A bit of history...
At the beginning, they were offering only one plan and they called it the All-In-One plan - an unlimited-everything plan that allows them to dominate and grow very fast. But at that time, it was sold for only $3.95 and renew at $7.95.
Later, the All-In-One plan was renamed to Plus plan and along with it, they added 2 new plans, Basic and Pro. As you can guess, the Basic plan has lower specs but cheaper while the Pro plan is exactly the opposite - "higher" specs but more expensive.
And not long ago, the Plus plan get some slimming and is no longer unlimited. "Limits" are added but most notably you can no longer host unlimited websites but only 10.
* They seems to be going back and forth with the unlimited Plus plan and the 10-website Plus plan. The last time I check here, it is back to unlimited. Please confirm yourself as I am lazy to keep changing my review. It seems like the 10 website limit is killing off their sales so they may have reversed back to the unlimited-everything Plus plan. That's a good news..
First the offer price
| Basic Plan
| Plus Plan
| Pro Plan
Don't be fool by the offer price, every web host in the industry published a very low offer price to attract new customers and later charge them a higher renewal price.
Even offer prices are not equal
The offer price I show you above must be activated using my link here. I am pointing you to the cheapest offer price to save you time and make the discussion easier. They are running several offers which is about 50 cents to $2.50 more expensive each month.Seen below is another "offer" for the Basic plan which is much more expensive than the offer price I show you earlier. At 36 months, you are paying $72 more if you don't pay attention here.
The most important question! What is BlueHost renewal price?
Please check their official disclosure page here. Don't be too shocked when you see the prices which are almost double the offer price. Another way to look at it is that BlueHost is actually running a 50% promotion.
Shared? Cloud? WordPress? VPS? Dedicated?
Lots of choices, lots of confusion. How to choose?
I still miss the time when BlueHost was only offerring one unlimited-everything plan. There is only one pricing. If the price is right, you go with it.
Today you have 3 shared hosting plans to choose from. And on top of it, you have "cloud sites", wordpress hosing, VPS hosting and dedicated servers.
Put it simple, a dedicated server is a whole cake. Many people cannot finish a whole cake, so they can choose for says a quarter (VPS) or they can choose a small slice (shared hosting). It is easy to understand. And 99% of the websites needed only shared hosting, which is still true today.
Cloud is a buzzword. There is no clear definition of what a cloud should be. So it is very difficult to says, "This is cloud" or, "This is not cloud".
Cloud hosting itself can be divided by the number of resoures (usually CPU and memory) you are getting. At the lower end of cloud, it is just like shared hosting. At the upper end of cloud, it will be like VPS or even dedicated server. And pump in more resources, it will be like multiple dedicated server combined. At the extreme, you canc combine thousands of servers and examples are super websites like Google, Amazon and Facebook.
Of course, Bluehost doesn't offer cloud services that alows you to build another Facebook or Youtube. They mainly offer cloud services at the lower end.
If you look at BlueHost cloud offerings, there are 3 plans - Starter, Performance and Business Pro.
The "cheaper" Starter cloud will just be shared hosting with cloud features while the "expensive" Business Pro cloud will be just VPS hosting with cloud features. BlueHost doesn't offer cloud that has higher spec. It stops at the lower end of VPS.
Bluehost Cloud sites vs Shared hosting
BlueHost's cloud offers 3 extra features that you are not getting from shared hosting. First one is dedicated resources (CPU, memory and IP) which makes it a "poor man's VPS". Second is "local caching" and third is "scaling".
You may think you can getting a lot extra but I can tell you right now that, there is really not much difference from the shared hosting and the lower end of the cloud hosting, a.k.a. Starter cloud.
Dedicated resources is a good idea, but 2 CPUs and 2 GB of ram is not much to talk of, especially when you do not know the specification of the CPUs. Fast CPUs and slow CPUs are not the same. And even my 3.5 year-old Samsung Galaxy Note II is running on 4 CPUs (cores).
Caching can be implemented easily yourself on shared hosting. Most CMS has caching plugin available, for example, W3 Total Cache and my own choice of WP Super Cache for Wordpress. "Local Caching" of cloud sites are done using Varnish which is very aggresive and may give you lots of headaches if you are not savvy enough.
"Scaling" just means you can upgrade or downgrade from one plan to another. You still need to do the it manually so it is not "real" scaling. A real scaling means automation where you don't need to decide up front how much resources you will need and you will be charged according to what you use. That means not only your resources is scaled automatically, your bills too.
My recommendation is always to start with shared hosting. You only look into these upgrade paths when you really need them. You don't need to look at it in the begining.
Wordpress "Optimized" Hosting?
Another huge confusion. Other than WordPress "Optimized" hosting, they also called it WordPress "Managed" hosting. "Managed" means they will install wordpress for you and update it for you. But installation and update can be done easily yourself on shared hosting. So what you are paying is for the "optimization". But what can they really optimized? It basically just means caching!
Bluehost WordPress hosting is just their VPS hosting with agreesive caching (via Varnish) and CDN provided. CDN is just another type of caching for static files such as images. Many third party provides are available so you don't need to pick Bluehost's own CDN. Both Varnish and CDN provides a layer of complication that is better suited for savvy webmaster.
The bottom line is with shared hosting, you can easily optimize your WordPress with free caching plugins. If you need CDN, you can get it cheaper from 3rd party providers. If you need more resources for you WordPress site, it is better to move directly to a VPS hosting so you can have more control and avoid all those nasty surprises from Varnish.
Shared Hosting - Basic, Plus or Pro?
Now we are back to the real thing. If you have read until now, you know that I am not a fan of their cloud hosting and wordpress hosting. And even for the shared hosting, I am only interested in the Basic and Plus plan.
The features are very easy to understand and if you have not look at it yet, please check here.
There is basically one significant diference between the Basic and the Plus plan - the number of website you can host on it. You can only host 1 website with the Basic plan but 10 websites with the Plus plan. There are other limits but they are insignicant, please just refer them to the same page I point to you earlier here.
That means you just need to ask yourself if you need to host more than 1 website. If yes, choose the Plus plan, if not choose the Basic plan and save some money.
* As I pointed out earlier, they keep switching the Plus plan offering between 10 websites and unlimited websites. The only way you know what you are getting is to check the page yourself.
The Pro plan is too expensive and comes with features that most of us doesn't need (SSL). If you really need those features, I would suggest you to choose another web host instead because you will be able to get the same thing much cheaper. You can also get your SSL from third party and has BlueHost installed it for you even if you are using the cheaper Pro and Plus plan, but you will need to pay extra for dedicated IP which is needed for SSL to work.
The Good Stuffs
1. You Decide Your Renewal Options
In the control panel, you can choose any options below:-
- Auto-renew 15 days before expiration
- Manual renew
- Do not renew
This is a very good business practice because they let the customers decide how they are going to renew. Many web hosts want you to renew desperately and they don't offer the option to stop the auto-renew, e.g. WebHostingPad.
If you cancel right away, you are foreced to lose the remaining hosting period that you have paid for. If you want to keep the remaining hosting period, you will have to cancel just right before the expiry date. Most complaints of WebHostingPad is that they are charged for hosting accounts that they no longer want to renew.
Hosting with Bluehost means you have full control on billing and you don't need to worry about being kept hostage by them in anyway.
2. Anytime Money Back Guarantee!
While more and more web hosts are willing to offer anytime money back guarantee now, BlueHost is the first web host I know that offer such terms. In a traditional 30 day money back guarantee, you won't have any chance to get a refund after the initial 30 days.
For BlueHost, you can get your money back anytime. In the first 30 days, you will get a full refund. After the 30 days, you will receive a pro-rated refund for the amount of period unused. For illustration, if you subscribe for 24 months and cancel after 4 months later, you will get 20 months of hosting fee back.
Do they honored what they say? Will they make it difficult for you to get your refund? I actually went ahead and tried it myself by canceling and I got my money back within 24 hours! You can read my detail experience on requesting my BlueHost refund.
If you have registered a new free domain at sign up, a $15.99 domain fee will be deducted from your refund if you cancel after 3 days because a domain name cannot be "unregister" after 3 days. But you still own your domain name until it expires and you can host it with another web host if you want.
When you choose to pay for 36 months, you are not signing any contract but only paying in advance. You can always get your unused portion back when necessary. I believe you will like this business practice very much.
Refunds for other add-ons are more complicated and most of them are not refundable no matter what. You should be extremely careful when buying add-ons.
To confirm they have not changed their "refund terms", please check their official money back guarantee page for their wording. Make sure item #2 "If you cancel after 30 days you receive a prorated refund for the remainder of your hosting term" is still there!
3. Extremely Good Customer Support!
Customer support with BlueHost is extremely good. You can choose to contact them via email, website, live chat or phone. Phone will be toll free for those living in the US. Phone support is now extended to 24/7 including Sunday and public holidays!
Shy people like me will prefer to use the live chat. But serious issues should always go through their ticket system. You must submit a ticket using the ticket submission form. Their ticket system and help center is fully developed by themselves to serve their web hosting clients.
They never outsource their customer support like your banks. All of their customer support staff are US based and can speak and write in native English.
There are currently 815 knowledgebase articles that can be search and read in their helpcenter. Most of the time you can get answers to your issues without even contacting support. A search on the keyword "refund" returned 14 results. A search of "ruby on rails" returned 11 results and a search of "php" returned more than 142 results!
4. Free Domain Name (or a Domain Coupon)
The free domain deal is very simple. You will ALWAYS get one free domain from them no matter if you are registering a new domain or transferring one over. It will only be 1 year and you will have to renew it at $15.99/year later.
If you are transferring an existing domain to them, you will be given a domain name coupon that you can use to register any other domain name that you like or you can use it to issue a free transfer of your domain name to them and have it extend for another year.
Most web hosts will only give you a free domain name if you register a new one with them or if you transfer the primary domain name to them. They never let you register a secondary domain name like BlueHost. BlueHost is the only web host that I know that offer such benefit so you can have more options on how to claim your free domain. You can even transfer your free domain away if you want.
Some web hosts offer free domain name for life with their hosting. Some web host (ahem, HostGator) doesn't even offer free domain name with any of their web hosting plans!
Domain name and web hosting are 2 different services and if you are confused with them, please read my article on domain hosting explained.
5. The Almighty CPanel Control Panel
I only use one search engine today and that's Google. I don't use Yahoo. I don't use Bing. And now Yahoo is actually Bing rebranded serving Bing results. If you are old enough like me (I am young, I mean old enough with the Internet), you would have used stuff like HotBot, AltaVista, Lycos, Excite, Metecrawler, Infoseek... all many many other search egine. Today, only Google and Bing left in the game and Bing is struggling very hard to increase their market share.
So as web hosting control panel. We have many different control panel years ago like the search engine. The more popular ones are CPanel, Plesk, H-Shere and many custom made control panel by the web hosts themselves. I never heard of H-Sphere today. Plesk is gone as a shared hosting control panel but still have some market on their VPS category. A "new" control panel known as vDeck was developed several years ago trying to clone CPanel. And now almost all web host either powered by CPanel or vDeck with CPanel dominanating strongly. There are still some cash-rich web hosts able to develop their own control panel such as LunarPages. Even web hosts such as PowWeb whose previously use their own custom control panel has now switched to using vDeck. A web host that I am using and like but didn't feature here due to expensive pricing (WestHost) has also moved from H-Sphere to CPanel.
The track record of CPanel speak for itself. Cpanel is indeed the greatest CPanel in the hosting world today (There are only 2 players? Should I include the custom made?). It is very user friendly and it provides a lot of important features to the webmaster. Which control panel you use decide your experience. When you are familiar with CPanel, you can easily sign up with another host using CPanel and they will look exactly the same. The way to create an email address will be exactly the same so you don't need to go through the learning curve of another control panel.
You control everything in the control panel which includes but not limited to managing your emails, databases, domains, scripts, etc. You can play with BlueHost CPanel demo here
CPanel vs VDeck - How Do They Compare?
VDeck begins as a clone to CPanel trying to mimic CPanel features as much as possible. VDeck has gone through a long development and is a very mature product. Both are good control panels that are very user friendly. However, feature wise vDeck is still lagging a bit. For example, you can't have cron jobs with vDeck. The vDeck file manager, while usable is in totally different league when compared to CPanel's file manager. The file manage in CPanel can go to the extend to let you unzip a zip file! However, vDeck has compensate that by providing a feature known as "Archive Gateway" to uncompress file but it is located outside the file manager.
I personally have a bigger affection to CPanel maybe because I have been using it for a very very long time.
6. SimpleScripts (70+ Free Scripts)
Usually all CPanel hosts are bundled with Fantastico scripts installer. However, BlueHost has disabled this feature all together. BlueHost complaints that Fantastico is too slow on updating their scripts to the latest version. They are right, Fantastico is indeed quite slow on updating their scripts making older scripts installed vulnerable to security risks.
They decided to take the problem to their own hand and develop their own script installer known as SimpleScript! New releases of scripts are available almost immediately when they are officially released. Installing a script is extremely easy and you can install a WordPress blog under a minute. There are more than 50 scripts available now and and the more popular ones include WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, SMF Forum, phpBB, ZenCard, Zen Photo, RoundCube, Magento, etc. You can view the full list of scripts here.
This video below shows you how to use SimpleScripts to install a script to your website.
The service is so good that they are trying to sell it to other web hosts too and currently iPage and FatCow has integrate SimpleScripts to their service.
7. SSH Available for The Geeks (and Cron Jobs too)
SSH are advanced feature. Most people don't need it and if you never heard of it, you probably don't need it either. Most web hosts don't provide this feature due to security "risk". Many years ago I used to use SSH to backup my MySQL database and extract ZIP files but now I can do that easily using CPanel's almighty file manager and also PHPMyAdmin that is included with BlueHost. I have never touched SSH for a long time.
Cron Jobs are indeed important feature to have. It allows you to execute certain script at certain period automatically. You can configure a script to run daily, every 15 minutes or every Monday and Friday. Some web hosts like iPage are not offering this feature.
8. Painless Signup and Instant Account Activation
Signup is pretty easy and straightforward. You select a domain name in the first page, you enter your billing information on the second page and you see a thank you page on the third page! Your account is instantly created and you can now login to CPanel or upload your files.
9. Fast Servers & Self Own Datacenter
All servers are self owned by BlueHost. They don't rent the servers from other hosting company which many smaller web hosts do. They even build their own datacenters! Even most giant size web hosts rent a datacenter because datacenter requires enormous investment. Datacenter is usually a service of its own. Many huge company provides datacenters as their main business but don't provide hosting services at all. They lease their datacenter space to hosting companies. They also provide high speed internet connection to web hosts for a fee that give them good profit. They also need to provide the electricity and cooling capacity to servers.
BlueHost datacenter is approximately 12,000 square feet in size with 4.7 megawatts of power available for use. It also has 720 tons of cooling capacity and can host up to 20,488 U servers. It also has 2 x 2 megawatts generator as backup. It is huge!
If you are not familiar with terms such as servers and datacenters, you can read my article web hosting services explained.
How Unlimited is Their "Unlimited Hosting"?
There is no such thing as unlimited hosting and I have written an article on unlimited hosting is not unlimited. So what is the the limitation to BlueHost "unlimited hosting"?
First there is really no limit to your disk space, your bandwidth and the number of websites you can host under your account. But they do limit the number of files you can have in your account which are 200,000 files. There is a file count feature in the control panel that can show the number of files in each directory of your account.
There is also no limit to the number of MySQL databases you can have but they limit the number of MySQL tables to 1,000. The size of all your MySQL databases cannot exceed 3GB and cannot exceed 2GB is a single database.
I believe these limits are very generous and hard to breach. For example, I have been logging my website statistics for every hit it makes. Every page load will insert a new line to the database. With over 500 visitors a day, the database took 5 years to reach 1GB. I don't even realize that until my webhost (HostGator) requested me to reduce the size of my database. It means 2 things. It takes a long time to build a large database even if you are very aggressive. And even other web hosts such as HostGator limits the size of their databases. The difference is that most don't even bother to mention the real limit to their customers.
Can you have more than 200,000 files? Although irrelevant and a bad comparison, I checked my Windows 7 installation directory and it has 'only' 84,185 files at 20.8GB. I really doubt you can install website scripts that has more files than Windows 7. HostGator has a similar limit at 250,000 files and they are the most generous web host that I ever know in the industry right now.
Common sense also tell us that you cannot expect a single $3.95/month account to host a website as large as Facebook or Google. You also cannot expect to build another Hotmail or Gmail by offering free email accounts to the public for only $3.95/month! Don't even consider making a file sharing website such as RapidShare, HotFiles or FileServe with it! It is meant for "ordinary" websites such as blogs, picture galleries, online shopping, etc. and I believe 99% of our websites are "ordinary". It is not meant for your business that will be sold for $1 billion or to be listed in Nasdaq later.
You should read their terms of service under "Section 7 - Unlimited Usage Policies and Definitions".
Do You Need the Add-ons?
BlueHost offers many add-ons. SiteLock and Site Backup Pro is available immediately in the order page. Domain privacy can be selected too if you are registering a new domain name. Other add-ons can only be purchase after your account setup directly in your control panel. My golden advice to you is that you can always sign up for an add-on later. There is no need to decide now or rush for it. You also need to check with their most recent refund policy regarding these extra services.
1. SiteLock Security - Find
SiteLock is provided by a third party company.. If you look at their website, they are providing website "protection" features starting at $9.99/month up to $49.99/month! SiteLock has partnered with many web hosts to resell their service. The fee BlueHost charge for SiteLock is "only" $12.95/year which is $1.08/month while the minimum SiteLock charges in their website is $9.99/month! I don't know exactly what we are getting and there are not enough transparency and information to do further research on it. Asking customer support only get me some canned reply which is meaningless to me.
I have never use this service and will not expect myself to use it in the future no matter what web hosts I use. You have to do your own research on this. Furthermore, the sitelock fee is per domain and if you need to "sitelock" 4 sites, you need to pay $12.95 x 4 = $51.80. SiteLock is not refundable after 5 days of activation. I have written a longer article to explain why your don't need SiteLock with BlueHost.
2. Site Backup Pro
All BlueHost accounts are protected by Site Backup Standard which is free. Site Backup Pro cost an additional $12.95/year. Site Backup Standard does provides sufficient protection for most users. You will automatically have access to 3 backups to your files and databases - nightly backup, weekly backup and monthly backup. However, you can only restore you entire account and not individual files. If you want to restore individual files, one way to do that is to download the entire backup to your own computer and locate the file yourself. If you want to be able to directly restore a single file or directory in their control panel, you will need Site Backup Pro. Since you can easily upgrade to the Pro version anytime later, do play with the Standard version first and see if you need the upgrade.
3. Search Engine Jumpstart
This is definitely a BIG NO! There is no cheap way to rank well in search engine. These services that promise you ranking on search engine may even end up hurting you and getting your penalized. Please stay away.
4. Domain Privacy
They used to offer this for free but now is charging a fee of $9.95/domain/year for it. Domain privacy shield your domain name whois information from the public which includes your name, address, telephone number and email. Shielding your email address does help to reduce your email spam. Only you know how much privacy is worth to you. If you need this feature but don't want to pay, maybe you can enter some fake info...
Free Site Builder and Templates?
Only dinosaur need a site builder. Even if you are not a tech guy (which most webmasters today are), you don't need a site builder. Site builder seems to be a good feature 7 or 8 years ago when the internet is still young. Today, we are blessed by so many different open source scripts that do so many things for free! Blog, image galleries, shopping cart, forum, ticket system, etc. can be setup easily without any pain and money.
If you are really a beginner, forget the web builder. Setup a FREE WordPress blog with BlueHost script installer (tutorial) and begin from there. There are 100 times more WordPress templates that you can choose from simple googling then what BlueHost can offer with their built-for-dinosaur web builder. You can also easily find beautiful premium WordPress theme for a small fee. For example if you are a photographer and you want to have a website to showcase your work, you can install WordPress in BlueHost and buy the Photocrati theme to immediately create a beautiful portfolio site.
WordPress is the most successful and popular script ever developed for website building. It also comes with thousands of plug-ins (both paid and free) to further enhance your site. For example, you can have plugins to quickly integrate your WordPress blog to build a simple shopping cart, accept PayPal payments and start selling online!
So you know what to think about site builder now when you see it popping up in the feature list of a web host. They are just plain useless rubbish. It doesn't even have any recycle value.
Expensive? Hell yes especially the renewal price. But if you can afford it, you won't regret it. The server is very reliable and customer service is top notch. But keep in mind that there are lots of great hosts out there that is much cheaper. Make sure you check out my comparison chart here. I've put up a lot of effort to compile the chart which I believe is very useful for you.