A2 Hosting Review: Pros & Cons of Using A2 Hosting

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A2 Hosting is an independent web hosting company founded in 2003. They are based in Ann Arbor Michigan but serve hosting markets globally. A2 Hosting positions themselves as a high performance, speed-focused hosting company with excellent support.

The offer a full spectrum of hosting solutions ranging from shared Linux hosting (what most businesses need) all the way to cloud and dedicated server solutions for large, growing websites.

Like InMotion Hosting and SiteGround Hosting, they’re one of the faster growing independent hosting companies (i.e., not owned by a larger corporate holding company like Endurance or GoDaddy). They have a large dedicated fanbase in addition to some high-profile bloggers as customers.

Like my experiment with Web Hosting Hub, I recently had a couple small websites that needed their own hosting accounts. Since I’ve had readers ask about A2 Hosting, I decided to give them a try.

Get A2 Hosting’s current discount here.

Here’s my A2 Hosting review structured with pros and cons based on my experience as a customer.

Skip to direct comparisons or skip to the conclusion.

Disclosure – I receive referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All opinions and data are based on my experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using A2 Hosting

There are a lot of A2 Hosting reviews online – usually with user-generated reviews based on anecdotes and personal experience. That’s fine but I take a different approach. Like I mention in all my hosting reviews, there is no such thing as a “best” web host. It’s all about the right fit for your project based on your goals, budget, experience & expertise. Here are the pros (advantages) for considering A2 Hosting.

Speed & Performance

A hosting account can be a lot of things to your business, but the core function of a hosting server is to serve your website files whenever someone requests them. But – the implied adverb there is to serve those files quickly.

In an age of global audiences and multi-device connections, speed matters more than ever. While there are a lot of variables in play with website speed, it’s primarily your hosting server’s job to send the requested files to the visitor’s browser as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

A2 Hosting makes a lot of claims about their speed.

Some of those claims are misleading hyperbole. Some of those speed claims are upsells (which I’ll get to in the cons of A2 Hosting).

But overall, A2 Hosting does generally live up to their promises.

One of the main factors of site speed is Time To First Byte(TTFB) – ie, how quickly the server sends the first byte of the first file in response to a request. Here’s how my A2 Hosting website tested out with a standardized install for comparison.

A2 Hosting Speed Test - Standard

Their TTFB was much better than some of their big brand competitors like Bluehost or GoDaddy and competitive with other companies that focus on speed. For example, here’s my TTFB report from tests that I did on my SiteGroundwebsite.

SiteGround Speed

A bit faster – but in the same ballpark – especially given the variance that can happen with TTFB tests. And of course, if you have a good server setup, you can do even more. For example, here’s my TTFB test with an optimized InMotion server.

InMotion VPS SpeedTest

Overall, A2 Hosting excels in their main claim to fame – speed & performance. If that’s your priority, then they are certainly in the running with other direct competitors.

*Note that I do have some qualms with A2 Hosting over speed, measurement & how they approach optimization. I’ll get to those in the Cons section, but for now – A2 Hosting does very well on speed.

Global Data Centers

On a related but different note than speed & performance, A2 Hosting scores well as a globally focused host that can efficiently serve websites around the world.

While there are lots of factors in website speed (like TTFB), the physical location of your server matters a lot. Requests for information travel over physical wires to a physical server. Even at lightspeed, distance matters, especially if you own/maintain a site or if your visitors need to load up many different files.

If you and your audience are on one side of the globe, it’s good to host your files near both you and your audience.

*Note – if you are in one country, but your audience is spread out, most sites solve this problem with a CDN.

Until recently, most cutting edge hosting companies were based & focused on the US market. If you were in Asia or Europe -then you might be stuck with lackluster local hosting and/or slow connection times.

A2 Hosting allows you to select your datacenter among the three that they operate in US, Europe or Asia. If you are ex-US or are trying to serve an audience exclusively there – A2 Hosting’s datacenter options are a compelling advantage.

Support Access & Options

Like I’ve mentioned in other hosting reviews, reviewing customer support is tricky. Just like your local restaurant on Yelp, the most positive and most negative reviews are generally worthless.

You never know when issues are customer-caused or when someone simply encountered that one amazing/horrible employee.

I’ve had a good experience with A2 Hosting. But that’s very anecdotal. So, I also like to look at “proxies” for customer support. In other words, things that indicate something about the culture & processes of customer support.

First – A2 Hosting provides a lot of different channels for customer support.

A2 Hosting Customer Service

They have a phone number front and center. They have an extensive knowledgebase, live chat, and even Skype access. They do well triaging requests via social media.

Second, A2 Hosting’s reps are very “hands-on” – they offer custom installs and plenty of solutions where your rep will go in and fix the issue rather than talking you through the process. While some customers may or may not like that option, it does signal that they see customer support as an investment rather than a cost. That’s the type of general conclusion that I look for – and the one that I think matters in the long-term over a one-off experience.

Like their independent competitors in InMotion and SiteGround, A2 Hosting’s customer support is a major pro to choosing them over a big brand hosting company that may or may not prioritize support in the same way. This point segues into another big advantage for A2 Hosting.

Transparency & Independence

First off, I don’t think that a company is “good” or “bad” simply due to its size. It’s all about tradeoffs.

There are a lot of major advantages to using a big company. They usually have the resources to provide big comprehensive solutions. They usually have lower unit costs that can be passed to the customer. They are also usually more stable than small, upstart companies.

That said small companies are usually able to be more agile, closer & more responsive to the customer, and less likely to view customers solely through the lens of a Net Promoter Score.

In the world of hosting – it really depends on your goals & preferences. There is no right answer.

That said, it’s a big advantage that A2 Hosting is a founder-owned, independent company – simply because that is so rare in 2017. Most hosting companies are brands of Endurance International, GoDaddy or the Web.com group.

And not only is A2 Hosting independent, they are stable and growing and really use their independence to promote transparency and accessibility that a big brand simply can’t match.

A2 Hosting CEO

If you are someone looking for a hosting company rather than a hosting brand – A2 Hosting will tick that box. If not, you can ignore this section and keep focusing on your priorities.

Hosting Customizations & Features

The last major advantage of A2 Hosting that I want to call out is their focus on hosting features and customizations. They are not only a full-spectrum hosting company with products tailored for nearly every need, they also have a focus on the exact features that you get with your plans.

They have everything from Windows hosting to Dedicated and Cloud hosting. All their plans come with up to date versions of software (ie, PHP7, new cPanel, etc).

Now – I think some of their “features” are misleading marketing-speak. But, like their speed claims, they do come through with providing the hosting that your project will need.

Cons of Using A2 Hosting

Like any web host, A2 Hosting has disadvantages. There are plenty of A2 Hosting complaints online. But remember, that like the pros, these are all in the context of your goals & priorities. With that said, here are the cons that I found while using A2 Hosting.

Price Point

Like I’ve mentioned in other hosting reviews, comparing pricing across hosting companies can be maddening. It’s very difficult to compare apples to oranges because plans generally come with various caps.

That said, I try to look at compare pricing based on the 3 “D’s” of core hosting features –

  • Domains – how many websites you can run on your account
  • Databases – how many software installs you can run
  • Disk Space – how many files you can upload to your account

After looking at “core” hosting features, I like to factor all the possible “bonus” features. Bonus features are features that you should only factor in if they pertain to your goals.  For example, if you plan on running AdWords, then a credit there might be worthwhile, but if not, then it’s something to ignore completely.

Either way, A2 Hosting has 3 main tiers for shared Linux hosting – the Lite ($7.99/mo for 2-year plans), Swift ($9.99/mo for 2-year plans) and Turbo plans $18.99/mo for 2-year plans.

With heavy discounting, their plans are not too bad compared to both competitors and discount brands.

That said – they are definitely pricier than most hosting companies that I’ve looked at for a few reasons.

First, their renewal pricing is only valid for 2-year plans. If you only want to pay annually – their renewal pricing is much higher.

A2 Hosting Pricing Specifics

Second, their Lite plan is pretty heavily capped. It’s really suitable for literally one website with no additional use cases.

Third, they don’t include some key “bonus” features that their competitors do include. I’ll touch on those later, but things like backups, dedicated IP addresses, “performance”, “priority support” and spam filtering all get bucketed as upsells rather than as pre-packaged features.

Fourth, I’m not entirely clear on what justifies paying double the price for “Turbo” – there are even some features that move from Included to “Available”. On the face of it, it appears that they promise to put you on a less crowded server. But the thing is – that wouldn’t seem like it would enhance minute to minute performance on an absolute measure. It would, however, “increase” speeds if compared to crowded servers under constant load.

I’m not a network engineer and I’m certainly not privy to how A2 Hosting has their network setup. It might be fabulous. But the thing is – after looking at & using many hosting companies, it seems like simply a way to get more money per month without providing immediate value month to month.

Now – to be clear, that’s not a bad thing. Price is not a particularly good metric. Every customer should look at overall value for their needs. But either way, A2 Hosting works at a higher price point than other hosts, and I’m not sure their raw features meet the price point….which segues into the next section.

Technical Marketing Speak

I work in marketing. I love it. I think good marketing can make the world a better place.

But marketing is a tool. And I absolutely do not like it when companies use “marketing-speak” to misrepresent products and services. It’s fine to simplify, but tell it like it actually is. And it’s fine to re-frame or re-position, but not at the cost of hiding other facts.

A2 Hosting does this a lot. They have a sleek website. They have good copy. But they consistently invent features that aren’t actually features or they position facts outside of context so they seem great…but really don’t make any sense.

Here’s an example.

A2 Hosting Specifics

The chart looks great. It’s one of those marketing assets that makes you nod and move along to the buy button. Everyone does it to an extent, but there are a couple things here that bother me.

First, the Performance Plus pitch grossly simplifies what it takes to “maintain your site’s speed during traffic spikes.” That all depends on your caching, the size of your site, the size of your “traffic spike” (ie, is it hundreds, thousands or millions of requests?”, and dozens of other variables. It plays on fear rather than a more accurate upside like “smoothly handle a resource-intensive site).

Second, the Cores, Physical and Virtual Memory allocations are missing any sort of context. They are presented to persuade you to buy a more expensive plan – not to provide any truly useful comparative information.

In fairness to A2 Hosting, I do like the specificity and I do know that providing concise, useful information is a challenge on a sales page. That said, combined with the next disadvantage, their marketing-speak serves as a disadvantage for any customer trying to make an informed choice of hosting company.

Onboarding & Product Setup

Onboarding is the process of moving a new customer to an active, happy customer. It’s a critical process for any company, but especially for hosting companies who are selling an inherently technical product.

While A2 Hosting has many of the common ingredients for a good onboarding (ie, email confirmations, intuitive client area and standard cPanel) – everything in the process of setting up my account was slightly off. It was a bit frustrating – enough to make it a disadvantage.

They start out their orders simply with an Order Confirmation.

A2 Hosting Confirmation

Their account area is fairly simple.

A2 Hosting Backend

Their welcome email looks comprehensive…but it’s not. Most sign-up emails have critical account information so that you can get started right away (see examples in my Website Setup Guide).

But A2 Hosting’s emails do not.

A2 Hosting Onboarding

It tells me to get my DNS information in their help area.

But when I go to the help area…it tells me to go back to the email.

A2 Hosting DNS

But there’s no information in the email.

A2 Hosting DNS

So back to Google/customer support.

Either way – from their cPanel, they have customized it to emphasize their “A2 Customized Installers” rather than the standard Softaculous installer.

The problem with their customized installers is that it makes the installed software way harder and cluttered than it needs to be.

A2 Hosting WordPress Install

If I were a new, inexperienced user, I would be regretting my purchase about now. It’s these situations where A2 Hosting needs good support because their onboarding is creating problems that should not exist in the first place.

But beyond the “customized” setup/onboarding – I was disheartened at how they’ve pre-configured their “A2 Optimized” software.

It looks like they’ve hamstrung it to use fewer resources than normal while configuring plugins to get the software back to a non-hamstrung state. For example, here, they set the default WordPress memory limit to 40M rather than something useful like 256M. I’m sure they have their reasons, but that was frustrating since it’ll immediately throw up error flags for some plugins.

A2 Hosting WordPress Limits

But –  the site will still appear fast since they have very aggressive caching pre-installed. I’m not a huge fan and think that pre-configuring software like this is a disadvantage to companies that install a standard version of your software of choice.

Upsells & Offers

Upsells are not inherently a “bad” thing. If presented well, they can be useful. But upsells need to be clear, useful and presented well. While not as bad as some big brand competitors, A2 Hosting does not do upsells well.

Here’s what you see on checkout – a wall of “configuarable options” – aka, upsells.

A2 Hosting Choices

While not garish or overwhelming, those configurable options create a lot of questions.

A2 Hosting Choice Confusion

Every single option (apart from Server Location) either creates doubt or confusion in the mind of the customer. Additionally, since they are all presented out of context – I have no idea what they are or why they are useful or how they apply to my purchase.

But the frustrating offers/upsells don’t stop at the checkout screen. They are integrated into A2 hosting’s “optimized software” as shown earlier.

But they are also advertised within the server backend. As seen here –

A2 Hosting Offers

In this case, it’s less about the offer and more with what the offer is. It’s a truly horrible “SEO” product. The kind that makes me ashamed to work in the SEO industry. Here’s what you see when you click on A2 Hosting’s “Link Building” product.

A2 Hosting Offers

Yeah. I’m not sure how much money Attracta pays A2 Hosting for that product placement, but wow does that negatively affect A2 Hosting’s otherwise solid, clean brand.

Not only are there video sales letters – but A2 Hosting also automatically provided my email to Attracta for an email automation setup that I did not sign up for – pure spam.

A2 Hosting SEO Tools

But the frustrations with offers/upsells/messaging gets worse. A2 Hosting takes credit for providing free, open-source products from other companies for free. As part of their “Optimization” upgrade, they supposedly install a bunch of exclusive software to help your site.

In the case of the WordPress install, it turns out to be some standard, free plugins available to anyone via the WordPress plugin repository.

A2 Hosting Claims

It’s one thing to provide an auto-install service – that’s fine. It’s another to use someone else’s work and use the value from their work to add “exclusive” value to your product.

Now – from a day to day use perspective – none of this matters. You can ignore the upsells, ignore the offers and remove the bundled plugins. But as far as choosing a company based on trust & values, I see it as a disadvantage to A2 Hosting.

Guarantees, Backups & Bonuses

Guarantees and backup services are “bonus” features in the grand scheme of hosting. But for something as important as your website, they can be life (err wallet) savers.

A2 Hosting’s money-back guarantee is fine but is not impressive compared to direct competitors.

A2 Hosting Refund

They also only provide “server rewind backups” for free with your standard plan. If you want true regular backups, you’ll need to subscribe to a 3rd party service.

A2 Hosting Backups

Again, that’s fine, but it’s something to factor in while comparing price & value among competitors.

Lastly, their actual bonuses/freebies are pretty thin on the ground. In fact, 3 of their 4 freebies are ad placements to benefit A2 Hosting. Nothing outside the norm, but something to factor in if you already know some of the services you’re looking for.

A2 Hosting Offer

Overall, A2 Hosting’s guarantees, backups, and freebies are ok on their own, but a disadvantage compared to the rest of the industry.

Alternatives to A2 Hosting

Out of the most well-known hosts that I’ve used as a customer or consultant, here’s how A2 Hosting compares directly to each.

A2 Hosting vs. SiteGround

SiteGround is one of A2 Hosting’s big independent (ie, also not owned by a big holding company) competitors. They both have a focus on speed with reputations for solid support. SiteGround shares all of A2 Hosting’s positives (including global data centers) with few of A2 Hosting’s downsides. You can read my full SiteGround Hosting review here, but unless you have a specific reason for choosing A2 Hosting, I would recommend signing up for SiteGround.

A2 Hosting vs. InMotion Hosting

InMotion Hosting is one of A2 Hosting’s big independent (ie, also not owned by a big holding company) competitors. A2 Hosting offers global data centers and Windows hosting that InMotion does not. Beyond that, I’ve found that InMotion provides all of A2 Hosting’s benefits without the downsides. InMotion has very involved support and a solid pricing structure. You can read my full review of InMotion Hosting here, but unless you need Windows servers, I would recommend signing up for InMotion Hosting.

A2 Hosting vs. Bluehost

Bluehost is one of Endurance International’s most well-known brands. They beat A2 Hosting on pricing. However, A2 Hosting does much better with performance and core hosting features whereas Bluehost has better “bonuses” and side upgrades. If performance matters more to you – then pay a bit extra for A2 Hosting. If you’re just running a simple, straightforward project, then Bluehost is solid.

A2 Hosting vs. HostGator

HostGator is one of Endurance International’s other well-known brands. They are best known for offering good web hosting with unmetered features for very affordable prices. I use them for small personal projects – and they beat A2 Hosting on pricing and core hosting features. However, A2 Hosting has better support and performance. So again, between them, go with A2 Hosting for better value & better performance and HostGator for better (or short term) pricing and/or unmetered features.

Next Steps

There’s a reason A2 Hosting is one of the fastest growing independent hosting companies. They have a solid product and a great support.

If you are looking for a full service hosting company with solid support and performance (and you don’t mind a few upsells) – then go sign up for A2 Hosting here.

If you are looking for a hosting company with all the benefits of A2 Hosting – but with better pricing and guarantees, I’d go with InMotion HostingGet InMotion’s discount here.

If you are more confused than ever – then take my Web Hosting Quiz here or use my website setup guide here!

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