Hostgator WordPress Cloud Hosting Review
If you’ve ever registered a domain or purchased a hosting account, you’ve probably heard of HostGator. Back in 2008-2009, they were my go-to choice for hosting and if my memory serves me correctly, I was always happy as one of their customers.
The event that finally precipitated a change after several years as a customer was both a decline and customer service (which I think was a result of rapid growth) and their eventual acquisition by EIG which I also think lead to a further downturn in service and reliability, at least initially.
Lately, it seems like HostGator has been trying to improve their standing in the hosting world. Not that they have a bad rap but there is certainly more competition in today’s marketplace as well as a greater number options when it comes to services and features.
Table of Contents:
- Overview of HostGator
- Hosting Features (Pros & Cons)
- Plans & Pricing
- Performance / Speed tests
- Customer Support
- Final Recommendation (the answer is yes, we do recommend HostGator Cloud)
## Here’s where I struggle:
HostGator, for as long as I can remember, has always been a shared hosting provider. There is nothing wrong with that — it is what it is and shared hosting is a great option for many websites.
In light of the increasing popularity of managed WordPress hosting, it seems that HostGator along with many other shared hosts have jumped onto the managed hosting bandwagon. But are they truly offering managed hosting or just fewer features at a higher price-point?
To me, it seems like an attempt to grab a piece of the pie that they didn’t really help to bake in the first place. It’s like McDonald’s trying to compete in the fine-dining space and I’m not entirely sure whether or not they can pull it off.
Despite my bias, we’re going to approach this review with an open mind and provide you with an objective opinion and honest recommendation.
Note: All of our reviews are completed with actual hosting accounts that we purchase as customers.
Managed or Shared Hosting: Which One to Choose?
First things first. HostGator is what we classify as a “managed-hybrid” WordPress host.
This means they offer a mix of services and features that are consistent with both inexpensive self-managed hosting and premium managed WordPress hosting.
We’ll get into some more detail when we cover the specific features but here are our primary criteria when assigning a classification:
# Self-Managed Hosting
- Typically 100% self-managed in terms of WordPress updates
- Very little in the way of WordPress or speed optimization
- Caching and CDNs are your responsibility
- Full cPanel or equivalent access
- The primary feature is low prices
# Hybrid-Managed Hosting
- Managed WordPress updates
- Often use servers optimized for WordPress
- Sometimes offer cPanel access
- Provide additional “built-in features” such as nightly backups or staging
- Often include custom caching and CDNs
- Improved WordPress specific security
- DO NOT offer a Hack-Free guarantee
# Managed Hosting
- Managed WordPress Updates
- Servers optimized for speed and WordPress
- No cPanel access and limited access to server or database features
- Custom caching and CDNs included
- Stand behind their security by fixing hacks and malware for free.
HostGator WordPress Cloud Hosting
For this particular review, we’re going to be taking a look at the HostGator WordPress Cloud Hosting — officially introduced in 2015. Most new product releases come with some marketing hype and this situation is no different. HostGator claims to offer a variety of features which are designed to appeal to the managed hosting market.
As you probably know, competition is fierce in this category. Hostgator makes no qualms about comparing themselves to companies like WP Engine and MediaTemple. In fact, they claim to be “light years” ahead of the competition which is a pretty bold statement.
Let’s see how they measure up.
Hosting Features: Pros and Cons
In the next few paragraphs, you find a summary of the features that are unique to the managed hosting product. One item that I feel is worth noting is some of the vague language contained in the feature/benefit descriptions.
I’ve included notes in the appropriate sections and I really feel like this is just a case of HostGator being more forthright. They need to stop trying to compete with everyone else and just create their own unique offering.
01. Fast WordPress Optimized Servers
Everybody including Google loves a fast website. HostGator claims that it supercharged cloud architecture, low-density servers, CDN and caching result in up to 2.5 faster load times.
While this sounds amazing, is raises an important question.
2.5 times faster than what?
If they’re suggesting that they are 2.5 times faster than WP Engine then I’m very impressed. But if they are suggesting 2.5 times faster than a dreadfully slow website on a shared server, then I’m less excited.
In our speed test below we found that our WordPress site loaded quickly. While HostGators WordPress Cloud Hosting certainly isn’t 2.5 times faster than other managed hosts, they are at least 2.5 times faster than the standard HostGator plans.
In the near future, we’ll also be publishing a detailed comparison of several WordPress optimized hosts.
02. Easy to Use Control Panel
If you’re new to WordPress hosting, you’ll find the HostGator control panel to be extremely simple to use. But that also comes with a downside. If you’re reasonably familiar with navigating your way around the hosting environment, you might find things to be a little too simple — and ugly. HostGator’s control panel looks like something out of StarTrek circa 1967.
Although with managed hosting, you shouldn’t expect the equivalent of cPanel access, it would be nice if things like mySQL access were enabled. The ability to enable a development mode would also be a great feature instead of having to repeatedly flush the cache when making small changes.
03. Free Website Migrations
Having to move a WordPress website from one server to another isn’t the end of the world but there is a decent margin for error — especially if you’re new to the process.
It’s great to see that HostGator offers to migrate as many sites as your plan entitles you to for no charge. This makes transitioning to a new host easier and more stress-free.
04. Automatic Backups
One feature that definitely adds value to HostGator’s WordPress Hosting is the integrated CodeGuard Backups.
The ability to backup your site on a daily, weekly or monthly basis can be easily configured and there is an option for 1-click restore. One thing to note if you’re running a large WordPress site is that your storage space is limited to 1 GB.
05. Global CDN and Multi-Layer Caching
HostGator WordPress Hosting includes access to both a global CDN and multi-layer caching. Beyond this brief description, we really don’t learn much in the way of details.
This is one of the features where I struggled to understand the true value being added. As part of their list of features, HostGator describes “Seamless Scalability” as the following:
“Our managed WordPress hosting platform delivers optimal features and maximum value compared to other WordPress hosting plans.”
But in reality, this has absolutely nothing at all to do with scalability. If we’re to use the Wikipedia definition, Scalability means:
the capability of a system, network, or process to handle a growing amount of work, or its potential to be enlarged in order to accommodate that growth.
Now, if you’re website doesn’t generate much traffic to begin with or if potential traffic spikes aren’t really a concern, then this probably doesn’t matter to you.
If occasional or frequent traffic spikes are a possibility or if you’re concerned about the financial ramifications of website downtime, then scalability should be of concern. You’d certainly want more information than what is provided.
07. Automatic Malware Scanning and Removal
If this feature is what it says, it’s great news for WordPress Website owners. If you’ve ever had a website hacked on a shared host and subsequently locked down, you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.
As part of their managed hosting service, HostGator includes “daily malware scanning and automatic malware removal”. Because I wasn’t exactly sure what this means, I decided to ask HostGator support the following question:
Me: “If my website gets hacked and infected with Malware, how do you handle that? Do you clean it for free and have it back online within a certain time period?”
HostGator: “It depends on the nature of the issue. The fastest way to clean it is to take advantage of the daily backups and restore it before the problem occurred. If that doesn’t fix it, our security team will quote you based on the nature of the issue.”
Me: “What do you mean quote?”
HostGator: “They will quote the price for the clean up.”
Me: “so I have to pay extra? How much could that end up costing?”
HostGator: “It depends on the nature of the issue. It can be $30, $75, $100 etc.”
The bottom line is this:
“Free Automatic Malware Removal” means what it says. If the malware can be removed automatically it will be free. If it requires human intervention, be prepared to open up your wallet.
WordPress Cloud Hosting Plans and Pricing
Price is always a major point of discussion when it comes to Managed WordPress hosting. What you should really be concerned about is price vs value. It true that managed hosting is more expensive than shared hosting. But in exchange for accepting a higher price-point, you’ll typically receive a better product and better service.
HostGator offers three price-points for their WordPress Cloud Hosting plans that range from $14.95/month for their starter plan to $27.95/month for the business plan.
This is an area where is seems many hosting companies struggle to be forthright and I have no idea why. If you take a closer look at the plan options you’ll notice an asterisk next to each price. This is because the prices you see are representative of the price you’ll pay if you sign up for 36 months.
The price you’ll pay on a month to month basis is significantly higher (3 times as much). What I don’t understand is why these companies don’t advertise the full price and then offer a discount based upon how far in advance you prepay. I understand the psychology behind the strategy but that doesn’t make it right.
In addition, HostGator compares the Standard plan to both WP Engine and MediaTemple on their landing page. It’s not an entirely fair comparison for a variety of reasons:
- The quoted price of the Standard plan is for a 3-year commitment. The competitors are month-to-month plans for which HostGator would actually cost $20.95).
- HostGator claims “Free Automatic Malware Removal”which is not entirely forthcoming (see my comments above).
- Although WP Engine offers less in the way of storage and traffic allotment, the features offered by WP Engine far surpass Hostgator.
WordPress Cloud Hosting Performance
Although performance isn’t the only piece of the puzzle, it’s certainly a major factor under consideration when it comes to managed WordPress hosting. After all, when paying what is usually a sizable premium over the typical shared hosting plan, you’re probably expecting more than just a few extra features.
Let’s take a closer look at how the HostGator WordPress Cloud Hosting fared in terms of speed and performance:
How we test each hosting plan to keep the playing field as level as possible:
- The WordPress installation is a bone-stock install.
- Twenty Sixteen theme activated.
- The only plugins activated are caching plugins.
- Each test is run a minimum of 3 times at various times throughout the day.
Google PageSpeed Insights
HostGator fared well (although slightly inconsistent) with desktop scores coming in at:
- Test 1 – 76/100
- Test 2 – 85/100
- Test 3 – 86/100
Pingdom Website Speed Test
Here again, HostGator fared reasonably well. Although results were a little less consistent, it’s impossible to tell whether the performance drop was a result of the test server, somewhere along the pipeline or the host.
Also, note that the “Performance Grade” from Pingdom is supposed to represent the Google PageSpeed Insights score. It’s noticeably lower in Pingdom than when using the Google tool directly so it might be work giving that metric a little less validity.
- Test 1 – Performance Grade: 69 Load-Time: 584ms
- Test 2 – Performance Grade: 77 Load-Time: 2.27s
- Test 3 – Performance Grade: 77 Load-Time: 563ms
Overall, it looks like HostGator WordPress Cloud Hosting performed reasonably well. We’ll be matching them up against several other hosts in the near future so you can compare. One thing is for sure: The WordPress Cloud Hosting outperforms their shared hosting by a wide margin.
Out of curiosity, I tested a website on the HostGator Baby Plan that was running the Divi Theme. The page size was slightly larger (782 kB vs 228 kB) but the load times for the shared plan averaged 5.74s which is dreadfully slow.
I used Load-Impact to test our WordPress install with an increasing load up to 25 active virtual users. Admittedly, 25 concurrent users won’t present much of a load-test. Despite this, the performance remained very consistent. Depending on your expected average site traffic, peak site traffic and server load, this might be something you would want to test in greater detail.
Support Was Excellent: 9/10
I’m going to give HostGator support an 9/10 based upon my experiences with them.
HostGator offers a few options for support including a Toll-Free number and live chat. Personally, I prefer live chat but you can pick which one works best for you.
I tested support on 2 different occasions:
- The first was a pre-sales question which I detailed earlier in the post. I used the easily accessible chat option and only had to wait 2 minutes for my turn. Once I actually started chatting with the CSR, my questions we answered right away.
- After signing up with HostGator, I had some trouble figuring out how to access the database. After poking around the dashboard for a little while I decided it was time to call on support once again. The second time around the wait was a little longer at just over 10 minutes (to be fair, it was right around 12 noon EST so maybe they were eating lunch). Once I was connected the CSR had an immediate answer to my question (database access isn’t available).
How to Select the Best WordPress Hosting Plan
There are several different aspects that need to be considered when deciding whether or not to recommend a host.
When all’s said and done, no hosting company is perfect 100% of the time. For me, the decision boils down to two simple questions:
- Does the host meet the technical requirements in terms of disk space, traffic, speed, backups, customer service etc?
- Do they provide more value than other comparable options?
Our Final Recommendation
If you’re a small business on a budget and need a hosting plan that balances price, speed and customer service, then HostGator is a good option for you. We’re giving HostGator an overall score of 8/10. Some additional features and improvements to their control panel would likely increase this score.
Also, if you are currently using the standard HostGator plans or another shared hosting provider, the WordPress Cloud Hosting will likely offer a significant performance boost.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of pros and cons:
- Stability – HostGator has been in business for a long time and have uptime that is typically above 99.9%
- Affordable Pricing – Hostgator offers inexpensive pricing, especially on their 2-year and 3-year plans.
- Customer Service – In my experience, this has always been timely and efficient.
- Performance – Given their price point, the average performance level in terms of speed was adequate. Keep in mind that our test showed some inconsistencies but those were not necessarily due to HostGator themselves.
- Unknown Scalability – HostGator offers limited information regarding scalability. If your website is subject to frequent bursts of high-traffic, there might be better hosting options available.
- Hacking Risk – Unlike other managed hosting companies who offer a hack-free guarantee, HostGator only offers to fix your hacked website if it can be done automatically. If it requires their tech-support team to get involved, be prepared to pay.
- Limited Control Panel – While cPanel isn’t to be expected with managed hosting, it would be nice if there were features suitable for more advanced users.
HostGator’s dedicated WordPress hosting fared reasonably well overall in our tests. If you’ve tried or are currently using their WordPress Cloud Hosting, please share your experiences in the comments below.