HostGator Review – Still Plenty of Room for Improvement
Launched back in 2002 as an ambitious one-man project, HostGator is one of the oldest and most popular web hosting providers on the market. The company is also known as being one of the largest domain registrars around and has recently launched a website builder that can go head to head even with the likes of Weebly and Wix. With multiple types of hosting to choose from and low starting prices, HostGator is a great provider for newcomers and veterans alike. But is it the best choice for you? That’s what we’re going to try to find out in this review.
At first glance, HostGator may seem like a near-perfect service but upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that this provider does have a few chinks in its armor. For one, some of its plans are a bit overpriced and performance isn’t always the best. In addition, customer support can be a bit hit or miss for some users and the company fails to mention upfront that some of its most useful tools need to be purchased separately. Despite all of that, however, HostGator is definitely worth checking out so let’s take a closer look at what the provider has to offer.
Navigation and Ease of Use
HostGator combines the functionality of a traditional hosting provider with the accessibility of an all-in-one website builder, making it a very good choice for beginners. In an attempt to compete with platforms like Wix, the company designed its own website builder known as Gator. Although it’s still a work in progress, the builder already comes with a good amount of features and over 200 templates to choose from. The templates aren’t quite as stylish as those offered by other popular site builders like Squarespace but they can certainly get the job done.
It’s hard to recommend Gator for complex websites but you can definitely use it to build simple sites, blogs or even online stores. The builder comes with drag-and-drop functionality and is very easy to customize but doesn’t come with as many options as we would have liked. Still, we do consider Gator to be a solid choice for starter websites, especially since the builder comes with some very nice freebies.
If you’re not into the company’s site builder, you can always pair HostGator with a different platform like WordPress, Joomla or Magento. Regardless of which content management platform you choose, managing your sites from HostGator’s dashboard is a breeze. The company uses a standard cPanel so if you’ve ever used one in the past, you’ll know exactly what to expect here. If you didn’t, all you really need to know about the cPanel is that it allows you to manage email addresses, databases, sub-domains, monitor bandwidth usage, and change your profile settings, among other things, using a single interface.
HostGator offers an impressive number of 1-click installs for blogs, portals, forums, and more. The company allows you to easily set up guest books, URL redirects, and hit counters on your website with just a click of a button. Moreover, you also get access to a web-based file manager that lets you upload files directly from the control panel.
Creating and managing a new website with HostGator is pretty easy, but what about migrating a site you already own? As it turns out, that’s even easier because the company offers free site migration services with many of its hosting plans. The service only works with WordPress sites and the transfer needs to be initiated within 30 days of signing up. The basic hosting plans only allow you to transfer a single website while the more expensive ones let you migrate two or three.
Plans and Pricing
HostGator can be a very affordable provider, especially if you go for one of its shared hosting plans. These packages start at only $2.75 per month, rivaling even popular cheap options like Bluehost in terms of price. Like most hosting providers, however, HostGator isn’t really upfront about the fact that only users who subscribe to a multi-year plan can take advantage of these low prices. If you plan on paying on a month-by-month basis, expect the prices to be quite a bit higher.
If you go to HostGator’s shared hosting comparison page you’ll notice that the plans come with an absolute truckload of tools and features. We’re not going to talk about most of them since they’re nothing to write home about but we do want to mention a couple. For starters, all plans come with unmetered storage and bandwidth, free SSL certificate, free domain, emails, and basic eCommerce functionality. All packages also benefit from 100$ worth of credits (Adwords and Bing), subdomains, FTP access, instant setup, and 24/7 customer support.
The differences between the $2.75/mo Hatchling plan and the $3.95/mo Baby plan aren’t very significant. The only one that really stands out is the fact that the Baby plan supports an unlimited number of websites while the Hatching plan only supports one. Since the difference in price between the two packages is so small you might as well go for the Baby plan. You never know when you may want to build an additional website.
The third and final shared hosting plan goes by the name of Business and will set you back $5.95 per month. Unsurprisingly, this plan comes with the most amount of features, though there aren’t as many extras as you might expect. The Business plan includes a free dedicated IP and a better SSL certificate, both of which you can also get with the other plans for an extra monthly fee. Aside from that, this plan allows you to use anonymous FTP and private SSL, and that’s about it.
It’s worth pointing out right off the bat that buying one of the other HostGator plans gives you free access to the site builder. However, you can also purchase a standalone plan for Gator, which comes with slightly different tools and features that are more akin to what you would get from Wix, Weebly or Squarespace. Unlike those other builders, however, Gator doesn’t limit the storage and bandwidth you get or the number of pages your site can have, regardless of which plan you choose.
Since Gator tries to simplify things as much as possible, you no longer get access to some of the more advanced features included with the regular plans. However, you still get a free domain name for 1 year, SSL certificate, password protection, and a Site History feature that’s identical to that of Wix, among other things. Unlike most other website builders, Gator doesn’t force you to display branded ads even if you subscribe to the absolute cheapest plan.
Speaking of which, a Starter Gator plan will cost you $3.84 per month, which is cheaper than all other builders mentioned earlier, especially Squarespace. The other plans are a bit difficult to recommend since they don’t really bring anything noteworthy to the table. The $5.99/mo Premium package only adds priority support while the $9.22/mo eCommerce plan unlocks, you guessed it, eCommerce functionality. The problem is that Gator’s eCommerce features are very unimpressive so if you’re looking to open an online store, we recommend Shopify or even just WordPress paired with the WooCommerce plugin.
If you’re looking to build a WordPress website there are plenty of good options out there. The company behind the platform recommends going either with Bluehost, DreamHost or SiteGround as your hosting provider. While many of those are very good options, HostGator’s WordPress hosting plans are not to be overlooked either. The packages are fairly cheap considering we’re talking about managed hosting and are said to perform up to 2.5 times better than the shared plans.
Prices here start at $5.95 per month but the basic package can only support a single website. You can get support for additional websites if you upgrade to one of the higher tiers but at most, you’ll only be able to set up a total of 3 websites even with the more expensive plan, which isn’t great. That said, these plans do include dedicated resources so while they aren’t able to support many websites, the servers should generally be faster and more reliable.
In terms of features, you can expect many of the same ones you would get with other types of hosting, including free site migrations, unmetered storage, SSL certificate, malware removal, and more. The company also throws in a few other freebies like CodeGuard and SiteLock, two tools that need to be purchased separately with some of the other plans.
HostGator’s WordPress hosting plans are fairly mediocre compared to those of other companies. There’s no mention of 1-click installs, free plugins, staging environments or any other WordPress-specific features you might expect. Still, the plans are overall pretty cheap and come with dedicated resources so they can provide some decent values.
Similar to the WordPress plans, HostGator’s VPS packages are not very easy to recommend to most users. This time around, it’s not because of the lack of interesting features but rather because of the price. HostGator’s cheapest VPS package goes for $29.95 per month and gives you 2 GB of RAM, 2 CPU cores, 120 GB of disk space, and 1.5 GB of bandwidth to work with. By comparison, Dreamhost and Bluehost offer fairly similar VPS plans for just $20 and $19 per month, respectively. Meanwhile, DigitalOcean, a company that specializes in VPS and cloud hosting, offers plans that start at only $5 per month.
Granted, HostGator does tend to offer more storage space than its competitors, however, the company doesn’t use SSD storage, which is pretty unusual in this day and age. Upgrading to the $39.95/mo or $49.95/mo plans won’t give you access to additional features or tools but you will get extra resources. Strangely enough, though, none of the plans come with unmetered bandwidth, a feature that Dreamhost and other rivals include even with their cheapest plans.
Dedicated servers are always expensive regardless of which provider you choose but HostGator, once again, seems to charge a bit more than the market average. Prices here start at $119 per month for a machine that comes with 8 GB of RAM, a quad-core CPU, and 1 TB of storage. In this case, HostGator does include unmetered bandwidth and if you upgrade to the $139/mo or $149 per month plans you also benefit from SSD storage, so at least the company does its best to provide good value for the money.
HostGator offers both managed and semi-managed dedicated servers. The difference between the two types is that customers who opt for a managed plan can expect more support from HostGator with things like site migrations, data backups, server optimization, server monitoring, and more. In addition, managed customers have access to cPanel or Plesk while semi-managed users have full root access and a choice between several operating systems, including CentOS, Ubuntu, Debian, and Windows. As far as the price difference is concerned, managed plans are $10 more expensive regardless of which of the dedicated plans or billing cycles you choose.
Key Tools and Features
HostGator does its best to convince potential customers that its plans come with a wide range of features but the truth is that you’re not actually getting more than the standard stuff. But while there’s not much to write home about, at least the company does a decent job at including features and tools we would consider essential. Well, for the most part. Let’s take a closer look at what HostGator has to offer in terms of key tools and features.
Most hosting providers offer free domains with their plans and HostGator is no exception. You can get a free domain for 1 year by signing up for any HostGator shared, WordPress or cloud hosting plan. The only caveat is that you’ll need to subscribe to a yearly (or higher) plan in order to be eligible for a free domain. Once that first year is up, you’ll need to pay the standard annual fee if you want to keep using the domain.
Renewing a HostGator domain or registering a new one will set you back $12.95 per year. At first glance, that may seem like a steal, however, there is a catch. HostGator doesn’t include domain privacy so you’ll need to purchase that separately for an additional $14.95 per year. That brings the total up to $27.90, which is no longer that cheap when compared to other registrars. For example, iPage charges $21 for a new domain while GoDaddy only charges about $18, both with privacy included.
HostGator supports MySQL databases and allows you to create and manage an unlimited number of them with any of its shared hosting plans. If you go for one of the WordPress packages, you also benefit from automated daily database backups and restores. There’s technically no limit to how many databases can be backed up using the system, however, the total size is limited to 1 GB with the starter plan. If you upgrade to one of the more expensive packages, the size limit increases to 2 GB and 3 GB, respectively.
Backup and Restore
HostGator includes a free tool that allows users to manually back up their entire accounts at any time from the cPanel. The backups can be downloaded locally and stored on third-party platforms or restored to the HostGator servers with ease. In addition, the company also uses an automated system powered by CodeGuard that backs up your files and databases on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this tool isn’t free for everybody.
If you’re buying a shared hosting plan, you’ll be able to purchase CodeGuard separately during check out for an additional $2 per month. That doesn’t sound too expensive, however, CodeGuard can only be billed annually so you’ll actually need to fork out around $24 upfront if you want to add it to your package. Luckily, you can get CodeGuard for free if you sign up for a WordPress hosting plan.
It’s worth noting that CodeGuard comes in three different variants – Basic, Professional, and Premium. The version you get for free with WordPress plans or for $2/mo with shared plans is the Basic one. If you want to take advantage of the features offered by the higher tiers you’ll need to upgrade the tool or purchase CodeGuard Professional or Premium directly from HostGator.
HostGator is pretty generous when it comes to emails. All users are able to create an unlimited number of @domain emails and use web-based mail clients like Squirrel, Horde or Round Cube. You also get useful features like mail forwarding, spam assassin, IMAP support, the ability to create mailing lists or autoresponders and more.
If you’re looking to add a fully-featured professional mailbox to your account, you can purchase a Microsoft Office 365 license from HostGator for $5 per month. Unlike CodeGuard, Office 365 can be billed monthly. HostGator can also be integrated with G Suite and you can buy a license for it for $6 per month.
HostGator isn’t a particularly good choice for eCommerce but it can get the job done. All plans come with free ZenCart and osCommerce shopping carts along with the ability to sell and ship products, process payments, and manage inventory. If you buy a website builder plan you’ll get access to a couple more features like coupons and a shipping & tax calculator. Since you won’t get a lot of eCommerce features with any of HostGator’s plans, we recommend going with something like Shopify if you want to build a serious online store.
HostGator seems to know the value of search engine optimization because the company offers a free SEO consultation review for all customers. The provider will even assign a representative to help you with things like keyword research, content creation, page optimization, and more. In addition, the company also sells custom-built SEO tools for $2.95 per month. This optional tool is billed annually so you’ll need to pay around $35 upfront to add it to your account. Users who opt for the Business shared hosting plan get these SEO tools for free.
Additional Supported Technologies
HostGator supports all the web hosting technologies you would expect, including several scripting languages like Python, Ruby on Rails, and PHP 5. The company also enables users to use SSH and anonymous FTP along with dedicated IPs in exchange for a monthly fee, though certain plans do come with free dedicated IPs. A few other technologies worth mentioning include CGI and Fast CGI, Cron, Image Magick, GD 2, and Perl.
HostGator doesn’t have great location coverage, primarily because the company focuses on US customers. At the moment, the company only has two data centers – one in Utah and the other one in Texas. Users can’t choose which data center houses their server so you’re most likely going to be assigned one at random. If you don’t live in the US or are targeting non-US users, we recommend activating Cloudflare if you sign up with HostGator because it will route your content through close to two dozen additional data centers around the world, thus improving your site's performance.
Performance and Reliability
While you can easily look at the price and features offered by a hosting provider before you sign up with it, finding information related to the performance of its servers is a bit more challenging. That’s because the performance can vary greatly from user to user depending on a number of factors, such as the hosting plan you’re using, the amount of content on your website, how many plugins or add-ons you have installed, and more. With that in mind, we did some tests on a fairly standard WordPress website hosted on a shared plan to give you a general idea of what the average user can expect from HostGator in terms of performance and reliability.
Page Loading Speed
Nobody likes a slow website and I’m not just talking about users. Search engines like Google often rank slow sites lower than fast ones, and with good reason. A webmaster who cares about SEO should always pick a hosting provider that has a good track record in the speed department. Does HostGator fit that bill? Not quite I’m afraid.
The page loading speeds we experienced with our site hovered around the 910ms on average, which isn’t great. Generally speaking, anything under 1 second is still considered good but many users expect sites to load a bit faster in this day and age. It’s worth noting that the last time we looked at HostGator we got average speeds of over 1.3 seconds, so the situation has been improving, at least in our case. Based on some of the results shared by other users, however, HostGator’s speeds seem to be getting worse lately.
While some of those results may seem discouraging it’s worth noting that we only tested the company’s shared hosting. According to HostGator, sites hosted on a WordPress plan load up to 2.5X faster thanks to the integrated cloud technology and, of course, you’ll definitely see even better performance if you’re using a VPS or dedicated server. As far as the shared plans are concerned, though, the speeds are not particularly great.
Server Response Times
While the loading speeds of individual pages or websites aren’t always great, we were surprised to find that HostGator’s server response times aren’t actually all that bad. We ran some tests using a tool called Bitcatcha and found that the response times in the US are generally only around 30-40 ms. As expected, though, the response times dropped significantly when tested from other regions.
The tool we used tests server response times from various countries around the world. Based on the tests, we learned that you’ll need to wait around 400 ms for a server response if you’re located in Europe or Australia and around 700 ms if you’re located in Japan. Interestingly enough, HostGator servers take longer to respond in Europe and Australia when compared to rivals like SiteGround but the results are actually pretty good by the time you reach Japan. 700 ms may not seem like a great result but SiteGround’s servers, for example, took over 2 seconds to respond when pinged from Japan.
Having a fast website is nice but often it’s even more important to have a website that can be accessed at any time. In other words, a website with good uptime. Ideally, you would want your website to be up 24/7, 365/year but that’s very unlikely to happen because every provider experiences outages on occasion. That’s why most providers only guarantee an uptime of 99.9% or lower.
HostGator is definitely in this category as the company boldly claims on its homepage that all hosting plans come with a 99.9% uptime guarantee. But does that claim actually hold up? From our experience, we can confirm that it does indeed hold up. The overall uptime of our site was 99.98% at the end of our testing period so the results were very good.
But what happens if HostGator won’t be able to fulfill its promise in the future? Well, the company’s guarantee isn’t just an empty promise as the company is prepared to compensate users with a month of free hosting if their uptime is lower than 99.9% over an extended period of time. But it’s worth keeping in mind that according to the company’s policy, scheduled maintenance and things that fall outside of the company’s control do not count as downtime.
HostGator is known for having very good customer support, at least for the most part. Some agents are better than others at providing assistance but that can be said about any company. Here, at least you can contact support via a variety of channels, including phone, ticket, and live chat. There’s a toll-free number you can reach them at and each HostGator account is said to be fully guaranteed by CEO Adam Farrar, meaning you can request that your ticket be assigned to him if support agents can’t fix your problem. We didn’t run into such a problem so we can’t say for sure if this claim is actually true.
If you have a problem that’s not urgent and want to try fixing it yourself, you can always try looking for a solution in the help center. There you can find hundreds of articles and video tutorials on everything from working with cPanel and creating emails to DNS, domains, design tools, databases, and more. All the articles are sorted by category and there’s a search bar to help you find what you’re looking for faster.
Does HostGator Offer Any Additional Types of Hosting?
Yes, there are a couple of types of hosting that we didn’t mention in our review, including cloud hosting and reseller hosting. Cloud hosting starts at $4.95 per month and is similar to WordPress hosting while reseller hosting starts at $19.95 per month and is aimed at users who want to start a small hosting company of their own.
Does HostGator Offer Free SSL Certificates with All Plans?
All users who sign up for one of the shared, cloud, or WordPress hosting plans get a free SSL certificate. Free certificates are also included with website builder plans but they are not available with VPS and dedicated packages. Even though HostGator offers free certificates with most plans, the company also sells Positive SSL certificates as an optional service that costs $3.33 per month (billed annually).
Does HostGator Offer Free Domain Names with Any of Its Plans?
Yes, but only with shared, cloud, and WordPress hosting packages. If you want to sign up for any other type of hosting plan you’re going to have to purchase a new domain separately or transfer an already existing one.
Is HostGator a Good Option for eCommerce?
No, not really. While you can set up an online store with HostGator, the eCommerce features offered by the company are pretty unimpressive. You’re much better off going with Shopify, Weebly or pairing WordPress with a plugin like WooCommerce.
What is HostGator’s Refund Policy?
HostGator offers a 45-day money-back guarantee for all shared, reseller and VPS hosting plans. The company doesn’t offer refunds for dedicated servers, cloud hosting plans or domain registrations.
Now that we’re rapidly approaching the end of this review let’s try to answer the question posed near the beginning. Is HostGator the best choice for you? If you’re looking for a user-friendly hosting provider with affordable prices for shared hosting, good uptimes, and helpful customer support, then the answer is yes. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for stellar page loading speeds, good eCommerce functionality and lots of innovative features, you won’t find any of those here I’m afraid. In short, it depends.
Personally, we like some of what HostGator has to offer but we think there’s still a lot of room for improvement. The shared hosting packages are easy to recommend for beginners while the WordPress plans are a good fit for most people interested in working with the CMS, though there are definitely better options out there. We have mixed feelings about HostGator, however, we can see that the company has been trying to improve its products in recent times and even launch new ones like the site builder. For now, we can only give a lukewarm recommendation but that may very well change in the near future if the company keeps improving.