The Best Web Hosting Services
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There are tons of web hosts out there though — literally hundreds of them. So while we think our top picks are excellent options, we’ll walk you through how to find the best web hosting service for your website, using our six hosts as examples.
Our 3 Favorite Web Hosting Providers
SiteGround is a hugely well-regarded web host, with a rabid fan base and glowing reviews — something especially noticeable in an industry full of fed-up (and vocal) customers. Along with DreamHost and Bluehost, SiteGround is one of WordPress’s three recommended web hosts. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, managed WordPress hosting is built into all of its shared hosting plans — something InMotion considers an upgrade. If your site uses WordPress, this is absolutely a perk: automatic updates, streamlined security, and expert technical support that are all just part of the package.
SiteGround is widely considered to be a technology leader, particularly in the shared hosting space where all hosts are duking it out for business. Its servers are ultra fast and extra secure, and SiteGround is constantly deploying new updates and technology to keep them that way.
While all its shared hosting plans are powerful, SiteGround is especially well-known for its highest-tier shared plan, GoGeek, which is suped up with tools developers will find especially useful, including a staging server and Git repo creation. Lots of small business and personal websites will probably find this overkill, but if your needs are more complex than the basics, SiteGround has a lot to love.
That said, once you blow through SiteGround’s introductory pricing (you choose contracts for one, two, or three years) your plan’s price triples: its lowest tier of shared hosting jumps from $4/month to $12 and its highest tier jumps from $12/month to $26. That doesn’t feel great. It also has the shortest trial period of all our top picks: only 30 days.
In addition to shared hosting, SiteGround offers upgrades to cloud hosting and dedicated servers.
InMotion may not look flashy, but it’s a solid web host with truly excellent technology, a wide assortment of plans, and a legion of longtime customers. Its massive self-help knowledge base is the industry standard, and customer support is among the best. Don’t believe it? Try for yourself. InMotion’s 90-day free trial period for shared hosting is one of the longest around, second only to DreamHost’s 97-day trial.
There’s not a lot of hierarchy in InMotion’s plans. Upgrading from its lowest-tier shared plan, Launch, to Power or to Pro doesn’t unlock access to lots more slick tools or free add-ons. Upgrading is simply designed to accommodate websites that require more oomph — not to upsell. It’s a straightforward approach we like, especially for small businesses and websites that aren’t overly complex.
InMotion is one of the only web hosts that doesn’t offer some sort of special introductory pricing. With shared hosting starting at $6–$7/month, it’s a slightly higher price point to start out, but that price will remain pretty consistent every time you re-up your plan.
In addition to shared hosting, InMotion offers upgrades to managed WordPress hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated servers.
Like SiteGround, DreamHost is one of WordPress’s three recommended hosts, and includes managed WordPress hosting in its basic shared plans (it also offers a managed plan with more bells and whistles called DreamPress). Like InMotion, it has an industry-leading free trial period — a full 97-day money-back guarantee — and transparent pricing that doesn’t increase after your initial contract. It’s the best of both worlds.
DreamHost is notable for being completely customized, skipping the customary cPanel that SiteGround, InMotion, and so many other web hosts use for a control panel it’s built and tailored in-house. Think of it a little like Apple versus Android: Dreamhost customers love it, but it’s not universally compatible should you ever migrate to or from a different host.
In addition to shared hosting and managed WordPress hosting, Dreamhost offers upgrades to VPS and cloud hosting, as well as dedicated servers.
Ratings and reputation don’t always match up
Two other popular web hosts to consider
Bluehost and HostGator are both hugely popular web hosts that rank highly in tech publications like PCMag and CNET. There are good reasons why. HostGator has month-to-month contracts available on all its plans, the option to purchase a dedicated IP address, plus Windows-based servers — a little less common than Linux. Bluehost’s shared hosting plans all have some sort of built-in managed WordPress hosting features, and its offers contracts as long as five years, which will score you some really low prices.
But user reviews for both providers don’t line up with those industry publication rankings. User reviews always need to be taken with a grain of salt (was someone just having a bad day?) but from a 30,000-foot view, we’re not convinced their customer service can compete. If you want to try them out anyway, both offer money-back guarantees — 45 days for HostGator’s and 30 days for Bluehost.
A hosting service we don’t recommend
We recommend avoiding GoDaddy. It has a nice variety of plans and price points, but truly abysmal user ratings. They make sense: Its support documentation is all over the place, and customer service verges on laughable — phone wait times are long, chat is only available during certain hours, and it doesn’t offer any email support at all. You can absolutely do better.
How to Find the Best Web Hosting Provider for You
First, get a handle on what you actually need from your web host
The first thing to understand is how much web hosting your site or sites need to function well, without paying for what you don’t need. It starts with a game of Match the Specs.
Knowing your site’s stats (or what you predict your site’s stats will be) before you start comparing options and offers will help prevent that upsold-at-the-register feeling. Here are the basic ones to know:
Match what you need with what each host offers, and try not to get too distracted by the stuff a host offers that you aren’t going to use — Bluehost isn’t a better host than DreamHost because it supports Drupal if you’re never going to use Drupal.
At the shared hosting level — the most common and where most websites start out — all six providers we looked at are fairly tit for tat: two or three tiers of plans with a variety of perks, functionality, and resources that increase with each tier. Unless there are specific conditions you’re trying to meet (you really do need that Drupal, for instances) at a pure specs point of view, we think you’ll be happy with any of them.
What stands out?
1. SiteGround’s plans appear quite a bit smaller than the competition, ranging from 10GB–30GB of storage and approximately 10K–100K monthly visitors, compared to 100GB of storage for GoDaddy’s lowest tier, and unlimited storage and bandwidth on most of the rest. Don’t let that dissuade you, especially if you like the rest of what SiteGround’s got going for it. For lots of websites, 10–30GB is plenty, especially sites that aren’t streaming or hosting gigantic media files.
2. SiteGround, DreamHost, and Bluehost all include some kind of managed WordPress hosting into their shared hosting plans, instead of considering it an upgrade. (SiteGround also includes managed Joomla hosting in its shared hosting packages.) It’s not all that surprising: These are the three web hosts WordPress recommends to its many millions of users, and it tracks that they would prioritize those users needs into their core offerings.
WordPress will absolutely work seamlessly on all shared web hosting plans, managed or not. With managed hosting, though, everything is designed with WordPress in mind: it comes pre-installed, core updates happen automatically, customer support has more specific expertise. If you like the sound of that, you may want to skip shared hosting altogether and shop for managed WordPress hosting instead.
3. Most web hosts run Linux on their servers. If your website requires a Windows operating system, Hostgator and GoDaddy are your two options from these six.
Shared hosting comparison
*SiteGround and Hostgator both offer unmetered bandwidth, but provide recommended traffic thresholds
Then, put customer service to the test
Beyond any basic “does my website have what it needs to function well,” customer support is the single most important thing a web host can offer. Think of it like health insurance. It doesn’t matter how robust the policy is. If the claims process is a nightmare, you’re going to switch providers.
Customer support can be split into live support — phone calls, help desk emails, and chat — and knowledge centers, which include everything from help articles to tutorials to community forums to blogs. Both live and self-help support are vital for when you’re having issues in set-up or performance.
When it comes to a knowledge center, you want a catalog that’s well-organized and easy to search, with a huge library of hyper-specific content. Bonus points for active moderators who are answering questions.
What stands out?
1. Out of our six hosts, InMotion’s support center is the one to beat. It has a gigantic database of detailed articles, tutorials, videos, and FAQs, plus a well-moderated community forum. If something doesn’t make sense, keep on scrolling: InMotion support staff is present in every comments section with advice, recommendations, and clarification — the only one of our six providers to do so.
InMotion’s support center is through and easy to navigate.
2. SiteGround and DreamHost also have great resources that are complete, informative, and intuitively organized. Even though the quality of the content in HostGator’s support is rich, it looks looks like it was designed in the mid-90s and never updated.
As for live support, your priorities are fast access and nuanced, specific help from people who know what they’re talking about. That’s tricky to evaluate without being a long-term customer.
One way is to get a sense of a web host’s reputation, particularly over the past two years (all six of our web hosts have been around since at least the early 2000s — lots has happened since then).
What stands out?
1. SiteGround is overwhelmingly the crowd favorite out of the six hosts we looked at. It’s the de facto recommendation of Reddit users, and hugely well-regarded everywhere else: like we mentioned, it’s one of only three web hosts recommended by WordPress (DreamHost and Bluehost are the others), and has over twice as many five-star user reviews as any other provider on WhoIsHostingThis.
2. If you start reading user reviews, you’ll notice how many are focused on customer support. This is especially apparent with Bluehost, HostGator, and GoDaddy, whose products rank high with industry publications like CNET and PCMag, but who are ravaged by customers unhappy with the the support they’re provided.
Ratings and reputation don’t always match up
But the true test of support quality is to experience it yourself, and that’s where free trials come in. All six hosts have some sort of money-back guarantee on their shared hosting plans, which means you can set up your website and see what you think of the service with relatively low stakes — just your time and any add-on fees you opt into, like paying for domain registration. We recommend going to town with customer support during that trial period. Get on live chat, open tickets, hop on the phone as much as possible to see if you like what you’re being served up.
What stands out?
1. DreamHost and InMotion are the real leaders of the money-back guarantee, with 97- and 90-day free trial periods respectively. These are the best you’re going to find from any web host, anywhere, and give you a lot of time to test out customer support, tools, and functionality. HostGator comes in second with a 45-day trial. Every other host offers a nice-to-have but swift 30 days.
2. SiteGround, InMotion, and Bluehost put a lot of resources into their support channels, with 24/7 access across phone, live chat, and email.
3. You have to pay money to speak on the phone with someone from DreamHost: $10 for one callback, or you can purchase packages of three callbacks for $15.
4. HostGator and GoDaddy both lack any email customer support.
Customer support comparison
* DreamHost customers can request a callback from technical support, but will be charged $10
Try not to worry about uptime too much
Beyond customer service, the most common complaint you’ll read from customer reviews is about uptime – or rather, lack thereof. Uptime is vital to your business: in 2013, Amazon.com famously went offline for 40 minutes and lost $4.8 million.
Every single web host in the world strives to have 100 percent server uptime, but there’s unfortunately no industry standard to evaluate how well they do. Lots of web hosting review sites do personal tests to try and gauge server performance, including WhoIsHostingThis and Web Hosting Facts, but since these tests only look at one site at a time, and often for short amounts of time, they are best used as indications, not gospel. That said, all six of our web host sites perform well in these micro tests, with reported uptimes over 99.9 percent.
To try to avoid the “just trust us” promise of near-perfect uptime, most hosts provide some sort of guarantee of at least 99.9 percent uptime. However, that guarantee isn’t much of a guarantee. It just means your bill can be discounted in the event of any unplanned downtime. There’s a lot of fine print on these guarantees, too, including not accepting self-reported or third-party uptime data, and not providing refunds for downtime that was out of the host’s control (for example, a hurricane).
What stands out?
1. Bluehost is one of the only host to offer no uptime guarantee, and instead just says most of its downtime issues are resolved in 15 minutes.
We’re not impressed by Bluehost’s no-promises uptime agreement.
2. SiteGround zooms out to view uptime annually instead of monthly, like most everyone else. If your average annual uptime is below 99.9 percent, you get one month of free hosting. SiteGround is also the most transparent when it comes to its uptime, and lists both its cumulative 12-month uptime and the previous month’s uptime right on its site.
3. DreamHost zooms in to view uptime hourly. For every hour of service interruption below 100 percent uptime, you get a day of free hosting (capped at 10 percent of your bill). The caveat: money back is only eligible when you manually flag that you think your service is sub-par. DreamHost doesn’t track it automatically.
Uptime guarantees aren’t exactly guarantees
*Only available on InMotion’s highest-tier shared hosting plan
Migrations matter, especially if your website already exists
Frustrating support and downtime — particularly when they’re combined — are the most common reasons to abandon one host and join another.
It’s always possible (and free) to migrate your existing site manually to a new web host (another reason those knowledge bases are so critical). But it gets more challenging the bigger and more complicated your site is, which is why web hosts often provide some sort of “managed” migration to ensure it’s done right.
What stands out?
1. InMotion’s managed migration policy is the most generous: three are free, and then it’s just $10 per transfer after that.
2. The oddest policy is Bluehost’s, which requires you to purchase five managed migrations at a time for $150. The economics aren’t so bad if you have five sites to migrate — less so if you only have one or two.
3. DreamHost is also unique insomuch as it is the only host out of the these six that doesn’t use cPanel, but rather its own custom control panel. Transferring an existing site in and out of DreamHost is always going to be a manual process managed by you. The exception is WordPress sites, whose migration DreamHost will manage for a whopping $99 each.
Other web hosting specs to look for
Backups: It’s best practice to manually backup all your files and databases and store them on separate machines — we consider it one of the top 4 content areas you should worry about. But lots of web hosts advertise complementary backups to act as a kind of auto-save in case you corrupt a file, delete something vital, or otherwise break your website.
SiteGround’s backup policy is the beefiest and most integrated as a feature. It automatically backs everything up every day. For its mid- and highest-tiered plans, restoring those backups is free; the lowest-tiered plan is $20 per restore. GoDaddy offers a similar service, but for $2/month.
Everyone else treats automatic backups and restores as worst-case scenarios: Somehow you’ve wiped out your entire website and you forgot to make any manual copies.
SSD storage: Solid State Drive technology is notably faster than regular “spinning” hard drives, which in turn means content is delivered to your website and your website’s visitors faster. It’s pretty common among well-known web hosts to include SSD storage in even lower-tier shared hosting plans. GoDaddy is the only one of the six hosts we looked at that doesn’t offer it on its basic shared hosting. You have to spring for its managed WordPress hosting to get SSD storage.
SSL certificates: Certificates for Secure Sockets Layer encryption (SSL) are like internet passports that confirm your website is secure enough for your visitors to submit sensitive data, like credit card information and passwords. It’s considered best practice to have SSL certification — in fact, Google considers it as a factor in how your site will show up in search rankings.
Most web hosts include basic SSL certificates for free in their shared hosting plans (although GoDaddy only offers it with its highest-tier shared hosting plan). That basic SSL certificate should be enough for most websites. More advanced encryption is needed if your website is also connected with a physical presence, like a brick and mortar store. Those suped-up SSL certificates are available for purchase through all web hosts.
SSH access: Secure Shell access means you have a secure channel straight into your account to manage files and databases. It’s a feature that’s critical if you’re have a web developer or technically-inclined site administrator who wants to manage and troubleshoot everything themselves. All six web hosts provide SSH access.
Email hosting: If your web host includes email hosting, it means you’ll have access to a customized email address and room to store your emails. Lots of web hosts offer this, often for free. SiteGround, InMotion, BlueHost, and GoDaddy include unlimited email hosting on their lowest-tier shared plans; all six hosts include it on their highest-tier plans.
It’s worth keeping in mind that email isn’t stored in a separate place — it all pulls from the same server space as the rest of your site, which means it will impact how much room is “left over” for you to use. If that doesn’t sound ideal — maybe your website is already pretty weighty — your web host isn’t your only option for getting a custom email address. GSuite (aka GMail for businesses) and services like Hover also provide email, and often it’s a more robust, more intuitive solution, like what you’re used to with your personal email. Lots of small business owners prefer keeping their email and websites on separate hosts: if your web host is also your email host and it goes offline, you’ll be without access to email. Quelle horreur.
Look for room to grow long-term
A typical upgrade pattern for a new website is to start with shared hosting, max that out, and then jump to VPS, cloud, or dedicated. WordPress websites might take a pit stop in Managed WordPress hosting for awhile, too — which, depending on the host, could be on a VPS server (like Bluehost) or cloud server (like DreamHost and HostGator).
It’s time to upgrade when your site’s size and traffic over-burden your current plan. Sometimes, the host will let you know it’s time to upgrade — that will happen if you’re, say, overwhelming a server and making everyone else’s sites on that server slow down. Another reason to upgrade is if you’re ready for more functionality, customizability, and autonomy: upgrading usually gets you access to a more robust toolkit.
What stands out?
1. SiteGround is unique in that it leaps from shared hosting straight to cloud, without the traditional VPS onramp.
2. InMotion is a little less modern than its competition by not offering some sort of cloud hosting solution.
3. GoDaddy has created another stepping stone between shared hosting and full-blown VPS with something called “business hosting” — basically the power of VPS with the straight-forward cPanel interface of shared hosting.
No web host wants to put a ceiling on your website’s growth
Always pay for domain privacy
If you’re creating a new website, you’ll need to register a domain. All six web hosts allow you to register with them (sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee) even though it’s not required — you can register a domain with Namecheap or GoDaddy and still be hosted by SiteGround or InMotion.
When you’re purchasing that domain, always opt into domain privacy, which means proxy contact information from the domain administrator will be submitted to the WHOIS registry. If you don’t opt in, you will be spammed. A lot. Domain privacy usually runs $1–2/month and is billed annually.
Always, always, always get domain privacy. Or you’ll be sharing lots of personal info.
DreamHost includes domain privacy for free with all its shared plans; Bluehost offers it for free on its highest-tier shared plan.
Recap: The Best Web Hosting Services
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October 31, 2018 at 02:09PM