How to Choose a Web Hosting Service
The top performers in our review are InMotion Hosting, the Gold Award winner; Arvixe, the Silver Award winner; and Just Host, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a service to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the best web hosts.
If you are considering owning any online real estate beyond a simple blog, it comes with a price. Thankfully, the price is minimal. Many people think that owning their own sites only has to do with owning the names themselves; however, a large part of having a site is hosting the data and information displayed on it. Before you sign up for a domain name, take some time to consider your options. We recommend that, before you ever plan your unique site name, you analyze the focus of your online business and how much storage you need.
In our experience, standard landing page sites only require the most basic shared hosting package. If you want to make an active site complete with images, blog posts and video content, you need a service that provides unlimited disk space. If you are planning to have an exorbitant number of viewers, then you should also look to find a package with unlimited bandwidth. Having sufficient bandwidth keeps your site from throttling if many readers flock to your site at once.
Annual & Monthly Payments of Web Hosts
The second step to take is to create the right domain name. The top web hosting plans typically include a free domain for one year. A domain often requires an annual payment, but Arvixe actually includes a domain for the life of the service. Popular services like Go Daddy are known for being go-to spots if you are looking to purchase a domain name.
When first signing up for website hosting services, you are offered promotional rates on several hosting plans, depending on the storage and bandwidth your site requires. Look past the promotional prices that each host offers. We noticed that several hosting services baited us with affordable plans, only to triple the monthly price and charge nearly $30 for a domain when renewal comes around.
Our sister site, Business News Daily, describes the pros and cons of web hosting. In this article, it describes that the purpose of website hosting is to help small business owners. Even novices can build something once and let the website take care of itself. These shared hosting services are easy enough for anyone to create something unique.
The web hosting industry is inundated with competition. In our extensive comparison, we researched, tested and ranked each service to find the one that best fits your business or personal website. For more information about this industry, take a look at our articles about web hosts.
Web Hosting for All Business Sizes
No one could be blamed for any confusion felt when shopping for a new host. Typically, any one of the top hosting companies offers a complex list of products with different features available. There are typically three tiers of price ranges coinciding with three tiers of feature sets.
For these hosting company reviews, we've chosen to cover shared hosting. Shared hosting provides the least expensive plans. If you see a low price advertised on the front page of a site, it is most likely referring to the lowest-grade shared plan.
The low cost does not equate to low value. If you are a small business owner who only needs a site to boost your business's online status and you plan for moderate site visitors, this is probably the best option. Every client on a shared server has to share hosting space. Most companies can initially promise reliability because they're planning on your site getting an average amount of traffic.
VPS, or Virtual Private Server, is a step above shared and cheap web hosting and packs in a bit more power on the CPU side. Companies that expect a decent traffic increase in the short term should consider these plans. The server spaced is still shared; however, you have more opportunity to customize your space management and benefit more from added security in comparison to shared hosting.
Rather than renting server space as you do in shared or VPS, dedicated means that one server is allotted for one purpose or site. The benefit of this type of hosting is that your site won't crash due to external websites spiking suddenly. This is the most independent way to go but should probably not be considered by personal bloggers or small business owners. The downside of this enterprise-level hosting type is the very high price tag.
Dedicated hosting is a case of experts need only apply. It allows you to customize your server with any type of software or file formats. Typically, any maintenance needed on the server is done by the owner.
Outside of the three major offerings provided by each hosting service are the exceptions. One such exception is cloud hosting, which is your information and bandwidth spread of multiple servers to improve redundancy.
Web Hosting: How We Tested, What We Found
To test our web hosting lineup, we purchased month-to-month hosting subscriptions. These plans auto-renew as long as you let them and, in most instances, come with a free domain name for a year. For each provider, we used the basic shared hosting package, and the numbers we gathered for the disk space and bandwidth are all based on the introductory plans for each service.
Shared hosting should be flexible. As your business grows, your online presence should have the ability to grow with you. We measured that flexibility by how many plans a service offered and by asking its support staff how easy it is to upgrade in the middle of a contract.
Three is the standard number of hosting plans under a company’s shared hosting umbrella. Three different options give you room to grow if you're feeling unsure about initially investing in a higher-priced plan. Still, many web hosts offer only one shared server plan. In our testing, we found that those with a single plan often do not provide enough bandwidth, storage and domain capability for the value. Upgrading from one of these single-offering shared plans requires paying significantly more with a VPS or dedicated server.
Control Panel Usability
With each service, we built a landing page for a business using images and content. A number of reviewers at Top Ten Reviews tested each cPanel and downloaded apps, like WordPress, to test compatibility. While each version of cPanel is similar, the best web hosts provide more features, simplifying the creation process. We arrived at the usability mark by testing the hosting interface and scoring the cPanel and proprietary website builder.
We first tested usability through our experience creating an account. If a service used a one-step process, which entails easy account verification through email and approval of the domain and host package at the same time, we gave it points for immediate usability. Half of the products we purchased didn't let us create an account without a copy of an identification card and a credit card statement. If a service is difficult to sign up for, most people would move on to the next available host.
Once we accessed our accounts, we test each dashboard. The standard interface is called cPanel, while some services, like iPage, use their own control panel, which allows for more customization. We evaluated which tools are available in the basic shared hosting plans, taking into account features like simple email creation, a disk usage meter and access to create cron jobs. Many services in our lineup don't have the option to back up a site manually or utilize a one-click install section.
The majority of the hosts on our lineup use a standard cPanel and for good reason. It is the industry standard. While the dashboard isn’t much to look at, it provides most of the useful tools you need to create a site, manage the hosting and market it to the online world.
Customer support is an important factor when searching for the best hosting services. As site owners, we rely on each service to have solid uptime. When a server inevitably fails temporarily, services should have a support team available 24/7 by both phone and live chat.
We called multiple times at all hours of the day and night, testing the quality of the support given. We reached a percentage score by ranking five criteria. A representative needed sufficient product knowledge without sending us links to the FAQs page. In support calls, we wanted a problem solved and subtracted points when the service tried to upsell us instead of solving the issue at hand. Personability, in both chat and phone support situations, was a major factor. Also, we took into account the initial wait time and the wait time between responses.
We also brought up live chat during busy business hours and after normal business hours. To get a representative number of how long it took to reach each support team, we took an average of our attempts. The service with the fastest response time is WebHostingPad.
The average wait time overall was just over 10 minutes. The longest we waited to reach a live chat representative was 45 minutes. Testing the support staff of each service was essential to the process because it sets most of them apart. Often, a company boasted about its live chat support, but the team was consistently offline or unavailable. Other times, the staff could only help you with sales and upgrades but not technical support.
Additional Considerations: Picking the Right Web Host for Your Business
Web hosting is a very competitive field, and the best companies perform the same task with a similar range of site management tools. Each company offers promotions to get you to sign on with it, but we looked at few features that are important to consider in the long run.
What Does Unlimited Really Mean?
Web hosting companies throw around the term “unlimited” as if it's their slogan. As a consumer, it is important to know that unlimited does not mean infinite. Instead, the term technically means, “not exceeding regular use.” While the companies claim that 99.5 percent of their customers will never have a throttling problem, if you store large amounts of media on your site, you still may get a warning from the hosting provider informing that you will be slowed down or temporarily shut off. It is a shared server, which means you are at risk of taking other customer's allotted unlimited space.
Hosting Package Offerings
Most hosts boast about the unlimited data transfer and disk space they offer, but it's important to find each service's definition of that word. Every host provides different allotments for domains, subdomains and parked domains despite many calling that allotment "unlimited." There are services like iPage that don't have expandable shared hosting plans but don't truly need to provide the option because they offer unlimited boundaries in their basic plans. Each of these plans comes with the option to create email accounts with your URL attachment; although, the number you are allowed varies.
All of the web hosts we tested offer limited money back guarantees. Even further, a handful of companies allow you to cancel at any time without penalty.
Each company claims to have 99 percent uptime. In the event of a failure, meaning your site is inaccessible, a service can usually get it back up in no more than 20 minutes, but that time could mean lost income or traffic if your site is built for those purposes. Technical problems can happen at any time – and there's not much you can do on your end, especially when you're running off a server in a remote location. Responsive tech support is critical.
Investing in a reliable web host is a big decision because it impacts how your site runs for the next year or two. If you find a concern with a host, there is no reason to stick with it just because you have a bundle. We looked for services that not only made it easy to migrate information but also to export site content. One service that makes domain registration and content migration easy is InMotion Hosting.
Security is always lighter when using a shared server, but that doesn't mean your site should be left vulnerable. The best hosts use shared SSL and SSH. Many of these hosts back up and restore your site without incurring an additional fee. Some of the web hosts also protect your email account from spammers free, while others offer advanced anti-spam protection at a cost.
If you plan to sell products or services online, there are several shared web hosts that also offer eCommerce solutions, such as shopping cart systems and the ability to accept credit cards. Nearly every web host we tested offers advertising credits to help jump-start your marketing effort for your website or business online.
Our Verdict & Recommendations on the Best Web Hosting Plans
Finding the right website hosting service suited to your site is important, especially with so many competitive companies looking for your business. In our tests of the basic plans of each web hosting service, we were surprised at the level of control and site creation capabilities available for a low monthly cost. InMotion Hosting provided superior features in a starter plan, something that business owners should consider when weighing value. Also, their support staff was prompt and helpful. Arvixe takes small perks, like giving a free domain for the life of the contract, and provides them as part of its shared hosting plans. Just Host, one of the bigger names on the lineup, may be associated with dozens of other hosts in our comparison but still has the edge in terms of features and a functional control panel. Each of these companies provides great ongoing support, intuitive interfaces and extra security features.