One of a slew of small, independent companies swept up by hosting giants Endurance International over the last few years, IdeaHost’s big 2014/2015 relaunch saw them hit the market with a no-nonsense, straight forward approach to unlimited shared hosting geared primarily to small startups and creative professionals.
If that sounds like you, IdeaHost’s all-inclusive, unlimited shared hosting plan may be a good option for your next site. Don’t just take my word for it though. Below, I’ll weigh up the pros and cons of the company’s service to help you make that important decision about where to host your website.
Pricing and Key Features
Though it isn’t uncommon for many top companies to change their pricing (particularly the first term discount) several times a year, one thing I have to give IdeaHost credit for is that their £2.99 first term deal has been pretty much consistent since the brand started gaining popularity over 18 months ago.
I mean this only because consistent pricing is something I always look for when choosing a new hosting plan. Making the right decision sometimes takes time, and the last thing you need is for a great deal to disappear overnight before you’ve had a chance to take advantage of it.
How does Ideahost’s pricing compare?
The company’s all-inclusive hosting plan has a lot in common with similar packages offered by fellow Endurance brands like eHost and HostClear. This includes the cost. At time of writing, the latter was priced exactly the same as IdeaHost, with the £2.99 per month offer increasing to a regular renewal fee of £5.99 per month thereafter.
On the whole, this price puts IdeaHost in the middle of the pack when it comes to affordability. Though the first term deal is one of the more expensive out there (£1.50 per month from iPage and even £0.99 per month from 1&1 are the better first term discounts for those of you on a really limited budget), the actual regular renewal fee makes them one of the cheapest in the long-run. What this means, is that if you’re calculating the true, long-term cost of your new website, you may well be better off looking at IdeaHost and its sister sites in order to save the most money possible year on year.
Of course, price alone is rarely a true indication of how good a hosting plan really is. In most cases, you get what you pay for, in others, you get a little bit more.
IdeaHost fall mostly in the latter camp. As part of their efforts to target small businesses on limited budgets, the company’s shared hosting price tag actually delivers plenty of value for money.
All of the following are completely unlimited:
Unlimited email accounts.
That’s before I mention the wealth of website building tools and other tools that you’ll have at your disposal. We’ll get to those in greater detail throughout our review, but for now, let’s move on to discuss the domain name.
The inclusion of a free domain name with your web hosting package shouldn’t be something to get too excited about. After all, it’s something almost all companies do (with HostGator being the big notable exception), and is fairly common throughout the industry, though usually this is only as part of your first-term discount.
After that, most hosts will charge you an average of between £7.99 – £15 to keep your domain name active. Most, but not all. IdeaHost are one of the few exceptions to the rule, promoting the offer a free domain name for the lifetime of your hosting account.
Basically, this means that your domain name is included in the £5.99 renewal fee, and as long as you keep your hosting account active, you’ll never have to pay extra for your domain name.
This is just one of the ways that IdeaHost help position themselves as the go-to shared hosting provider for freelancers and small businesses on a limited budget, keeping the long-term costs as low as possible to help people like you and me get more for less.
Addon and Sub-Domains
As an unlimited hosting plan supporting multiple websites, IdeaHost doesn’t limit the number of addon, sub, or parked domains you can use with your account, making it a good option if you’re planning to expand. I also think this i useful if you already have a number of small and medium sized websites online yet want to bring them all together in one account to make them easier to manage.
Ease of Use
As you’d probably expect from a company that puts a great emphasis on simplicity than advanced features, IdeaHost is wonderfully easy to use and in my opinion is one of the most user friendly hosting providers out there for those building their first websites.
Much of the brand’s layout is modeled after the one used by fellow Endurance company eHost, and though the latter host did give me some issues in terms of working out certain features, it seems IdeaHost have ironed out those bugs to make ease of use one its primary selling points.
The sign-up process was straight-forward, with limited upselling and a no-frills approach designed to get you right into your account as quickly as possible.
Once there, the industry leading cPanel dashboard was on hand to make everything from launching applications and add-on tools to managing email, creating FTP accounts and making use of website analytics as easy as clicking a button and following the on-screen instructions.
Though I don’t think IdeaHost is the best solution on the block for more experienced users (I’d recommend a plan like GreenGeeks or SiteGround for that crowd), beginners and those with limited technical know-how should definitely keep this one in mind.
Performance and Reliability
You could spend hours on IdeaHost’s website and still find no kind of uptime guarantee nor even the briefest mention of performance and reliability. Trust me, I looked everywhere.
Yet whilst this is normally something that would make me a little wary with more advanced-level web hosts, given IdeaHost’s target market, this actually doesn’t surprise me.
Remember, the company are going for newcomers here, an audience more concerned about getting a great looking website up and running with as little investment of time, money, and technical skill as possible than they are about server performance and loading speeds.
Regardless, this is still an important area to consider. After all, the best looking website in the world is of little use to small businesses if it takes forever to load or -worse still- is frequently offline due to a poorly performing host server.
So, how do IdeaHost fare? To be honest, they’re not the best I’ve come across, but then again they’re far from the worst either. Having monitored my own sites hosted on the company’s unlimited plan, I found 99.85 – 99.99% to be the norm.
As such, I’m going to repeat what I’ve already said several times here: For advanced users, for large and/or high traffic websites, this is certainly not the worst option out there. For beginner-level users, for small websites with average traffic levels, IdeaHost are still a solid contender.
As I hinted at when discussing performance and reliability, IdeaHost are one of those companies that are far less concerned with promoting themselves as an actual web host than they are with setting their stall as an easy way for small businesses and first-time website owners to get a professional online presence up and running as quickly as easily as possible.
As such, you’ll find no mention in their sales pitch of support for Perl, Python, Ruby on Rails, or any version of PHP, even though a look behind the scenes proves that these are all actually well catered for.
Nor do IdeaHost follow the usual shared hosting approach of making a big song and dance about their effective support for Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla. Sure, these are mentioned in passing, and again, you’ll find them both available, along with Drupal, Magento, Concrete5, phpBB and a host of others.
At first glance, the number of website building tools and add-ons available through cPanel doesn’t seem to be that many, as the ‘Quick Install’ panel only highlights the most commonly used tools. Scroll further down and click on the ‘QuickInstall’ tab found under ‘Software’ however, and you’ll see that IdeaHost supports just as many services as any of their more advanced competitors.
What the company are pretty excited to tell you about however, is their easy drag-and-drop website builder. Going even further to position themselves more as a web building platform with hosting services attached than an out-and-out hosting solution, the website builder is based on popular models like Weebly, and is ultimately the jewel in IdeaHost’s user-friendly crown.
Requiring no more technical skill than you use to generally get around your laptop, the builder allows you to select from a library of very well designed templates, then use your mouse to customise your chosen design, dragging and dropping elements into place (hence the term drag-and-drop) and selecting options from easy-to-follow menus.
Not surprising given the company’s key audience, most of the templates cater for a range of small businesses, though they do have a higher percentage of creative portfolio type sites, again making them an attractive proposition for freelance professionals such as designers, photographers, artists, and even writers.
Marketing and Advertising
One good thing I do have to mention about this company is that they’re one of the few out there who still provide free search engine advertising credits for UK customers.
In producing these reviews over the last couple of days, I’ve noticed that more and more of the leading web hosting providers have either eliminated free advertising credits altogether or else make them exclusively for North American customers due to licensing agreements with Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
With IdeaHost, you get £100 to start your pay per click advertising campaigns with these services, which does come in handy when it comes to attracting your first influx of visitors.
Elsewhere, you’ll find a good number of website metrics tools which help monitor how your site is performing and make improvements to increase traffic, along with applications designed to enhance your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) efforts and integrate your website with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
All in all then, one of the better -and certainly most valuable- marketing and advertising packages I’ve yet to come across from any unlimited web hosting provider.
For very small online stores or portfolio-type websites with the option to buy work via PayPal, IdeaHost’s basic eCommerce features may just be sufficient.
Seamless PayPal integration is well supported, as are online store builders like the aforementioned PretaShop and Magento and a host industry-leading shopping carts.
So far, so good, though if you’re serious about establishing a successful online store, you’re going to need a few more features, especially an SSL certificate and -for more advanced needs- a dedicated IP.
These work to encrypt customer data when it’s entered into your site and to process payments safely and securely, and you’ll rarely find an eCommerce expert who doesn’t recommend them. The good news, is that both are available from IdeaHost’s market place. The bad news, is that they’ll set you back at least £49.99 each for the first year, and £99 per year their after. You don’t need me to tell you how this dramatically increases the price of what is otherwise a low cost web host.
For eCommerce sites then, I’d perhaps recommend taking a look at other options such as HostGator or FatCow.
On the whole, I found IdeaHost’s customer support team gave some of their better known rivals a run for their money when it came to response times, helpfulness and general approach to dealing with customers.
The brand offer all the three major support channels; email, live chat, and phone support. While the company usually kept their word in answering phone calls within two minutes, and while the email support was fine for non-urgent problems, I found I had the fastest and most helpful responses through live chat.
If you prefer to tackle problems yourself, there is a decent-sized library of walk-through tutorials and an online help centre to tackle some of the more common web hosting issues. I did refer to these a couple of times and found that they were pretty much in keeping with the rest of IdeaHost’s simple, newcomer-friendly tone.
By now, I think I’ve made it pretty clear where I stand on IdeaHost, though for those of you who’ve skipped most of this review in favour of getting what our American friends might call the 411, let me sum it up.
Despite being one of the better low cost, unlimited shared hosting providers out there, IdeaHost aren’t really interested in pitching themselves as a hosting company at all. Rather, they focussed on selling themselves as a beginner-level website building platform with shared hosting features attached.
What this means, is that small businesses and solo operators with limited budgets and technical know-how will benefit greatly from the better-than-average regular hosting fees, one of the most user-friendly platforms currently on the market , and decent -if hardly spectacular- server performance.
Yet that being said, for intermediate and advanced users, particularly those intend on building dynamic, secure online stores, spending a little more in the long-run on a service more tailored to your needs may well be the better route for you to take.