After about 10 years with Bluehost (2007-2017), I finally decided to switch hosting providers. Bluehost has served me decently over all these years. I can't say I'd been 100% happy with them, but they did serve their purpose. However, due to various reasons (performance, quality, service, etc.), I've finally decided to switch hosting providers...
About a year ago, I was already looking around largely because of permanence. However, in my research, I found CloudFlare which was an excellent stop-gap measure in ensuring my Wordpress blog was performant with Bluehost. Because of my email and other other domains, I decided it was simply easier to stay wth Bluehost.
However, this time around, a friend was asking me for a recommendation on a web host, and for a while now I really just didn't feel well suggesting Bluehost to anyone. So this alone was a clue that I needed to change. In addition, Bluehost has had several bugs:
- Their pages wouldn't render correctly in Safari for Mac
- My Wordpress site was no longer upgrading automatically
- They removed their ticket-based support system
The two problems were relatively minor for me. However, they'd been going for over a year. I decided to give Bluehost another chance by simply reporting some of the problems. To my surprise, they removed their ticket-based support system and offered no way of reporting bugs. The only way to report a problem was to contact live support (via chat or phone). I decided to try live chat. It took them nearly 30 minutes to respond and it was a very minimal 1st-level support agent. All I really wanted was to report the problem, but he just kept asking me to use a different browser.
While a different browser certainly did work, that's not the point. Safari is the primary web browser for Mac. There's little reason their website shouldn't be working, especially after a year.
Based on my previous research and some additional research this year, I ended up narrowing my option to some of the following:
- A2 Hosting
Hostgator was decent from my previous experience, but some things about them just rubbed me the wrong way. A number of reviews put Hostgator just a tad behind SiteGround. But more importantly in my research, I discovered that both Hostgator and Bluehost are owned by the same company EIG Group, which means at minimum they likely share the same support staff. So this narrowed my search down to the other two.
Interestingly, A2 Hosting doesn't show up in many reviews. But for the ones that have it, they seem to show A2 Hosting fairly on-par with SiteGround. The reviews were extremely close, however, SiteGround consistently won on customer support. Unfortunately, SiteGround also had slightly higher cost. At this time, some of the major (non-standard) features I was looking at:
|Monthly Cost (discount)||7.95||4.90||5.45|
|Monthly Cost (regular)||14.95||9.99||10.99|
|Max Storage (GB)||20||unlimited||unlimited|
|Free Lets Encrypt SSL Certificate||Yes||Yes||No|
|Number of hosted domains||unlimited||unlimited||unlimited|
|Plus Addressing||unknown||Tested, but not marketed||Tested, but not marketed|
Storage isn't a huge deal for me. I'd like more than SiteGround's 20GB, but I can probably live with it if I had to.
PostgreSQL is also a nice feature and my personal preference over MySQL, but given the way I use server-side technologies these days, it really isn't a deal-breaker if I didn't have it.
Plus Addressing is a little-known mail feature that's extremely handy in helping you sort out spam or when you just need an alternate email address or two (useful for us developers out there) on-the-fly. None of the websites marketed this ability, including Bluehost. However it's a feature I've been using and relying on for many years. In searching the web, I found it's really kind of a hidden feature for a lot of people. So I decided to use this as a way to test customer support (another good thing to compare, especially when all else is equal).
SiteGround only had live-chat as an option for pre-sales support. I decided to give it a whirl and was delighted when my representative got in touch with me within a minute, despite the website saying there were 18 people ahead of me. The representative was friendly and pleasant and took the time to understand my question. He was happy to learn something new and even entertained me as I asked to perform a little test using his email address. Sadly plus addressing did not work for him. However in hindsight, I realize that customer support software goes through additional gateways that probably invalidate this test. To really find out whether SiteGround supports this feature, I'd probably have to make an account and just try it.
A2 Hosting on the other hand does not offer live chat for pre-sales support, but does offer (as with most of their issues) ticket-based support. The sales agent took about 2 days to get back to me. I'm not sure if this is the usual turnaround time or if it's because I submitted my question on a Friday night of a holiday weekend. Unfortunately the sales agent was extremely terse in his response. He also did not understand my question the first time around. But after clarification, he gave me a very clear "we do not support this" answer.
At this point, I realized that Bluehost also does not appear to realize they support this feature. So I figure the only thing I can really do is test. So I need to pick a provider (I really didn't want to go through the hassle of setting up multiple accounts again -- although both providers to offer a 30-day money-back guarantee).
Making a Decision
At this point it really just boils down to cost. I like SiteGround's support agent much better, but my needs are fairly simple. A2 Hosting is $60/year cheaper for me than SiteGround (and $12/year cheaper than my current provider), has fewer restrictions, and (mostly) the same performance as SiteGround. So let's give it a try.
I contacted the migrations team to port my Wordpress blog from Bluehost. I chose to give them a file/database dump rather than give them my account credentials directly, but they managed to handle my ticket within a few hours.
The results were immediately obvious. My site no longer runs at a crawl. But to be sure, I had to do some basic metrics. So here you go:
As you can see, A2 Hosting is almost consistently twice as fast as Bluehost in direct performance.
As expected, when using CloudFlare as a caching proxy, the gap narrows quite a bit, though you can still see the benefit of A2 Hosting performance:
However, cached performance matters more when there's relatively consistent traffic to your site. Because my blog is fairly low-traffic, it's unlikely I'll reap these benefits. So for now, I may just run without CloudFlare's proxy cache.
A2 Hosting does not have an automated way of adding Let's Encrypt. However, they are pretty quick at doing it via their ticketing system. Unfortunately in order to use Let's Encrypt, they require you to use their DNS servers. I'm hesitant to do that because I actually have quite a bit of entries in my DNS.
It's been less than a day, but overall, I think I'm pretty satisfied with A2 Hosting. I still have a number of details to finish in my migration. But at least the blog is ported. :-)