Alright, let’s make it clear straight away: this is not another superficial review of Netfirms cloned from some generic review template.

In this in-depth analysis, we will go beyond the valueless enumeration of their features – and instead try to untangle some of the more interesting and pressing questions:

  • 🔎Who is the real owner of Netfirms hosting?
  • 💵Where’s the logic behind their pricing policy?
  • 🛒What’s the deal with their e-Commerce offer?
  • 💩Any Netfirms pitfalls you should be aware of?

After some 10 man-hours of research, our ultimate goal is to find out whether it’s worth opening your wallet for a Netfirms hosting subscription.

TL;DR: outdated services, outsourced support, and zero motivation to develop further sum up to quite a package. Netfirms used to be big in the hosting market – it’s not anymore, losing to the modern hosts like Warpgate in almost every respect.

But take our word for it – it is always worth looking at the facts; which is exactly what we’ll do in this review.

We will begin our investigation by examining the background of the company behind Netfirms – their peculiar story will help us better understand the present state of this hosting provider.

The Real Owner of Netfirms

No wonder its brand name is so generic: Netfirms was founded in 1998, back when adding “net” to things was still a cool and trendy move.

As one of the pioneers of the web hosting industry, Netfirms managed to accumulate a huge userbase (“huge” by the standards of those times). And things went really well… until they didn’t anymore:

The dot-com crisis came, and after the bust Netfirms never really recovered to its former glory. And we all know what happens to hosting companies that enter the downwards spiral: they either go bankrupt –

– or they get scooped up by the Endurance Group.

Yes, our old friends Endurance, the ultimate bottom-feeders of the hosting industry. The conglomerate which does nothing but purchase ailing hosts, cut costs by outsourcing support to Asia, and keep milking the sick cow until it’s dead.

The rule of thumb can be formulated as follows:

If you see a hosting provider whose website looks like it shouldn’t exist in 2020, there’s a good chance it’s owned and operated by the Endurance Group.

How do we know for sure, though? – you might ask: there’s no mention of Endurance anywhere on the Netfirms website. And the official website of Endurance, in turn, has zero information on their relation to Netfirms.

Ah yes, that’s also their trademark approach: keeping every brand they manage as distant from its real owner as possible. They’re not ashamed, no – just aiming for maximum freedom and flexibility… or something like that, we don’t really have any other, non-vague ideas to explain this behaviour.

In any case, there are two ways to know for sure: first, by using some Google search tricks you can view all mentions of Netfirms on their parent group’s website (Google query netfirms site:endurance.com) and vice-versa (Google query endurance site:.netfirms.com). It’s not much, and mostly inside documents or legal texts, but it’s there.

If that’s not enough, there’s the official Crunchbase data page for Netfirms, citing their 2011 acquisition by Endurance:

Netfirms + Endurance?

You might be wondering at this point: why did we just spend so much time trying to find out the real owner of Netfirms?

Precisely because the Endurance Group is not a typical owner.

As we’ve mentioned above, Endurance doesn’t care about developing and nurturing the hosting companies they acquire – it’s just not part of their business model.

Instead, the name of the game is to optimize the crap out of the expense part (cheapest possible infrastructure, outsourced centralized support) and collect the recurring revenues while the brand name is still widely recognized.

To illustrate the point, can you guess when was the last time Netfirms updated the design of their homepage?

May 2011.

Yes, two months after being acquired by Endurance they changed the header to the one you can still see today – here’s a snapshot from the Internet Archive, you can move one day back to see the previous (independent) version of the homepage.

Notice also how between April 2011 and now (i.e. January 2020) they didn’t even bother changing anything else on their front page apart from that header.

The message this sends is quite clear: “we’re not interested in developing Netfirms, this whole thing is just another cash extraction”.

To drive this idea home, here are the statistics for the number of domain names hosted on Netfirms over the last years:

Netfirms: domains stats

So, what’s our main takeaway from this origin story?

Today’s Netfirms is just a husk of what it used to be back in the days of its former glory. Its new owners specialize in cutting costs and extracting cash, not development or evolution.

Does that mean Endurance is “bad”? No, of course not – that’s just how it does business. Does that mean you should stay away from Netfirms though?

Let’s find out:

Netfirms Product Offer Mysteries

The main product of Netfirms is shared hosting – the type where many clients share a single physical server which stores their websites.

Instead of clicking on the big yellow “sign up now” button on their home page which locks us into a single pricing plan, let’s visit the “Web Hosting” section from the main menu and examine all available options:

Netfirms pricing plans

Notice anything peculiar?

Hmm… the plans are not arranged by price? Nice one. We’ll talk about dark patterns in the next section of this review, but for now – note something else:

– the Advantage plan is 2x more expensive than the (cheapest) Plus plan, while having just two minor feature advantages: more databases and more FTP accounts.

Everything else in the table is exactly the same!

While technically 200 databases are surely better than 5, the vast majority of hosting clients will use their accounts to manage 1, maybe 2-3 websites. Definitely not hundreds!

In other words, why does Netfirms bother to offer the Advantage plan at all, if it’s two times more expensive while being just marginally (or should I say – superfluously) better?

Same goes for the most expensive Business plan, by the way – it’s just another +50% to the price for even more database and FTP users.

We were so perplexed by this fact that we asked the host’s support team for explanations, twice. Here’s what we got on both occasions:

Netfirms chat about plans

They agree that the Advantage plan is overpriced. As simple as that! But still… why?! The only reasonable explanation we have is not going to make you too happy.

But before we get to that, let’s look at the e-Commerce plan first to make sure we’ve covered all shared hosting offers by Netfirms.

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Indeed, apart from the three hosting plans we discussed above, there’s also the E-Commerce section which looks like a white-label install of Shopsite, a third-party service for managing online stores.

Since Shopsite offers 5 different plans, our next natural question would be: which particular configuration of Shopsite is included in the e-Commerce plan by Netfirms?

And naturally we turned to Netfirms support for an answer. Here’s the conversation; it’s so unusual we just couldn’t resist including it in full:

Netfirms chat about ecommerce

What… did we just read?! So, first they don’t recommend Shopsite at all (and so their e-Commerce plan by definition), then they mention a non-existing Shopsite plan, and then, once the mistake is pointed out, they take 5 minutes to find our which plan it really was.

Frankly, at this point I didn’t even care about the Shopsite plan anymore:

  • Yes, its pricing doesn’t really make sense if the included Shopsite version is Starter (you could replicate then exact same setup for less by installing Shopsite on the Netfirms Plus plan yourself: $5.99 + 4.45 = $10.44 per year),
  • Yes, the support team doesn’t have a clue about the details because they’re not exclusively engaged in Netfirms support, since the “optimized” support center caters to all 40+ brands owned by Endurance,
  • And yes, you can easily build an online store with a free WordPress plugin like WooCommerce, again on the much cheaper Netfirms Plus plan, –

– the reality seems to be that the e-Commerce plan doesn’t need to make sense, because it doesn’t matter to Netfirms!

After being acquired by Endurance and optimized for cash-milking, Netfirms probably just decided to keep the e-Commerce plan as a “souvenir offer” and focused on its cheapest Plus plan instead.

There’s just no other sensible explanation to the overwhelming inconsistencies and weirdness.

By the way, when we say “cheapest” about the Netfirms Plus plan, we only imply it’s the least expensive of their plans – not that it’s cheap per se.

It’s time to find out the true cost of their hosting:

How Much Netfirms (Really) Costs

Head back to the front page of Netfirms.com: notice a bunch of asterisks next to the “lowest price ever” claim on the right?

An asterisk usually implies some sort of special condition – so where’s ours? Scroll down to the very bottom of the page: there, in the smallest legally acceptable font, we find the footnote:

* Promotional price is for the first term only. Plans renew at the regular rate.

The link takes us to a Help Center page with the so-called standard prices, i.e. the ones at which your hosting account will renew after the initial “promo” period is over.

By the way, you won’t see any more links to this section – neither on the hosting comparison page, nor during the checkout. In other words, if you miss that footnote on the home page, there’s no way for you to know that your real costs will soon get much higher.

How much higher exactly?

To save you time, we’ve put together a table comparing the promotional and real prices for the Netfirms Plus plan (since it’s the only plan that makes at least some sense, economically, we’ll be talking exclusively about Plus from now on):

Billing cycle Promo / mo Normal / mo Increase
Annual (12 mo) $4.95 $10.95 x2.2
Bi-annual (24 mo) $4.45 $9.95 x2.2
Tri-annual (36 mo) $3.49 $8.95 x2.5

Don’t get me wrong – it’s true that each hosting company is free to define its own pricing policies. My problem is with the way Netfirms present this information to their prospective clients:

  • The real prices are mentioned just once (!) at the very beginning of your purchase path, with exactly zero information available on later stages where you research and actually pay for your hosting plan;
  • You have to click through to a separate page to see the real prices, because they are never mentioned anywhere outside of the Help Center;
  • And the link to that Help Center page is so small and so well-concealed that one might suspect it’s being intentionally hidden from the users.

All this leaves a strong feeling that Netfirms just wants to quietly raise your bill by a factor of more than x2 while still reluctantly complying with minimal legal requirements.

And while it’s technically not forbidden to do so, it doesn’t look like something a company would do if it respected its clients, don’t you think?

But the fun doesn’t stop there!

You thought you could get away with just overpaying for the hosting? Think again: Netfirms has many more tricks up its sleeve.

Making Sure You Pay More

We’ve only been around the home page of Netfirms website as well as some of its descriptive pages – let’s try actually purchasing a hosting plan, shall we?

Hold on to your wallets, because we’re in for a ride:

Every step of the checkout process is carefully designed to maximize the amount of money you end up paying to Netfirms.

First, we are asked to choose the domain name for our new website. And it comes for free*! Just enter your keyword and choose among the available options. Simple.

Just don’t forget to note the tiny section which automatically adds domain privacy to your order (that’s $9.99 per year):

Netfirms privacy trick

* You didn’t really expect it to be that simple, did you? According to another footnote, the domain is only free for the first year. After that it will renew at $12.49 per year. Ca-ching!

Moving on:

Step two is where you have the possibility to choose some extra features to enhance your hosting account. Notice that two of them are already pre-selected for you (security for $19.95 per year and backups for $14.99 per year). Ca-ching ca-ching!

Netfirms extras trick

By the time you get to the final step of the checkout process, you’ve accumulated a hefty $57.42 worth of additional expense items, most of which you didn’t even ask for in the first place.

That doubles your yearly Plus plan’s bill, even before we take into account the price hikes mentioned in the previous part of our review!

As a “bonus”, you’ll need to tick a checkbox at the end of the checkout if you DON’T want to receive their promotional emails. Well done, Netfirms!

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While all of this might have sounded outrageous in the case of an actively growing, self-respecting company, for Endurance it’s just another day at the office:

Remember? Their core business strategy doesn’t include variables like long-term reputation or brand image, or any other such nonsense – pure expense minimization and revenue maximization to recover the cost of buying Netfirms, and then some.

Nothing personal, just business.

Should you be a part of that business, though? Let’s sum up what we’ve learned about Netfirms and issue a final verdict:

Virtues and Vices of Netfirms

  • Unlimited disk space and traffic volume for all shared hosting plans. Note that the number of files (inodes to be precise) per client is still limited by the company’s terms and conditions.
  • Free domain name registration with any first-time hosting purchase, using a coupon code DOMFREE1. Remember that such domains renew at the regular rate of $12.49 per year.
  • 30-day money-back guarantee for any newly opened account, which extends to any hosting plan excluding domains and extras (note that if a free domain was bundled with your hosting you will need to pay a $15 fee during cancellation).
  • Fast support over live chat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We did not need to wait more than several seconds for a support representative in any of our interactions.
  • Numerous dark patterns, such as pre-selected paid extras, designed to ensure you spend as much money as possible on your hosting subscription.
  • Almost no difference between the three hosting plans, hinting that all other plans apart from Plus exist purely to make Plus look “cheaper” by comparison.
  • Inconsistent and superfluous e-Commerce plan, about which the support team seems to know close to nothing.
  • Slow and incompetent support which doesn’t seem to know their product too well. On some occasions we had to wait for 5 minutes to get answers to such essential questions as pricing and features.
  • Endurance Group, the owner of Netfirms since 2011, doesn’t seem to be too interested in its long-term development or reputation – because it’s not part of the Group’s business model.

“Netfirms and Chill” Anyone?

On one of its pages, Netfirms gives 6 reasons why you should choose them over other hosting providers. Let’s see what they are:

  1. “Undisputed reputation” – years ago, maybe. By today, though, half of the entities listed on their Recognition page don’t exist anymore.
  2. “Unrivaled technology” – tier 1 datacenters, clustered servers and custom control panels don’t excite anyone in 2020, sorry.
  3. “Ease of use” – sure, just don’t forget to un-tick all those paid extras during the checkout process.
  4. “Exceptional value” – for the Endurance Group of course. Did you think they meant you, the client?!
  5. “Flexible range of products” – if by range you mean 4 plans, 3 of which do not make much sense…
  6. “24/7 customer support” – technically it’s there, in practice they only know the answers to the most standard questions (and even that goes awry at times).

The conglomerate that’s been running Netfirms since 2011 (and 40+ other formerly successful hosting brands) is not really interested in maximizing value for its clients or preserving its reputation. They want to earn back what they paid for this asset, and then hopefully make some profit for their investors.

Can you blame them? Not really, that how their business scheme works.

Does that mean you should be a part of that scheme and choose their hosting? Nope.

Are there any alternatives that make more sense? In fact, in light of what we’ve found out in our review, most hosting alternatives make more sense than Netfirms.

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One of the more value-for-money hosts you might look at is called Warpgate – for $3 per month it offers cloud hosting optimized for running WordPress websites.

The price doesn’t change after the first billing cycle and includes a (forever) free domain name. Oh, and the first month is free of charge, no credit card required:

Get 30 days free with Warpgate ›

What’s your personal experience with Netfirms? Any ideas, suggestions or critique about the review itself? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the discussion section below this article!

Pour your heart out

1 comment

Iv been with netfirms since 2007 and received a pretty good deal on domain renewals until this year. I was always given free privacy protection until this year (2019) and the yearly domain pricing has gone up as well.