a month if you pay for one year, $8.95 on renewal.
Fortunately, you do get a lot for your money. Even HostGator's basic Hatchling plan has no limits on bandwidth, web space, subdomains, MySQL databases, FTP and email accounts. There's also one-click WordPress installation, cPanel-based site management and a 99.9% uptime guarantee covering both server and network failures. However, this tier only includes one domain.
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The Baby plan weighs in at $3.95 a month when you commit to three years or $11.95 when you pay monthly. Users can also opt for 3/6/24 month plans. It includes support for unlimited domains. There are also options for a dedicated IP and a private SSL certificate. There is also no limit on the number of domains.
The Business plan costs $5.95 a month over 3 years or $16.95 a month over one. It includes a dedicated IP and support for anonymous FTP also. Users also receive an upgrade to positive SSL and free SEO tools. This is HostGator’s recommended plan of course.
Overall, HostGator's long-term prices are fractionally higher than average, but we like the simple product structure. Unlike some of the competition, the bottom-of-the-range plan doesn't have any daft restrictions (such as only one FTP account, or only 10 emails) to force you to upgrade, and the full-strength Business plan doesn't try to tempt you with oddball extras you don't really need. If you're creating a personal site, Hatchling is more than adequate; if you're a business or selling online and need private SSL, use one of the others. It’s as simple as that.
Impressive hosting specs don't always translate into a good service, of course, but HostGator's 45-day money-back guarantee is on hand if you need it, outperforming the 30 days or less offered by most hosts (some have far less breathing space – Easyspace only gives you 7 days).
HostGator has an option for user to ‘Compare All Plans’. This lets you see exactly what you are getting from each plan all on one page. There's still scope for nasty surprises, though, as we discovered when we clicked ‘Sign up now!’ for the $2.75 a month Hatchling plan, and were presented with an invoice total of $152.19.
We'd been hit by a double whammy of pricing tricks. The first: HostGator's low headline prices are often only available if you pay for three years’ hosting upfront. And the second: the company automatically added SiteLock malware detection and automated daily backups to our cart, bumping up the total by another $43.94.
HostGator is not alone when it comes to sneakily adding extra features on the checkout page. However, it is very easy to just uncheck the extra options and continue with your purchase. Choose one year instead of three and the bill drops to $76.11. Of course, this also means the starting monthly rate isn't as appealing at around $2.75, and we'd generally prefer it if sites didn't add products to our cart without asking. There are also options to improve your search ranking and get a professional email – these are not checked by default and you can add them as you see fit.
HostGator makes signup easier than some other providers by placing everything on one single page: domain details, hosting plan, billing and payment information (credit card and PayPal supported), and more. This makes for more horizontal scrolling, but we prefer it – you can see exactly what the company is going to need, enter it in whatever order you like, and make changes without relying on the Back button correctly restoring page state.
Users can choose to pay by credit card or PayPal. If you decide to cancel within 45 days of purchase you can do so by logging into your online portal or by calling customer support.
Get past the site design and HostGator's signup procedure works much like any other service, maybe a little better. Fill in your payment details, confirm them if you're asked, then an email arrives with basic startup details like name servers and the account is ready to go almost immediately (there’s no ‘activation’ delay here).
Creating a website
Logging on to HostGator's customer portal gave us access to many more functions than we were expecting. As well as the regular account data (packages, renewal dates, billing and security information), there are icons for high-level site tools covering email accounts, FTP, a file manager and more. Although this looks more intimidating, we see it as a plus, because it enables carrying out the basics (setting up a first personal email for your domain) without needing to get into anything more complicated.
Experienced users can jump straight into cPanel where they'll find all the same high-level features, and have even more low-level adjustments to explore. If you're used to cPanel you'll be at home right away, but even if you're not, it won't take long to find your way around. The Popular section at the top of the page contains most of the key tools you need – File Manager, Email Accounts, FTP Accounts and so on – and because cPanel is an industry standard there's a vast amount of help around.
Website creation features start with a basic Website Builder. This really is basic – 100 or so templates, a maximum of 6 pages, HostGator branding in the footer – but it's an easy way to get a small personal site online, and many hosts don't include any form of Site Builder unless you pay a premium. The Builder includes a drag and drop feature which makes your experience creating a website easier.
QuickInstall-powered one-click setup is available for WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and other apps. Navigation seemed a little unreliable with the program leaving us at blank screens a few times, forcing us to go back and try again. We would have preferred something like Softaculous, but as you might only use the system once it's really not a major issue. The core scripting of installations is solid, too, and we got a copy of WordPress up and running with no hassles at all. HostGator also runs on Linux, Apahce, MySQL and PHP.
Support is an important element of any web hosting package, and HostGator gets off to what looks like a great start with its many options: a web database, customer forums, live chat, a sort-of ticket system (live chat initially but then you get an email), US-based telephone support (including a toll-free number), there are even fax numbers and direct mailing addresses if you can think of a reason to use them.
We're keen on web forums, but HostGator's offering (check out the basic public view here) sees questions handled by other customers rather than official moderators. While there may not be daily questions posed in the forums, the threads which have been started appear to have a decent amount of engagement from other customers.
HostGator's support articles are much better. They're available from a separate site (browse it here) or directly from cPanel. Entering a few keywords displays the best matches right away, or you can run a full search to find everything. Articles are sensibly named and there are enough to give you a good chance of finding what you need. Entering ‘import WordPress’, for example, gave us articles including ‘Transfer WordPress from WordPress.com to your self-hosted WordPress’, ‘How to Transfer your WordPress Blog from one host to another’, and ‘Changing the Domain of your WordPress site’.
We were excited to see that HostGator had a range of Video Tutorials uploaded on the support page. However, we were quickly brought back down to earth. Instead of implementing a proper video player or presentation component, HostGator just provides links to SWF files (Flash animations). If your device doesn't support Flash then clicking these will do nothing at all, except maybe asking if you want to save them.
When we ran searches through the cPanel, we noticed it did not show the same number of results as a search run on the support page. While this may not seem like a big deal, it could mean that if you run a very specific search on cPanel, some results may not show up at all. We recommend running all your searches from the support page just to be on the safe side.
The ‘Live Chat’ support is excellent whether you are an existing customer or just a potential new one enquiring about their products. We submitted a basic enquiry about their Hatchling plan and an agent had joined the chat within 2 minutes. They also answered our question in a timely question. This is available 24/7. There are also options to phone, fax and e-mail HostGator directly if online chat is not your thing.
As a final HostGator check, we pointed our site at Bitcatcha.com and a few other server speed tests. Our server seemed to be located on the western side of the US, so there may be a slight lag when you're visiting the site from the UK, but otherwise there were no issues and the tests showed faster than average global access times.
This web host is more costly than some, but it’s still good value with loads of features and no annoying limits – even with the budget plans. A smart choice for the demanding user.
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