Texas-based HostGator is a well-known web hosting company with more than 15 years in the business. It's now part of Endurance International Group, along with Domain.com, Bluehost, iPage, SiteBuilder.com and more.
HostGator offers a solid range of products covering all the core hosting essentials: shared hosting, a drag-and-drop website builder, cloud hosting and VPS hosting, dedicated servers, a handful of Windows hosting products, reseller hosting accounts, and more.
There's not a lot of depth to any individual area, though. HostGator only offers three VPS server plans and three base dedicated servers, for instance, and these only have very limited configuration options.
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Dedicated servers only allow you to choose Windows or CentOS operating system, for example. Meanwhile, Hostwinds has four VPS plans available in Linux and Windows flavors; its dedicated servers enable choosing up to three additional drives, adding RAID support, extra RAM, choosing from five operating systems and multiple versions, and adding extra IPs and bandwidth.
The products HostGator does offer are surprisingly capable, though, especially at the budget end of the range.
HostGator's shared hosting range delivers from the start. Even the cheapest shared hosting plan, Hatchling, gets you unmetered disk space; unlimited bandwidth, MySQL databases, email and FTP accounts; a free SSL certificate, easy WordPress and shopping cart installation (osCommerce and ZenCart) and full-featured cPanel-based site management. That's more than enough power for many personal and business websites, yet it's priced from only $2.75 a month on the three-year plan ($6.95 on renewal).
At the top of the range, the Business plan supports hosting unlimited domains and adds professional features such as a free dedicated IP and a premium SSL certificate. This has a very low headline price from $5.95 a month over three years, and renews at a still-reasonable $14.95-$16.95, depending on subscription length (1 month to three years.)
All plans are protected by a generous 45-day money-back guarantee, subject to the usual restrictions (if HostGator has already paid to register a domain for you, for instance, that won't be refunded.)
The only small issue we could see was in HostGator's choice of automated installers. Many web hosts offer Softaculous, a smart platform which simplifies the process of installing WordPress, Joomla, phpBB, PrestaShop, Drupal, Magento and hundreds of popular web apps. HostGator is mostly focused on WordPress, with just a handful of others. That will be fine for most users, but if you're looking for something else, you may have to install and set it up yourself.
HostGator offers simple WordPress hosting for a very low price, but without some of the high-end features you'll get with the more specialist competition.
The Starter plan supports a single site with an average 100,000 users a month for $5.95 a month over three years, for instance ($9.95.) The Business plan includes more resources, can handle three sites and 500,000 visitors a month, and is priced at $9.95 a month over three years, $22.95 on renewal. HostGator also offers a free migration service to transfer your existing WordPress site to the new account, while automatic WordPress updates should keep your site securely patched.
Liquid Web's WordPress plans include a staging environment to enable testing updates without breaking your production site, and a very smart updating system which can automatically update WordPress and plugins, and raise an alert if there's a problem. Bandwidth is 'limited' to 2TB a month, probably enough for most users. It's a great product, but it's priced at $19 billed monthly, or $15.83 on the annual plan, so if you only need the WordPress basics, it's still the better deal.
Creating a website
After a simple signup, HostGator's shared hosting packages have a range of tools to help you create and manage a website.
There's an Install WordPress link, for instance. This takes you to a page where HostGator offers to set up WordPress for a fee (from $99 with $49 WordPress theme credit), and if you're not paying attention, it's easy to assume you must choose one of these options. They're just some over-enthusiastic upselling, though, and you can install WordPress yourself by entering just a few blog details: title, admin username, email and so on.
A Softaculous setup enables speedy installation of 400+ other apps, including Drupal, Joomla, Magento, PrestaShop, phpBB, MediaWiki and more. It's probably the best of the auto-installers, but for some reason HostGator also includes a similar (but more basic) One Click Installs tool of its own.
The shared hosting packages also include a free Weebly Builder plan. This has an excellent drag-and-drop editor, the site can be hosted on your own domain and there's free SSL thrown in. The catch? Well, there are two: your site is limited to 500MB in size, and it displays ads.
You can upgrade within a shared hosting plan from $5.99 a month over three years, which drops the ads and space limits, and includes site search, password protection, HD video and audio support, and more. But if you're after drag-and-drop simplicity, check out HostGator's Gator Website Builder first-- prices start at $3.84 a month and you can get e-commerce support for under $10 a month on the initial term.
If you're an experienced user who doesn't need any of this handholding, that's okay; a full-featured cPanel installation gives you all the FTP, SSH, database, file management and domain functionality you need to get your site up and running.
HostGator's customer portal is an online dashboard where you're able to manage your account and take full control of your web space.
This is very text-heavy with a stack of links, but many of these relate to optional extras. 'CodeGuard Backup' sounds intriguing, for instance, but unless you purchased it during signup, you'll just get an upselling attempt trying to persuade you to buy it now.
Despite these hassles, the dashboard scores for its many convenient touches. A 'Control Panel' section includes links to common site management modules - Email Accounts, Webmail, Databases, File Manager - and with one click you can get on with uploading files, creating email accounts or whatever else you need to do.
Unsure how to do something? Begin typing in the search box and the site immediately displays matching articles. There's a lot of content, sensibly organized, and we generally found what we needed in a click or two.
If you're not as lucky, support is available 24/7/365 via live chat and telephone (toll free in the US.)
We've always had good results from HostGator's support, and this time was no different. When we tried live chat, a helpful agent responded within two minutes, understood our question immediately and gave us sensible and accurate advice: exactly what we needed.
We began our performance testing by setting up a simple static website on our HostGator plan, then using the site Uptime to check its availability and response time for a week.
Our site was never down during the monitoring period. That's what we would expect after only a week of testing, but it was still good to see.
Response times averaged 378ms, at the slower end of the basic shared hosting market (most providers average between 200-400ms.)
There's better news in HostGator's 'worst case' time. In more than 2,000 tests, the slowest response logged was only 556ms, considerably better than many hosts (the current average for our last 30 reviews is 891ms.)
As a final check, we used Dotcom-Tools' Website Speed Test to check the load time of our site from 16 locations around the US and Europe. This delivered much better results of around 870ms, putting it in the upper mid-range of the shared hosting competition.
That's good news for HostGator, but keep in mind that these comparisons are based on the low-end shared hosting products for each provider. If you're looking to buy a VPS or other more high-end plan, the results may be very different.
HostGator's high-end VPS and dedicated plans are short on configurability, but its shared hosting plans offer loads of features for a very fair price, there's top-quality support to ensure everything runs smoothly, and a generous 45-day money-back guarantee ensures there's no risk. A smart choice for shared hosting users who need more.