1&1 is one of the largest brands in the Internet services industry, and I get a lot of reader questions about what their hosting product is like. I’ve worked with 1&1 web hosting several times for clients, and recently bought a hosting package for a separate project I’m running. Here’s my first 1&1 web hosting review in a series that looks at their hosting product overall & in comparison with other top hosts.
1&1 offers a wide range of products from domain names to hosting to website packages. 1&1 is actually one of the oldest web hosting companies – founded in 1988. And they are also one of the more aggressive advertisers with full-page ads in magazines and TV spots. Anecdotally, I think only GoDaddy rivals them in terms of mass-market advertising and brand awareness.
But big brand doesn’t always mean a good product – and that’s one thing I wanted to look into with a full 1&1 web hosting review.
2 quick asides before diving in. First, my approach to reviews (detailed here) is that there is no such thing as a “best” or “top” anything. There’s only better fits for different people depending on your goals. If you are just looking for 1&1 promotions for super-cheap hosting, you can find them here.
Second, when I talk about “hosting” – I’m specifically referring to Linux shared web hosting setups. Unless you have a specific reason to use a Windows-powered server, you should be using a Linux powered server. It’s the industry standard and gives you much more flexibility than a Windows server. I’m also specifically looking at shared web hosting, since unless you know of a specific reason (like having a consistent 10,000 visits/day) to not have shared hosting – then it’s the probably the best fit for you (it’s also the most affordable).
Pros of 1&1 Web Hosting
Last aside – the tl;dr is that 1&1 does not have any strong “pros” in my opinion. The really just have areas where they are just sort of fine. Their main pro is their brand and the name they have built up over 26 years. That said, for the purposes of a 1&1 web hosting review, here are the pros of their hosting service (or skip to the conclusion & recommendations here).
1&1 Hosting is on the more affordable end of web hosting. They typically offer a very cheap 12 month introductory offer (view their plans here), and then increase the price after a year, which even then are on the more affordable end,
1&1 Pricing (see plans here)
Overall, they are right in line with most of their competitors after the 12 month intro deal. Their Basic plan is limited to 1 website, 20 databases, and 100 subdomains and is a dollar cheaper per month than GoDaddy’s Economy plan, but 30 cents more expensive than HostGator’s comparable plan.
The Unlimited plan is slightly more expensive than other comparable web hosts, but overall you’ll be counting dimes between 1&1 and other choices. Pricing isn’t a strength except for the fact that they include a Starter plan for $2.99/mo.
On first glance, the Starter plan looks pretty worthless. With just 10GB of webspace, you’d be better off just using DropBox or Google Drive. However, it does include 1 database (what stores your website’s info, and allows you to run website software like WordPress), which is key. The plan is not a great value overall, and would not allow you to do much – but it is a price point that is not offered by any other major web host.
As far as pricing goes, 1&1 gets points for being an option for anyone on a super-tight budget, and for having plans that are competitive enough for to look at other factors when making a decision.
1&1 started as a hosting provider but now provide everything under the digital sun. They are one of the largest domain registrars (and typically include 1 year of a new domain free with hosting purchase). All their products are integrated, which is a pro for many people. They provide daily server backups, along with a wide range of available apps to install within their backend (such as WordPress and Joomla).
That said, their feature set is otherwise not particularly notable. Nothing stands out or separates them from every other web host. For the purposes of a pros & cons type 1&1 web hosting review – their features and options get placed in the pros column, since it is fairly competitive – especially if you really value server hosted email, ad credits, or any sort of website builder tool.
The one true job a website hosting server is to deliver your website files as quickly and as reliably as possible everytime someone asks for them (by typing in your domain name).
Neither I nor my clients have ever had significant downtime with 1&1. They claim to have independently verified 99.9% uptime. That’s industry standard, so without monitoring tools, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
The one thing I can measure is how quickly 1&1 delivers my files to a browser. There are a lot of variables that go into how fast a website loads, but one of the most important variables is how fast the server responds after the initial request – otherwise known as Time To First Byte (TTFB). Here are results of speed tests that I ran in early January 2014.
1&1 Speed Test
Those tests are not amazing, but they are better than some other major web hosting brands (ie, GoDaddy). So on performance, like pricing and options, 1&1′s main pro is that they are really just fine on the basics. Nothing to wow or really stand out in any 1&1 hosting review. However, the one last positive of 1&1′s performance is that they do provide plenty of memory to run your website. Below is a snapshot of the memory provided to WordPress.
Just for reference – WordPress recommends having 64M of memory to run. Often cheaper web hosts are notorious for skimping on memory provided, since customers rarely actually check that setting. 1&1 does come through on that.
The last “pro” that I wanted to mention was their customer service, based on my personal experience. 1&1 has truly notorious customer service if you just go by internet forum threads (and I include customer service as a con later on). That said, my customer experiences with 1&1 have always been positive.
Unlike many web hosts, they have a 24/7 phone that they actually answer. In my most recent experience, it was answered by someone with a South Asian accent (may or may not indicate outsourced customer service) in less than a minute hold time.
The issue could not be resolved at the moment on the phone, but after I hung up, she immediately followed up with me via email to provide and update.
Customer Service Quick Follow up
Again, like 1&1′s other “pros” this one made it on the list simply from the power of low expectations. The experience didn’t particularly wow me except for the speed of response (I was disappointed the problem wasn’t resolved more quickly thought), but it was cordial enough (and available) to put customer service as a potential pro for 1&1.
Cons of 1&1 Web Hosting
The primary con of 1&1 Hosting is primarily user experience. Owning your personal or business hosting account for a website ro email should not be difficult. Even though servers do require more technical setup than a Facebook profile – we are well past the 1990s. Even if a hosting account is not super-polished and the pinnacle of design, it should at least be fairly intuitive, and should at the very least work.
My previous experiences with client websites on 1&1 were frustrating, but my own website experience with 1&1 bordered on maddening. Here’s a list of specific problems that I had that do not exist on other providers.
First, pointing my domains to 1&1 was not intuitive at all. In fact, the whole process felt like an upsell to get me to transfer my domain names to 1&1. I have never worked with a web host that makes it this difficult to use a hosting account that I purchased and a domain name that I own elsewhere.
Every web host, including GoDaddy, makes their DNS address easily known so that you can just copy paste it over at your domain registrar (confused? check out the first section of my website set up guide). For example, HostGator tells you the DNS settings right in your welcome email.
Most hosting companies sent this info. 1&1 does not
1&1 details the 8 step process in their help section, which you will have to read after searching high and low for a simple DNS settings of your hosting account. Of course, it is just a 2-step process to transfer your domain registration to them though.
Even buried under other settings – still going for the upsell
Second, basic things that should work do not. I repeatedly kept getting Form Submission Failed errors due to how they handle sessions.
All Too Common Sight
I tried 3 times to install a database for WordPress only to receive “Error” messages (note – this is what triggered my most recent customer service interaction).
WordPress Install Fail
Third, 1&1 has a habit of making super-technical features easy to find and the best options for non-tech users difficult to find. This would be fine if their target market was high-end developers, but their target market is the everyday small business owner or individual who wants a site. I’ll cover their backend setup separately, but here’s an example of how they handle an automatic WordPress install.
Keep in mind that anyone who has done a lot of work with WordPress and wants to do a custom installation will not be using a Quick Install. Quick Installs are for first timers, and anyone just trying to save time and get a basic installation. In other words, it should be be simple, easy and non-technical.
To start, WordPress is in a section called the App Center where 1&1 makes needless distinctions between options that don’t need distinctions. For example, after I click App Center to try to find the WordPress quick install – I get this screen.
I had to click through both to find what I wanted
Once you find WordPress (in the click and build, even though it’s called an “app”), you have to choose your type of installation.
It’s fine – but can be confusing
I know what they are trying to accomplish. Safe mode keeps people from downloading bad plugins and it keeps WordPress up to date. Free mode is a normal installation, while Evaluation mode is for people who don’t know what WordPress is. I’ve just seen this setting presented in a much better way.
And the remainder of the set up process is the same way. It’s basic, and fine. But nothing is in context or seamless. The “1-click install” is more like a manual installation process, without even a guide to help. For example, one of of the 5 step WordPress installation process is choosing a directory.
Choosing a directory matters for WordPress – not for the immediate installation, but for having well set up other websites in the future. Here’s how 1&1 presents it…
Why that directory?
It’s not a bad (except for that the default directory would not be fun to work with) setup. It’s just not neither helpful, nor intuitive, nor quick.
Lastly, even in the “free mode” installation where 1&1 hosting claims that you are in control – they automatically install 15 plugins into your WordPress installation.
Pre-installed WordPress Plugins
That is not cool, and very frustrating. It’s almost like computer manufacturers bundling crapware on your nice, new laptop. And worse, many of the pre-installed plugins are simply not that good, which sets first timers up for failure.
Overall, working with 1&1 is simply frustrating. And the rest of my 1&1 hosting review cons all fall under this theme.
Very much related to user experience is 1&1 hosting’s backend setup. If you’re a first-timer with hosting, you’ll need to know that your hosting account is basically server space and the bandwidth to connect to that server. The server is just like you computer in that it’s really tough to interact with it unless you have an “operating system” such as Windows on your PC or OSX on a Mac.
The industry standard “operating system” is called cPanel. It’s open-source, meaning that it’s not owned by anyone, but it can be modified by any particular company for its own uses (sort of like Android). The base install of cPanel isn’t polished and pretty, but it’s fairly intuitive. It’s the backend that most of the hosts that I recommend use – such as HostGator. NB: As of January 2014, even GoDaddy has switched over to cPanel for new accounts.
1&1 Hosting does not use cPanel – they use their own custom backend setup. That would be fine – even preferred – if they used it to make it prettier and easier for fist-timers to navigate. But alas, they do not. It’s really quite horrible in my opinion. Here’s what it looks like.
1&1 Backend of Hosting Account
For them, it would make much more sense to feature the necessary options (like Quick Install, Add Domain, or File Directory) instead of very technical features that first timers are not going to use.
These options should be buried with others prioritized
It is heavily biased towards people who use a 1&1 domain name with a 1&1 hosting account and the 1&1 website builder. If that’s what you are trying to use, then it’ll be very straightforward. However, if you have your domain registered elsewhere (like NameCheap or GoDaddy) or you want to do a WordPress or Joomla install, it is quite difficult to use, especially for first time customers.
Again, hosting companies that use cPanel do not make hosting accounts as easy as setting up a Facebook profile, but since so many hosting companies use it, you are likely to find easy guides on how to use it to set up your website (or solve any other problem you can think of). Since 1&1 has a proprietary setup, you really have to rely on either their knowledgebase or their customer service to help you out, which will often set you up for failure or frustration.
As I explained in the pros of 1&1, they do a lot better than many web hosts. And they do better than many major web hosts, such as GoDaddy. However, compared to some of the web hosts that I recommend (such as HostGator, BlueHost, and InMotion), 1&1 just can’t quite cut it. Here’s 1&1′s speed numbers again…
1&1 Speed Test
I do a deeper comparison with GoDaddy in the 1&1 Hosting vs. GoDaddy post, but to go ahead and give you an idea, here’s how 1&1′s performance looks like vs. GoDaddy.
GoDaddy Speed Test
And I compare them specifically vs. HostGator, but here’s a comparison against them.
HostGator Speed Test
Like I mentioned in the pros section, 1&1 has phone support, and they are quick to answer, so they do get points if you have low expectations. And they do well on a relative scale vs. many web hosts. But they still don’t do customer service well. The internet is littered with awful complaints about 1&1, however, that is expected to a degree since they are that big of a corporation – with that many customers.
Based on my experience, I think the truth is a bit more mundane. They simply view customer service as a cost to be cut rather than as a marketing channel. Like I said, in the pros section, my most experience was fine. But it could have been horribly bad if I didn’t know exactly what was wrong and knew exactly what to ask.
My representative was a front-line entry level operator who was clearly running off a script. She was friendly and helpful, but nowhere near as well trained as frontline reps that I’ve worked with at InMotion Hosting or HostGator. She basically tried to do exactly what I had done to recreate the exact same error (database creation failed) – only to try to call her “technical supervisor” – who is, I assume, the tech guy that the reps can call on if there’s an actual problem.
He was busy (another indication of cost-cutting), and I was asked to be put on hold. At that point, I proposed that she email the solution to the problem. She did within minutes. So again, it was fine. But I can imagine a situation with someone new to web hosting who has a problem and ends up with a horrible experience. For that, I put 1&1′s customer service as a con in the interests of a full 1&1 web hosting review.
I will be avoiding 1&1 web hosting in the future for my projects. I think their only real fit is customers who already have products with 1&1 (such as domains, email, etc) and want to get a hosting account for a website.
Or people who are on an extremely tight budget and are working on small short-term project. For them, the price point of the 1&1 Starter Package is unmatched (see it with a further discount here). Otherwise, I’d look elsewhere.
If you are someone who wants a big-brand web host, GoDaddy offers good web hosting (see their current promotion here). They are slow, but offer great pricing and a fairly good experience (especially since they updated to cPanel).
If you are looking for an all-around great web host for a long-term project, I’d recommend HostGator (this site is hosted with them). They offer a great price point, and you can get a further 25% off with the coupon code swampland25 at sign up, along with good customer service and performance. Check out their plans here.
Good pricing, but poor usability and performance makes 1&1 a poor fit for most.
2.5 / 1 stars
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