Bluehost vs. DigitalOcean
Is it better to go with a flexible hosting provider like Bluehost or a specialized one like DigitalOcean? Join us as we try to find out by comparing the performance, prices, features, and customer support of these two popular companies.
Finding a suitable hosting plan for your website can take a lot of time if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. Do you need only basic hosting to power a simple website or are you looking for something more specialized that can support a growing business? Not all hosting providers can handle every type of website you throw at them, but some do and in this article, we’re going to compare two companies that are particularly good at it. Namely, Bluehost vs DigitalOcean.
Many of our previous comparisons revolved around providers that are very similar to each other, but this time we wanted to do something a bit different. Bluehost is one of the best hosting providers around, but it’s missing a very important service at the moment – cloud hosting. DigitalOcean, on the other hand, deals exclusively in cloud hosting. So is it worth moving away from a versatile provider like Bluehost in favor of a specialized one like DigitalOcean, or vice-versa? Let’s find out.
The performance of your website is likely to vary depending on the type of hosting you’re using. For instance, dedicated hosting is miles ahead of shared hosting in terms of performance. But what about cloud hosting? Well, that’s a bit of a tricky question to answer because cloud hosting is fairly unique and there are many factors that can influence its performance output, including whether you’re using public clouds vs private clouds.
The performance of cloud hosting can range anywhere between average to amazing depending on where you’re buying it from. And what you’re comparing it against. Shared hosting, for instance, seems like it should perform much worse than cloud hosting in theory, but is that really the case? In order to find out, we decided to build a simple website hosted at DigitalOcean and compare it to an equally simple website powered by Bluehost, which we had previous built for our Bluehost vs DreamHost comparison.
Full Page Load Time
The first thing we did was a GTmetrix test that shows, among other things, the amount of time it takes for a page to fully load. Tests like these can yield vastly different results depending on how much content there is on the page, but in this particular case, we didn’t expect major differences since our websites were both pretty barebones.
GTmetrix has a bunch of interesting statistics to look at but for the purposes of this particular test, we only wanted to see the full load time, which happens to be around 1 second in the case of DigitalOcean. Generally speaking, this is the same value you could also expect out of Bluehost, as seen previously in our Bluehost vs WPEngine comparison. However, during our last round of testing our Bluehost website took between 1.8 and 2.2 seconds to fully load.
These sort of differences are fairly common when we’re talking about shared hosting since the performance of a website can be impacted by other users found on that server. All in all, the results aren’t too bad for Bluehost but DigitalOcean certainly did a bit better during the first round.
Needless to say, content-rich websites tend to take more than a couple of seconds to load regardless of where they’re hosted, unless they are very well optimized. This means that it’s entirely possible for a Bluehost website to load faster than a DigitalOcean website if its webmaster is good at optimization. If not, the DigitalOcean website is likely to be faster in most cases.
Time to First Byte (TTFB)
Our second test also involved speed but in this case we wanted to see how long it would take for the websites to start loading, as opposed to loading in their entirety. For this, we used Google’s own PageSpeed Insights tool to perform the test. Once again, there are various stats we could be looking at here but the Time to First Byte (TTFB) or First Contentful Paint, as it is also called, was the thing we were primarily interested in.
Unlike with our previous test, there was no discernable difference between Bluehost and DigitalOcean this time around. Both our websites managed to get a perfect score so it doesn’t really get any better than that. DigitalOcean did get better results in the Speed Index category (1.7s vs Bluehost’s 2.4s) but everything else was pretty much even.
So how much does all of this matter to the user? Not a whole lot. Tests like these can give you a rough idea of how well a website performs but the data is more relevant to search engines than users. Our next test, on the other hand, is quite a bit more important as it tells you how well a website performs under heavy load.
Load Impact Test
Whether your website takes 1 or 5 seconds to load is ultimately inconsequential when there’s only one person trying to access it. The real test is seeing how it performs when there are tens or even hundreds of users trying to access the website at the same time. In those situations the stability of the server plays a much larger role than any sort of optimizations done by the webmaster.
In order to make things more interesting, we sent 200 users to each of our websites and let the load impact test run for about 5 minutes. This is the same test we used to monitor the performance of many other Bluehost alternatives. Bluehost usually takes the lead in these types of tests but this time the situation looked a bit different than in the past.
This was ultimately a battle between cloud hosting and shared hosting so we were expecting DigitalOcean to perform better but the results were still very surprising regardless. Our DO-hosted website did remarkably well under pressure and managed an average response time of just 565 ms, quite a bit faster compared to Bluehost’s 1.08 seconds.
On the other hand, though, Bluehost had an overall better full page load time of 4.7 seconds compared to DO’s 6.9 seconds. What’s interesting to note here is that our DigitalOcean website loaded anywhere between 2 and 3 seconds during most of the test, but its overall results were brought down by a huge spike that occurred near the beginning. DigitalOcean did better than the overall results might imply but it did seem to be a bit less stable than Bluehost.
While all the metrics discussed so far matter to a lesser or a larger extent, the most important factor to consider is the uptime. At the end of the day, a slow website is still better than a website that can’t be accessed at all. Luckily, that’s not something you’ll need to worry about at either of these companies since they are both known for being very reliable.
We monitored Bluehost and DigitalOcean over most of 2020 and found that the uptime rarely dropped below 99.99% during any given month. That means you can expect your website to maybe go down a couple of times per month for a few minutes in total. Given that no hosting provider has perfect uptime, this is pretty much the best you can expect.
We do have to mention, however, that Bluehost doesn’t have an uptime guarantee, which is a bit disappointing. DigitalOcean, on the other hand, has a 99.99% uptime guarantee and the company is ready to compensate you should your uptime drop below that percentage during any given month.
Bluehost vs DigitalOcean: Which Has Better Performance?
Although Bluehost did surprise us during the load impact test, DigitalOcean still manages to come out on top in this category when taking all the various tests into account. As mentioned earlier, this isn’t all that surprising. One of the most appealing things about cloud hosting is precisely the fact that it generally offers significantly better performance when compared to shared hosting.
That said, we do have to give it up to Bluehost for performing as well as it did during our tests. And when you take into account other factors like ease of use and the cheaper price tag it’s easy to see why some users might prefer it over other options.
Pricing and Value
DigitalOcean is pretty different than traditional hosting providers like Bluehost, hence why its pricing system may seem a bit unusual to some. Instead of hosting plans, the company sells various types of ‘droplets’, virtual machines available in a wide range of configurations. You can read more about droplets in our DigitalOcean review.
Comparing two wildly different pricing systems is pretty tricky, but we think the following sections should give you a good idea of what to expect from our two competitors in terms of pricing and value.
Bluehost Shared Hosting vs DigitalOcean Basic Droplets
With prices starting at only $2.65 per month when you use this special discount code, Bluehost can rightly be considered one of the cheapest web hosting providers on the market. The Basic plan is a good launching pad for novice webmasters as it comes with everything you need to build and manage a decent website. Some of the main features include 50GB of SSD storage, a free domain name for the first year, a free SSL certificate, CDN integration, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Past Basic, you’ll have three other shared hosting packages to choose from – Plus, Choice Plus, and Pro. Prices here range from $4.95 to $13.95 per month and you can expect each tier to come with increasingly more and better features than the last.
We’re not going to list everything here in the interest of keeping things short and sweet but you can learn everything you need to know about the rest of the features in our detailed Bluehost review. What we will say, however, is that Choice Plus is by far the best valued plan, especially during the first term, while Pro is the hardest to recommend.
While DigitalOcean doesn’t have direct equivalents to Bluehost’s shared hosting plans, a trend that will continue throughout this comparison, the Basic droplets are as close as you can get to shared hosting. At least as far as the pricing is concerned.
The cheapest droplet will set you back $5/mo and gives you exclusive access to 25GB of SSD storage, 1GB of RAM, 1TB of data transfer, and a single-core CPU. At first glance, this may not seem like a particularly good deal since you can get more storage with any of Bluehost’s hosting plans, however, it’s worth keeping in mind that DO’s droplets act more like virtual private servers. Here, you don’t have to worry about other users affecting your performance, which can sometimes be a problem when you’re using shared hosting services.
On the other hand, DigitalOcean is clearly more expensive than Bluehost. Even when compared to popular DigitalOcean alternatives like Vultr or Kamatera, the company’s droplets are a bit expensive. You can pay on a month-to-month basis here, an option that’s not supported by Bluehost’s shared hosting plans, but you don’t get any of the features or advantages that come with shared hosting.
Bluehost VPS and Dedicated Hosting vs DigitalOcean General Purpose Droplets
Things are going to be a lot more straightforward in this section. Similar to DigitalOcean’s droplets, Bluehost’s VPS and dedicated hosting plans also give you access to varying amounts of resources that you don’t have to share with other users.
Of course, there is a slight difference between VPS hosting and dedicated hosting. With VPS hosting you get a chuck of a server’s resources while with dedicated hosting you get the entire server. But the basic gist is that you’re still primarily paying for resources rather than features, just like you would if you were buying a droplet.
A virtual private server at Bluehost will cost you anywhere between $18.99 and $59.99 per month, a pretty reasonable price comparable to the VPS packages found at HostGator and other major Bluehost rivals. The same can be said about the resources as well, with the cheapest VPS including a dual-core CPU, 30 GB of SSD storage, and 2 GB of RAM. You can check out our Bluehost VPS review for a more detailed look at the various plans.
As far as the dedicated servers are concerned, these will set you back anywhere between $79.99 and $119.99 per month. Again, not a bad price, though there are certainly cheaper options out there. Bluehost doesn’t use SSD storage with its dedicated servers but you will get 500GB of mirrored HDD storage right off the bat, along with 4GB of RAM and a quad-core CPU.
Moving along to DigitalOcean’s general purpose droplets, you can expect a pretty massive price difference when compared to the basic variants. The cheapest virtual machine costs $60 per month and comes with 8 GB of RAM, a dual-core CPU, and 25GB of SSD storage. The storage isn’t anything to write home about but the large amount of memory is certainly noteworthy. DO’s cheapest droplet costs the same as Bluehost’s Ultimate VPS plan and doesn’t give you quite as many resources to work with.
Meanwhile, the second tier, priced at $120 per month, costs around the same as Bluehost’s Premium dedicated servers. The resources at this price point are pretty much identical except for the fact that DigitalOcean gives you far less storage. The limited amount of storage is a recurring problem at DigitalOcean, however, the company does have other types of droplets that don’t have that issue. Still, you may want to check out some other cloud hosting solutions if you’re looking for companies that offer a better balance of resources for roughly the same price tag, or possibly even cheaper.
Bluehost – Additional Hosting Options
Bluehost has an important hosting solution that DigitalOcean has no real equivalent for, which is why we wanted to talk about it separately. As you may or may not already know, Bluehost is a fantastic option for users who are interested in building WordPress-based websites. The company gives users two types of solutions that can make that job easier – shared WordPress hosting and managed WordPress hosting.
The first option is very similar to regular shared hosting, to the point where you can expect identical prices and most of the same features. However, there are also a couple of new ones, including automatic WordPress installation and automatic WordPress updates. The company also throws in $200 worth of marketing credits, but here there is no Pro plan, meaning you’ll need to start looking at potential upgrade options a bit sooner.
Speaking of upgrade options, it’s definitely worth checking out Bluehost’s new and improved managed WordPress hosting packages. These plans are a bit more expensive, with the cheapest one costing $9.95/mo, but you get a lot more tools and features to work with. A few of the highlights include staging environments, daily scheduled backups, malware removal, domain privacy, and an all-in-one marketing center, among other things. Perhaps even more importantly, you can rely on Bluehost to manage things for you, making this hosting solution extremely beginner-friendly.
DigitalOcean – Additional Types of Droplets
While the Basic and General Purpose Droplets are the closest to Bluehost’s hosting plans in terms of pricing and resource distribution, the company has a wide array of other products worth mentioning. We’re going to skip things like container registries, spaces object storage, or DO’s app platform because those services aren’t really meant for the average user. Instead, we’re going to focus more on the droplets once again.
One of the best things about DigitalOcean is that it allows you to pick a virtual machine that’s perfectly tailored to your specific needs. For instance, the company offers CPU-optimized droplets that are perfect for tasks like video encoding, batch processing, machine learning and other CPU-intensive applications.
If you’re working with things like big data processing or high-performance databases, on the other hand, you’ll probably want to look into memory-optimized droplets instead. Then, you’ve also got storage-optimized droplets intended for analytics systems, particularly large databases or other operations that require a large amount of fast SSD storage.
Another thing that’s pretty unique to specialized companies like DigitalOcean is that you can pay for your virtual machine by the hour if you want to. This ensures that you’re only ever paying for the resource you’re actually using.
Bluehost vs DigitalOcean: Which is Cheaper?
In our recent Bluehost vs GreenGeeks comparison, we spent a lot of time debating over which was cheaper because the two companies were so similar. Here, there’s not a lot of room for debate. Bluehost’s services are designed for the average user and the low prices reflect that. DigitalOcean’s cheapest droplet is almost twice as expensive as Bluehost Basic, without offering many of the features that come by default with shared hosting.
Even without comparing it to shared hosting services, DigitalOcean is still a bit above the industry average even if you’re looking strictly at companies that specialize in cloud hosting. Bluehost is generally very affordable when compared to most of its peers. Sure, there are examples like Namecheap that only charge you a little over $1/mo for hosting, but those are the exception rather than the rule. All in all, Bluehost is cheaper than DigitalOcean whichever way you look at it.
Ease of Use
As discussed in our DigitalOcean vs AWS comparison, cloud hosting is mainly targeted at developers and programmers. This makes it ideal for users who don’t mind skipping ease of use features as long as that means having as much access and control as possible over their resources. With shared hosting, you don’t have quite as much control and you lose out on efficiency, but this type of hosting more than makes up for it in terms of accessibility.
Bluehost has very few competitors in terms of ease of use. All hosting plans give you access to the popular cPanel along with custom themes for WordPress sites and tutorials on how to build them. While the company doesn’t have its own website builder, Bluehost has great integration with WordPress and Weebly, both of which are very simple to use.
Check out our Bluehost website builder review to find out more about how easy it is to set up a new website at Bluehost.
DigitalOcean doesn’t give you access to either a website builder or a traditional control panel. At least not right off the bat. The company does have an app marketplace where you can find WordPress, cPanel, and a bunch of other useful applications. Some of the apps, including WordPress, come with a one-click installer but others like cPanel don’t. DigitalOcean has a tutorial on how to set up cPanel on a droplet but it involves closes to two dozen steps so, needless to say, the process is a bit complicated for the average user.
Bluehost vs DigitalOcean: Which is More User-Friendly?
It’s pretty obvious that DigitalOcean can’t hold a candle to Bluehost when it comes to user-friendliness. Some might say that it isn’t supposed to be since specialized cloud-based services aren’t aimed at beginners, but we don’t think that’s a good enough excuse.
Companies like Cloudways have demonstrated that you can have the best of both worlds. In fact, the provider takes advantage of DigitalOcean data centers to offer high-performance hosting packages that also come with a very impressive selection of features. Unfortunately, you can’t get something like that directly from DigitalOcean, which is why Bluehost easily takes the lead in this category.
As I’m sure you’ve already noticed by now, the services offered by Bluehost and DigitalOcean are quite different from one another. Hence, it’s not surprising to see that there are also plenty of differences when it comes to the features on offer. While one invests heavily in ease of use and accessibility, the other focuses more on the needs of developers and power users.
Bluehost has a great selection of features you can take advantage of. Here are some of the highlights:
- Unlimited SSD storage with shared hosting plans (except Basic)
- Excellent integration with WordPress and Weebly
- Free domain name with all plans (first year only)
- Free SSL certificates
- CDN integration
- Managed WordPress hosting
- VPS and dedicated hosting
- Root access (with VPS and dedicated)
- Free Database management
- 30-day money-back guarantee
DigitalOcean isn’t doing too badly in the features department either, though the company’s priorities are a bit different. Here’s what you can expect:
- Excellent location coverage, with 8 data centers worldwide to choose from
- Lets you pick the operating system of your droplet
- Scalable virtual machines designed for a wide variety of purposes
- App marketplace containing nearly 200 applications
- High-performance cloud hosting
- Monthly payments
- Root access
- Cloud firewall
We can’t really say that Bluehost has better features than DigitalOcean or vice-versa because it all depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a company that lets you build and manage a solid website without requiring you to have any technical skills, Bluehost is a very good option. In fact, Bluehost is one of the best hosting providers for beginners in our opinion. DigitalOcean, on the other hand, isn’t a company we would recommend to novice webmasters, but it does have a lot to offer to experienced ones.
We all try to avoid contacting customer support unless it’s absolutely necessary, but sometimes that’s the only viable solution. Sometimes website issues can become so severe that not even experienced webmasters can fix them by themselves. If you ever end up in a situation like that, you’d better hope that your hosting provider has a good customer support team that can give you a helping hand. As we’ve learned while conducting research for this comparison, Bluehost and DigitalOcean couldn’t be more different when it comes to customer support.
Bluehost has a very traditional support system. You can reach out to the company’s team of experts 24/7 via all the usual channels like live chat, phone, and ticketing system. There’s no need to worry if you’re based outside the US because Bluehost has an international number in addition to a local one. If you’re looking for specialized WordPress support, you can subscribe to the Blue Sky service, which costs $29/mo. The price is a bit steep considering that’s just for the basic plan, but it is worth it since few companies can hold a candle to Bluehost when it comes to WordPress.
Taking a look at DigitalOcean now, it’s clear that the situation is quite different. The company also offers 24/7 customer care but only via a ticketing system. This isn’t ideal for fixing urgent issues but, as with a lot of other things, DigitalOcean assumes most of its customers know how to fix potential problems all by themselves. Those who do find themselves in need of live assistance have the option of joining the Premier Support program, however, doing so would cost you a monthly fee. Aside from that, there’s also Business Support, which is available exclusively to users who spend at least $500 per month on the platform. Not exactly affordable.
Search Engine Optimization
Webmasters who know how to properly optimize their content for search engines have a distinct advantage over those who don’t. And with things getting increasingly more competitive out there, learning good SEO practices is becoming mandatory if you want your website to remain relevant. If you’re only now hearing about SEO, you’ll have a long road ahead of you before you can catch up to webmasters who have been optimizing their content for years. Luckily, your hosting provider can help speed things up in certain situations.
Signing up with Bluehost would be a good move if you’re worried about search engine optimization because the company has been working for some time on a set of custom-built SEO tools. The bad news is that the tools are only available for free with the Grow and Scale managed WordPress plans. The good news is that you can buy them for $1.99 per month even if you’re on a different plan.
Bluehost’s good integration with WordPress gives you even more options to work with as the CMS supports plenty of free plugins that can help improve the SEO of your content. You can also take advantage of these plugins at DigitalOcean but installing WordPress itself takes a bit more time.
All in all, Bluehost is a better option for SEO than DigitalOcean. The company can give most of its other competitors a run for their money in this department, including the WordPress.com hosting service.
Ignoring the scalability potential of your hosting service is one of the worst mistakes you could make. Sure, your website might be small when you first sign up and you may not need to upgrade anytime soon. But when the time does come to take things to the next level, you’ll definitely appreciate being hosted by a company that can accommodate the growth of your website. Otherwise, you’ll eventually be forced to migrate to a different provider that has better scalability.
For the most part, both Bluehost and DigitalOcean do a great job in this area. With Bluehost you can start off cheaply with shared hosting and gradually work your way up to the more advanced types of hosting. The drawback is that you will eventually need to migrate your files to a different server during the upgrade and this will lead to some downtime.
At DigitalOcean, the downtime shouldn’t be a concern because when you’re using cloud hosting your files and data aren’t stored on a single server. That means you can upgrade your droplet as many times as you want with virtually no issues. In addition, DigitalOcean also has a lot more upgrade options to choose from, as well as special features designed to make sure that upgrades are done nearly instantaneously.
I’m sure you’ve already noticed that there are some important differences between Bluehost and DigitalOcean, but let’s put things a bit into perspective here.
One Trick Pony. The fact that DigitalOcean focuses exclusively on cloud hosting is both its biggest strength and its biggest weakness. If you’re not into cloud hosting, there’s nothing for you here.
In stark contrast, Bluehost tries to offer as many types of services as it can. While cloud hosting isn’t among them, you will find pretty much every other type of hosting here.
Location Coverage. DigitalOcean’s operations extend far beyond North America. This makes is a great choice for situations when a lot of your audience is located outside the US.
Bluehost only has one data center that we know of and while it also has good CDN integration it can rely on, the performance of users outside NA will be still impacted at times.
Scalability. Good scalability is one of the defining features of cloud hosting and DigitalOcean certainly knows how to take advantage of it.
The fact that Bluehost has multiple tiers for its various hosting services means that you won’t run into any limitations here either. Your website is unlikely to outgrow what the provider can offer, regardless of how big it gets.
Bluehost vs DigitalOcean: Our Pick
This was a difficult decision because we’re dealing with companies that are very different but ultimately we have to give it up to Bluehost when everything is said and done. Here’s why:
- Performance: As expected, DigitalOcean took an early lead in this competition and managed to come out on top during our performance tests. However, Bluehost held its ground very well and exceeded our expectations in the load impact test.
- Pricing and Value: Bluehost is a very budget-friendly hosting solution, especially if you’re looking for a shared plan. DigitalOcean isn’t too expensive either for what it offers but Bluehost simply has better value overall.
- Ease of Use: Hardly a competition. Bluehost is designed with newcomers in mind and easily takes this round.
- Features: We have to call this one a draw. Both Bluehost and DigitalOcean have good features, but they’re clearly aimed at different types of users.
- Customer Support: DigitalOcean relies on its users to know what they’re doing while Bluehost is more than happy to help you if you ever get stuck.
- SEO: You’ll need to take care of the SEO yourself at either of these companies. Unless you’re willing to spend a bit of money, in which case Bluehost can make that job easier.
- Scalability: Both companies have good scalability but DigitalOcean has a bit more to offer in this department.
It’s clear that DigitalOcean is a solid cloud hosting provider but if you’re a novice webmaster or are looking for a more versatile company, Bluehost is definitely the way to go. If you want to learn more about the company don’t hesitate to check out our dedicated Bluehost hub right here.
Bluehost is a well-rounded hosting provider that’s very easy to recommend to users of all skill levels. The company has affordable prices, good performance, and plenty of variety. To top it all off, there’s also excellent customer support and a 30-day-money back guarantee.