I've known about A Small Orange (otherwise known as ASO) for a while now and they've been around since 2003, that's 15 years of hosting and on the company website it does say they host tens of thousands of site. This is not a tiny hosting company and not a large one either. The site is clean and shows services ranging from normal (shared) hosting to Managed Services and seem to be very charity and non-profit friendly by offering a 10% discount or free hosting from a month to money basis.
There are 2 datacentre locations in Dallas, Texas and Dearborn, Michigan and have no idea why they chose Dearborn (no offence), but I guess it's a safe location for natural disasters? As far as hosting companies go, they are very US centric because when these type of companies want a more international reach, they would either go long and open up a location overseas or at the very least have a presence in a datacentre on one of the coasts like DC/Maryland, Miami, NYC, Seattle, San Francisco; I think you get my point.
Nothing wrong with that, especially since they do have a grassroots feel as they seem to support small businesses and have solutions for great scale by offering Reseller plans (not a very common service), VPS products, dedicated and managed hosting.
One interesting part, that I didn't even find until I went all the way to the end to view other services; they have a website builder, Weebly's technology to be exact. Quite a range of products, but no Microsoft Windows hosting and very cpanel oriented, so in my mind, ok great, a full line of services, very focused, which means not much variety and choice other than Linux OS and Cpanel.
It looks like there is a lot to cover so lets get to the plans
A Small Orange Hosting Offerings
There's quite a lot of packages offered through A Small Orange, but they seem to be selling the same thing in different packages. It's a bit confusing, for example, at the top of the home page they have shared, WordPress, Business, Reseller, Cloud VPS and a drop down menu with dedicated servers, managed hosting and Website builder on the side. Oh, forgot one, when you scroll down further, there is yet another hosting package that comes with the Weebly web design automation software. Enough already!
The packages are also more expensive and there is absolutely no prepayment (yearly discounts). All billing options are on a month to month basis.
What's the difference between A Small Orange's version of Weebly and normal Weebly?
Other than the Weebly software, that's about it. Everything else is not even close to what Weebly offers. Here's what you get.
- 2 Options – Business Plan ($13/mo) and Professional Plan ($32/month)
- Unlimited pages – Why wouldn't you offer unlimited pages? This is just a marketing thing that tries to make the plan look better than it is. It's like saying, you can drive your car as long as you want. In the end you will either have to buy more storage/bandwidth for your hosting account or keep up maintenance and replace the wear and tear of your vehicle (but you can still drive it!).
- Unlimited emails – This is a decent option, considering Weebly ONLY resells Google email services and that is an additional cost.
- Bandwidth – 75GB and 350GB respectively, which is fine, you'll most likely never use 1% of that anyway. This is where the comparison stops and the differentiation between the professional and business plans begin.
Business Plan – You Also Get:
- Unlimited Membership
- Membership Registration (duh – why would you even say this? Obviously if you allow memberships, you would allow registration of members too.)
- Unlimited Products – Great, but it doesn't help that you just built your website with a decent, but not flexible design software, so if you do want to scale (like up to a dedicated or managed service, you'd basically have to start all over again and waste more money)
- No transaction fees – This is actually a very nice feature
- Own Domain Shopping Cart – I certainly hope so? It is an eCommerce plan.
- Digital Goods – ok, now I think they are just putting features in for the sake of doing it.
- Inventory Management, Shipping and Tax Calculator, Coupon codes
Normal Hosting (Great For WordPress)
Ok, next up, we have the what I call, the “normal” shared hosting plans and I will bulk them up into one because to me, they are pretty much all the same. Here's what gets me – the first thing you see is Shared Hosting at the top menu (Please see image):
There are 4 plans for the shared packages and if you scroll down further, you see (service features in shared hosting plans).
What? Wait? It already comes with the Weebly anyway? Then why offer a Weebly plan? The only advantage for the Weebly-based plan is to have unlimited domains and 0% transactions?
I wouldn't pay attention to the storage and bandwidth (this isn't what you should be looking at) because hosting companies these days are throwing those resources around and pretending they are valuable when they've become cheap commodities and are throwing them at customers like yourself to make it seem like they are offering a lot and I actually hate that. How about giving people what they need, instead of feeding you with features and options you don't.
The main difference between the normal business hosting account to the Weebly Business Plan is, you guessed it; storage and bandwidth! How predictable. Additionally, I get a free SSL certificate for any of the packages and PCI compliancy which is good because it means they are set up to store sensitive data (there are strict regulations they have to follow to get PCI certification). How I understand it is that these business specific plans are more for the established online businesses that require a higher end service for their storefront. Weebly, on the other hand, is made for the smaller mom and pop and those new to online eCommerce.
Virtual Private Servers
VPS is a service you would need for your web presence if you required scalability and of course, they use the magical word “Cloud”. Be very careful when you see this because sometimes hosting companies will use this to sell you a dream. Always make sure that services such as scalability, failover, and some sort of virtual machine automation is included.
VPS pricing shows to be very reasonable; starting at a comfortable $22 and goes up to $165 and a free domain for your first year on top of it. To me, any VPS that costs less than $20, you should be very wary because they will most likely be overselling resources. This is the ONE thing you need to avoid when searching for a virtual private server.
Reseller Hosting is a unique service that many companies do not offer because it's considered a more specialized option for customers. It's mainly geared towards webmasters and smaller hosts who either don't have the money to build out the infrastructure (ie hardware, software, datacenter space) or deal with the myriad of management that's involved for such a setup such as management and maintenance of the infrastructure.
A Small Orange offers a wide range of products beyond VPS such as Dedicated and Managed Services which allow you to grow. Ideally, you want to chose one company to handle all your needs, but if they can't grow with you, then you will have to deal with migrating your hosting from one place to the next every time you need to scale. This can get very expensive and time consuming.
A Small Orange Plan Wrap Up
That was a lot to go through and hopefully I was able to have it all make sense, especially for being a first timer to the website, even I was a little overwhelmed with everything they had to offer.
Which Plan is For You
- Weebly – The only reason why you would make this purchase is if you wanted to have as many email accounts as you want. Keep in mind that ASO might be offering Weebly, but are they experts in the software if something goes wrong? I'd just go any make my purchase at the company that made the product.
- Shared – This is standard hosting that already comes with Weebly and there is no need to purchase the Weebly plans. Shared Plans also come with Softaculous that allows you to do a 1-click WordPress install. My advice, the medium plan is both affordable and offers you more than enough resources to handle just about any website.
- WordPress – The WordPress Medium Plan is the best bang for your buck and comes in at a cheaper price than the Share Medium Plan. It will give you enough resources to grow and the company has enough of a range of services to help you grow beyond if and when you need. This is the minimum package I'd recommend if you are going to start an affiliate marketing website.
- Business – These plans are best for ecommerce websites that run software other than Weebly such as Magento or xCart and require a more custom set up whereas Weebly is more of a DIY eCommerce builder which is simple, but limited flexibility for growth and future customization that may be required.
- Cloud VPS – They are using a true cloud as their underlying technology and these plans are for those that need a bit more scalability (for websites that receive large amounts of traffic and need extra resources to handle the load) and peace of mind for their websites. If you don't want to grow “into” your business and just want to start off with more resource than you need, this is the package I'd recommend.
Support – The Skinny
Now that we have the Plans out of the way, lets see about support and what the company has to offer to their client-base. You can offer the best solutions, but if the support isn't there, why even bother? A Small Orange was always known to have stellar technical support, at least when I used to hear from other people, so I'm going to dig in and determine if that's still the case.
Jumping back more than 10 years, I find:
Fast forward to today – I did a quick Google search for any result under “A Small Orange Review” and this is what I get (these are recent – within the past 3 months and show bad reviews in Google search going back 3-4 years!):
Then I went to Twitter since people are using this nowadays as a medium to express displeasure about a company:
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Due to the large amount of time that has passed, I wasn't able to gather a lot of reviews from yesteryear, but now, when you search for a review, it's literally page after page of not so good things to say about the company.
They offer 24/7 support and round the clock online chat and email, so at least you have the ability to make contact at all hours of the day.
Wrapping it All Up
From what I can gather, after they were purchased by another company – Endurance International Group (EIG), things started to go downhill FAST as mentioned in this blog.
Every company will receive complaints. It's unavoidable, so before you decide to move forward with a hosting account, just check the reviews to make sure that the complaint is legitimate as there are always two sides to every story and be aware of the types of complaints that are being recorded online. Sometimes they are frivolous and it's just someone venting frustration. I would look more closely to the technological failure than administration because it's your data that's important, so some random support person that was just rude or incompetent to me is not justification enough to make up your mind, unless of course it's many incompetencies that arise where it becomes a common theme.
However, in this case, because there are so many great hosting packages offered by other companies which are not owned by the Endurance International Group, I'd recommend going with a boutique host that can offer more personalized support or a company with specifically great reviews of their managed VPS.