If you're looking for a web hosting provider, you have a tremendous number of choices. In my The best web hosting providers article, I looked at 15 providers who offer a wide range of plans.
To get a better feel for each individual provider, I set up the most basic account possible and performed a series of tests. In this article, we're going to dive into InMotion Hosting's offerings. Stay tuned for in-depth looks at other providers in future articles.
- Shared hosting starting at $3.39 per month
- WordPress hosting starting at $4.99 per month
- Reseller hosting starting at $13.99 per month
- VPS hosting starting at $19.99 per month
- Dedicated servers starting at $99.99 per month
- See all InMotion offers
Because there's such variability among plans and offerings among hosting providers, it's hard to get a good comparison. I've found that one of the best ways to see how a provider performs is to look at the least expensive plan they offer. You can expect the least quality, the least attention to detail, and the least performance from such a plan.
If the vendor provides good service for the bottom-shelf plans, you can generally assume the better plans will also benefit from similar quality. In the case of InMotion Hosting, the quality was quite reasonable.
How pricing really works
For the series of hosting reviews I'm doing now, I'm testing the most basic, most entry-level plan a vendor is offering. In the case of InMotion Hosting, that's what they call their Launch Plan. To get pricing, I simply went to the company's main site at InMotionHosting.com. If you want to save some money, though, read to the end of this section.
Like nearly every hosting provider in the business, their offering is somewhat misleading. There is no option to just get billed $6.39 per month.
While it looks like you can get the Launch plan for $6.39 per month, that's only if you prepay for two full years, which means you're actually paying $153.36. If you want only one year, you're charging $89.52 to your card (which is $7.46 per month).
There's a gotcha, though: When you renew, you're going to pay more. This, too, is not uncommon for hosting plans and is a practice I strongly wish the hosting industry would stop. Fortunately, InMotion's renewal surcharge doesn't increase as much as many. Instead of paying $153.36 for two years, you're paying $191.76, which is about a 25% increase.
I've seen hosting providers ding their customers at two and three times their original rate, and InMotion doesn't do that.
By the way, if you want to save some money, use the Sales Chat button at the top of the InMotion site before you place an order. Just as soon as I asked for clarification, the agent offered me that same two-year plan for $143.76. Hey, 10 bucks is 10 bucks.
Here's another way to save money. If you come in through this link, you get access to prices that are substantially lower.
Be careful reading this, though. Even though you can get a great deal through that affiliate link, when your initial period ends, you'll still be expected to pay the full renewal price -- which, after the better-than-posted discount for the first period, is nearly double the price of the first period.
I harp on high renewal fees in my coverage of hosting vendors for two key reasons. First, it's a really nasty feeling suddenly getting a bill that's hundreds or even thousands of dollars (depending on the plan) more than you expect. Second, switching from one hosting provider to another hosting provider can be a very time-consuming and possibly expensive job, fraught with hassles and potential points of failure.
Unfortunately, while not a universal practice, at least half of the hosting vendors I've looked at over the years do these promo deals, with big jumps in renewal fees.
What the base plan includes
Most bottom-end plans are for one website, and one site only. I was pleasantly surprised to find that InMotion's Launch plan allows for two sites. While most folks starting out with their first website will only need one site, having a second site allows for both growth and experimentation.
You can use the second site as a staging site, or use it to try out new ideas without risking the performance and functionality of your main site.
As with most hosting vendors these days, InMotion claims unlimited disk space, unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited email. In practice, these unlimited values are limited in the terms of service. You can't use your unlimited storage as a giant backup tank where you dump gigabits of video, for example. They also state, "accounts that adversely affect server or network performance must correct these issues or will be asked to upgrade to a virtual or dedicated server."
In other words, if your site suddenly becomes some sort of viral hit (you lucky thing!), you're probably going to have to pay more to keep your site running.
There are a few other wins in InMotion's most basic plan. First, they host all their plans on SSDs. Even if a site is using caching (which reduces the load on a server), having fast drives is always a plus.
Second, the company offers SSH access for even the basic plan. SSH is command-line shell access to a site. Most entry-level website operators don't need SSH. Trust me, there are times that command-line access is the only thing that will fix a problem. Having SSH is something I consider necessary table stakes if you're running a site you care about, but not all hosting providers offer it.
Third, the company offers a free SSL encryption certificate for all accounts. While the certificate offered isn't as complete as a fully professional certificate, it will do for most browsers accessing your site, and you won't have to worry about Chrome flagging your site as "non-secure".
Fourth, and this is big: The company offers a 90-day money back guarantee. This is great. This not only gives you enough time to learn their service and set up a site, but run it for a while and make sure it works well for you. This level of guarantee is something I'd like all hosting providers to offer.
Finally, the Launch program offers free email, a website builder, and some free ad and marketing credits.
The first thing I like to do when looking at a new hosting provider is explore their dashboard. Is an old friend, like cPanel? Is it some sort of janky, barely configured open source or home grown mess? Or is it a carefully crafted custom dashboard? These are often the ones that worry me the most, because they almost always hide restrictions that I'm going to have to work around somehow.
When you first log into InMotion's dashboard, you're greeted with their account management panel. Here, you can manage your credit card information, get support, and so on. Each account is also presented as a section in the panel.
This is not the only dashboard you'll be using. The main dashboard is cPanel, which is common to many, many sites across the web. Some management features are available in the main panel and in cPanel. On one hand, that elevates some of the more major tasks (like installing apps) to the account panel. On the other hand, that can get confusing.
That said, there's cPanel. While cPanel can be frustrating at times, it's a very capable interface that lets you manage all aspects of your site. InMotion seems to have enabled all of cPanel's main capabilities, so even with a basic account, I didn't find myself restricted in any way, and that's a nice feeling on an entry-level account.
There are certainly other content management and blogging applications you can use besides WordPress. That said, since 32% of the entire web uses WordPress, it's a good place to start. WordPress sites can be moved from hosting provider to hosting provider, so there's no lock-in. And by testing a site built with WordPress, we can get some consistency in our testing between hosting providers.
I was a little surprised to see that a WordPress site had already been built for me by InMotion. So the very first thing I did was delete it.
Softaculous is a standard app installer that makes it about as easy to install a web application as it is to install an app on your phone. Once I was sure that the previous WordPress files were gone and the database was eliminated, I clicked the Softaculous icon. Installation was quick and painless, and in about five minutes, I had a WordPress site up and running.
I prefer using Softaculous when it's available because, although installing WordPress is generally easy even by hand, there are text files that need to be edited, permissions that have to be gotten right, and some general fiddling. Softaculous does that all for you.
Then, in cPanel, I dropped into the MySQL panel and created my database, created a database user, and assigned the user to the database. The only gotcha I found was connecting to the database. Rather than specifying localhost, I had to specify localhost:3306, which is the port used to access the database.
Overall, adding an app using InMotion's cPanel went very smoothly.
Quick security checks
Security is one of the biggest issues when it comes to operating a website. You want to make sure your site is safe from hackers, doesn't flag Google, and can connect securely to payment engines if you're running an e-commerce site of any kind.
While the scope of this article doesn't allow for exhaustive security testing, there are a few quick checks that can help indicate whether InMotion's most inexpensive platform is starting with a secure foundation.
The first of these is multi-factor authentication. It's way too easy for hackers to just bang away at a website's login screen and bruteforce a password. One of my sites has been pounded on by weeks from some hacker or another, but because I have some relatively strong protections in place, the bad actor hasn't been able to get in.
Unfortunately, I have to ding InMotion for what I consider a pretty serious security flaw. When you log into their AMP (Account Management Panel), all you need to provide is a username and password. There is no option to set up any form of multi-factor authentication (MFA).
Weirdly enough, if you log directly into your cPanel, you can set up MFA there. That's most likely because cPanel has authentication built into it. But the cPanel MFA is essentially worthless, because you can get into cPanel from your main AMP login. Ouch.
I mentioned earlier that InMotion does provide a free SSL certificate, which is definitely a point in the provider's favor. Even so, SSL is somewhat difficult to set up. The thing is, you're going to want SSL because Google is starting to flag sites that don't have secure HTTP connections (i.e., https://), whether or not they're going to be used for anything that accepts payments.
One quick trick on that front, if you use WordPress, is to install the Really Simple SSL plugin. This plugin makes it nearly effortless to add SSL to your WordPress site.
As my last quick security check, I like to look at the versions of some of the main system components that run web applications. To make things easy, I chose four components necessary to safe WordPress operation. While other apps may use other components, I've found that if components are up-to-date for one set of needs, they're usually up to date across the board.
Here are my findings (using the WordPress Health Check plugin), as of the day I tested, for InMotion's Launch plan:
1.0.2p (and 1.1.1)
In general, these results aren't bad. You kind of need to know the component to know how to read these results. For example, WordPress prefers PHP 7.2, so even though PHP is only one month old, it's due for an upgrade. On the other hand, even though the cURL library is three years old, it's up-to-date enough to safely support TLS 1.2 transactions (used in e-commerce).
Also, the company supports OpenSSL 1.0.2k, where the absolutely most current version is 1.1.1. The gotcha is that when OpenSSL went to 1.1, it broke a lot of code. As a result, the OpenSSL project is updating both the 1.0.2 branch and the 1.1 branch. I know, it's enough to give you a headache. The bottom line is that InMotion is pretty much where it should be in terms of the system components they're offering on their platform.
Next, I wanted to see how the site performed using some online performance testing tools. It's important not to take these tests too seriously. We're purposely looking at the most low-end offerings of hosting vendors, so the sites they produce are expected to be relatively slow.
That said, it's nice to have an idea what to expect, and that's what we're doing here. The way I test is to use the fresh install of WordPress and then test the "Hello, world" page, which is mostly text, with just an image header. That way, we're able to focus on the responsiveness of a basic page without being too concerned about media overhead.
First, I ran two Pingdom Tools tests, one hitting the site from San Francisco and the second from Germany. Here's the San Francisco test rating:
And here's the same site from Germany:
Next, I ran a similar test using the Bitchatcha service:
Finally, I hit the site with Load Impact, which sends 25 virtual users over the course of three minutes to the site, and then measures the responsiveness.
The Load Impact test shows pretty much what you'd expect. As more users are concurrently hitting the site, the responsiveness becomes more irregular. At the beginning of the test, response time was about 33ms. By the end of the test, response time got as bad as 228ms.
This is definitely a characteristic of a lower-cost hosting plan. One of the reasons you pay more for a hosting plan is if your business model can't sustain a reduction of responsiveness.
None of the tests showed spectacular performance, but I wouldn't expect that for a low-end plan. None of them was terrible, despite the C grades shown in the first set of tests.
In a word (well, five words): Way better than I expected. During testing, I had two reasons to reach out in just getting information for this article, and then one standardized test I use across hosting providers to both gauge support and learn about their backup offerings.
The first contact was via chat. I suddenly couldn't log into the AMP and kept getting error messages. I reached out through Sales Chat and was transferred to a tech support chat operator, who asked me to try a different browser. It turned out to be a Chrome issue. Clearing cookies solved the problem. That chat took less than a minute to connect.
My second attempt was trying to find out if there was a multi-factor authentication option for the main dashboard, and I just couldn't find it. That one took 10 minutes to connect. Sadly, that one also told me there was no MFA.
The third attempt was via voice. I was initially concerned that there wasn't any phone support, because sometimes chatting and ticket systems can take forever. As it turns out, while there isn't a phone number to call, there are Skype accounts to connect to. I reached out to inMotion-support, and much to my surprise, I was connected in less than two minutes.
The agent I spoke to had some reasonable answers. My first question was "How often do you backup my account?" His answer: Daily, but each new day overwrites the previous day's backup.
My second question was "Do you backup my databases? How do I set up daily backups for both files and databases?" For this, he sent me to the cPanel backup option and offered to send me a description of how to set it up.
Unfortunately, cPanel doesn't offer an automatic, daily, incremental backup (so you can restore from last Tuesday, for example). He was unable to tell me how to do that, or even refer me to some scripts to do so.
There are actually a ton of options. I use the ManageWP.com service from GoDaddy to backup my WordPress sites, but there are also WordPress plugins that do the same thing.
The agent did mention it might be possible to setup a cron job to do such an automatic backup, but didn't share any resources for getting the job done. Here's one way to do it, just for the record.
Overall, especially for the cheap seats plan offered by InMotion, I thought support was just fine.
You never want to get your expectations too high for a bottom-end plan. The economics of running such a super-cheap offering is that the provider has to make it up on volume. Professional and enterprise hosting plans with lots of traffic and performance must, out of necessity, cost more.
The only way to truly know what it's like to use a service is to run a live website on it for a few years. That said, I was quite pleased with InMotion's offering. The basic tests I performed indicated a well-equipped service with attention to upgrades and support.
Combine that with a 90-day guarantee, and I can't think of a reason not to recommend you try it out.
You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.
Disclosure: ZDNet may earn a commission on services featured on this page. Neither the author nor ZDNet were compensated by InMotion for this independent, unbiased review.