SiteGround Review 2018: Performance and Speed Tests

siteground-featured

The rise of SiteGround as a service is one of web hosting’s most interesting “rags to riches” stories. As a company, it started in 2004 with only one employee, and in fourteen years it has grown to one of the largest hosts in the world, with data centers in North America, Asia, and Europe serving over a million domains.

Considering the company’s youth, we’re intrigued at how quickly it rose to stardom, and we believe that it’s worth taking a look at it from a technical perspective. In this SiteGround review we twisted every knob we could to determine whether it deserves its stratospheric rank.

SiteGround may not have many years under its belt as a service, but it packs a hefty load of offers. Among them are shared web hosting, cloud hosting, reseller hosting, and dedicated servers.

In this particular review of SiteGround, we decided on ordering their basic package, which includes most of the features that would help a business get its feet wet in having a web presence. Higher-tiered options offer things like unlimited websites, premium backup services, and easy drag-and-drop setups catering specifically to e-commerce. These are things that we don’t particularly think are absolutely necessary for a small business or brand.

SiteGround Web Host

SiteGround Web Host
9.0

Verdict: If you are serious about SEO and site load speed, SiteGround is one good web host you will not want to miss.

The Good

  • Page loading times were absolutely impressive. It's the dream of any individual who is concerned with SEO to have a site that is snappy, responsive, crisp, and ready to fly at any moment. Google's spider bots probably applaud when visiting a SiteGround site.
  • The setup process is almost obscenely simple, making it one of the most user-friendly web hosts out there.
  • User interface and account management are a breeze.
  • The money-back guarantee is a plus.
  • Free SSL (although most web hosts that take themselves seriously already offer this).
  • Auto-installation utilities are versatile and provide everything you need in a couple of clicks.
  • It's a brand enjoying wild success at this moment, making it a prime candidate for sites that want to stick with it for the long haul.
  • There's a vast knowledge base ready to teach you the ropes, including setup tutorials, in case you are ever lost.

The Bad

  • FTP cap of 1 megabyte per second.
  • The FTP service is not encrypted, meaning that hackers can easily snoop their way into your session if you're not careful.
  • At any point, the promotion could be over and plans would be listed at their normal prices (9.95 € per month).
  • Support is comprehensive, professional, and friendly but lacking in the timeliness department at least in our experience. Several verified users who wrote independent customer reviews contradict this, but it still bears mentioning that the UK line was clogged when we called.

sitegroundreview-prices

At first, SiteGround’s prices may look like a bummer compared to those of HostGator, but we found that its singular (yes, there was only one) extra fee was opt-in as opposed to the experience of seeing a bunch of already-ticked checkboxes “volunteering” us for services we might not have needed. Instead, it was a clean ordering page with a dropdown menu allowing us to choose a payment plan and the option to include malware scanning.

While standard rates for the low-tier option are 9.95 € per month ($11.95/month in the US), we looked a little bit at the company’s pricing history and found that it often offers this option for 3.95 € per month ($3.95 in the US).

There is one caveat to this. If you are ordering services from Europe, you will be charged a VAT of 19% for services. In addition to that, you will also be charged a setup fee of 12 € ($14.95 in the US) if you are ordering a one-month trial. If you are paying for a full twelve months or more, you won’t get this fee. Our total was 18.98 € for our one-month trial order.

Should you desire a malware scanning service for your website, that will net you an additional 18.60 € ($19.80 in the US) per year.

SSL certificates are free for all subscriptions, but none of them contain extended verification, which you might need if you plan on running a website that stakes its reputation on having top-notch security.

There are three plans in SiteGround’s offer:

  • The “StartUp,” which includes one single website, 10 GB of storage, a website builder, SSL/HTTPS, email, unmetered traffic, unlimited MySQL, CloudFlare’s prized content distribution network, daily backup, and cPanel + SSH. We’ve discussed the fee structure above.
  • The “GrowBig,” which includes all the above features plus 20 GB storage, “multiple websites,” free site transfer, a feature known as SuperCacher “for great speed,” and free backup restoration. The promotion price we saw is 6.45 € per month ($5.95/month in the US) with the non-promotional price being 17.95 € per month ($19.95/month in the US).
  • The “GoGeek,” which includes everything above, 30 GB storage, PCI-compliant servers, staging for both WordPress and Joomla (allowing you to test changes in a closed environment before they go live), one-click Git repository creation, and free backups on demand. The promotion price we saw is 11.95 € per month ($11.95/month in the US), with non-promotional pricing hitting 29.95 € per month ($34.95/month in the US).

This is a far cry from prices we’ve seen elsewhere, but they do include free email for all plans, a CloudFlare setup right off the bat, and regular backups. The one thing that hits the hardest against this pricing structure is the fact that “GoGeek” does not appear to include EV certificates.

Having a server that hosts your website without any hiccups eliminates a lot of the frustration that people encounter during their relationships with their service providers. Because SiteGround is a young company, we looked at what users of the service had to say about its uptime record to gauge its performance over time. Of the 1951 veritable reviews we found that mentioned its reliability, we found overwhelmingly positive feedback going back at least three years.

Now, I think it’s time we test its latency and speed in various situations.

Bitcatcha (ping)

Many of the customer reviews we’ve looked at glowingly referred to very quick loading times on their websites when using SiteGround. When a website loads, it all starts with the response time. If it takes longer than half a second to respond to queries, it’s already a given that loading times won’t be great.

sitegroundreview-response

At first glance, response times were kind of mellow. We sincerely expected better results coming from a service that has received so many plaudits from its user base. However, one single test doesn’t cut it. We tried this again at a later hour.

sitegroundreview-response1

Though response times improved with a request from Bangalore, the same mellow results appeared across the board. Perhaps a third test three hours later would reveal something different?

sitegroundreview-response2

Another three hours have passed, and boy, what a difference we saw with that London ping! What puzzled us throughout this series of tests is that our US pings were consistently low while the UK pings arrived unusually late to the party. The data center we are using is in The Netherlands, which means that we theoretically should have incredibly good peering with London.

But if we really want to be fair, we have to look at website load times.

Pingdom (load time)

While performing our tests, we noticed something strange about Pingdom. It no longer reports where the site’s speed was tested, and its performance grade rating is utterly useless. For load times that were much faster, we saw lower grades overall than previous tests we’ve done where websites loaded much more slowly.

We therefore choose to ignore Pingdom’s performance grade and will judge loading times using our own scale. Maile Ohye, a talented tech lead who was an excellent communicator and left Google in February 2017, was known to have said, “Two seconds is the threshold for e-commerce website acceptability. At Google we aim for under half a second.

Let’s not exaggerate, however. Most people have the patience to wait up to four seconds for a website to load. We will therefore apply the following scale for our reviews going forward:

  • A+ = under one second
  • A = 1-1.3 seconds
  • A- = 1.3-1.5 seconds
  • B+ = 1.5-1.6 seconds
  • B = 1.6-1.9 seconds
  • B- = 1.9-2.0 seconds
  • C+ = 2.0-2.2 seconds
  • C = 2.2-2.8 seconds
  • C- = 2.8-3.0 seconds
  • D = 3-4 seconds
  • F = over four seconds

From now on, every review we do on MakeTechEasier regarding a web host will be graded on this scale. For our previous HostGator review, that puts the hosting service at a C+ on average.

Now that we got that out of the way, we will use the “closest server” policy when accumulating our results. This means that we will try to find the closest requesting server to the data center offered to us to get the most localized evaluation results. Let’s see how SiteGround fared with a server in Frankfurt, Germany:

sitegroundreview-pingdom

That’s putting it in A+ territory so far. That was a result from the early morning, though. People were just getting ready to go to work. Let’s see how it fares in a busy time for the European Internet:

sitegroundreview-pingdom1

It’s still hitting it out of the ballpark! We should try this a third time and see how it works while we overwhelm the website with a little bit more load.

sitegroundreview-pingdom2

This puts the final to an average of 971.66 ms load time. Considering the fact that nearly a third of that is spent waiting for a reply from the server (due to the ping response time results we analyzed earlier), those are impressive load times for a package at this price. The final score is on the edge of an A+ but still well-deserved, especially considering the fact that our page size is larger than in previous tests we’ve done in other reviews.

It’s Time for the Stress Test! (Upload/Download Speeds)

Nothing is more frustrating for web developers and administrators than an FTP server with wonky speeds. At MTE we take this sort of thing so seriously that we even have our own 1 Gigabit connection hooked up to a computer with more than enough horsepower to handle it. We will perform three uploads of a 4-gigabyte file to our FTP server with hopes that SiteGround doesn’t disappoint us in this one last endeavor.

The results of our test were painful, to say the least. All of our upload attempts resulted in a paltry one megabyte per second. This included uploads of smaller files to account for throttling of larger ones. There was nothing we could do to break that barrier except wait through the grueling process. We are sad to report that download speeds were also capped at 1 MBps.

We didn’t know if this had to do with the fact that this is just how the lower-tier package performs or if this applied to all subscriptions (more on that later). However, one megabit per second at a reliable rate should be enough for most smaller websites. Since the upload speed is so slow, this may entice the power users among us to go for the staging options that SiteGround has in order to avoid having to upload newer website revisions from in-house workstations.

We were glad this time that we didn’t have to “play dumb” to test SiteGround’s support. We actually needed help confirming something. Although it was our suspicion that the FTP servers are capped at 1 Mbps, we couldn’t dismiss the possibility that perhaps the way our own servers were configured weren’t up to snuff. After all, the system we used to make the transfers had just recently been formatted with a fresh operating system.

We tried reaching SiteGround via its UK phone number at around 12:00 GMT, but we didn’t make much progress since we were put on hold for more than the time we were told to expect to wait (five minutes for an expected one-minute wait). When we reached out via chat, we were instantly connected to an operator who was kind enough to inform us that FTP is actually capped even lower than 1 Mbps for shared hosting plans. This includes all subscriptions.

sitegroundreview-support

The session took about 15 minutes in total, though most of the chatting took place in the last five minutes.

From choosing a plan, to making a payment, to setting up a website, we took a total of five minutes. That is no exaggeration. It was an incredibly streamlined process with support available at every step of the way and a knowledge base that was extraordinarily helpful in case someone would get stranded in their journey. Everything looks new and fresh. Controls were fast.

Although we enjoyed the setup experience, we found it lacking in speed when it came to actually getting some media into our site. Nonetheless, the overwhelmingly streamlined process impressed us.

Customer reviews for SiteGround were overwhelmingly positive, and we have a couple of things to say about that.

In the grand scheme of things, SiteGround is indeed a major force to contend with. Its shared hosting is almost unparalleled in an industry full of gimmicks and what-nots that are constantly thrown in your face … for a fee.

It’s refreshing to see web hosting so simplified, yet rich in features that come in a package that elegantly ties into a holistic experience. The only major setback when using SiteGround’s services was the way FTP uploading was so limited that it nearly drove us to frustration.

Although we can see why users of the service give it such overwhelmingly positive feedback, we’d like to get down to the good, the bad, and the ugly of SiteGround.

Pros

  • Page loading times were absolutely impressive. It’s the dream of any individual who is concerned with SEO to have a site that is snappy, responsive, crisp, and ready to fly at any moment. Google’s spider bots probably applaud when visiting a SiteGround site.
  • The setup process is almost obscenely simple, making it one of the most user-friendly web hosts out there.
  • User interface and account management are a breeze.
  • The money-back guarantee is a plus.
  • Free SSL (although most web hosts that take themselves seriously already offer this).
  • Auto-installation utilities are versatile and provide everything you need in a couple of clicks.
  • It’s a brand enjoying wild success at this moment, making it a prime candidate for sites that want to stick with it for the long haul.
  • There’s a vast knowledge base ready to teach you the ropes, including setup tutorials, in case you are ever lost.

Cons

  • FTP cap of 1 megabyte per second. Really?!
  • The FTP service is not encrypted, meaning that hackers can easily snoop their way into your session if you’re not careful.
  • At any point the promotion could be over and plans would be listed at their normal prices (9.95 € per month).
  • Support is comprehensive, professional, and friendly but lacking in the timeliness department at least in our experience. Several verified users who wrote independent customer reviews contradict this, but it still bears mentioning that the UK line was clogged when we called.

To draw a final conclusion on this matter, we feel that we cannot ignore the horrid early 2000’s-level throttling we get from SiteGround’s FTP services. This is why, for the sake of objectivity – despite elation at everything else – we are forced to give SiteGround the “perfect, but not quite there” score of:

9.0/10

SiteGround

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