FatCow is a web hosting brand owned by Endurance International. They offer a full spectrum of hosting services from shared hosting to dedicated servers with unique branding.
FatCow has been around for quite a while. They started in 1998 and run out Burlington, MA – in possibly the same datacenter as their sister brand iPage.
FatCow has made their name with a specific focus on beginner and DIY website owners, and a fun, friendly brand – both of which stand out in an industry traditionally focused on developers and technical server jargon.
Like most shared hosting companies, FatCow also provides email, a website builder, and various complementary services to web hosting with 24 hour support and a 30 day money back guarantee.
I’ve had several readers email to ask my opinion about FatCow, so I decided to give them a shot in my recent shopping tour of entry-level web hosts.
Here’s my FatCow Hosting review – structured with pros & cons 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 Using FatCow Hosting
There are a lot of FatCow reviews online – usually with user-generated reviews based on anecdotes and personal experience. That’s fine but I take a different approach. As I’ve said in other hosting reviews, there is no such thing as a “best” web host. The “best” is the right fit for your project based on your goals, budget, experience & expertise. Here are the pros (advantages) for considering FatCow.
Short-term Pricing & Plan Structure*
FatCow’s primary advantage is their short-term pricing and plan structure. If you sign up for a year – you are likely to get a heavily discounted rate for the first year. Plus – FatCow doesn’t have pricing tiers.
They have a single web hosting plan with unlimited everything. And that’s important because looking at pricing plans across different hosting providers can be confusing.
*Note that FatCow’s pricing and plan structure does have a quirk that will fall in the Cons section.
Web hosting companies are all selling the same thing – a home for your website – but they all have different plans with different caps, different bonuses and different renewal prices. For most, figuring out their true value requires a breakdown into different parts.
To compare “apples to apples”, I break things down into Core hosting features and Bonus hosting features so that you can see exactly what you are paying for and how it compares to other providers.
Core hosting features are the “3 D’s” – domains, databases and disk space. The core purpose of a hosting server is to serve website files when someone types in your domain name.
- Domains are how many domain names you can point to your hosting account. If you want multiple websites, you’ll want to have multiple domains allowed. You’ll also need to look at email addresses per domain – sometimes those are capped as well.
- Databases are how many pieces of website software you can run on your hosting server. A WordPress install requires one database. If you have any apps, Listservs, etc – you’ll need more.
- Disk space is how many files you can put on your server – images, text, PDFs, etc.
Other features could be anything from website builder software to advertising credits to backend software, etc.
When you break it down, you can at least compare apples to apples and get a sense of value based on what you need.
FatCow makes things simple because they only have the one shared hosting plan – their “Original FatCow Plan” which usually starts at a discounted introductory price of $49/year (sometimes discounted even more at this link) – though it renews at up to $155.40 per year after.
That plan includes unlimited domains, disk space and databases, plus plenty of bonus features like unlimited emails, ad credits, and a free domain name.
If you have a very tight budget and want short-term hosting for less than $50/year – FatCow has that advantage.
Daily Backups & Bonuses
As a website owner, there are some things that are 100% your responsibility…but are often not always done. And when they aren’t done, you look to your hosting company to help you out.
Website backups fall into that realm. Ideally, you will take care of your backups either manually or a dedicated service. However, things happen, and it’s good to have a safety net – or a backup for your backup. That’s why backups done by your hosting company are very useful.
FatCow provides free daily backups, which is a unique bonus feature to include.
Additionally, FatCow provides a few other interesting bonus features that are a pro in aggregate. I like how they were one of the first to go 100% wind-powered. They include a free 1-800 number, which can be useful for some businesses. They also provide lots of other random bonuses – like free website design icons and a fun, friendly brand tone.
All positives in my book.
When you sign up for hosting, you usually get access to an account dashboard to manage your plans, products and any add-ons. You’ll also get access to your actual server’s backend where you can install software and get server information for whatever you need it for.
And usually your server’s backend will offer a range of auto-installers that will install common software like WordPress for you.
Every hosting company approaches each of these three areas differently. And the backends of hosting companies can vary widely.
FatCow’s is a custom backend. They do not use the industry standard cPanel. This point will come back as a disadvantage.
However, if you are a beginner or have very basic needs from a hosting backend, then FatCow’s is actually quite simple and straightforward (albeit a bit dated).
If you only need server information and access to a QuickInstall (ie, for WordPress), then it’s all there.
For FatCow’s primary audience, I’ll place their custom backend as a pro for using FatCow.
Cons of Using FatCow Hosting
Like any web host, FatCow Hosting has disadvantages. Here are the cons that I found while using FatCow for hosting.
Long-term Pricing & WordPress Plan Structure
Like I mentioned in the pros section, FatCow has great short term pricing and simple plan structure. However, they throw a couple wrenches into that scenario.
First, their Original FatCow Plan renews at up to $155.40 per year if you renew for a year (or $10.95 per month if you sign on for 3 years).
Whatever you renew at – their pricing is more expensive than direct competitors. HostGator renews for as little as $6.95 per month when you sign up for 3 years and $8.95 when you renew for a year. Even Web Hosting Hub renews at $8.99 per month.
Either way – FatCow is more expensive if you are selecting a long-term host.
*Aside – “WordPress Hosting” is possibly the most confusing, maddening terminology in the entire hosting industry. Here’s the thing. WordPress runs on any Linux shared hosting. It does not need any sort of special hosting.
Unless you are purchasing hosting from a company that *only* does WordPress such as WP Engine, “WordPress Hosting” services are just upsells with renamed benefits.
Everything that FatCow promises in their WordPress plans is not something they can really promise. For example, they promise to “pre-install plugins.” Plugins in WordPress require 3 clicks to install. And the ones they pre-install usually aren’t the best ones – they are the plugins that make FatCow money.
Another example is their promises of speed because they installed the W3 Total Cache. Ok, just because you install a caching plugin doesn’t make your WordPress website fast – not to mention that W3 Total Cache is not the best choice for shared hosting plans (use Super Cache instead). Ditto with their security promises.
The last thing about their WordPress plans is that the WP Starter Plan is actually cheaper than their Original FatCow plan. That’s great and all, but it makes me wonder what’s missing. Honestly, their WP Essential Plan looks like a complete upsell with no real benefits.
After looking at several Endurance International brands, these plans look like something they are rolling out across all their brands to make money and consolidate services – not something that actually fits into FatCow’s brand or normal services.
If a site needs WordPress-specific hosting, then you should use a company like WP Engine or a WordPress Hosting plan like SiteGround’s that offers real developer benefits. Otherwise, you should just use Linux shared hosting and install WordPress on that account.
Either way, FatCow’s long-term pricing and confusing WordPress-specific offerings are solidly in the cons column for them.
Related to WordPress services is the topic of general upsells.
Upsells are not necessarily a bad thing. They provide cheaper overall prices for most while providing specific services for anyone who wants to pay for them.
But upsells can also be a bad thing. Usually they become bad when they are overly aggressive or when they are added without explicit consent.
They can also be bad when they confuse customers and devalue the actual product. This point is where FatCow fails.
They offer upsells in checkout and in their backend. Instead of complementing their services, they overlap with key features. Several also come pre-checked (I almost bought Google Apps for no reason).
Either way, it’s not a huge disadvantage. And their upsells do not affect their core product, but it is a turn off compared to competitors.
Allocations & Performance
Like I mentioned before, the core job of a web host is to serve website files when someone types in your domain name – but most agree that there’s a missing adverb. It should be “to serve website files quickly.”
To say website speed is important is cliche, especially in the age of mobile. While server speed is not the only factor in overall website speed, it is an important factor.
And critically, it’s also a “bottleneck” factor. In other words, no matter how fast you compress or speed up your website, you can only go as fast as your server can respond.
Measuring server speed and response time is a complicated issue. Only the network engineers at FatCow can definitively say what’s going on with server speed. However, anyone can measure a ballpark metric of server performance.
It’s called Time To First Byte (TTFB) – and shows how quickly a server delivers the first byte of information after it receives a request.
Here’s how FatCow performed the day I measured it with my website –
Here’s the test a few hours later –
Here’s how Web Hosting Hub (a direct entry-level competitor performed that same hour) –
As you can see – FatCow isn’t bad, but they aren’t great either.
Now, TTFB is best measured as a trend. But, simply looking at FatCow’s server information makes it look like they don’t invest in resources as much as competitors.
Overall, I would not buy FatCow hosting for their performance.
Like I mentioned in the pros section, FatCow does have a simple and straightforward backend. However, it’s also a custom backend (not cPanel). This means that if you are looking for more advanced functionality or are already used to cPanel at a previous host – you’ll find FatCow’s backend to be annoying.
Like their performance and customer support – it’s not bad, but it’s also not great either. Their service would be much better with a cPanel backend instead of their custom setup.
Customer support is notoriously hard to judge. It’s hard to know what is really going on behind the scenes, and whether a company will be helpful when *you* contact them.
So many user-supplied online reviews (of any company) are either naively positive or exaggerated negative experiences. Besides, with anecdotes, you never know if you are reading about a one-off or a true trend.
Instead, I argue that you should look for indicators of whether a company treats customer service as a cost or an investment. In other words, are they trying to keep costs down and maximize profit for the short term or are they trying to develop happy, long-term customers?
The two best indicators I’ve found are:
- availability across a range of support channels
- investment in DIY customer support.
FatCow is mediocre on both. Not bad on an absolute scale, but bad compared to other providers.
For availability, they have phone and chat support. My chat wait time wasn’t bad, but not great either.
They seem to monitor Twitter, but don’t have any alternative methods (ie, forums or comments) on their actual website.
As far as DIY customer support resources, they have a knowledgebase and a user guide section.
Neither is bad (like Arvixe), but neither is comprehensive or actively being invested in. They both cover very beginner topics or vendor specific topics.
Overall, FatCow’s customer support seems ok, but not great compared to other providers.
Speaking of other providers, here’s how FatCow compares to their largest competitors.
FatCow Hosting Comparisons
Out of the most well-known web hosts that I’ve used as a customer or consultant, here’s how FatCow compares directly to each. Or skip to the conclusion.
FatCow vs. GoDaddy
Between their TV ads, other offline ads, and long history GoDaddy is the most recognized brand in the industry. GoDaddy has a reputation for upsells, confusing backend and poor performance. They have improved since 2013, but they still share the same weaknesses as FatCow. I’d pick whichever one had better pricing. See GoDaddy’s current pricing here and FatCow’s pricing here.
FatCow vs. Bluehost
FatCow and Bluehost are sister brands owned by Endurance International, though they have very different plans and market focus. Bluehost is a more full-service hosting provider and is Endurance’s marquee brand. I reviewed Bluehost here. Although Bluehost has heavily capped plans, I’d go with Bluehost over FatCow for better service and backend. Check out Bluehost here.
FatCow vs. HostGator
Like Bluehost, HostGator is a very well-known brand in the hosting industry. They are also owned by Endurance International, which makes them another sister brand to FatCow. Like FatCow, HostGator has very affordable plans for starter websites. Unlike FatCow, they have pretty good performance, customer support options and long-term pricing. I’d go with HostGator.
FatCow vs. InMotion
InMotion Hosting is one of the largest and fastest growing independent (ie, owned by employees not a large corporate holding company) hosting companies. This site uses a VPS server with InMotion. Their plans are more capped than FatCows. However, they have much better customer support, better performance and affordable long-term pricing. InMotion’s cheapest plan is not that much more expensive than FatCow – and it’d be well worth it. Check out InMotion here…
Side note about InMotion – they also own a starter hosting brand called Web Hosting Hub that offers even better unlimited pricing than InMotion with great performance. They compete head to head with FatCow. They’re a bit more expensive, but also make an excellent starter hosting company if you want an independent hosting company. You can check out Web Hosting Hub here…
Conclusion & Next Steps
Overall, I found FatCow hosting to be alright. They aren’t great, but they also aren’t that bad. If their short-term pricing is attractive to you, then you can go sign up for FatCow here.
Otherwise, I’d look for alternatives that might be a better fit with a better complete package.
If you are looking for an independent shared hosting company with almost as good pricing, better performance, and customer support, and don’t mind paying annually then I’d recommend checking out InMotion Hosting w/ 57% off here…
If you are looking for a very affordable option with the option to pay monthly, then I’d check out HostGator w/ 45% off here…