If you've ever looked for a UK web host, you're sure to have come across Easyspace. The company has been around for 20 years and is now a consumer hosting brand of iomart, a group which also includes the more business-oriented Redstation and Rapidswitch.
Easyspace immediately grabbed our attention with its Pic 'N' Mix web hosting plan, a clever scheme which enables building your own hosting package by choosing the levels of disk space, email accounts and databases you actually need.
If you've created a few simple HTML pages for a personal site, for instance, you could create a plan with a single email account, 3GB disk space and no databases. That would cost you £24.60 ($31) a year excluding VAT, discounted to £98.40 ($123) if you buy five years up-front – that's the equivalent of £1.64 ($2.05) a month (a free domain name is included).
Pic 'N' Mix offers less value as you allocate more resources. 5 email accounts, 5GB disk space and 2 databases costs £63 ($79) per year. In comparison, Namecheap's Value plan gives you 50 emails, 20GB disk space and 50 databases for around half the price, and offers a massive discount for the first year. Still, if you need an unusual balance of resources – 3GB of disk space but 200 email accounts – Pic 'N' Mix may still have some appeal.
Easyspace's StarterPlus account – which is £48 ($60) a year – could be a better choice for general hosting. There's ‘only’ 10GB of storage space and one FTP account, but you get unlimited bandwidth and subdomains, 100 mailboxes with 10GB storage space each, up to 5 x 500MB databases, and 1-click install of WordPress and other apps.
The Business plan – priced at £96 ($120) a year – brings unlimited web space and MySQL databases. Email accounts are limited to 200 and there's still only a single FTP account, but you do get goMobi's mobile website builder thrown in, and site backup and restore with yearly purchases. This account can also be billed monthly (Pick 'N' Mix and StarterPlus require paying at least a year upfront).
More specialist products include online stores from £15 ($19) a month, managed WordPress from £15 ($19) a month, VPS from £10 ($12.50) a month and custom dedicated servers from £25 ($31) a month.
Every plan gets basic shared SSL for free, perhaps enough for personal sites, although business and web stores might need more. Your site will be hosted in a UK data centre, most plans allow you to choose Linux or Windows hosting for free, and payments are mostly very flexible. You can pay monthly on some of the high-end accounts, yearly, and sometimes up to 5 years, gaining extra discounts along the way.
Overall Easyspace seems good value, although there are some catches. The 1-click service is free for the first year only, and is £5 ($6.25) per year after that. All plans, even Business, support a single domain and one FTP account only. And although there's a money-back guarantee, it covers you for seven days only. 14 days is more common, and some hosts give you 30 days or more.
The Easyspace website does a good job of presenting its plans side-by-side. Key details are displayed upfront, and more technical information is only a click away.
Sales agents are accessible via live chat if you need help. We tried this out with a simple question and an agent responded, asked a question to clarify, and gave us a helpful answer, all within a couple of minutes.
During the purchase process we were able to decide on Linux or Windows hosting, and choose a purchase period. The site made some welcome efforts to guide us, explaining that Linux was required for apps like WordPress, and highlighting the discount we'd get if we paid for several years in one go.
Marketing efforts seemed at first to be kept to a minimum. Our cart had options for GoMobi and shopping cart trials, and a WHOIS privacy service, but they weren't added by default and could safely be ignored.
The site asked us to enter our name, physical address, phone number and email address to create an account.
Our final order summary included a couple of trials, even though we hadn't asked for them (mail filter, premium backup). But they're free and can be cancelled from the Easyspace console, or you can delete them from your cart in a couple of clicks.
Payments are by credit card only – there’s no PayPal option, which could be an issue for some. We handed over our details anyway, our cash was transferred and Easyspace left us at a confirmation page displaying the product we'd just bought, and asking us to wait for a message telling us more.
Creating a site
Easyspace sent us an email almost immediately after purchase giving us more details on the account. This was a little more informative than average, although couldn't get close to Namecheap's excellent ‘welcome’ message.
We logged into the Control Panel anyway, and were initially baffled. Where did we manage our hosting space? Other hosts display a product, you click Manage and are taken to a cPanel-like console. If we selected ‘Manage hosting’ in Easyspace, it displayed only basic details of the account. Trying ‘Manage domain’ displayed a warning that our account was still being set up, even hours later. There must be some startup tutorials which covered these basics, right? Wrong. Or if they exist, we couldn't see them.
This seemed a good opportunity to test the support ticket system, so we posted a question, but the hours ticked by with no response. When we accidentally opened a ‘transfer domains away from Easyspace’ section, though, we received an automated message immediately – the idea of losing business seems to be more important than customer support.
Some nine hours later a support agent replied to our ticket. He explained that our account wouldn't be activated until our chosen domain's DNS was set to use Easyspace name servers. The response was excellent, very detailed, covered everything we needed to do and advised of possible problems, too.
Still, the problem highlighted an issue with Easyspace. Other hosts usually give you direct access to the space on your server so you can begin uploading files or working on a site immediately. Easyspace won't allow you to do anything until your domain DNS has resolved, a big hassle if you've not chosen it yet, or you're waiting for it to become available.
This won't be the situation for most people, of course, and what they'll see is more straightforward. The Easyspace control panel enables setting up FTP access and email accounts, you can use GoMobi's mobile website creator (with some accounts) to build simple websites, or easily install WordPress or other applications to power a site. It's far from our favourite site management interface, but it's not bad either, and you'll find your way around quickly enough.
Hosting support matters, irrespective of your level of experience, but Easyspace's web resources don't always make it easy to find what you need.
The first problem is that the company maintains two separate support databases. If you click the Support link in the customer control panel you'll get a small list of largely dated and sometimes entirely useless articles. The worst we found had an unhelpful title (‘MySQL Script’), very little text, and linked to a test script which no longer exists.
There is a second database which is much more up-to-date (take a look here), and Easyspace tries to link the two, but it's a clumsy system. If you search support for Outlook 2016, for instance, the latest article you'll see is ‘Outlook 2013 Email Setup’. Clicking this tells you to go to the other site, but doesn't say Outlook 2016 is supported. You have to click the link, find Outlook in the completely different interface in the Support Services site, and only then will you find the setup instructions you need.
The other problem is that even the up-to-date knowledgebase is short on useful information. When we checked the Hosting Help category it had only two sections: one on using WordPress, another on different FTP clients. These were incomplete, so for example the WordPress section had nothing on 1-click installations.
And when we tried searching on a more advanced topic – PHP – the site gave us 18 articles, none of which had any meaningful titles at all. Hits looked something like: ‘4. Support Services; Support Services email, hosting, DNS and SSL guides’. Would you know what question that might answer?
Getting support from a real person delivers better results, but can take a while. Our support ticket (discussed earlier) had an excellent response, but that response took around eight hours to arrive. Telephone support is another option, but it's only available 9am through to 5:30pm Monday to Friday, and it can take ten minutes or more sitting on hold before you're talking to anyone. (Easyspace details the support levels it provides in its Service Level Agreement. Click the SLA tab if that doesn't open by default.)
This won't necessarily matter if your needs are basic – if you simply want to upload a site and see it working, Easyspace might deliver just fine. We certainly didn't see any performance issues, with Bitcatcha and other benchmarks indicating marginally above-average results. They also showed a greater variation in results than usual, but server performance can be affected by many factors, and overall we found no speed issues.
Easyspace looks like good value in some situations, but has too many catches to recommend: hidden extra costs, annoying plan limits, poor support, no PayPal, 7-day money-back guarantee only… and the list goes on.