Bait And Switch Pricing – A Bluehost Retrospective

Now that I’ve finally finished migrating my WordPress blog off of Bluehost, here are some things about it.

The Good

As far as WordPress hosts go, it was fine. The only technical issue I had was that the caching was a bit aggressive, so that edits to posts didn’t show up immediately. This might actually have been an advantage if I had a high traffic blog.

The onboarding support and regular support were different. Onboarding support was via live chat, and very attentive. Regular support was a 24-hour turnaround ticketing or email system. I only needed it once (the caching issue I mentioned).

Offboarding support (cancelling the account) was also pretty painless. This was also via live chat. I was expecting a hassle, because when I looked up “how to cancel bluehost account” on the web, it sounded like I’d need to make a phone call and provide a lot of PII. They did ask for enough info to verify that I was the owner of the account, but that was it. There wasn’t any hard sell or attempt to change my mind, but this might have partially been because I told them I’d already migrated everything to the new server (which I had).

They also did provide a partial refund for the unused time (billing is annual, and I cancelled 2/3 of the way through the year), though it may be a few days before it posts to my account.

The Bad

Other than the crapware marketing plugins that they install (which, again, may have been useful if I was trying to run, or grow, a big site), the main negative was the pricing, and the difference of the actual pricing from the expected pricing.

When I first found Bluehost, the advertised price was something like $3.75 a month. This sounded like a great deal for shared WP hosting — my previous host was $5. When I signed up, I did opt for things like backup and security, which brought the price up to like $10 a month, billed annually. Okay, fine. So, about $120 a year. In retrospect, I should have considered this discrepancy a red flag.

A year later, I was billed $250 for the renewal. I don’t remember getting a satisfactory explanation for the increase, so I planned to migrate off. Of course, I didn’t get around to this for a while, they increased it again to $290, and the final renewal was over $300! Looking at my receipts, it was $317.74 to be exact, or $26.48 a month.

$26 a month for what was supposed to be cheap WordPress shared hosting! A service that’s usually around $5 a month. Their website, as of 3/1/2022, advertises the price of WordPress hosting at $2.95 a month.

The Migration

So about 6 months ago I imported my posts into a new $5/month Linode instance that I’m administering myself (plus $2 for backups), got sidetracked, and then finally finished with the SSL and domain registration stuff the other day.

On the bright side, in the process of migrating, I tweaked the appearance a bit, added some custom CSS, and I’m fairly pleased with how it looks, at least on desktop browsers.

WordPress is More Complicated Than I Remember

I’m finally setting my blog back up, after some issues with my old web host.  My not wanting to bother with those issues has caused it to be down for a while.  I’m using WordPress again, this time with Bluehost (which I’ve been mistakenly calling Blue Origin, which is a rocket company instead of a web host).

Bluehost was recommended as a host that wouldn’t require one to set things up oneself at the command line, and the process of setting up has been fairly painless.  I had a question about backups, which their onboarding support was able to answer (backups are part of the “prime” tier, but can be added to the lower tiers).  Blue host conveniently lets you chat on the website with a support person.  The backup tool is called CodeGuard.  I was about to say, “Note to self: set up backups”, but they’ve apparently already been running.

One confusing issue I ran into was with pointing my existing domain at the new host.  (This is something support could have helped me with, if I’d gone back to the chat, but I was stubborn.)  The default seemed to be to either register a new domain, or transfer registration of an existing domain to Bluehost.  I’m happy with the domain being registered at Namecheap, and it wasn’t immediately clear what I should choose for that.  It ended up being something like “add domain in cPanel”.  cPanel, I have learned, is some software for managing shared hosting.  Perhaps it’s the core around which something like Bluehost is built.

If I were registering the domain through Bluehost, I probably wouldn’t have had to think about cPanel though.

As far as WordPress itself, there seem to be a lot more settings one has to fiddle with, in order to make a site that’s (relatively) aesthetically pleasing.  Switching to one of the default themes helped though.  I initially tried OnePress, because, at least in one configuration, had a nice minimalist feel.  But when I couldn’t get it to stop advertising for itself on my home page, I gave up and went with the built in Twenty-Seventeen theme.  A bit of fiddling later, and I’m mostly happy with the site, though I think the header image is too big.  A lot of the clutter of settings goes away, though, when you add and log in as a non-admin user.

The reason I’m thinking and writing about this is because my dad had asked me for advice about making a website.  Short of coding everything from scratch, the main contenders were WordPress (plus some shared hosting provider) and Wix.  So I’m thinking about the usability of this process, not just for me, but for someone not familiar with web development.

So I wonder how obvious the seams are between the various pieces of software to someone not trained in the LAMP stack: Bluehost’s (or some other shared host’s) proprietary interface for managing the overall site or sites; one or more instances of WordPress; cPanel; the various other tools like phpMyAdmin under Bluehost’s “Advanced” tab.

I’m still waiting for the domain name itself to realize it’s not at my old host.  Domain changes are expected to take a while to propagate, though I don’t know why it should take so long.  (Chrome sees the right host though, hm..)  Once that takes effect, I will once again have a website, like a proper citizen of the web.