If you’re looking for a feature-rich Web hosting provider, you might want to consider Network Solutions (starting at $2.99 per month, or $35.88 per year). Network Solutions offers excellent tools to register and manage a domain, and its Web hosting service is jam-packed with options. It has easy-to-use website creation tools, varied email-marketing capabilities, and a wide array of ecommerce features. That said, Network Solutions’s confusing interface, constant upselling, and other ills keep it from contending with the likes of Arvixe and Dreamhost, the Bestschemes Editors’ Choice winners for Web hosting services.
Network Solutions offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, which is pretty standard. That said, Dreamhost offers an impressive 97-day money-back guarantee.
Network Solutions offers a suite of products, including all things related to domain name registration, web development, web hosting, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates, custom email solutions, and online marketing.
Here is a list of some of the services offered by Network Solutions:
- Domain Name Registration
- Dome Name Transfer
- Website Forwarding
- DIY Websites
- Website Design
- E-Commerce Websites
- Web Hosting
- VPS Hosting
- SSL Certificates
- Email Services
- Marketing Services
While many other web hosting companies focus strictly on providing the infrastructure you need to serve your site to your visitors, Network Solutions is experienced in supporting its customers along the gamut of online success, from the creation of your first site to driving growth.
- Offers web design and development solutions
- Affordable cloud hosting plans
- 24/7 live support via telephone
- Limited hosting types
- No live chat or support ticketing options
To say that Network Solutions lack features would be unfair, what they actually lack is depth to the features they offer. For example, they offer SEO and social media integration but they offer it in its basic form with room to take it further if they wanted to.You can integrate PayPal into the site, check on visitor stats, and you can also add custom domains and email addresses to your admin interface. The biggest drawback is that any site you create won’t be mobile ready, to enable this you will need to create additional HTML and CSS files – which most people won’t know how to do.
Network Solutions prices their web editor reasonably, packaging it with a full web hosting plan and a custom domain. They offer two main packages, but most sites will find that they can make do with the “Small” package. The “Large” package offers a much greater value though, providing much more storage space than typical hosting packages.
Shared Web Hosting Packages
Network Solutions, like competing services 1&1, Arvixe, and GoDaddy, offers standard monthly Web hosting, and it provides additional features at an extra cost. If you don’t need a lot of fancy features, Network Solutions can be wallet-friendly. For example, if all you want is a WordPress blog, you can look at the WordPress Blog Hosting package ($3.85 per month). If you want just a SharePoint site, there is a SharePoint Hosting plan ($7.74 per month), too.
The basic shared Web hosting plan, Essential Hosting ($2.99 per month), is designed for small businesses that just want a basic online presence. It offers 300GB of storage, 1,000 email mailboxes, and unlimited monthly data transfers. The Professional Hosting ($3.99 per month) package offers 500GB of data storage and 2,500 email mailboxes. The Premium Hosting package ($36.95 per month) is designed for businesses interested in managing multiple high-traffic sites, and it offers unlimited storage and email mailboxes.
The basic Web hosting plan comes with a website builder with built-in collection of templates, FTP access to upload files and images, a catalog of stock images, file-sharing capabilities, and an extensive library of open source tools such as PHP, Joomla, and Drupal. If you sign up for a year commitment, the domain registration is waived. Since we signed up on a monthly plan, we were charged $15 to register a new domain.
Network Solutions also offers a basic Web hosting and marketing package ($3.99 per month) which submits the site to local search engine results and to Google, Bing, and Yahoo. If you don’t get this marketing package, you can purchase the add-on ($9.95 per month) to your basic account. The Hosting, Marketing, and Store package ($4.99 per month) adds the ability to sell products on the site, create offers and promotions, and accept payment cards online. You can also purchase the ecommerce add-on ($7.89 per month) separately.
Virtual Private Server Packages
The shared Web hosting plans offer enough storage, bandwidth, and email addresses to meet the average user’s needs, but businesses that require more hosting muscle should consider virtual private server (VPS) hosting, which starts at $40. VPS provides some of the benefits of dedicated Web hosting, but at a fraction of the cost.
VPS Essential ($40 per month) offers a virtual CentOS Linux server with a paltry 512MB of RAM, 10GB disk space, 500GB of monhly data transfers, and server management and virtualization tools Parallels Plesk and Virtuozzo. VPS Professional ($80 per month) builds upon VPS Essential with a skimpy 1GB of RAM, 50GB of disk space and 2TB of monthly data transfers. Network Solutions also limits you to just 200 email accounts. These numbers are far from impressive.
If you want to go the VPS route, we recommend checking out Arvixe, the bestschemes’ Choice for virtual private servers. Arvixe has a choice of Linux and Windows servers, and those servers can be outfitted with up to 4GB of RAM and 100GB of storage. Arvixe also offers unlimited email and monthly data transfers.
Setting Up a Network Solutions Hosted Site
The Account Manager is the main interface for your Web hosting account. When you log in, you have the option to go straight into the website’s edit mode, open up email, check the domain and account settings, or go to the Account Manager. This screen shows warning messages (such as site outages, orders in progress, and so on) as well as all the components you can access with your package. The basic hosting package includes My Domain Names for managing DNS and domain settings, My Hosting Packages for managing the website and other applications, and My Email for configuring email mailboxes. After we added the ecommerce option, we saw My Ecommerce Package on this screen. We spent a bulk of our time on the Web Hosting Dashboard (from My Hosting Packages).
A Network Solutions subscription comes with access to the built-in website builder, which let me build a snazzy-looking site very quickly. The builder opens up in a pop-up window, so make sure your browser allows pop-up windows.
We have one complaint with my website. Even though we registered superfuntechnetsol.com during the signup process, the website we created doesn’t point to my domain. Unlike Arvixe, Network Solutions didn’t ask what my website’s address should be, and it defaulted to a sub-domain under netsolhost.com. This wasn’t a big deal, since we just switched to My Domain Name and used the drop-down menu to point the URL to the website directory. That’s simple, but users who aren’t used to website administration would need better instructions.
Setting Up a WordPress Blog
Network Solutions lets you install a little over two dozen open-source applications, including WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Owl, SugarCRM, Magento, phpBB, WebCalendar, PHPWiki, and Tikiwiki. The basic package comes with a MySQL installation, so installing these applications is quite simple. All the applications are available under the “Web Hosting Toolbox” option on the Web Hosting Dashboard.
The actual process for setting up WordPress (or any other application) is fairly easy. You click the Add button for the application and step through the setup wizard to define the blog URL, and the administrator username and password. It’s simple, but the option to create the blog is buried in the interface.
This is actually a recurring complaint. Because there are so many capabilities and features available, everything is hard to find. While there are multiple ways to access options, it’s still a lot of clicking. Because WordPress is listed as a “top application,” it took only two clicks from Account Manager to get to the installer, but for every other application, we needed four clicks just to get to the Open Source Applications library before we could install anything. We had to go through some of the help pages and FAQ to just find the library, and we aren’t the type to read the manual.
Network Solutions includes email in the hosting package, and the basic plan comes with a generous 1,000 mailboxes with 1GB storage capacity each. Email accounts can be configured to use POP (so that you can use Outlook or Thunderbird) or read via a Webmail interface.
We clicked on My Email and saw a summary of my email plan, as well as information about add-ons we could buy, such as LOQMail, an email encryption tool. When I clicked on the link to create mailboxes, I saw a form which let me define multiple users and passwords.
Confusingly, we didn’t see the new users show up in my list of mailboxes even though the form said my setup process had completed. In fact, those users didn’t show up in my list until about 90 minutes later. There was an order summary on the main Account Manager screen but the message did not explain clearly what was going on. While clicking around the interface, we stumbled across an older-looking mailbox creation form which let me create a mailbox instantly. Even though we managed to configure that one mailbox to be a catch-all address, all the email summary screens except one showed we had not yet created any mailboxes—very odd. It was nice to not have to muck around with MX records, but we never knew what was actually happening.
Unlike 1&1 and a few other services, Network Solutions doesn’t seem to offer any anti-spam or antivirus options, nor any applications to install. Email security would be a pain with this setup.
Emarketing and Ecommerce
Network Solutions provides email marketing ($5.95 per month) as an add-on. We received a one-month free trial. The add-on provides over 400 ready-made email templates to use in newsletters and email blasts, and real-time tracking and reporting on who clicked on the links and opened messages.
The Ecommerce package ($7.89 per month) comes with a control panel to manage the catalog, customers, orders, and shipping options. You can also create a merchant account with Bank Card Services Worldwide in order to be able to accept payment cards, or use PayPal, Google Checkout, or other options.
There is also a separate site builder to design the storefront, but it’s not as friendly as the website builder. We couldn’t really customize the site, and other than a Facebook marketing tool, an SEO optimization add-on, and a customer relationship management platform, there weren’t a lot of applications to install.
Again, we had to manually go back into the domain settings to point the storefront to my URL, as it defaulted to the netsolhost.com domain. It would have been nice to build this step right into the storefront process, because as it is this adds needless bit of complexity to correctly setting up the store domain.
We kept running afoul of the password policy. The password for the account has to be between 8-20 characters, but you also have to have a mix of upper and lower case letters and no special characters. The email passwords, on the other hand, have to be between 8-16 characters, lower case and uppercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Additionally, there are two error messages, one for having too simple a password, and another for not having all the required elements. It would be far simpler to have a consistent password policy and a single error message explaining it. In this day and age, if the company is doing passwords correctly (hashing, SHA1, and so on), there is no reason for the site to be so erratic about its password requirements.
If you need help, you can look through the FAQs (although we managed to stumble upon a few 404 pages, which is not a good sign), or use 24/7 email and telephone support. The ecommerce technical support is only available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. We tested customer service by placing an 8:30 p.m. Eastern weeknight call to find out the difference between regular Web hosting and WordPress hosting. I held for 5 minutes before a customer service rep fielded my call.
The representative explained we couldn’t install other applications on the WordPress hosting plan, but assured us that we could always switch plans if we wanted to. We spent about 3 minutes discussing updates—Network Solutions would download, but not install them—and storage requirements. We thought we saw the option for live customer support Web chat at one point, but couldn’t find it again later. It was also tricky to find an email form to submit a question. We asked how to import a WordPress blog into my account around 9:30 p.m. on a weeknight, and received a detailed answer by the morning. Not a shabby costumer service experience.
Get Security and Technical Details Handled for You
While you could easily host your WordPress site using the shared or VPS hosting plan, here are the WordPress-specific security features that come standard with your package and don’t require manual configuration from you:
- Automatic update of the WordPress core
- Automatic update of all plugins and themes used by your site
- Whitelisting of plugins and themes
- Malware scanning and automatic removal
- Datacenter-class firewall
- On-Demand Cloud Backup
- Daily backups
- SSL certificates.
Also, your package comes with unlimited storage and bandwidth, set-up assistance, consultation services, and 24/7 support.
Is This Your Solution?
Network Solutions starts out cheap, but all the add-ons and upsells add up quickly. Everything is on auto-renew, and it’s hard to tell what you’ve bought unless you look at the detailed billing screen. Domain management is easy, but it’s not well-integrated with Web hosting. The overall interface makes everything harder than it needs to be. Experienced website administrators will love the advanced features, but less savvy administrators would be overwhelmed, especially if all they want is a quick and easy online presence.