DreamHost is one of the largest and most established hosting companies online. They have been operating since 1997 (positively ancient by digital standards) and have grown to serve more than 1.5 million websites and 400,000 customers across the globe.
They are independent and employee owned (ie, they aren’t another Endurance International or GoDaddy brand). They are also one of the longest supporters of open source and community built software (ie, WordPress, etc).
DreamHost offers a full-spectrum of hosting solutions from Shared (most common) to VPS to Cloud – and even a specialized WordPress offering along with complementary services like email and domain management. You can check out their plans here (use promo code SLEEPY20 to get $20 off).
But older and employee-owned doesn’t mean they are a best fit for everyone. While moving one of my side projects off an old HostGator VPS, I took the opportunity to give DreamHost’s shared hosting plan a try.
Here’s my DreamHost Hosting review – structured with the pros, cons and direct comparisons to competitors based on my experience as a customer.
Disclosure – I receive referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All opinion and data is based on my experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.
Pros of DreamHost Hosting
There are a lot of DreamHost reviews online – usually with user-generated reviews based on anecdotes and personal experience. That’s fine but I take a different approach. Like I’ve mentioned on other hosting reviews, there is no such thing as a “best” web host. It’s all about the best fit for your project based on your goals, budget, experience & expertise. Here are the pros (advantages) for considering DreamHost.
Pricing & Plan Simplicity
Anyone who has shopped for shared hosting knows that plans can be confusing to say the least. One host will cap disk storage space, another will cap the number of websites and yet another will cap the number of databases you can use, and still another will offer zero “bonus” features.
It’s maddening to figure out what’s the right plan for you from one company – much less compare them across other hosts to find the best value, but pricing is a huge consideration so you can’t avoid it.
Although DreamHost offers a spectrum of specialized hosting services, their main shared hosting offering is one single plan.
There are no tiers or upgrades. It’s one plan at a single price based on how many years you sign up for.
DreamHost charges $8.95/mo for 2 year commitment; $9.95 for 1 year commitment and $10.95 for a monthly commitment (a rarity in the hosting industry).
Their pricing is affordable and very competitive. There is also no deep discount bait and switch (for better or worse) where you get the first year for super cheap and renew at a very high price.
Aside – you can get up to $20 off a plan with promo code SLEEPY20
Their one plan offers unlimited databases, unlimited disk space, unlimited email accounts and unlimited websites (*all subject to an abuse policy). If you are potentially in charge of multiple websites, you don’t have to worry about migrating or getting sticker shock at renewal.
Core & Developer Feature Set
Like I mentioned in pricing, DreamHost provides unlimited access to the “core” feature set of any good web host. That feature set is –
- the ability to point your domain to a server
- the storage of website files on a server
- the installation of a database/software to manage your website
Unless you are running your email through a service like Google Apps or Outlook, hosting should also provide email functionality, and DreamHost provides the full core features set with no caps. DreamHost also provides a solid assortment of more advanced functionality – like full CGI access, raw server logs, cron jobs and subversion repository.
They also allocate a solid default allocation of memory to your account.
And they also have all shared hosting servers on SSD hard drives instead of traditional spinning disk hard drives. These should in theory create better long-term performance.
(Nearly) Full Spectrum of Hosting Services
As a related advantage, DreamHost provides a full-spectrum of hosting services for growing or specialized hosting needs. Most websites start off on a shared server since that makes the most sense based on traffic levels & budget. However, if you site ends up growing or expanding in ways that you hadn’t planned for, it helps to be able to expand with a company that you already have experience with.
DreamHost’s Managed WordPress Hosting service is an offering that has truly WordPress-specific features, such as isolated databases on VPS servers and Varnish caching.
Aside – Some hosting brands simply use the term, “WordPress Hosting” to charge more for shared hosting, which is perfectly adequate for most all websites running on WordPress. DreamHost, along with competitors like SiteGround and WP Engine provide managed hosting services tailored to WordPress.
DreamHost also offers traditional upgrades to VPS and Dedicated servers (think upgrading to a townhome or a house from an apartment) for growing websites, and cloud hosting for app developers.
Overall, DreamHost’s feature set and spectrum of services is a big advantage for them.
Customer Support & Transparency
Every hosting company claims to have stellar customer service. And every prospective customer ends up wondering if they really do – or just say they do.
The trouble with judging customer service is that it’s defined by the extremes. That one careless, rookie employee paired with a demanding, unclear customer can create a meaningless “Worst Company in The World” review. On the flip side, a customer with a simple question of a single rockstar employee can create a meaningless “Best Company in the World” review.
What I find useful is to look at how companies handle public portions of their customer service, and how much they invest in customer support infrastructure (ie, user guides, onboarding, knowledgebases, etc). Both can give you a decent idea of whether the company treats customer service as an investment or as a cost.
Overall, I’ve been impressed with DreamHost’s customer support. Their onboarding process is plain text, but useful. They have a solid knowledgebase, forums and user guides.
And even though they do not have phone support (see the cons section), their in-house team is available 24/7 via live chat, email, and Twitter.
DreamHost also has a separate DreamHost status website that has running updates of critical issues, downtime and system updates. It allows DreamHost to be responsive and transparent with customers whenever something does happen.
DreamHost offers 97 day full money back guarantees. That’s a long time. It’s even longer than InMotion’s 90 days. Combined with DreamHost’s monthly pricing option, you aren’t putting any money at risk to give DreamHost a try.
Independent & Employee Owned
Being independent is not always a good thing – and being corporate owned is not always a bad thing. Sometimes independent companies are missing critical capital and expertise, and sometimes corporate owned companies take cost-cutting and management by numbers too far.
However, given DreamHost’s stability and longevity, I think being independent and employee-owned is a solid advantage. Many brands that are owned by large corporations (ie, iPage) are focused on cost-cutting. DreamHost has repeatedly reinvested in their team and customers.
Cons of DreamHost Hosting
Like any web host, DreamHost has disadvantages. Here are the cons that I found while using DreamHost for hosting.
DreamHost’s shared hosting plan is simple and competitive. They also don’t do any deep short term discounts. That’s both a good thing – and a bad thing.
Not every website owner needs unlimited websites or unlimited databases. Tiered pricing allows customers to only pay for what they need. If you are trying to run a single site on a tight budget, paying more for unlimited everything is nice, but not necessary.
Additionally, the deep discounts at other hosting companies save website owners real money. If the bill for 1 year’s hosting is $100, and you can save 30% – that’s still $30 saved. And if you can renew at the same rate that DreamHost renews at – then you’re even further ahead.
Although DreamHost’s pricing is a pro overall, be sure to decide exactly what you need and look at pricing through your own budget & priorities.
Asides – my hosting quiz can help you sort all your priorities quickly. You can also save a one-time $20 with promo code SLEEPY20 at DreamHost.
At most hosting companies, you have an account area where you access to billing, account information, bonuses (ie, Google AdWords credits), etc – it will also have links to your actual server backend/dashboard.
Most hosting companies use cPanel as the server backend/dashboard. cPanel is where you go to do anything with your hosting server – install any applications (ie, WordPress), set up email addresses, get your FTP information to upload files, etc. It’s simple, straightforward, and since most hosting companies use it, it’s sort of an industry standard that you can get help with anywhere online.
DreamHost does not use that setup. They use a proprietary backend for both your account administration and your server administration.
On one hand, it is simplified and allows DreamHost to provide a truly customized experience. On the other hand, the set up is confusing and feels limiting. Most of the core functionality is under “Goodies” – which groups everything from advanced features like Cron Jobs with bonuses like Google AdWords coupons.
From what I can tell, most all the options that you would otherwise get in cPanel are either in the DreamHost dashboard, or they are in a series of emails that they send. It’s just that everything is buried somewhere instead of out in the open like cPanel.
In theory, DreamHost could use the proprietary backend to create a better user experience, but I think they end up creating more work for their customer support system.
Lack of Apps & Auto-Installs
There are hundreds if not thousands of software apps that you can use on your hosting server. The most famous example is WordPress, which is a “content management system” to set up, run and edit a website. But there’s other software ranging from Joomla to PrestaShop to Wiki applications and more.
All these application can be installed manually, however, many web hosting companies like InMotion have free installer scripts (the most well-known are Softaculous and Fantastico). These installer scripts automatically install your software with a couple clicks to so can get right down to building whatever you are trying to build.
DreamHost does not have that. They have a custom application that links to a few applications, and will get them ready. But they don’t actually install them for you.
In the case of WordPress, it’s not too big of a deal. The install process just takes a couple extra steps. But for other applications, you’ll end up having to install them manually.
No Phone Support
I mentioned DreamHost’s support in the pros section. They are available 24/7 across a wide range of channels….except phone. From my research – it looks like they will do call-backs after you first go through another channel.
Most customers are likely fine with that – and it may allow them to provide better service on other channels. But if you are the type of customer who just wants to get a person on the phone – this point will be a big disadvantage for DreamHost.
In addition to hosting your website, you’ll want a host that can deliver your website files to whoever requests them as quickly as possible.
Website speed – like customer support – has a whole world of variables that affect performance. There are often several dozen ways that you can improve the performance of your website. But your host is still going to be primary variable in the equation.
I like to check the Time To First Byte (TTFB) on any web host I’m working with. It’s a measurement of how quickly the server returns the first byte of information after it receives a request from a browser. In other words, it’s server turnaround time.
It’s not the only way to look at a web host’s performance, but it’s an easy way to get a ballpark estimate. My website on DreamHost gets an alright performance. Here’s the result –
Their performance is better than cut-rate hosts like GoDaddy or iPage. But it’s nowhere near hosts like InMotion or even HostGator. The test is very odd given that DreamHost touts their new SSD servers. But even after several retests, the numbers are staying as they are.
DreamHost’s performance is not horrible, but also not an advantage either.
Out of the most well-known web hosts that I’ve used as a customer or consultant, here’s how DreamHost compares directly to each. Or skip to the conclusion.
DreamHost vs. HostGator
HostGator is one of the most well-known brands online. I have all many of my small personal projects with them (and reviewed them here and here). They beat DreamHost on pricing – especially if you only need a single website. They also beat DreamHost on performance based on my tests. HostGator also uses cPanel for a backend, though it has a few cluttering ads.
HostGator is also owned by Endurance International – a major hosting corporation, and has alright support. They’re a bit of a toss up based on what you prioritize. If you trust independent companies more, DreamHost is fine. If you don’t care, then you’ll save some money with HostGator – see their plans here.
DreamHost vs. GoDaddy
GoDaddy is the big, Super Bowl advertising, everything brand in the domain/hosting industry. And though they have improved since 2013, they still aren’t particularly great (see my GoDaddy hosting review here and domain review here). They beat DreamHost on short-term pricing. But DreamHost gets better performance and a better overall experience. I’d go with DreamHost unless you are already familiar and fine with GoDaddy. Go see GoDaddy’s plans here.
DreamHost vs. Bluehost
Bluehost is one of HostGator’s sister brands owned by Endurance International. They were one of the best choices for affordable hosting for a very long time. They’ve recently restructured their plans and services (see my Bluehost review here) to their own disadvantage.
DreamHost vs. SiteGround
SiteGround is one of the fastest growing independent hosting companies (see my SiteGround review here). They are based in Bulgaria, but provide excellent service globally. They have better performance, better customer service (with more options), and have a more global presence with 4 data centers than DreamHost. SiteGround is also much more expensive than DreamHost. So again, it depends on your priorities. See SiteGround’s plans here…
DreamHost vs. InMotion
InMotion is one of the most established independent, employee owned hosting companies along with DreamHost. This site is hosted on an InMotion VPS server. In my experience, InMotion beats DreamHost on most every aspect – except for pricing on unlimited everything plans, Dreamhost’s 97 day guarantee vs InMotion’s 90 day guarantee, and DreamHost’s monthly pricing option.
InMotion provides capped, cheaper plans for smaller websites. They also have a sister brand, Web Hosting Hub, that has even more affordable plans for small websites. InMotion has more support channels and better performance (see InMotion review here). I’d recommend InMotion over DreamHost. See InMotion’s plans here.
Conclusion & Next Steps
Overall, I found DreamHost to be an excellent hosting company with a few disadvantages. If you want a good hosting company, and you are a fan of their brand, independence and simplicity, then go ahead and sign up for DreamHost here (be sure to use promo code SLEEPY20 to get $20 off your purchase).
If you are looking for an affordable shared hosting company with even better pricing, then go check out HostGator w/ 45% discount here