There's a reason Bluehost is one of the most popular hosting providers on the planet. We take an in-depth look at what it's like using the service and dig deep inside its implementation.
Because there are so many variables among plans and offerings, not only among hosting providers, but within the plans offered by any one provider, it can be difficult to get a good comparison. I've found that one of the best ways to see how a provider performs is to look at the least expensive plan they offer. You can expect the least quality, the least attention to detail, and the least performance from such a plan.
How hosting provider pricing really works
For this series of hosting reviews, I'm testing the most basic, most entry-level plan a vendor is offering. In the case of Bluehost, it's their appropriately named Basic plan. To get pricing, I went to the company's main site at Bluehost.com.
As with most every hosting provider, Bluehost's published pricing is somewhat misleading. There is no option to get billed only $2.95 per month.
While it looks like you can get the Single Shared Hosting plan for $2.95 per month, that's only if you prepay for three full years, which means you're actually paying $106.20. A hundred bucks or so for three years of hosting isn't a bad deal, but can be confusing. If you want only one year, you're charging $59.40 to your card (which is $4.95 per month). It's more expensive, but not terrible.
There's a gotcha though. When you renew, you're going to pay more. A lot more. Three times more. This, too, is not uncommon for hosting plans and is a practice I strongly wish the hosting industry would stop. When you renew your $2.95 three year plan, you're going to jump to $8.99/month or $107.88/year. Of course, we have no idea what the pricing will be in three years, but you get the idea.
While $2.95 or even $4.95/mo isn't a bad price for basic hosting, the fact is, your price will jump by more than triple what you paid when you signed up. I talked a lot about lock-in and switching costs in my How to create a website: The 2021 step-by-step guide overview. Read it, because Bluehost (and many other hosting providers) have business models that count on the switching costs being so painful that you'll suck up a huge upcharge simply to avoid moving your site.
I focus on these pricing gimmicks in my reviews because it can be really unpleasant to suddenly get a bill that's hundreds or even thousands of dollars (depending on the plan) more than you expected. Second, switching from one hosting provider to another hosting provider can be a very time-consuming and possibly expensive job, fraught with hassles and potential points of failure.
At least half of the hosting vendors I've looked at over the years do these promo deals, with big jumps in renewal fees, so Bluehost isn't alone in this somewhat predatory practice.
WHAT THE BASIC PLAN INCLUDES
Most bottom-end plans are for one website, and Bluehost is no different.
Before we move into the details, let's spend a moment talking about what a base plan really is. All websites are not created equal. While you might be able to pay under three bucks a month to run your website, I pay about a hundred bucks each month to run my small fleet of sites.
A base site is designed for a business or individual who wants a basic online presence. That's a bunch of pages, some product or service images, and a lot of text. If you want to run complex web applications, or you expect a lot of traffic, a basic site is not for you.
If you're just trying to get started with an online presence, starting simply is a good way to go. In this series, we're reviewing the least expensive program each hosting provider offers. That's going to be what the majority of buyers will want, and it will give us a good insight into the company.
Bluehost offers a number of pretty solid features in their Basic plan. The base plan includes 50GB website space (maxing out at a whopping 200,000 files), five email accounts, 100MB of email storage (which is pretty low if you're active), up to 500 emails sent per hour, one free domain registration (for a year), 25 subdomains, a basic SSL certificate, and what they describe as unmetered bandwidth.
The company does have 24/7 chat and phone support, and Bluehost offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. It's not as long as some of the company's competitors, but it is a fair amount of time for you to get a simple site up and running and see how things work.
Once your account is created and you log in, you're presented with this screen:
I like this. While I always like to go it on my own, I've gotten panicked calls from too many friends who log into their hosting providers for the first time and have no idea what to do. I was a little surprise to find that even though I hit "No help needed," I was presented with a choice:
Again, though, I can't really complain about guidance. After all, I didn't hit "Skip this step" on the first screen. I did now. I'm still in a wizard, even though I did select "Skip this step."
I hit "Skip this step" again, and once again I'm presented with a wizard. However, once again for basic users, I like that there are helper choices and even a solid FAQ for folks not sure what to do next.
I have to admit that I'm getting a little impatient. I want to see the dashboard so I can see what I can do with this service. That said, I hit the "Limitless customization" option. From this point on, there were more selection options. I just kept hitting "Skip this step." Finally, I reached a page with some more options. Most important to me, initially, is checking out the Advanced tab.
Yes! We finally have cPanel. I did a little happy dance (in my mind -- I don't actually dance, jump, or run, but I can celebrate running the gauntlet in my head, can't I?)
The first thing I like to do when looking at a new hosting provider is exploring their dashboard. Is it an old friend, like cPanel? Is it some sort of janky, barely configured open source or homegrown mess? Or is it a carefully crafted custom dashboard? These are often the ones that worry me the most because they almost always hide restrictions that I'm going to have to work around somehow.
I got rid of the welcome message and started to look around. I like how Bluehost has the normal cPanel interface, but also provides access to Bluehost services on the left. That's convenient.
I thought about nuking WordPress and installing it myself, but I wanted to see what most users would be presented with when they started the service. So I hit the My Sites button with the WordPress logo icon -- and was presented with upsell city.