If you are looking to create a fast and reliable website, there are some simple options but if you want to be professional about it, chances are that you will need to deal with a web host, and this is how we, and this A2 Hosting review comes in to the picture.
One of the biggest challenges for a webmaster is to find a fast, reliable and reasonably priced web host. And believe me, this is not as easy as it sounds.
According to Copyblogger, their frustration was the reason behind them starting their own web hosting company, Websynthesis.
If you can afford to establish your own web hosting company, by all means go for it; it’s probably a great business. However, most of us will remain on the customer side and we’ll sign up with a provider available on the market. A2hosting is such a company and this is why we’re doing this review. I believe that it will help you decide whether you’re looking for them or not.
Before we get into the details, let’s see who is A2hosting and how did we end up with them.
I’ve Chosen Them by Accident
Back in 2012 I read a great piece on them, so I decided to give their service a try. Surely, at the time A2 Hosting were not that well-known, so I basically made my decision based on that article I read.
Soon enough I saw that they are solid, so I stayed with them.
Siteground was another company that was a potential candidate but I already invested into A2.
Short History Lesson
They’ve been active in the industry since 2001 after a name change and re-branding from Iniquinet to A2-Hosting.
That was quick, right?! 🙂
I’d like to introduce A2Hosting’s services from a user’s point of view, since we are users of their shared hosting services as well.
User Friendliness: Great First Experience
The first positive signal that I noticed when I was signing up was that usually web hosts try to sell a bunch of additional tools that add something to the basic hosting account.
If we don’t pay attention, these additional services will remain in our shopping carts, and we’ll pay a whole lot more than needed. I gladly noticed that they keep this practice to the minimum offering only the most necessary tools.
The complementary services can be useful for many, but I feel that some providers push these too hard instead of focusing on their core services. I’m not saying that it can’t be useful for certain clients, but generally they should keep it to the minimum. But again, A2 doesn’t practice this, which I find awesome.
Here’s a screenshot of a test shopping cart proving that by default they don’t include anything in the shopping cart outside of what you have chosen:
Let’s see what else we can say about this web host besides trying to play fair.
I want to point out that you shouldn’t take my words as something that is always true. This is just my experience, the results of my testing, and other people might find something different.
The above is why I advise you to read several articles so that you can get a different outlook on things.
But let me say this: if I’m just half right, you will still be very impressed with A2Hosting’s service.
We are dealing with a provider which offers a variety of hosting services, so regardless of what hosting type is suitable for you, they have the right plan.
Check out their plans here.
They are based in Ann Arbor, MI, but have data centers both in the US (Southfield, Michigan) and in Europe (Reykjavik, Iceland). They have also established a third data center in the Asia-Singapore area, which means that they essentially have global coverage.
According to Datacenterjournal end-user location is key when it comes to connectivity quality and reducing latency. Thefore, web hosts should take into account the geographical placement of customers accessing their applications; exactly what A2Hosting is doing.
Here some clean data center photos which were taken in the US data center. We do not own these pictures; they are the property of A2hosting.
I like to look at what they provide as a comprehensive hosting service, meaning that while many companies will charge for features like backups, SSH, security tools here, all these are given to clients free.
Another advantage for their customers is the fact that in the long run, successful sites outgrow the environment they were started in (usually that is the shared one) and so they need to upgrade – here you can do it without any hassles in-house. Now this is of course not an exclusive oppportunity applicable only to A2 Hosting, but it’s definitely a positive.
Some websites may suggest that shared hosting is not enough for a website. In my opinion this is a very simplified approach, and it’s not in line with the truth.
The truth is that with shared hosting you can perfectly run a small to medium sized website. Which means that you don’t have a lot of fancy features that drain resources and you’re getting around 7000 visitors a day at max.
You can easily get away with it, just like we do. And this doesn’t automatically mean that one has to make a compromise when it comes to performance. This website serves as a good example: we run on A2Hosting’s Swift shared hosting plan and we haven’t experienced any issues so far. We’re still packing a decent performance. Why pay more when you can get to the same result with less?
Enough speaking about shared web hosting. Let’s see how their plans measure up generally.
Since they provide several plans, it’s hard to determine whether these are cheap or expensive. I wouldn’t even polarize it as cheap or expensive. Rather it’s fair to say that some plans have more value and others have less in terms of resources.
Their basic all-inclusive plan is not expensive at all in my opinion, and it has features that would cost a lot more with many other providers. We don’t need to make a compromise here.
Although of course; cheaper solutions are available if that’s the primary decision factor.
I’ll keep it short and say this: it’s not the price that we should focus on, it’s the value. Overall, they are reasonably priced, but usually people’s budgets will have a significant influence on whether they see the glass half empty or half full.
If you want to have a look at all of their plans, you can do so here.
Money Back Guarantee
The money back guarantee is generally a tricky point with any webhost, and not just web host, but all types of service providers and even businesses selling physical products. It’s just the nature of it, we need to deal with it and move forward.
As we would expect from a web host which operates internationally, they offer a trial period of 30 days.
The hosting industry is a healthy competitive place, and because of this, those companies have a bigger chance to survive and prosper which provide features that make them stand out from the rest.
Of course, doing this is not always easy, but in a continually evolving industry, it shouldn’t be that hard either.
This web host did it several times; I’ll tell you precisely how.
One of the points that web hosts try to play around with to stand out from the crowd is the money back guarantee. Instead of the industry standard 30 days, they provide 90 days or even anytime guarantee like IPage.
However I’ve come across web hosts that really make it hard to get the money back, it is easy to get lost in bureaucracy. I guess they hope that in the end the customer will get bored and will not pursue the refund.
Other web hosts only do refunds if the purchase was made in a certain way. That is if we pay using a credit card. But, it can vary from web host to web host.
Because of the above, it is imperative to give at least a once over to the terms of service before you sign up with any web host.
I would like to emphasize that currently, I don’t have any knowledge that A2-Hosting uses such techniques, so this is another positive on this web host’s side. I would like to draw the attention to another important part though in their refund policy. I can’t put it better than they do, so this is what they say:
“Refunds are issued for hosting when a request to cancel a hosting package is submitted via our cancellation form within 30 days of account signup. Domain registrations, dedicated server setup fees and SSL certificates are not refundable. Refunds requested for remaining months on canceled prepaid packages must be submitted within 120 days of payment. Customers who desire a refund on a prepaid account will be re-billed at the regular price as opposed to the discount. Only the difference between the prepaid amount and the re-billed regular price will be refunded.”
Tripled Performance with SSD – Is it just an urban legend?
Since A2hosting have launched SSD (solid state drive) hosting they claim that it improves performance up to 300% compared to traditional service. This is a bold statement so while we agree that SSDs contribute to increased performance it’s more reasonable.
SSD’s were and still are a key differentiator for the company from the rest of the market.
The exciting thing is, that while the big old names, like Hostgator, Bluehost are still top players, they couldn’t match with A2hosting’s SSD hosting as the below picture shows.
Of course, all this doesn’t come for free, but the speed benefit is worth the small uplift in the fee.
Besides, with a lot of companies, renewals are on the same level as far as pricing goes, so we have something interesting here. Based on the tests that we’ve ran on our website (which is hosted with them) the performance has been solid.
According to many sources, a key aspect when it comes to performance is time to first byte. For example, Moz reported that they found a correlation between smaller time to first byte and better search engine ranking. They found that pages on the first page had around 400ms time to the first byte.
Testing solutions around the web suggest to aim for 400ms too, so that’s what we’re benchmarking against our test.
US-based Customer Service
Their support is well known for its high quality when it comes to speed and quality of service.
But why are they better?
In my personal experience, the root of the quality comes from not outsourcing the support service to Asia, as many others do – it is U.S. based.
They call themselves the the Guru Crew. I’ve found them to be there for me when I needed them. Whether I needed advanced PHP help, or just a simple question, like setting up a blog.
Of course, they can be contacted round the clock through chat, phone, e-mail, or just submit a ticket.
I have to admit that there was one chat session though where I had to wait close to 4 minutes before a customer service representative became available.
4 minutes is of course not optimal but considering that before they usually responded within 1 minute, I think I just got used to that, and I expected the same response time.
It is not out of the normal however, with InMotionHosting for example I had to wait around 10 minutes. And the 10 minutes is also not bad, I’m not saying it’s optimal, because it’s not, but it’s on the better side of the spectrum. There are providers out there with whom you have to wait close to 30 minutes to get an answer.
Also it’s good to keep in mind that response times are usually fluctuating and the quality we experience highly depends when we contact the provider during the day. During peak times obviously wait times will be longer.
Knowledge Base for “Smaller Fires”
Secondly, let’s not forget about the extensive knowledgebase that is just really a massive amount of resources covering a whole range of web related topics. Of course a knowledge base is pretty standard, difference comes only from how it is structured and put together. I’
ve found theirs to be a perfect balance between enough and too much information.
The latter just annoys me when I have to browse through stuff that doesn’t concern me.
Also I found it helpful that some of the help articles were written on their blog, so people can actually comment on them, discuss their issues. This allows for a great self-service, as many of the aspects that were unclear, are probably clarified by folks already.
Thirdly, do not be afraid if you come across the below screen when you initiate communication through live chat.
This might seem frustrating, but it is pretty general if you ask me. Every web host experiences heavy loads sooner or later if they are any good as customers will come to them.
In this case feel free to give them a call or ask them to inform you, the different channels are pretty good in terms of response times, so there’s nothing to be worried.
Although they make their uptime data public, it’s better to do our own research and see if it supports or denies their claims. The below test covers one week. So here it is:
What all this means is that there was no downtime in the recorded period, which is one week. If you want to learn more about how we monitor uptime see our about page.
Transparency – Performance
In case you want to see more specific data about uptime, you can do it on their site, as they provide detailed, publicly available uptime reports about their servers performance.
They are quite confident, aren’t they?
Custom OS System
The shared environment runs on Cloud-Linux OS, which is in some ways a “turbo” version of CentOS, and it is tweaked to handle spikes in resource demands more efficiently, thus being a more friendly environment for websites which are growing.
For control panel they provide the widely used cPanel, which is easy to use, even for individuals who are not familiar with the whole hosting thing.
Inside the control panel we can find an item called Softaculous, which is used to install scripts (like WordPress, or other content management systems) with a few clicks.
So apparently, putting your site on the web, whether it’s a small business site or personal, can be done in five minutes.
Non-coder Site Builder
For this purpose, they have a tool, called DIY A2 SiteBuilder, which looks like a custom-made version of a commercial, well-known site builder.
No design or coding skills needed.
View A2Hosting Plans→
Using it is not hard, it has a panel which guides you through certain steps, and in the end you will have your site ready.
Usual Apps Under the Hood
Creating a website is not hard with a site creator, however most people like to work the successful technologies like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, as they are easy to manage, fast to set up and SEO friendly.
You can find all these here, plus many more.
Shopping Carts are a Given
If you are planning to create a website with e-commerce activity, they’ve got you covered.
Magento, as one of the most popular shopping carts, is at your hand to use, but there are other solutions too.
Virtual Private Servers, Dedicated Servers & Reseller Hosting
Be the captain of your ship with re-seller hosting.
You probably know what re-seller hosting is if you are reading this, if not visit our reseller hosting page but basically you can create your own web hosting company. If you want your re-seller business to be successful, you need to choose a re-seller provider that will assure quality service. Any kind of outages can draw as a consequence lost income.
Here they make sure that you get everything according to the contract – quality support, high stability with brandable tools and services; like the in-house developed free Server Rewind backup solution.
Another advantage on this company’s side is experience; they have been doing this since 2003. They cannot be wrong if they managed to prosper since then.
There are three re-seller plans, offering the same features. The difference is in the resources. You can view plan details on their site.
Developer Friendly VPSs
For developers, VPS hosting is best. This company offers several VPS solutions.
Developers can create their desired VPS by installing the latest, most used developer software using the A2 QuickInstaller. As time goes by, needs can change.
If this is the case with you, just contact them and they will re-size your virtual private server. The environment includes Linux as OS.
Worry-free Managed Dedicated Hosting
As we’ve put it on our dedicated page there are two types of dedicated servers: managed and unmanaged. Unmanaged is mainly recommended for advanced users or developers who can customize the server and manage the whole system.
It requires more than ordinary knowledge.
On the other side, Managed Dedicated Hosting, is much more user friendly as the web host’s crew handles all aspects, so you do not have to know coding or anything related to server management.
User Feedback Paints a Positive Picture
According to Shopperapproved.com A2Hosting is rated 5/5 among existing and previous customers, and 97% of them would recommend it to a friend.
Below is a featured testimonial.
“Let me say this. I am a very cynical person by nature, and grumpy. But Ross and Jason in customer service made building my website so much easier by being friendly, humorous, and competent so that they reduced my stress level at a frustrating time dealing with coding issues caused by some 3rd party extensions I bought from another site. They are at 10 am and 3am when I called and I never had an issue they did not address within an hour.
As an American, I like do business with other Americans, and I was pleased that I was speaking people who spoke English nd were located in the USA. So I never had a language or cultural barrier.
The price is competitive, they aren’t the cheapest but they are fair, and considering the personal attention they gave me worth every dab blasted penny!”
You can get your online presence to the next level with A2-Hosting, enjoy the massive advantages and get ahead of your competitors.
Boost Performance with Turbo
It’s been a while since we updated this article, and since A2 have come out with a new plan called the Turbo plan.
What is interesting in this plan is that it can provide speeds up to 20 times the regular speed. A2-Hosting is already marketed as a high-speed web host, so this is just the icing on the cake. They do this by putting in some rules when it comes to their servers and how they operate them.
The Applied Rules
Keeping a strict limit on the number of customers hosted on one server, thus allowing individual accounts to have more resources to use up which results in higher speeds.
Other factors that contribute to the high speeds are Swift Server SSDs which use less memory and CPU power compared to that of Apache servers. They also handle connections with a greater overall efficiency. All these result the unbelievably fast web hosting experience available at A2-Hosting.
Of course, let’s not forget that if we want to opt for this type of service, it will cost twice as much than the already awesome Prime+SSD plan. But if I add up everything that I get, I would say it is still competitive in value.
All in all, I think this web host is the best thing since sliced bread. Just joking of course, but really, this is the company I roll with.
Think about it, what is the worst that can happen? It’s not what you thought it would be, so you get your money back within 30 days. Or if you sleep for a whole month and you forget to cancel, thus you run out of the 30 days, you will only be $4.5/month short approximately, but this won’t happen.
Update: Introducing Priority Support
It’s been a while since the last update. This time again, there is another great news for every existing and future customer. I’m talking about the new Priority support.
With priority support the staff resolves issues and queries in much less time for a relatively small remuneration.
I think it should’ve been done a long time ago since it is something many people will make use of, but again there is some concern in me also – I hope this won’t have a detrimental effect on the regular support?!
I personally believe that it won’t have an adverse effect on it, in fact, it will have the opposite effect because A2 is a favorite provider nowadays and it comes with the territory that they just have too many support queries.
It would result in worsened support experience for users, so it was sensible for them to come up with something that will improve the service.
Of course, this is not the only way they can improve on things, they can hire additional support technicians, and I’m sure they are doing it. But I feel that there is a customer group that is ‘mature’ enough to make use of priority support.
A2 Hosting for WordPress
WordPress can run on most web hosting services nowadays. However many web hosts have specifically WordPress optimized plans as well.
These can have certain advantages over the general service. So the question of whether A2Hosting has something unique in this area is quite relevant.
The answer is, yes.
Say hello to A2 Optimized, an optimized version of WordPress.
In essence, A2 Optimized is not a different hosting package, but a set of plugins that optimize the WordPress installation.
First, there is a plugin which is the admin plugin for all of the other plugins – This is the A2 Optimized plugin.
This lists all the optimization opportunities available. Most of these are in the form of other third-party optimization plugins. Like W3 Total Cache handles a lot of the points, an image optimization plugin, custom login page for security reasons.
So all of the above are standalone plugins. Then some other features are built into the A2Optimized plugin; like ReCaptcha for example.
Then there is a third group of optimizations that can only be done exclusively within A2Hosting, but that can include changing web hosting plans.
My favorite feature is the image optimization and custom login page. Previously I was seeing many login attempts to my website, but now they don’t know the login page. So that’s something that I’m fond of.
The good part is that this is a preinstalled package, so you can choose to install the optimized version of WP, and not having to install the plugins one by one. I definitely recommend to use the optimized version based on the above.
A2 Hosting Solutions
While we already touched on most of the available tools at a high level, a more detailed overview is also sensible as part of a review.
Web analytics are useful as the different metrics help to measure the results of our efforts.
Visitor bounce rate, traffic, and referrals are just a few that we can track.
Piwik is the most popular open source analytics tool. Therefore Piwik hosting has appeared – many people are looking specifically for Piwik hosting.
A2 Hosting’s Piwik plans are perfectly balanced between ease of use and performance. It can be set up with 1 click inside the control panel using Softaculous.
Open Web Analytics, also known as OWA is also available. It’s at least as recommended as Piwik especially because it supports WordPress as well which we are very fond of.
It’s perfect to use with e-commerce sites as it allows revenue tracking and competitor tracking too.
Auction Web Hosting
Auctions don’t require an introduction, the specific solutions that are available with A2Hosting for sales on the other hand do.
With these as well, A2Hosting provides the most popular options to keep users on the forefront of their chosen field.
PHP Pro Bid has all the options that are needed to run a top of the line auction website, but it also supports e-commerce.
WeBid is also an auction script that allows users to create a website with all the abilities that eBay has for example. It’s very user friendly with it’s highly customizable control panel.
u-Auctions is also very user friendly, providing the possibility to log in with Facebook, supporting PayPal and Skrill as payment gateways.
Ad Server Solutions
Ad serving means that we can display ads on website. The tracking functionality included in these can be very useful for any type of website to reach goals because it allows to track ad effectiveness and correct course as necessary.
Revive ad-server is the most popular ope source solution currently. Previously it was called OpenX Source and it allows to display ads basically in a variety of formats including videos, apps and of course websites.
An arsenal of tracking opportunities comes with it right out of the box. So tracking conversions and revenue is really up to the user.
Ad control is available to the fullest being able to put in place ad display rules, frequency, target audience, and websites.
If you’re running a business, billing software is very important. And with A2hosting you’ll get the best of these as well as I see.
There is a number of billing software available each unique in some way, but making sure that the billing system is professional yet easy to use.