This HostGator alternative SCREAMS performance! (My StableHost review)

Shane Labs December 21, 2013 14

For the longest time I had been a fan of HostGator for my web hosting needs. They are cheap, reliable, and surprisingly fast. They also have plans which allow unlimited domains, which is perfect for my sidestrapper needs. I had recommended them to everyone I knew…until a few months ago.

Earlier this year, HostGator got bought out by their now parent company EIG. They own a bunch of other cheap web hosting companies, such as BlueHost and HostMonster. During this transition they decided a great way to cut costs was to move from their Dallas, Texas datacenter to their own facility in Provo, Utah.

This decision to move datacenters was a disaster for two reasons:

1) They have to move all of their customers’ websites to new servers. This means copying all the files, server settings, databases, etc. Then switching the DNS to point to their new servers. Then hoping there was no data loss, server errors, or other screw ups. This means downtime and headaches for ALL of their current customers.

2) They’re changing from a datacenter run by SoftLayer, an extremely reliable network provider, to one run by themselves. They’re new to this, and they made mistakes which resulted in lots of downtime.

It started with the dedicated servers

I first learned of this move at my full time job. We had been on dedicated HostGator servers for years, and we got the dreaded notice saying they’re going to transition our servers in a few days. WAIT! We have a realtime system which must be up at all times and not lose any data. We did not trust HostGator to move our servers reliably (they don’t know how our system works), so we had to spend a couple weeks of our own time setting up and transitioning to new servers in their new environment. Who paid for that time? Not HostGator. Then after the migration there have been countless time when we were down (thankfully we had backup servers on another network). There was one time we were down for over 3 days. That’s just not acceptable! We have since moved to another provider at work.

What about my side projects?

For my personal side projects, I also had a plan with HostGator – a shared one that got migrated later in the year. The migration went well – I saw no downtime so I do give them kudos for that. But for the next few weeks after every once in a while I noticed my sites being unable to connect to or very slow.

While investigating things, I came across this graph in Google Webmaster Tools:

The Hostgator "upgrade"

After moving to HostGator’s new datacenter on Sept 16th, performance tanked!

Wow that’s a huge difference, and it started EXACTLY on Sept 16th, the day HostGator completed my hosting transition. No one likes a slow site, but Google especially doesn’t like a slow site (slow page speed can hurt SEO), and we know Google’s seeing my performance drop since these are their stats!

I contacted HostGator support to bring this concern to their attention:

Dear HostGator Support,

My websites load much slower after this migration happened. Can you explain why? The spike in the graph below happened on Sept 16th, the EXACT day my sites were provisioned to a new server. I’m paying the same amount but getting less quality. What’s going on?

They usually took 2 days to respond (yes, their support response times got worse too), and when they did they provided a canned response. But I kept at it, continuing to bug them and escalate the issue until I got this response:

Greetings,

We are happy to help you with this concern.

I think a large part of the issue here is that while the page load times may appear slow when compared to previously, they are still quite good. I did some research on what page load times Google considers when ranking sites, and found the following article by Google Analytics themselves to be extremely informative:
http://analytics.blogspot.com/2012/04/global-site-speed-overview-how-fast-are.html

What this article tells us is that the average load times for web sites as seen by Google range between 3 and 10 seconds. Given that all tests on your site are showing consistent page loads of under one second, these load times can hardly be considered slow. They are slower than they were before, yes, but page load speeds of less than 100ms is certainly considered top notch however this doesn’t leave much room for improvement. This is why a slight slow down is considered acceptable, as getting page load speeds of faster than 1/10th of a second will be extremely difficult. Beyond this is the fact that Google will not lower your rankings over page loads that increase by a few tenths of a second. They look more for 5-10 second page load differences, and even still it is only one of several hundred other factors that go into how Google ranks sites.

More details on this are also on:
http://www.webpronews.com/how-page-load-speed-impacts-seo-and-user-experience-2013-04

As for the hardware itself, the server your account came off of was considerably less performant than the one you have been migrated to:
Old – 12 core CPU, 24GB RAM
New – 32 core CPU, 64GB RAM

The other hardware remained the same, except storage which has been redesigned to solve common issues we dealt with when using the older servers, mainly regarding data redundancy, automatic fallbacks, and raw I/O speeds.

Feel free to reply with any other questions or concerns.

Professionally Yours,
Adam M
Linux Administrator / Monitoring Department
HostGator.com LLC

So their new servers are a big upgrade in hardware over the previous servers (well that may be, but did you overload them?). But regardless don’t tell me what my speed is allowed to degrade to before I should worry – I had a fast site before and I want to keep it fast! I asked them to check resource usage on other accounts on my shared server, poked and prodded, but the only suggestion I could get out of them was to update my DNS name servers, which did nothing.

HostGator Support Fails

Even after working with HostGator support, my sites continue to suffer

The final straw

At this point I was considering moving to a new host. It’s usually a pain in the butt and you never know what you’re going to get until you try it. Plus maybe HostGator just had some growing pains and I needed to be patient. Until one morning I couldn’t reach any of my sites for several hours. HostGator reported no downtime, but it was obvious there was an issue when I saw this in Google Webmaster Tools:

HostGator royally screws up

Alright HostGator, I was already a little annoyed. Now I’m pissed.

So that’s when I decided to find a new host. I researched a few different hosts, and the folks over at WebHostingTalk were a great help. Eventually I decided on StableHost and started migrating my sites.

Why I chose StableHost

It ultimately came down to a few reasons:

  • They claimed stability and performance, which is what I craved. Their servers run the Lightspeed web server, which is supposed to be 6x faster than Apache. Their drives are also solid state (SSD), and the distribution of MySQL they used is Percona, which prove to me that they know about optimizing for speed.
  • They are honest. They publicly state that they do oversell instead of skirting the issue. And the reasons they give make sense and calm my fears about it.
  • They allow SSH access and dedicated IPs. The inner nerd in me always wants to have a way into the server other than FTP.
  • They were responsive in my support tests. Whenever I emailed them, I got responses within about 3 hours. That’s adequate for me. Additionally, I had posted a thread on WebHostingTalk about measuring server speed, and Mike from StableHost was the first to respond.

It also was nice that they would transfer your sites to them for free as long as your previous host ran cPanel. That means I didn’t have to copy files, dump and import databases, or re-setup my cronjobs and htaccess settings. Lastly, they offered a 45 day money back guarantee just in case I wasn’t happy after the move.

StableHost’s Performance

As my sites were transitioning I had a copy of my sites on both HostGator and StableHost’s servers. This is a prime opportunity to run a few speed tests to immediately measure the difference in speed with the exact same content on both servers.

Have you ever used WebPageTest.org to measure your site’s speed before? It’s awesome, and free – everyone should know about this tool!

In short, I noticed the performance was about the same as HostGator, but there were some server tweaks that StableHost has optimized for (in the links below compare the F grade before with the A’s after). Here are the detailed reports if you’re interested:

More proof that StableHost screams

After those first tests I was confident that StableHost would be just as fast as HostGator, and hopefully more stable. I had to wait a few weeks for results to be gathered on Google Webmaster Tools to see if Google noticed a difference.

StableHost saves the day

My transition to StableHost on Nov 24th shows much better performance

Awesome! My page times from Google’s point of view have gone down to the 100ms level, and are consistent! Thanks, StableHost!

But that’s not it, those optimized server settings also show that I’m using less bandwidth now too:

StableHost's optimized server

StableHost has tweaked their server performance to minimize bandwidth too!

All of the graphs so far have been on a site of mine that doesn’t use a lot of resources (minimal graphics, small pages). But let’s see the server difference on a site that uses a lot of power, such as a wordpress site:

Wordpress on StableHost

StableHost works great with WordPress too

It went from an average time of 1300ms down to 350ms. That’s huge!!!

A happy StableHost customer

You’ll never find me recommend a product or service on this site that I’m not proud of. Since my web host transition over a month ago, StableHost continues to be very fast, reliable, and kick ass in every way. If you’re looking for a host, or if HostGator has screwed up with you too, give them a try!

Oh, and I didn’t mention the best part! Load times aren’t the only thing that went down as a result of this switch – so did my cost! I was paying $15/month at HostGator, and I’m now down to $5/month at StableHost. Awesome!

And if that’s not cheap enough, use this coupon exclusive for my readers that gives 40% off your first month: ‘shanelabs’

Anyone else have a great experience with StableHost? or a shitty experience with HostGator?

Want to receive my UNCENSORED profit reports?

14 Comments »

  1. Mike December 29, 2013 at 12:42 am - Reply

    Very informative read. Thanks!

  2. Dan December 29, 2013 at 3:18 am - Reply

    Great comparison information. Its useful to see your graphs which prove performance. Well done

  3. MrEeze December 31, 2013 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    Not related, but another reason to dislike host gator:
    I once made about 30k (yes, thirty thousand dollars) in affiliate commissions promoting their we hosting. They never paid me a dime.

    • Shane Labs December 31, 2013 at 3:58 pm - Reply

      That’s just not okay. Makes me happy to be off of them even more.

  4. Ryan K December 31, 2013 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    A while back I left HostGator and after a considerable amount of time had passed I figured hey what the heck, and decided to sign up again for their “Business Shared” hosting account or whatever.
    I had not known about the recent acquisition and DC migration yet, but I immediately noticed something was wrong when I got SSH access to my shared server.
    I recall in the past, every time I had a HostGator account, the server had one /home partition, about 3TB in size, and usually only 10-20% full. This meant HostGator wasn’t really oversubscribing, and performance was extremely good for the value. When I SSH’d into the new server I saw /home1 /home2 and /home3, all 3-5TB in size and all 90-95% full.
    I had never seen such oversubscription in my life. As the post points out, I noticed a drastic decrease in performance. It seems as though what once spanned 40 servers was consolidated into 1. I wouldn’t be surprised if that 1 server also happened to be a VM. One can only assume based off the abysmal performance that that was the case.
    HostGator really has gone downhill since they sold out.

    • Shane Labs December 31, 2013 at 3:58 pm - Reply

      Wow I knew performance tanked but never had the stats to prove they had oversold more than before. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Lonzo December 31, 2013 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    I’ve seen the exact same thing with dreamhost in a shared hosting account.

  6. Dexter December 31, 2013 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    I was hosting all of my “splash page” type sites/domains on a rackspace cloud server. Decided to move over a few domains to Stablehost to give it a shot using your coupon. If anything it saves me a few bucks a month.
    I wish they offered month-to-month, but I guess at $14 for 6 months (with the coupon, $23 something without) its not that big of a deal.

  7. Elliot January 6, 2014 at 7:42 pm - Reply

    I’ve been learning a lot of sys admin stuff over the past few months but I don’t yet feel competent enough to transfer my biggest blogs over onto my dedicated server.

    If I honestly had the right experience I would swap over in a heartbeat, I can’t stand leaving all my hosting problems in the hands of shitty customer support!

  8. Adam April 9, 2014 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the informative review.

    I’ve had slow sites and server errors since the Provo datacenter. It’s ridiculous! Hostgator used to be essentially have unbeatable web hosting and now EIG ruined them.

  9. Steve September 1, 2014 at 5:57 am - Reply

    Thanks for the thorough article. I am looking at changing hosting companies and was considering Hostgator….I am thinking of them much less so now that I have read your review and others like it. Stablehost is top on my list, thanks!

  10. Keith December 12, 2014 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    Greetings, Shane. I had a chance to visit your site and was VERY impressed. I was actually tossed-up between HostGator and StableHost, and you helped me make that decision.

    I registered a number of domains in years past (which I thought had a ‘catchy’ sound) while having no particular plan in mind for them, and so they remained ‘shelved’ ever since.

    I’m aware that they need to be monetized in order to generate revenue but lack the technical ‘know-how’ to successfully monetize them on my own and was wondering if there were any strategic business relationships that could possibly be formulated with any of my domains?

    I’ve listed a few of my domains (below) with corresponding ideas for each. I welcome your feedback and thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my inquiry. Wishing you a blessed holiday season and continued success!

    Sincerely,

    Keith
    ————————————–

    CardioComplete.com – my idea was to create a site and market related private-label supplements, including affiliate-related products such as exercise equipment.

    ColdKill.com – my idea was to pair that name with private-label products similar to Cold-eeze, Zicam, or Airborne, for example. Do you think that domain would work better for Pest Control or perhaps as an affiliate for marketing heaters, etc.?

    MicroTrap.com – my idea was to create a site describing the dangers of excessive electromagnetic exposure and market private-label electromagnetic and microwave-shielding appliances/apparel, etc. in addition to affiliate-related products. Do you think that domain might work better as a name for a private-label weight loss product?

    • Shane Labs December 14, 2014 at 6:19 am - Reply

      Hey Keith – thanks for the kind words! Glad I was able to help.

      Be careful getting into the weightloss/exercise niche – it’s extremely competitive and also governed by lots of entities that put tough restrictions on the industry. I love ColdKill though, name is short and catchy – I’d suggest making niche site out of it – put up a bunch of articles about how to get rid of your cold, home remedies, etc, then slap some AdSense on there. Thanks for sharing and good luck!

  11. Keith December 14, 2014 at 10:25 am - Reply

    Hi Shane,

    That narrowed it down for me and I appreciate you having taken the time to reply. I’ll keep you posted with any progress. Thank you once again!

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