Bluehost vs DreamHost | See Who Wins!
Last Updated: September 2018
Bluehost and DreamHost are two of the most well-known and respected hosting companies around. They each have a loyal following and many web developers, marketers and business owners alike will attest to one or the other being a good host, but that raises the question—which hosting company (Bluehost or DreamHost) is actually the king of the hill?
To help answer this very question, I’ve gone ahead and subjected each host to a variety of performance testing over the course of 12 months to really get some solid objective data. On top of that, I’ve been creating professional websites for more than 10 years, so you’ll get my expert opinion on the subject.
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DreamHost vs Bluehost: The Competition Categories
It’s a good idea, when doing any type of side-by-side comparison, to try and make the measuring stick as clear and as fair as possible. To do this, I usually like to use the same criteria when comparing two different hosts. I do this to make all of the comparisons easy to translate from one to another, and to provide a clear snapshot of each host. For example, if you want to compare Bluehost vs HostGator, and then Bluehost vs DreamHost, you can do that on this website and it’s nice to see that all of the comparisons use the same general criteria.
There are essentially 5 main categories that I like to look at when comparing any two web hosting companies. These categories are:
- Web Performance/Server Speed
- Online Time (Uptime) vs Offline Time (Downtime)
- Service, Support, Ease of Getting Help
- Ease of Use for the Interface (User-Friendliness)
- Pricing, Feature Bundles, Options, etc.
It’s important to understand that these categories don’t cover every possible consideration when choosing a web host or comparing them, but I believe that they do a very good job in helping to see how to hosting companies measure up against one another.
Bluehost and DreamHost—Web Performance/Server Speed
Without a doubt, the speed of a web server and web performance is one of the most (if not the most) important factor when choosing a web host. The truth is that people have come to expect speed from a website. Gone are the days of 56K dial-up modems and waiting minutes for a web page to load. People now expect a web page to load in a matter of seconds and will promptly bounce or click the back button on their browsers if this doesn’t happen.
This means that if you want to have a good website, it needs to be fast. In order for your website to be fast, your web server needs to be fast. Sure, you can have a fast server and a poorly optimized website, but if your server isn’t fast it doesn’t matter how well your website is optimized. This is especially important in shared hosting environments where the best hosting companies will manage their resources very well (like HostGator) and the bad companies will not manage them well, which will be immediately apparent in the speed of their servers and websites hosted on them.
To put Bluehost and DreamHost to the test, I setup two WordPress websites that are similarly configured with the same plugins, and very similar content. One was hosted on Bluehost and the other was hosted on DreamHost. I put each of these sites through the website speed test at Dotcom-Tools.com using their American data centers. Each site was tested from a variety of locations, and you can see the test data in the images below.
If you look closely, you’ll see that Bluehost has a best load time of 1.4 seconds while DreamHost has a best load time of 1.7 seconds. Both of these load times are exceptional, and well under the “golden standard” of 3 seconds where user attention starts to wane and bounce rates begin to increase. In terms of the slowest load times, DreamHost had a 27.6 second load time from the Argentina server location while Bluehost had a 10.1 second load time from the Florida, USA server location.
Comparing Bluehost to DreamHost here in terms of the objective data, it’s easy to see that Bluehost is the faster host. However, it’s important to note that the 27.6 second load time in Argentina brought DreamHost’s average way down. Without that, they might’ve had a faster time overall, but it may also say something about what DreamHost’s servers do when they’re hit with simultaneous visitors, giving a little bit more credibility to Bluehost. In my own personal experience, I’ve experienced that Bluehost’s servers tend to be a little snappier than DreamHost’s in terms of shared hosting. When it comes to VPS servers and dedicated boxes, I’ve had much better luck with Bluehost.
And the speed & performance winner is…Bluehost!
DreamHost isn’t a slow host by any means, their times were pretty good overall, but by and large, Bluehost did a little bit better in the testing and didn’t have any big meltdowns, so-to-speak, which also mirrors my own experience with them.
DreamHost versus Bluehost: Online Time (Uptime) vs Offline Time (Downtime)
There’s no situation where uptime isn’t one of the most important factors with respect to choosing a web host. The bottom line is that if your website is offline, no one can visit it—period. Imagine for a moment that you have an ecommerce website where you sell coffee. How many frustrated customers will you have (and potentially lose) if they can’t checkout, or your site goes offline while they’re trying to add items to their cart. If you’re a small company, it’s possible that your reputation may never recover—especially if the outage gets a lot of coverage on social media.
Even if you don’t have a business, downtime can still be a devastating thing. It can upset visitors and really damage your reputation, and also hurt your positioning in search engines. And if you aren’t actively monitoring your site, you may not even know that it’s down. With all that said, you can see how it’s important to understand the need for a good web host with a good uptime rating.
The industry standard measure for uptime is 99.9%, and this is what most webhosts adhere to. The document that governs how a host treats downtime is typically called a Service Level Agreement (SLA). This is document that most hosts have that specifies what you can expect in terms of uptime, and what they’ll do if the uptime falls below that.
In the case of Bluehost, they don’t specify an uptime percentage, which I’m not a fan of. They only say that it should be no more than 15 minutes for them to typically fix a problem which really isn’t saying much. DreamHost, on the other hand, has a 100% uptime SLA which is better. In the event of an outage though, they’ll only credit you for the downtime you experienced, not for an entire month of service like other hosts (such as HostGator).
To test Bluehost vs DreamHost in the area of uptime, I used Dotcom-Monitor to ping each server at 3 hours intervals for an entire year to see if the WordPress site hosted on it was up or down.
You can see pretty clearly that Bluehost had a 12 month uptime percentage of 99.81% while DreamHost had a 12 month uptime percentage of 98.4%. Both of these numbers are good, but Bluehost had better numbers here. While I like DreamHost’s SLA a bit better giving a specific number, I have to go with the hard numbers here and say the Bluehost in the area of online time (uptime) vs offline time (downtime).
Again, I don’t like Bluehost’s SLA because it doesn’t specify a specific number for uptime/downtime, but my personal experience with Bluehost and DreamHost has been (aside from the hard numbers listed here) that Bluehost tends to have more reliable servers and better uptime in general. Some people who’ve used DreamHost extensively may have had a different experience, but I have typically tried to stay away from using DreamHost mainly because of their awful user interface which I try to avoid at all costs.
Service, Support, Ease of Getting Help
While speed and uptime might be the most important factors in choosing a host, support is right up there in terms of importance. If you can’t get help when you need it that can be very frustrating, especially if your site is down or there’s a problem with billing, etc.
When looking at both companies (Bluehost vs DreamHost), they each have fairly good support. Bluehost offers 24/7/365 support via chat, telephone, tickets, and email. DreamHost offers all the above except easy access to telephone support. They do have an option for a technician to call you back, but it’s buried among their other support options and gives the impression that they don’t really want to talk to customers on the phone or deal much with phone support at all.
Support is a relatively subjective category, but my support experience has been much better over the years with Bluehost compared to DreamHost. I’ve found that DreamHost chat support is frequently offline and Bluehost chat is always online, but sometimes the wait times (especially during peak hours) are too long in my opinion.
Based on the fact that Bluehost offers easier access to telephone support and their chat is more accessible (in my experience), I have to give the win to Bluehost in this category.
Ease of Use for the Interface (User-Friendliness): Bluehost/DreamHost
Another important trait of a good web host is having a good user interface in order to control and operate the server. The industry standard is cPanel and it’s what most web hosting companies use. It’s slick, very user-friendly, and easy to use with very little experience. Most web hosts use cPanel either with the default layout/UI or they put their own custom layout on top of cPanel (this is what Bluehost and other hosts such as HostGator do).
Unfortunately, this is one area where I really have to call out DreamHost and tell it like it is (I always do anyway). Their user interface is absolutely terrible, almost to the point of being unusable. For some reason, they don’t use cPanel and decided to have a custom interface. This isn’t always a bad thing per se, but their interface is clunky, confusing, and outdated-looking. It’s really one of the main reasons why I don’t use DreamHost for any new sites unless I have an older site sitting on their servers.
If I have a client or business that’s hosted on DreamHost and I have to move their site to a new server it’s an absolute nightmare. I also, at this point, refuse to migrate sites to DreamHost because the process of setting up FTP account and SQL databases is so confusing and silly it’s not even worth the effort. I don’t know how much else I can say here, but I’m 100% sure that DreamHost fails big in this category. If you do some searching online, you’ll find other people who complain about this as well. It’s really their biggest downside, and because of that (although this is a subjective but honest and thorough opinion) I have to say that Bluehost wins this category, and they win big.
Pricing, Feature Bundles & Options
In the hosting world, pricing can be all over the place due to a variety of factors. Here are some of those factors:
- Coupons—available from a number of sources for many different hosts. They often create a steep initial discount that doesn’t renew.
- Promotions—hosts will often run promotions on almost any holiday (St. Patrick’s Day, Columbus Day, whatever really).
- Renewal rates—these rates vary significantly compared to the initial signup prices. Some hosts will negotiate on these where others will not budge.
- Recurring discounts—some hosts will offer recurring discounts for referring other customers.
- Plan pricing/feature changes—hosts are notorious for continually adjusting pricing in a number of ways and all throughout the season, which can make it hard to keep track of prices.
All of these factors can dramatically affect pricing, so it can be hard to compare two hosts based on pricing and features because they may change at any given time. Really, all that can be done is to take a snapshot at a specific point in time and compare then because things may change at any time in the future.
Looking at DreamHost at the time of writing, they have very straightforward pricing for their shared hosting. If you pay monthly, it’s $10.95/month, yearly it works out to $9.95/month, and triennially it works out to $7.95/month.
Bluehost has a more confusing pricing structure, because if you sign up for 3 years at once, it works out to be $3.45/month for their lowest-priced shared hosting plan. Bluehost does not allow you to pay monthly and their cheapest plan works out to be $5.95/month for shared hosting if you pay for 12 months at once, and $4.95/month if you pay for 24 months up front.
DreamHost does offer unlimited domains and more unlimited things on their shared hosting plan (they only offer one plan), but they are a bit more expensive on the initial cost. Renewal rates can vary so much between the hosts it’s really hard to say.
Because generic hosting (Linux shared) has become so commoditized—it’s really a tie between Bluehost and DreamHost in the pricing and features category—it’s really too close between these hosts to call.
And the overall winner of Bluehost vs DreamHost is…
Bluehost—winning 4 out of 5 categories in the overall matchup.
When it comes to the most important factors—Speed, Uptime, Customer Service, and Ease of Use, Bluehost really pulls ahead of DreamHost, especially in the Easy of Use category where DreamHost’s custom backend is really hurting them. The only category that was a tie is pricing, and given all the other factors, that’s not enough at all to sway the vote to DreamHost. If you’re looking for a solid web host and comparing Bluehost vs DreamHost, my recommendation is definitely Bluehost.