In this HostGator WordPress hosting review I will share my experience as a HostGator customer and some of the key things that you need to be aware of when switching to HostGator managed WordPress hosting.
As you may know, I recently moved my site from wordpress.com to HostGator in order to get more freedom with customizations (e.g. plugin install, theme install). There were mainly three reasons that made me switch to HostGator managed WordPress hosting,
- I had another site running on HostGator shared hosting without any issue
- I never had a chance to try any Managed WordPress hosting
- HostGator was offering a 50% discount and the price looked very good for the features that I would get.
50% Discount off WordPress Hosting- Bargain or Trap?
If you are looking for good value for a cheaper price HostGator managed WordPress hosting might sound good but please don’t get so tempted to purchase it. Take your time and purchase only when you really need it. That discount won’t go anywhere. HostGator offers 50%-60% discount so often that you can call it their regular price. In fact, they run this flash sale every 2-3 days.
Like most WordPress users I got trapped into that lucrative 50% discount and my life’s never been more miserable before.
Moving to HostGator WordPress Hosting
I signed up for their standard plan which allows me to host up to 2 sites. The plan was to set up the main site and eventually transfer my other site from shared hosting to WordPress hosting. Here are the pros and cons based on my experience,
|WordPress is automatically installed||No Cpanel access. You only have access to your WordPress site and the folder that contains the WordPress files (via FTP).|
|Faster page load time than shared hosting||WP Super Cache plugin has a big impact on the page load time (This plugin is installed automatically by HostGator during setup).|
|Free site migration||You will need to create a ticket to set this up. And it may not get looked at for 2-3 weeks.|
|Automated daily database backup (up to 2 GB)||This feature only works for smaller sites|
|Automated email notifying you when a plugin update is available||All emails from HostGator including invoices and support tickets end up in my Gmail spam folder. Apparently Google sees HostGator as a spam.|
|Automated plugin update if you do not update it in 3 days||You cannot choose not to update a plugin. If you install a plugin that HostGator doesn’t like they automatically delete it.|
SSL Order Issue
Three weeks after moving my site I requested HostGator to install SSL certificate on the server. Unfortunately for Managed WordPress hosting users, there is no option to purchase/order SSL directly in the customer portal (a dashboard for logged in customer to manage their hosting account). So I had to contact them via chat and they created a ticket for me to manually process this order.
Hidden Charge on the Credit Card
Two days after SSL was installed I noticed an additional charge of $9.95 in my bank account. This amount was charged on the same day they charged for SSL certificate. So I opened a ticket for them to look into it.
The whole conversation lasted for a week. First, they couldn’t even identify where it came from. So I provided more information like the last four digits, the exact amount etc. Finally they confirmed that it was actually charged by HostGator for my monthly shared hosting payment.
I was actually surprised as my shared hosting account was already linked to my PayPal account. When I logged into my account I saw that PayPal didn’t miss any recurring payment either. So what’s mystery of this hidden charge?
It turns out that when you add a credit card as a payment method HostGator sets it as the default payment method. As the invoice for my shared hosting was due in 5 days it directly charged the card without even notifying me. Their answer to this argument was that “it’s written in their terms and conditions”. Now this might be an issue for most users as,
- We don’t really read each and every statement in the terms and conditions. We simply tick the checkbox that says “I agree to the terms and conditions”.
- Each user should be able to have an alternative payment method for different services. Adding one payment method should not affect existing services. If it does then the system is flawed.
- Credit card was the only payment method for SSL certificate. And when I used my card HostGator automatically added it to my account. So it was not entirely my fault either.
After a whole day of tiring conversation and canned response from the support staff they issued me a refund for that additional charge. I immediately removed any existing payment method from my HostGator customer portal. I will definitely remember this and think twice before purchasing anything from HostGator.
Once SSL certificate is installed there are two things you need to do.
- Specify the HTTPS URL of your site in the general settings (Settings->General->WordPress Address URL and Settings->General->Site Address URL). This tells WordPress that you want to render your site and all resources from it in HTTPS.
- Add a 301 redirection in the .htaccess file. This is to make sure that your site only renders in HTTPS. It also tells search engines that the content has been permanently moved to the HTTPS version and that you want to pass the page ranks of existing HTTP URLs to the HTTPS version. If a user clicks on the HTTP URL they will automatically be redirected to the HTTPS version.
The problem with HostGator WordPress hosting is that it doesn’t allow you to change any site URL in the settings. I tried to explain this to the support staff and they said that no user is allowed to change it in the settings or WordPress database.
Site Visibility Issue
In a couple of days I started seeing a “301 too many redirects” error in my Google Search Console. It happened with the robots.txt file as well. Robots.txt is the file that Google search engine crawler first looks at when it comes to index your site. This file contains information as to what content is indexable and what you don’t want Google bot to access. WordPress dynamically generates it for you when you go to the robots.txt URL of your site.
Apparently Googlebot got stuck in a redirect loop (endless one redirection after another) when it came to access the robots.txt file. As this issue occurred a couple of times it simply stopped indexing my site (Google bot doesn’t index your site unless it gets access to a valid robots.txt file).
I started investigating this issue myself. I just couldn’t figure out how one simple 301 redirection from HTTP would trigger this issue. I already had SSL installed on my other site. That site was running on the same plugins and the same modification was done to the .htaccess file. But Google had no issues accessing that site. The only difference in the settings was the site URL (On that site I specified the https version in the settings).
After two weeks of intermittent “not found” error by users and no cooperation from HostGator I decided to dig deep into troubleshooting.
I installed a plugin to directly check the value of site URL in the wp-options table. This is how they were saved:
Site URL: http://wp1014.hostgator.com/~nsesapa0aak5i Home URL: http://wp1014.hostgator.com/~nsesapa0aak5i
It didn’t make any sense to me as WordPress was showing my actual domain name in the settings (not these values). I also know that WordPress uses these as the default values to render a site. In order to verify my suspicion, I downloaded the wp-config.php file from my server (WordPress saves some important configurations in that file).
I found that my site URL was defined by some constants in the wp-config file.
WordPress allows use of these constants to hardcode a site URL. But it’s not the best method (it’s like a hack). And when you use this method WordPress doesn’t show the actual site URL value saved in the database (it shows the hardcoded value). That’s what caused the confusion.
The problem is that my site was actually going through an internal redirection because of this setup. So when I added another rule in the .htaccess file to redirect to https it triggered multiple redirection and sometimes a redirect loop.
This confused Googlebot as it didn’t know what to index. Some of my plugin users also complained that they were experiencing an intermittent 404 error while browsing my site.
I couldn’t get the HostGator support staff to understand this issue. All they do is create new tickets which don’t get looked at for ages. In the meantime I lost 20% of my site traffic. After two weeks of nightmare, I finally gave up and moved my site to a shared hosting.
I have already submitted a request to Google to re-index my site. I’m so tired after changing the server twice in one month. Now I’m just closely monitoring the site to assess the damage that was done to it. If I don’t see any progress I will probably move to SiteGround Hosting. SiteGround provides great support and they always keep their system up to date. They also have the highest number of satisfied users.
I don’t know how other managed WordPress hosting works, but after this horrible experience I won’t be moving to any optimized hosting any time soon. I have also stopped recommending HostGator WordPress hosting to my users.
How about you? Have you experienced anything similar in a managed WordPress hosting? If so please feel free to share it in the comments.