The Best Web Hosting Service for Affiliate Websites - BlueHost vs. HostGator vs. WPEngine
What would you call a person who builds his beautiful house right next to a sinkhole?
Something like this
This is what your high traffic affiliate website looks like on a cheap web hosting service.
There’s nothing sillier than starting your niche site on a cheap web hosting service just to save a few bucks.
Because just like a sinkhole, a low-quality hosting service can collapse any minute taking your website and your niche marketing business down with it.
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What You’ll Learn In This Post
- Why you should never underestimate the impact of your web hosting service on your business
- Why going for a cheap hosting company just to save a few bucks is a bad idea
- The key parameters to consider while evaluating a web hosting service
- Which hosting service to choose depending on your current business situation
Choosing the Right Web Hosting Service – Why Is It Important?
Yea, why not just host your site with any web hosting service?
All of these people thought the same
If you don’t want to be one of them, choose your web hosting company carefully.
Because the quality of your hosting service has a huge impact on your site’s user experience, content consumption and search rankings.
Here are a few more reasons to make you think
- Web Hosting Impacts Your Site’s Search Ranking
A study by Moz found a direct correlation between a site’s search rankings and the TTFB (Time To First Byte) of its web servers.
TTFB is the amount of time a server takes to start serving data to website visitors. This is different from Page Speed.
- Slow Servers Hurt User Experience
If your site’s hosted on slow servers, it’ll remain slow no matter how much you optimize its speed. According to KissMetrics, pages that take longer than 3 seconds to load see a drastic increase in page abandonment.
Slower sites have higher bounce rates which result in lower search rankings.
- Frequent Down Times Turn Away Visitors
If your web hosting server is down, your website becomes inaccessible to users. If this starts happening too frequently, it can result in loss of potential traffic and sales for your affiliate site.
- Hackers Can Take Down Insecure Sites
Sites hosted on insecure and poorly protected servers are sitting ducks for hackers and malicious bots.
- High Traffic Sites Need Additional Resources
Can your web server handle 5000, 1000 or even 500 visitors at the same time? Niche sites are built to attract traffic. But if your server can’t handle it, what’s the point of hosting it there?
- Poor Customer Service Will Make You Lose Your Hair
When your site’s down or you need an urgent software update and no one from your hosting company is willing to understand your problem or lend a helping hand - I’ve experienced this nightmare situation first hand.
Trust me, you don’t want to be there.
WPEngine vs. BlueHost vs. HostGator – Comparing the Giants
All three of these companies have been around for a long time and currently host hundreds of thousands of websites, particularly affiliate sites.
I’ve used each of them personally and so has Stuart.
They were also the most frequent names to pop-up in all the discussions I had in different Facebook groups about web hosting.
Before diving into the details, let’s take a bird’s eye view of their features fist.
||Managed WordPress Hosting|
|Hosting Interface||cPanel||cPanel||WP Engine Client Portal|
|Unlimited Email Accounts||Yes||Yes||No|
|Host Multiple Domains||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Money Back Guarantee||30 Days||45 Days||60 Days|
|Server Uptime (Claim)||99.9%||99.9%||99.9%|
|Pricing (basic plan)||Shared Hosting – $3.95/m||Shared Hosting - $3.95/m||$29/m|
BlueHost vs. HostGator vs. WPEngine – A Detailed Comparison
Without further ado, let’s have a closer look at each of these web hosting services and analyze their key performance metrics.
BlueHost is one of the most popular web hosting companies in the world and currently hosts more than 2 million websites.
It’s also one of the 3 web hosting services officially endorsed by WordPress.org
I’m currently hosting 3 of my websites on BlueHost and have had no trouble with them so far.
I have their shared hosting plan which is quite popular among beginner bloggers and niche marketers because of its high-quality services and quite reasonable rates.
It also has perhaps the largest army of affiliates that makes millions of dollars every year by promoting it through review sites.
This post mainly covers the shared hosting plan of BlueHost since it's their most popular package and drives most of their revenues.
HostGator is a few years younger than BlueHost but has a considerable market share among bloggers and niche marketers.
It was acquired by Endurance International Group which owns BlueHost as well.
NicheHacks was previously hosted on HostGator but Stuart had to make the switch because of their poor support and website downtime.
However, lots of well-known bloggers back HostGator, though in many cases because they make good commissions by promoting it as an affiliate rather than because they use the host themselves.
However their prices are pretty competitive and their major market share comes from new bloggers and low traffic sites using their shared hosting plan.
WPEngine is a fully managed WordPress specific web hosting service of the highest standard.
NicheHacks is currently hosted on WPEngine and, although there have been minor glitches, it has mostly been a smooth ride so far.
The primary USP of WPEngine is that it frees you from all the technical stuff of managing your WordPress site and allows you to focus on your business.
Their prices are slightly higher as compared to BlueHost and HostGator.
But the value on offer is also significantly higher.
Their customer base mostly consists of well-established bloggers, globally recognized brands, and high traffic sites.
A slow website not only kills user experience but also puts you in Google’s bad books. Which is why server speed and response time should be at the top of your list when evaluating a web hosting service.
Response time is different from page speed. It is based on three factors
- Time to first byte (TTFB)
- Time to receive headers
- Time to load HTML of the site
Google is primarily concerned with your site’s response time, not page speed, and recommends a maximum server response time of 200ms. Anything slower than that counts against you.
But page speed isn’t a useless metrics. It’s the time it takes a user to fully download your page content. Which means a slower page negatively impacts user experience and increases your sites bounce rate.
BlueHost is slow.
And I say this from experience.
Here’s a snapshot of my site’s average response time (hosted on BlueHost) over the last 7 days
Well beyond the recommended limit of 200 ms by Google.
Remember that response time is mostly dependent on server performance and the structure of your site’s database, not on the actual content of your site. But if the initial response time is slow, the overall website speed is likely to be slower.
HostGator isn’t quick either.
In fact, the results are very similar to BlueHost.
The similarity is probably because both BlueHost and HostGator are owned by the same company. Plus, I tested the shared hosting plans for both of them.
To be fair with BlueHost and HostGator though, their server response time is still better than most other shared hosting services.
Since WPEngine is a dedicated WordPress hosting service, their server response time should be much faster than shared hosting services.
Most of the other sites hosted on WPEngine I found during research had response time under 200ms or just over it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Pingdom account set up for NicheHacks so I used Bitcacha, which is equally reliable, to calculate server response time.
Since most of our readers are based in the US, the response time for that region is more important for us.
But the others are quite good as well.
The page speed of NicheHacks is reasonably fast as well (81/100 to be precise) according to Google’s Page Speed Insights.
That’s probably because of the in-house EverCache system of WPEngine which caches everything at the server level and results in significantly faster load time.
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You know what server uptime is, right?
Basically, it’s the time when your server is up and running.
When your server goes down, your site goes down with it, which means it becomes inaccessible to your visitors.
Server downtime can occur for different reasons like a maintenance shutdown, a security breach, server load management or any other cause.
Depending on your site’s traffic and the size of your business, server downtime can cost you anywhere from a few hundred to multi-million dollars in losses.
The best web hosting companies offer between 99.9% to 99.99% server uptime.
This looks pretty good until you calculate the actual loss of time over a period of 12 months.
For example, 99.9% uptime means around 9 hours of server downtime in a year.
Let’s see how these three perform.
To be fair to them, I haven’t had any downtime in the last 30 days on my site hosted on BlueHost.
That, however, does not mean they’re perfect (far from it)
In fact, I’ve had some pretty ordinary months with them over the last 2 years.
For example, here are few snapshots from my monthly uptime reports
Not bad enough for you?
How about this one
That’s around 70 hours of downtime in 1 month and it happened last year in April.
So things do sometimes get out of their hands.
Overall they’re giving me around 99% uptime which is below their committed level and also well below the industry average.
Hostgator is surprisingly good when it comes to server uptime.
Their shared hosting plan commits 99.9% uptime and they usually exceeded that while my sites were hosted with them.
Many other bloggers also have positive things to say about them.
For example, you can see the uptime history of another website hosted on HostGator here
Apart from June and July 2017, the uptime for all the other months is above 99.9% for this particular site.
The stats are pretty good for a shared hosting plan, but they’re still unpredictable.
Since moving NicheHacks to WPEngine, downtimes have been so rare, it’s hard to remember.
On their website, they commit 99.95% uptime, but we’ve generally got higher than that.
Here’s a snapshot of the last 6 months performance.
To make it even better, they have a refund policy for every hour of additional downtime that’s beyond the agreed level.
Getting your website security compromised and helplessly watching hackers ruin years of your hard work is one of the worst feelings in the world.
Unfortunately, I’ve been there once.
Which is why security is my number one consideration while choosing a web hosting service.
But it’s not just me.
Google uses website security as a ranking signal and prefers HTTPS websites.
Brian Dean studied more than 1 million Google Search Results and found that there certainly is a relationship between using HTTPS and higher rankings
Using HTTPS or SSL certificate becomes even more important if you’re using forms to collect user data or selling something on your site. Otherwise, your site could soon be marked as “Not Secure”
So let’s have a quick look at the security features of our hosting services
Every BlueHost account comes with a free SSL certificate plus a number of tools to protect you against spam, data theft, and image hotlinking.
You can also enable 2-factor authentication on your BlueHost account for increased login security.
Last year, malware was found on one of my sites after which it was blocked by BlueHost until the problem was resolved.
After a bit of research, I found that malware had made its way to my site through my laptop which did not have any anti-virus installed at that time.
So it was my mistake.
But the security experts at BlueHost were kind enough to help me get rid of all the infected files and recover my site.
However, one thing that really surprised me was the absence of a backup service. I thought they’d have at least a basic root level backup of my site
But then I found this
As a “courtesy” they offered me a 12 month old backup of my site which was of no use of course.
If you want a regular backup, you need to buy their Backup Pro service.
Hostgator offers free SSL certificate only to its “Business Plan” customers.
For “Basic Plan”, its most popular package, SSL certificate is available for $19.8/year.
Other than that, it offers pretty good anti-spam and site security tools. You can also enable 2-factor authentication on your HostGator account for additional security.
A complete backup of your cPanel is also available without any additional charges which is very useful if your site is hacked, you delete it by accident, or you make changes to a theme or plugin which cause a fatal error.
However, their support staff isn’t great (which I’ll cover in more detail shortly) which can become a problem if you need their guidance in securing your site.
WordPress is an easy target for hackers around the globe.
Which is why WPEngine provides bullet-proof security to all sites hosted on its servers.
Plus, multiple backups of all your data are always available in just a few clicks.
However, their basic package does not include a CDN.
You can easily judge your value for a company by the standard of their customer support.
If they throw you around from one agent to another without understanding your problem, it’s time to leave them for good.
Let me share my experiences
When I initially signed up for a BlueHost account, their staff was pretty good. They offered support through live chat, email tickets, and direct call support.
When my site was infected with malware, their support engineers spent a lot of time with me on live chat and did everything they could to help me.
So I do respect them for that.
But recently, they seem to have outsourced some of their support functions to an offshore company because of which the standards have gone down.
There’s also a pretty long queue on live chat support and sometimes you need to wait for 30-45 minutes before an agent connects with you.
So the standard of their customer support is certainly going downhill.
They claim to offer support via live chat, email, and direct calls.
But they don’t seem to listen to their customers.
At least that’s what I experienced.
Stuart also had a pretty rough time dealing with them while NicehHacks was hosted on HostGator with them being unable to tell him why his website was down or how to fix it.
So yea, I’m not a big fan of their support team.
WPEngine claims to be WordPress experts but their support staff certainly needs to improve.
They have a pretty big knowledgebase and help section which answers most questions. But when you need live support, they’re either slow to respond or lack technical expertise.
Their basic package does not include 24/7 phone support or email ticket support which is quite strange and frustrating at the same time.
They need to offer better support against the money they're charging
No one likes spending money without getting the right ROI.
Which is why it’s important to take a close look at the pricing packages of these hosting companies.
BlueHost offers three different plans for its shared hosting service.
You can start for as low as $2.95/month if you purchase their “Basic” plan for 3 years.
However, it’s a pretty limited package which doesn’t really offer you much value.
I’d personally recommend going for “Prime” package since it offers you a lot more room to experiment with your niche marketing business, doesn’t cost you too much and also includes SiteBackup Pro as a bonus.
HostGator also offers three different shared hosting plans
Their Business Plan is almost identical to the Plus package of BlueHost.
Unlike the other two services, WPEngine offers dedicated and managed WordPress hosting.
So it’s bound to be more expensive.
But their pricing is still quite tricky.
For example, their personal plan allows you to host only 1 website and has a traffic limit of 25 thousand. This includes bot traffic as well which can easily eat up more than 50% of your limit.
You’ll need to pay additional fees if you want to allow more traffic to your site.
Plus, they’re only offering 10GB of storage.
So I’m not really sure who they’re trying to appeal with that package.
The Professional package seems to have more balance but the price is still pretty high.
General Pros and Cons
Here are a few general points I noticed about each of these web hosting services that you might want to consider before making a purchase.
- Very low starting price with basic hosting features
- Easy to install and setup WordPress with a single click
- Safe and secure web hosting
- Unlimited bandwidth, traffic, email accounts
- Free Google Adwords coupon
- Easy to use cPanel interface
- Shared hosting service
- Frequent downtimes and slow server response rate
- Discounts only available on 3 year subscriptions
- Higher domain and account renewal cost
- request up-sell attempts
- Very low entry price makes it ideal for newbies
- One click WordPress installation and set up
- Stable server uptime
- Free backups
- Easy to use cPanel interface
- Poor customer support
- Shared hosting plan with very limited features
- Word-class managed WordPress hosting
- Takes care of all technical and administrative tasks of your WordPress site
- Lightening quick website speed
- Extremely secure and reliable
- High entry price with limited features
- Traffic and domain limits
- Limited support for basic accounts
- Unattractive user dashboard
The Verdict – Which Web Hosting Service Should You Choose For Your Affiliate Site?
And the answer is a big fat “it depends”
Let me explain
If you’re a complete newbie with very little resources and still trying to learn niche marketing, go for HostGator’s Basic Plan
I say this because of the following reasons
- As a newbie, you're likely to be short on cash which means every dollar is precious.
- The last thing I'd tell anyone starting a new business with empty pockets is to invest upfront in infrastructure cost.
- Your focus should be on setting up a basic site and taking action on your knowledge.
- You can invest in a better hosting plan once you start making more money.
- HostGator's Basic Plan costs very little and allows you to quickly set up your site at just $3.95/month.
- For this price, it gives you unlimited bandwidth, unlimited disk space and unlimited emails for a single domain.
- Plus, you get the standard cPanel, 1-click WordPress installation, data backup, customer support, website speed and server uptime like any other plan.
For Mid-Level Marketers
If you’ve already burned enough money learning niche marketing, know what you’re doing, and want to experiment a bit more with multiple sites, go for BlueHost’s Prime Package.
- You already have good working knowledge of niche marketing and you'd ideally want to implement your knowledge using multiple sites so that you can get faster results.
- However, you'd still want most of your money to be invested 'in' your business, not 'on' it.
- For this, you'd want a hosting company that not only offers flexibility and reliability in its packages but also doesn't cost you a fortune.
- In such scenarios, I can't think of a better service than BlueHost.
- It's perfect for mid-level WordPress websites, gives you all the tools you need to create and run a website and offers top-notch security.
- If you purchase a BlueHost account through NicheHacks you'll get a special discount on its "Prime" package.
- Your site will be up and running in just $5.95/month.
Web Hosting For Serious Affiliate Marketers
If you’ve already found success with affiliate marketing, have money to spend and want to focus solely on expanding your business without wasting energy on time-consuming admin tasks, go for WPEngine’s Professional package. You're already making money from your niche marketing business and now want to go to higher grounds by scaling your business.
- You don't want to compromise on your site's speed, performance or security and want to ensure that your business is running at the optimal level.
- You also understand that you have limited time and most of it needs to be spent on the core activities of your business, not on administrative tasks.
- At the same time, you don't want to hand over your website to incompetent hosting services that lack the capacity to handle important data.
- WPEngine solves all of these problems and challenges.
- They're not just a hosting company, they're a group of high-skilled professionals who specialize in managing and securely running high-traffic WordPress websites.
- You can count on them just like an in-house data and website management department.
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What's Your Take?
This post was mostly based on my personal experiences and the feedback of some of you in NicheHacks Facebook Mastermind.
If you've used any of them, I'd love to hear your experiences in the comments section.