SiteGround New Client Area and Site Tools – part 1

On Wednesday, March 4, starting from 01:01AM CST, we will perform an infrastructure upgrade and migrate your account(s) from server to a new server with the latest hardware in our new Google facility in Iowa.The SiteGround Team

This is it: the long-awaited moment of the migration from the old User Area to the new interfaces!

“Wait a minute, what are you talking about?”
“Sorry, you are right, let me start with a flashback.”

At the end of July 2019, SiteGround announced the advent of their New Client Area and Site Tools.

The blog post

The above blog post – by the Chief Operations Officer Reneta Tsankova – is the most commented one (at least in the past two years) with 281 comments at the time of this writing (more than the one in regards to their “Roll-Out Plan for WordPress 5.0”; the one featuring Gutenberg); and for a good reason! It announced substantial changes in the way to manage SiteGround’s websites.

Nearly three years ago, we made the decision to develop new interfaces to improve the way our clients build and manage their websites and hosting on SiteGround. As of today, hosting clients who sign up for our service will be using the new interfaces. Current customers who are using cPanel and the old User Area will be gradually switched to the new interfaces starting in September.Reneta Tsankova

Client Area

Not surprisingly, the new interface is claimed to be a huge leap ahead in terms of usability and functionality1. The platform should work on any device (i.e. mobile-friendly), have a modern look, be lightweight, fast, secure, and easily scalable – as explained in more detailed in the follow-up post about the technologies behind it. I will spare you the smart design, simplicity and other in a single click statements. Actually, a better way to appreciate the new Client Area (than through a wordy description) is to watch SiteGround’s 3-min video:

by SiteGround

Apart from how intuitive might be the new interfaces, it is worth mentioning they introduce a change in the way to manage your website(s). Indeed, they adopt a site-centric philosophy with a shift from focusing on the hosting account to prioritizing the individual website1. SiteGround argues that this allows [them] to significantly improve the user experience for both single-site owners and how agencies and clients work together, since they often manage multiple sites with larger teams. My humble opinion is that this improvement may only concern the latter group; I don’t see how a site-centric approach can change anything for single-site owners (like me) – quite the contrary.

Now, each website is a unit central to all processes and operations in the new interfaces. The hosting plan has become a simple placeholder for one or multiple websites and each site has its own set of Site Tools independent of the others in the same account.Reneta Tsankova

Site Tools

As explained in A web host, a user-friendly control panel with extensive functionality is essential to manage your server and its associated features. There are many options; still, cPanel is the most widely used, with Plesk (made by Parallels) coming in second. Until now, SiteGround was using the former. For the reasons underlined in the blog, they have developed their own set of site management tools, namely Site Tools; hence, now effectively replacing cPanel.

cPanel (and their controversial pricing)

Developed by the company that bears the same name, cPanel is the industry standard when it comes to web hosting control panel. It is was the most popular, probably being the most customizable as well. Now, cPanel is a proprietary software, meaning that it must be licensed and paid for! Nonetheless, most hosting providers were including it in their hosting plans at no extra costs.

On June 27, 2019, the company announced a new account-based pricing structure that would result in significant price increases. In reaction, many web-hosting companies have impeded price increases for their customers. Others are considering switching away to other control panels. Others still have decided to ramp up their development and release of their own control panel. Apparently, SiteGround was just “lucky”:

Changes in cPanel’s license is really pure coincidence, we’ve been working on this for almost three years.Hristo Pandjarov

In theory, regardless of the control panel you use, you should be able to accomplish the same tasks. The different interfaces, designs or ways of doing things should not be a problem indeed. However, what about the different tools?

To make the transition smoother, we made sure our new Site Tools included all the functionality you need to manage your site. You should be able to do almost everything you’re used to doing, except now with a brand new user experience.Reneta Tsankova

My comment

Being a detail-oriented person, I could not but have trouble with the word “almost”, emphasized in red (by me) in the above quotation. To find out more, I started to go over the comment section with a fine-tooth comb. Clearly, I was not the only one concerned by this “almost”:

Which functions and/or services exactly won’t be available in the new client area and site tools?
With the new interfaces and tools we’re not limiting but providing even more flexibility and functionality. I don’t think there will be something you will be missing!
Sigh… Not to be critical Hristo, but instead of a canned response, could you please elaborate on the question Marcus asked?
With the new interfaces we are not removing but adding functionality for our customers.
You do say in your blog entry ‘You should be able to do almost everything you’re used to doing, except now with a brand new user experience.’ That ‘almost’ literally means some cPanel futures won’t be available. Which are those?
There is no functionality that we are sacrificing, no functionality removed from. Everything, that we used to offer in terms of functionality, control, features is there.

I should have been reassured, but following CogitActive modus operandi, I kept searching a fly in the ointment. It didn’t take me long to spot it:

Taking away cPanel huh? What about Softaculous?
We won’t use Softaculous anymore.


Softaculous is a script library that automates the installation of web application to a website. Despite the wide range of applications available (300+ according to cPanel), you may never have used Softaculous for anything. Except maybe for installing WordPress! Indeed, this semi-automatic method is often recommended for beginners and intermediate users because it makes it easy to install this CMS platform (as well as others) with just a few clicks.

Now, this auto-installer can do more than just installing new applications. Softaculous can be used to create a full backup of your website as well. Briefly, it provides a stress-free backup process. You can select to backup only the WordPress files, only the database or both simultaneously. You can even automate the process! All within a single interface!

There is no doubt that SiteGround Daily Backup service provides peace of mind; yet, I opted to implement a secondary2 backup solution. For reasons expounded in Backup, Backup, Backup!, I chose Softaculous among other serious backup solutions (i.e. cPanel Backup tool and manual approach, in particular).

Your host may already back up your [website] as part of its normal backup routines, but it is still wise to ensure that you have a recent copy held locally just in case.Peter Pollock

Given these premises, I expressed my concerns to Reneta and Hristo – via a comment:

Several time you have stated that ‘there is no functionality that we are sacrificing, no functionality removed from’. However, then you have acknowledged: ‘we won’t use Softaculous anymore’. I do like this clarification from Hristo, though: ‘When I say you won’t miss anything, I mean that in Site Tools there is a way to do all the things you have been doing with cPanel so far, but in a different way. That being said, there is always a corner use case that may hit the rock, but we ask you to give us that corner case (tell us about it) so we can be specific and say “you can do it that way” or “you can’t do that at all” or “we’ll make it work, but it’s not working at the moment”’. Here is my ‘corner use case’. I am using Softaculous to create on-demand backups (not free on StartUp) as well as monthly extra backups (i.e. in addition to your daily backups) to keep locally. I know there are other ways to do that (e.g. cPanel tool, SG tool, FTP+phpMyAdmin, plugin), but Softaculous provides a very convenient (and free) way to back up both Files and Database. What is the other way – that is not one of the aforementioned tools – I can keep doing that if Softaculous is gone?

We provide our own backup solution and honestly Softaculous was duplicating it. We didn’t want to invest development time to remove it. Softaculous often announce different functionality that’s not really part of their core idea of being a 1-click installer which is something that doesn’t fit well in our ideology. In addition to that, Softaculous backups are created on the very same server where your account is located so they don’t really add a lot of security. I would recommend upgrading to Grow Big where you can create instant backups which are stored on a different server and are much easier and safer to create and restore from.

Let me highlight the last sentence:

I would recommend upgrading to Grow Big where you can create instant backups which are stored on a different server and are much easier and safer to create and restore from.Hristo Pandjarov

In short, Hristo solution to replace my free backup solution (i.e. with Softaculous) is to upgrade to their GrowBig plan – a $19.95/mo. alternative! Thanks, but no thanks! Besides, this will not address my requirement to keep a backup locally (i.e. on my own computer)!

The notification

I didn’t insist – still shocked by Hristo’s recommendation brush-off – and resumed my routine. When I accessed my (old) User Area, however, I noticed a new message in the Home tab:

SiteGround new Client Area and Site Tools coming soon

Having bigger fish to fry (at the time), I didn’t activate the demo.

I had few weeks to find a substitute for my backup solution.

The email

In addition to the above notification, I also received an email entitled Upcoming switch to our new Client Area and Site Tools.

Starting from the second half of September 2019, we will gradually roll out the new setup to all our existing clients, replacing the current User Area and cPanel. We will notify you by email at least one week in advance to let you know when you’ll be switched to the new interfaces.

There was also an invitation to get acquainted with the new Client Area and Site Tools by activating a demo from your current User Area. The same ACTIVATE DEMO button, actually! And a brief rundown on What are the benefits of the new interfaces? with a link to the blog post (to learn more).

With the new interfaces, you will enjoy a better user experience, simpler site management, and plenty of new tools.The SiteGround Team

To be continued…

1 Reneta Tsankova (2019) The Future is Now: Our New Client Area and Site Tools Are Going Live. SiteGround. ^
2 Quick reminder: SiteGound StartUp plan comes with a free automatic daily backup service, and since recently, a free restore option as well (the latter used to be charged $19.95 per restore). However, the possibility to create instant backups on demand is still limited to their higher tiers (e.g. GrowBig or GoGeek plans), or would cost me $29.95 per backup. ^
3 I had another concern indeed. If you follow the CogitActive Saga, you may know that I have a WordPress multisite installation with an atypical configuration (i.e. without using wildcard subdomain). After going through hell with a SiteGround ticket on that matter, I was a little worried about how (and if) [their] ‘automated script’ will handle any potential peculiarity (without messing things up). I believe that Hristo didn’t fathom my question; anyway, his response was as follow: I am sure that one may come up with a way that our scripts won’t handle, but our technical support will be there and prepared to help in all situations that may occur. And him to add: Hopefully, you won’t have to do anything, but just in case. ^

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