The company stood out for us immediately with its focus on a single shared hosting plan. There's no need to scroll down lengthy comparison tables, weigh up the value of this or that feature or perform multiple price calculations: iPage is hoping its Essentials Plan – $2.75 (£2.20) a month initially over 3 years, $11 (£8.80) on renewal – will satisfy just about everyone.
The firm might have a point, too. Not only does Essentials have unlimited web space and bandwidth, it also supports unlimited email addresses, MySQL databases and even domains, a premium feature with most other hosts.
iPage throws in a simple drag-and-drop page builder, another feature often reserved for specialist accounts with rivals. There's the standard 1-click installation of WordPress and other applications, basic shared SSL included, a simple shopping cart, and you get a free domain for a year when you sign up.
Support options include an online help centre, 24/7 live chat and telephone support, with a toll-free number in the UK and US – and if the service still doesn't deliver, there's a 30-day money-back guarantee.
There's a lot of functionality here, and if your needs are simple – a single domain, a handful of databases – then iPage Essentials isn't for you. But the plan offers good value for what you get, and if you're looking to host multiple sites, or just want room to grow, it could be very appealing.
We thought iPage's focus on its Essentials Plan would make signing up very simple, but – surprise, surprise – life turned out to be a little more complicated than that.
You'll probably visit iPage.com first and you can buy from there, but it might not be the best move. There are also UK, Canadian and other sites, and these aren't only priced in the local currency, they also follow different rules.
Buy from iPage.com, for instance, and the 1, 2 and 3-year plans all have different monthly rates, and will cost you $60 (£48), $84 (£67) and $99 (£79) respectively. But the UK pricing not only starts fractionally lower at £2.50 a month, that rate is also available on both the 2 and 3-year plans, so the prices are £30, £40.32 and £60.48.
This isn't the whole story – there's the treatment of taxes to consider, and the conversion rate you might get via your payment method – but spend a minute or two on the calculator and you might find you can save a few quid.
Whatever your choice, iPage tries to bump up the total anyway by adding a few chargeable extras to your cart. Some of these are reasonable value – malware scanning for £1.66 ($2.10) a month, domain-validated SSL at £20 ($25) for year one, £60 ($75) a year afterwards – but be sure to check this section carefully, and clear the checkboxes for anything you don't need.
The rest of the page is all about entering your personal and payment details (credit cards and PayPal are supported). We noticed nothing out of the ordinary and the purchase went through as normal.
Once you've handed over the cash, you're told that a welcome email will arrive imminently with more details. And sure enough, within a minute of our PayPal receipt we had an iPage email with a username and login link.
The final step of setup involved choosing an account password. iPage delivered a little more than we expected here by enforcing multiple rules, using what seemed to be an accurate password strength meter, and also requiring an answer for a security question as a backup (the usual mother’s maiden name, or name of first pet sort of thing). It's a fraction more hassle initially, but hosting security is really important, and small steps like this can make a real difference.
Creating a site
Logging on to iPage took us straight to the company's vDeck hosting control panel. We suspect experienced users are likely to prefer cPanel – it's more widely used, has more features add-ons, is more likely to be familiar – but this won't be a major issue for most people. The core interface looks similar, with icons for a File Manager, email setup and more, and even a hosting novice could learn the basics in an evening.
A Weebly-powered Website Builder is included with the package. It's very basic, featuring just the core essentials and limited to six pages, but the templates are okay and we had a starter site online within minutes.
There's very simple e-commerce support with a bundled ShopSite Starter account. Again, it's limited, with support for only 15 products and five pages. But that's more than you'll get with most hosts, and overall we're glad to see it included.
1-click installations of WordPress and other applications are handled by Mojo Marketplace, which means there's some pushy marketing to navigate. Just opening the Mojo Marketplace window generated a ‘welcome’ email a few moments later, and after setting up an application Mojo does its best to try and persuade you to buy something. It generally does a good job of installing whatever you need, though, and once your app is up and running you don't have to use the marketplace again.
If you're setting up your site manually, a sidebar gives you handy account information: IP, name servers and mail servers. (Don't ignore the ‘Show More’ link – this also displays details like your PHP, MySQL and Perl versions, document roots, key paths and more.) Icons like FTP, File Manager and MySQL Databases point you at the key creation tools, and although these are relatively limited they're easy to pick up and learn.
iPage is proud of its ‘expert support team’, on hand 24/7 to handle queries by live chat, email and phone. The flexibility sounds good, but how would these options work in real life?
We started with some basic live chat queries and were immediately impressed. The chat client predicts how long you'll have to wait, and we only waited for a minimal two and a half minutes before an agent gave us quick, concise and accurate replies.
Online web support is accessible from the iPage control panel, but only as a link to a separate page. We prefer HostGator's approach where a search box enables searching the database and viewing article titles without moving away from the control panel.
The initial support page seems very familiar – search box at the top, icons leading to particular topics underneath – but the organisation and structure is poor. We were looking at the Control Panel Support Console, for instance, but realised that didn't have an icon for Website Builder. After running some searches we found a Website Builder section on the iPage knowledgebase, a second list accessed via the Help page, and a link to a Website Builder-specific knowledgebase on another site entirely.
We tried an ‘import WordPress’ query, hoping for guidance on importing an existing WordPress site into an iPage setup. This was also disorganised, with searches from Control Panel and the Help site giving us completely different results, but there was an article available which pointed us in the right direction.
Further searches and browsing produced much the same results: there aren't enough support articles, they're too hard to find, and most of the items you manage to track down are too limited to be really useful. (A say-no-more example would be the search page which told us: “Sorry, there are no articles that match your query: apache”.)
You can't rely on the website, then, and although the iPage site mentions email support and ‘support tickets’ in a few places, there is no ticket system. Which seems just a little misleading.
If you're happy with chat and email support this may not matter too much, of course, and there's no doubt that making direct contact works much better. We tried a second live chat and it went even more smoothly than the first, with a response in under two minutes and our (admittedly simple) question answered in the first sentence.
Telephone support is available via a toll-free number in the UK and US. There's no PIN number or other complications involved in setting up a call, we were talking to an agent in under 30 seconds, and the results weren't bad at all. He didn't seem the most technically proficient of contacts, but he answered our starter questions easily, and we felt he'd make real efforts to help solve more difficult issues.
As a final check we ran Bitcatcha and other speed tests on our server. This gave excellent response times from the east coast of the US and lagged fractionally in the UK, but performance was normal overall and you're unlikely to notice any issues in real-world browsing.
iPage gives you comprehensive web hosting with loads of features, and it’s good value for experienced users looking to host multiple sites. But if you only need a single domain and a handful of websites, there are much better deals elsewhere.