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Can you think of anything that is even half as overwhelming as this?
Selecting a suitable managed hosting service is not only a tedious process but also extremely confusing. The web is now saturated with numerous providers, most of whom seem to offer pretty much the same range of services.
Admittedly, sorting through them almost feels like you’re roaming blindly into a minefield. You could say the whole thing has now morphed into a game of chances. And to make matter worse, everyone claims to be the best around town.
Take SiteGround for instance. Now that it boasts of hosting close to 2 million sites, I bet you’ve probably heard of it before.
Now, guess what? It just so happens that BlueHost is closely related to it. It’s basically a separate managed hosting solution with 2 million sites leveraging features that are more or less similar to SiteGround’s. Strange coincidence?
Then get this. If you thought it couldn’t get crazier, add DreamHost to that equation- yet another provider with more than 1.5 million sites utilizing that same set of services.
Quite simply, these are three different solutions that often look and act the same.
Or do they? Are they actually that identical?
Well, let’s find out…
My Bottom Line Up Front: After comparing Usability, Performance, and Customer Support, SiteGround is our pick here for the best overall option.
Table of Contents
BlueHost is a managed hosting solution that provides reseller hosting, dedicated hosting, VPS hosting, shared hosting, and WordPress hosting. Above everything, it’s particularly renowned for its managed WordPress features- which, as a matter of fact, are even recommended by WordPress.org.
But that’s not all. Many users have also praised BlueHost for availing in-house solutions that leverage its own data centers, fiber networks and Linux kernel operating on custom servers. And if you’re especially keen about marketing, you might have heard about its ability to maximize on Bing and Google advertising.
Then to top it off, you get regular backups on your user account. The most interesting feature when it comes to that, however, is the provision of power backups through diesel generators and UPS.
This and many other functionalities come at comparatively affordable prices, with low-tier subscribers benefitting from specialized support like their high-tier counterparts. Another outstanding factor is arguably BlueHost’s generosity in storage space and bandwidths.
DreamHost is also a managed hosting provider that offers not only dedicated hosting, but also cloud hosting, VPS hosting, shared hosting, and WordPress hosting. The bulk of its user-base, nonetheless, is composed of more than 600,000 WordPress sites and blogs.
Some of the notable provisions on this platform include free SSDs, unlimited bandwidth, automatic WordPress updates, one-click WordPress install, unlimited storage, personalized dashboards, plus performance-enhancing functionalities.
That said, DreamHost continues to attract users with a free setup offer, which is further complemented by a free domain. If you’re on a budget, you’d be just fine with shared hosting, which is based on Debian Linux.
Dedicated and VPS hosting, on the other hand, provide specialized custom features to large organizations at a higher price. But, interestingly, charities and nonprofits based in the U.S. are exempted from that. They get hosting for free.
Then just like BlueHost, you’re also facilitated with regular backups along with multichannel support.
SiteGround is a managed hosting solution that deals with student hosting, enterprise hosting, dedicated hosting, cloud hosting, reseller hosting, and regular web hosting. Some of the applications supported include Drupal, Magento, Joomla, WooCommerce and WordPress.
In addition to WordPress caching, this platform is renowned for its one-click installation, GIT version control, content delivery network, regular updates, plus speed-enhancing capabilities.
One thing you’re bound to notice right off the bat is the level of security that SiteGround offers. As soon as you start registering, its password checker kicks in to help you enforce the password strength. Then to further safeguard your login credentials, the system uses what is known as the Leech Protect feature.
Now, combine that with anti-hacking monitoring, hotlink protection, anti-spam apps, plus 99.9% uptime guarantee. The end result is a well-protected platform for setting up shopping carts, online stores, and other ecommerce components.
And yes. In case you’re wondering, SiteGround also comes with its own share of freebies for all users. Apart from free CloudFlare CDN, you can take advantage of free setup and migration, unlimited emails, unlimited bandwidth, free domains, and regular site backups.
One of the first things you’ll notice about BlueHost is that signing up comes with a free domain name. However, if you already have a site, you can move it to BlueHost’s servers for free.
Don’t get me wrong though, because there’s a kicker. Apparently, free migration is only open to users who handle it manually. So, of course, you might consider hiring a developer if you don’t have the technical skills.
But then again, you don’t have to. BlueHost has a team that can take care of everything for an extra fee of $149.99. They’ll move up to five of your websites along with 20 email accounts from various platforms.
If you don’t plan to migrate, on the other hand, BlueHost allows you to build an entire site from scratch. Its Weebly-powered website builder offers simple design and customization tools that don’t necessarily require any coding knowledge. Just a couple of drags, edits plus tweaks and voila! Your site will be good to go.
Closely tied to that is an installer for common scripts like Weebly, Joomla, and WordPress. Thankfully, everything here has been simplified to facilitate installations in one click, without necessarily dealing with advanced programming functions.
Now, all this is managed through a cPanel control panel. If you’ve hosted a site before, I presume you’ll have no problems finding your way around. Some of the functions you can access right off the bat include databases, installations, backups, file management, and much more.
Signing up to DreamHost is not that different compared to BlueHost. And yes, it does come with free domain registration.
But, here’s the problem. That offer is not inclusive of all users. You’ll only get free domain registration credit if you subscribe to either Happy Hosting, Unlimited Shared or DreamPress plans for at least a year.
Well, I guess that would be understandable if DreamHost possibly considered making up for it with stuff like free site migration. But strangely, it does not.
The model of transferring your site from a different platform is actually set up like BlueHost’s. It’s only free if you choose to do it manually. Otherwise, you’ll have to cough up an extra $99 to have your WordPress site migrated to DreamHost within 48 hours.
Another similarity with BlueHost is the provision of a built-in website builder. However, instead of Weebly, DreamHost uses what it calls “Remixer”.
But, make no mistake. It’s equally effective and straightforward. Designing, customizing and publishing your site can be done in minutes without any form of programming.
And the whole process is satisfyingly versatile. In addition to a myriad of editing tools, the builder provides more than 70 pre-designed templates along with free images, video and audio embedding, Google Analytics integration, plus more.
That said, one of the most outstanding differences between DreamHost and BlueHost is the control panel. Instead of going with the same old cPanel, DreamHost has built its own exclusive control board.
Quite a refreshing idea you might think. But, I guess it would probably take you longer to learn the ropes here, particularly if you’re already used to cPanel.
Nevertheless, it’s one solid engine that provides a host of functions. Apart from installing services like WordPress in a single click, you’ll be able to manage your entire account, domains, emails, backups, files, databases, and billing.
Starting out on SiteGround is easier than on BlueHost or DreamHost. For starters, domain name registration is completely free of charge.
Well, you could argue that we’ve seen that on BlueHost. Fair enough. However, one thing you cannot find on BlueHost is free website migration. Yet all it takes on SiteGround is simply posting a quick support ticket, and its professionals will transfer your site without charging an extra fee.
And you know what? The whole thing is implemented without downtimes.
Now, when it comes to setting up an entirely new website, SiteGround leverages Weebly like BlueHost. You’ll be able to use its drag-and-drop editor to create your site’s pages, design their layouts, and customize them accordingly.
Interestingly, that’s not all that SiteGround shares with BlueHost here. The most significant element has got to be the whole interface structure.
Just like BlueHost, SiteGround uses the popular cPanel as the principal control board. It grants access to an array of functionalities like website staging, super caching, Joomla and WordPress auto-updates, Cloudflare CDN, one-click installation of hosting applications, analytics, account management, etc.
Come to think of it, that’s more or less the same stuff you can do on both DreamHost’s and BlueHost’s panels.
While SiteGround and BlueHost utilize the common cPanel, DreamHost chooses a unique approach by implementing a custom control board. Thankfully, they are all equally user-friendly with a wide array of functionalities- though you might find it easier to learn the cPanel.
That said, the process of setting up a website is easiest on SiteGround. Although BlueHost attempts to match up to it with free domain registration plus a Weebly-powered website builder, SiteGround beats both of them when it comes to site migration. BlueHost and DreamHost only handle the transfer process for you after you’ve paid a fee, while SiteGround provides the service for free.
All in all, therefore, SiteGround is the winner in the usability contest. BlueHost then comes a close second, barely ahead of DreamHost.
BlueHost, to begin with, offers a 99.9% uptime guarantee. But, as we’ve previously said, it’s not advisable to trust your hosting service’s promises when it comes to speed and overall website performance.
So, I decided to use Pingdom to establish a more accurate uptime plus downtime figure. And the subsequent result was surprisingly lower than the guarantee.
After monitoring four BlueHost-based sites for a period of 30 days, the system picked up a few lags here and there. Consequently, the end result was an average uptime of 98%.
Not what I’d expect, I admit. But, in all fairness, that’s a pretty solid figure, to say the least. In other words, you can rely on BlueHost to keep your site online 24/7. The 2% inconsistency may not have been actual downtimes, but rather minor server delays.
Now, apart from that, I was also quite curious about the service’s corresponding site loading speeds. And one thing about speed is that it would be incorrect to assess it from just the average page load time.
Instead, a host’s performance is best analyzed by tracking the Time to First Byte or TTFB. This simply refers to the time the host’s servers take to process a request and relay the first byte of data. Its accuracy lies in the fact that the resultant figures are not dependent on the size of your web pages.
And so, a quick test on WebPageTest generated a TTFB of 644ms.
Not bad. But also, not impressive either. So, is there a way you can possibly improve the figures?
Well, hosting your site in a server that’s positioned physically close to your principal traffic source would be great for a start. But, it turns out that BlueHost does not allow you to do so. You won’t find the option of choosing your preferred data center.
As a matter of fact, BlueHost doesn’t even reveal its data center positions- although I believe that the primary ones are in Orem and Provo, Utah. Then add Shanghai, Mumbai and Hong Kong, plus possibly London for Europe-based traffic.
That notwithstanding, at least BlueHost avails Cloudflare CDN for free. CDN basically stands for Content Delivery Network, which is a system of interconnected servers that replicate and cache your site’s static content. Think of it as placing your site’s content in multiple data centers across the web, allowing your site visitors to load pages from the closest content sources.
With a network of 165 data centers, Cloudflare is quite a robust CDN service. It has servers in pretty much every continent. Therefore, it would be a good idea to activate them through the Domains area of the control panel.
DreamHost is seemingly more confident than BlueHost when it comes to web uptime. Apart from guaranteeing a 100% uptime, it’s willing to compensate you for any downtimes experienced on your site.
In essence, each hour of downtime translates to a day of free hosting on your current plan. Make no mistake though- the offer is not indefinite. You can only save yourself up to a tenth of your package’s renewal fee.
Fair enough. It’s still a solid expression of confidence when you come to think of it. And that made me even more curious about DreamHost’s actual figures.
Well, after closely monitoring three different sites for 30 days, Pingdom established an average uptime of 99.92%. That’s just 0.08% shy of what the service guarantees- quite remarkable I have to say.
All things considered, such a result means that your website will never experience downtimes or service interruptions. It’s a much better deal compared to BlueHost.
But, does DreamHost perform as impressively when we switch over to side loading speed?
Interestingly, a test on WebPageTest relayed a TTFB of 328ms. So yes, DreamHost is indeed faster than BlueHost by default.
The most surprising thing about this is that DreamHost only runs data centers in two locations- Hillsboro, Oregon, and Ashburn Virginia. But then again, everything starts to make sense when you closely scrutinize the server details.
It just so happens that in 2015, DreamHost decided to outsource management of its data centers to proven experts. A company known as RagingWire subsequently took over the management of Ashburn-based servers, while ViaWest was tasked with optimizing the Hillsboro servers.
Then guess what? DreamHost also relies on DELL servers, which are built on stable solid state drives. And to top it off, DELL recently unveiled the first OpenStack infrastructure in the industry. This alone has substantially facilitated its server partners, including DreamHost.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news here. If you’d like to shift your site to a different data center, you’ll be disappointed that DreamHost does not provide that option by default.
You have to get in touch with support if you intend to do so. But then again, I guess moving your site to a separate data center in the same country wouldn’t make much of a difference after all.
Instead, your best shot at minimizing page loading times would be leveraging a CDN solution. And for that, it turns out that DreamHost launched its own exclusive CDN called DreamSpeed back in 2014.
Sadly, things didn’t pan out and the CDN was discontinued after three years. On a brighter note, however, DreamHost decided to leave the job to the experts. And the subsequent result was a partnership with Cloudflare. Consequently, the control panel now comes with the option of enabling Cloudflare.
With an uptime guarantee of 99.99%, SiteGround fails to match up to the confidence levels we’ve witnessed with DreamHost. But, don’t let that fool you one bit.
A 30-day analysis of four SiteGround-powered sites revealed that the 99.99% quote is probably intended to maintain a realistic figure. The final average uptime records exceeded that by a couple of decimals- consequently making SiteGround the only hosting service that has managed to surpass its corresponding uptime guarantee in tests I’ve conducted so far.
Ok, what about its performance speeds?
Well, you might want to readjust your expectations slightly, because it turns out that SiteGround could not beat both DreamHost and BlueHost. A quick test on one of its many clients generated a TTFB of 386ms.
Now that’s fairly remarkable. But, it still falls short of what DreamHost was able to achieve.
All in all, you can bet that SiteGround has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. And one of them has got to be a network of data centers in four different continents.
To be precise, SiteGround has positioned its servers in Singapore, Amsterdam-Netherlands, London-UK, and Chicago-USA.
And you know what? You can select where you’d like to host your site. So, if your ecommerce business targets US-based consumers, for instance, you’d be much better of sticking with Chicago. And the same applies to London if you’re primarily dealing with buyers from Europe.
But, don’t be worried if you’re unsure about that as you start out. Since the option is always open, you can adjust your preferred data center at any time to align your site with its changing traffic patterns.
Then to cap it off, you can supplement all that by capitalizing on Cloudflare CDN. SiteGround has embedded the service in case you’d like to turbocharge your website. And it can be enabled directly from the Site Improvement Tools section of your control panel.
BlueHost guarantees you a 99.9% uptime, while DreamHost quotes 100%, and SiteGround chooses to stick with 99.99%. Interestingly, after a 30-day test period, only SiteGround manages to live up to its promise. The consequent average figure exceeds 99.99%, while DreamHost posts 99.92%, then BlueHost comes in third with 98%.
DreamHost then makes up for the loss by proving to be the fastest- with a TTFB of 328ms, against SiteGround’s 386ms, and a distant 644ms by BlueHost.
The only thing BlueHost manages to beat the rest in is the number of data center locations. It seemingly runs servers in six locations, while SiteGround provides five, and DreamHost two. However, only SiteGround comes with the option of choosing your preferred location.
That said, the one element they share is the provision of Cloudflare CDN.
Otherwise, it’s a tie between SiteGround and DreamHost, with BlueHost losing to both.
BlueHost utilizes a multichannel customer support system. Apart from a comprehensive knowledge base, it has set up a ticketing system, a toll-free number, plus my favorite- 24/7/365 days live chat support.
While there’s no standard time for replying tickets, you can always rely on the support team to respond instantly to live chats and phone calls. According to BlueHost, they’ve been adequately trained to help you with tech, sales, and account management.
Well, from my experience, I’d say that they are pretty knowledgeable in accounts and sales. But, some tech issues can occasionally be challenging for the live chat support staff. In such cases, they usually forward matters to the ticketing system to be responded by relevant experts.
And speaking of which, you also get free consultations with web experts in data security, traffic generation, website performance, blogs, and personal sites. Combining that with relevant topics raised in BlueHost’s active members’ forum could potentially make you a real web guru in months.
DreamHost also offers pretty much the same support channels as BlueHost. It combines a knowledge base with email, live chat, and phone support.
But, make no mistake. Although its knowledge base is admirably detailed with how-to articles, tips, and troubleshooting guides, none of the other contact methods can match up to BlueHost.
The live chat, for instance, is only available between 5.30AM and 9:30PM PST. To make matters worse, you’re not assured of assistance. While BlueHost’s agents try their best to respond instantly, DreamHost’s support staff might keep you waiting for quite some time. You might even be forced to switch over to email.
Then phone support, on the other hand, is not that direct. The site doesn’t even provide a phone number, let alone a toll-free line. It turns out that this form of assistance is only available when you request a callback from tech support.
And, surprisingly, it comes at an extra cost. You’ll be required to pay an additional nominal monthly fee to qualify for a specified number of callbacks a month.
SiteGround is the only service here capable of challenging BlueHost in customer support.
The support structure here, to begin with, closely resembles what you get on BlueHost. Apart from a comprehensive knowledge base, SiteGround offers a ticketing system, toll-free phone support, plus 24/7/365 days live chat.
And guess what? The platform has invested heavily in staff to ensure that both phone calls and live chats are answered instantly. Tickets, on the other hand, are attended to within 10 minutes.
According to SiteGround, their agents have legendary expertise in all the relevant tech issues. In addition to website migration, they’ll be able to offer you onboarding assistance as you learn the ropes.
In addition to a comprehensive knowledge base, an online ticketing system is the only other customer support channel that has been adequately optimized by all three hosting services. Although DreamHost attempts to supplement that with live chat and phone support, it doesn’t come close to what the other two provide.
SiteGround and BlueHost, therefore, win the customer support contest with a tie- thanks to their dynamic framework that combines a comprehensive knowledge base with a prompt ticketing system, plus instant toll-free phone support and 24/7/365 days live chat.
Basic– 2.95 per month
Choice Plus– 5.95 per month
Go Pro– 13.95 per month
Build– $19.95 per month
Grow– $29.95 per month
Scale– $49.95 per month
Shared Starter– Starting at $4.95 per month
Shared Unlimited– Starting at $10.95 per month
StartUp– $3.95 per month.
GrowBig– $5.95 per month.
GoGeek– $11.95 per month.
|Performance and Uptime|
Bottom Line: As you can tell from the test, Siteground is my overall top pick here. It’s equal to or better than the others in all of the core categories we evaluated!
Now, over to you, the jury. Which of these would you settle for? Mind explaining why?
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I blog about the tools I use every day because everyone hates hype-mongers. Don't be a hype-monger. I build web assets every day and I know the struggle with choosing the right tools. From SEO to website creation, to sales funnels tools, I've used them all and now I'm here to tell you about them.