Unless you work in IT, you might not know which factors to consider when comparing web hosts.
So rather than laying out technical schematics, let’s take a needs-based approach to the best web hosting.
Quick Guide to Finding the Best Web Hosting:
Best Web Hosting for a WordPress Blog
Almost a third of the world’s websites, particularly blogs, depend on WordPress in some way.
WordPress is free, just as it has been since 2003. However, you will need to buy a hosting account to share your site with the world.
You’ll do well using one of these services:
Customers get fast load times, almost 100 percent uptime reliability, and 24/7 customer service in case something does go wrong.
And, Bluehost’s WordPress installation process is seamless, which is one of the reasons WordPress itself recommends starting your blog with Bluehost.
Bluehost’s pricing is competitive, and you’ll often get a free domain name for a year and a few free email addresses when you sign up.
As any experienced WordPress user knows, a site backup can be a lifesaver. Bluehost allows for automatic, daily backups.
- Migrating an already-existing site will require paying a fee, usually $125.
- The money-back-guarantee extends only 30 days.
DreamHost, another WordPress-recommended service, approaches Bluehost’s standards for reliability and loading times. In fact, with an average-sized site you might notice a difference.
DreamHost stands out because of its 97-day money-back guarantee. Why 97 days? To make sure you have three full months, give or take a few days, to test your account.
WordPress comes pre-installed.
- Customer service not available via chat.
- DreamHost also charges a site migration fee.
HostGator is also strong and stable, and you can migrate one existing site for free using the basic plan.
So if you’re moving an existing site to a new host, you can save about $100 or more compared to Bluehost or Dreamhost.
HostGator is unusually user-friendly with helpful guidance available if you get stuck.
- Cost per month will triple if you opt for one year instead of three years.
- Load times are slower than Bluehost and Dreamhost so huge sites can lag.
Best Web Hosting for Small Businesses
We all expect our hosting service to work 100 percent of the time. Downtime is annoying and frustrating.
If you depend on your site to make money, server downtime can cost you customers and revenue.
These hosting services excel with reliability and around-the-clock customer service:
Hostpapa is almost always on. Its uptime exceeds the national average. And if your site does go down, Hostpapa has customer service agents available 24/7 to help.
You can get help via email, phone, and apparently even by using a fax machine, which some people still do.
Hostpapa consistently stays ahead of security threats which addresses another concern for small business and e-commerce sites.
- Charges a fee if you claim the 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Though uptimes are excellent, page loading speeds can lag.
Bluehost topped my list for hosting a WordPress blog. The company appears here on the strength of its uptimes and page loading speeds.
You don’t want customers waiting on a page to load. Many times they’ll just open a new tab and check out a competitor or go back to the Google results.
Bluehost consistently delivers speed and reliability for a great price.
- Migrating in an existing site results in fees.
- Renewal rates are much higher than initial rates.
If you’re working toward a high-traffic site but you’re not quite ready to invest in a dedicated server, Domain.com’s VPS (virtual private server) offers a compromise.
Domain.com also boasts reseller options for business owners who’d like to optimize profits by selling excess server space.
You’ll also get reliable customer service connections, a partnership with the Weebly suite of site-building tools, and access to an email marketing platform.
- No month-to-month payment options; yearly commitment required.
- Annual commitments don’t come with discounts.
Best Hosting for DIY Site
Some people have the technical chops to hand-code their site into existence. For the rest of us, the market offers an ever-growing array of do-it-yourself site building tools.
Once you’ve built your site, you’ll still need to host it. The following DIY site builders also have nice built-in options for hosting.
Each service has a free option, but you’ll get a more professional site up and running with a paid plan.
And when you compare these services’ prices to traditional hosting prices, remember you’re getting access to site-building tools as well as hosting.
You can build a good-looking site on Wix without knowing how to write a line of HTML, CSS, or PHP.
Once you’re done with that, Wix will prompt you to choose a hosting plan, and the company offers solid choices ranging from about $11 to $30 a month. Business-specific plans cost more.
Uptimes and load times rival the best hosting services, and most Wix plans come with a free domain name for a year.
- Email addresses cost extra ($6 per address per month).
- Customer service varies by payment option.
Squarespace has emerged as another leading option for drag-and-drop site builders.
As with Wix, you’ll be prompted to choose a hosting plan as your new site shapes up. Squarespace’s hosting itself isn’t as snappy as Wix’s, so if you plan to build a larger site, your load times may drag a little.
But Squarespace excels at customer service and mobile-first design which has become essential in the smartphone era.
- Slower load times.
- No money-back guarantees.
- Not-so-great SEO tools.
If you’re starting a blog or a very simple site such as a portfolio, you may not want a full-blown WordPress installation on a server.
WordPress.com offers a simpler level of service. You can customize a WordPress theme and launch your web presence within a few minutes.
To get your own domain name — my-amazing-site.com instead of wordpress.com/my-amazing-site — you’ll have to opt for a paid plan starting at $5 a month.
- Limited tools and functionality.
- Html knowledge is helpful to fully customize a template.
Best Free Hosting Services
If you’re just experimenting with a site idea, you may not want to commit to an ongoing hosting bill.
The market has several good options for free hosting. Just don’t expect the same level of customer service and professionalism a paid hosting account will provide.
For example, with a free hosting plan, your site may feature ads you don’t want on your home page. And, free hosting typically won’t include your own domain name.
If you’re considering free hosting, I’d check out these free options first:
You can use almost all of Wix’s basic site-building tools before running into the paywall.
You won’t be able to connect a domain name, though, without a paid plan. And, your site will include visible Wix branding unless you pay.
Still, if you’re experimenting with your site ideas, you can do a lot without paying in a Wix account.
Blogger.com (formerly known as blogspot.com) is Google’s free web hosting service designed specifically for — you guessed it — blogs.
If you’re keeping things basic and don’t have your heart set on fully customizing a theme and connecting your own domain name, you can do a lot with blogger.com.
And, if you have a Google account as most people do, you already have a blogger.com account.
Weebly offers another user-friendly drag-and-drop set-up for non-coders.
Just like Wix and Blogger.com, you can set up your site without paying.
But, the ability to connect your own domain name will require an upgrade. Unlike its competition, Weebly has a domain-only plan for $5 a month.
Best Hosting for a Dedicated Server
A site builder who needs to maximize control over a site should consider a dedicated server.
Hosting your site on a dedicated server will cost significantly more, but you’ll be able to customize security features and optimize bandwidth.
Since you’re not sharing server space with other sites, you’ll have more independence.
If you don’t have an IT staff or you don’t know how to take advantage of a dedicated server’s strengths, you probably don’t need one.
These services excel with dedicated servers:
When you’re paying for a dedicated server, you want 100 percent uptime. SiteGround comes as close to perfection as you’ll find with an average of 99.99 percent.
During that 00.01 percent of downtime, you’d be understandably frustrated. Fortunately, SiteGround also rates high with its customer service staff which can help in a variety of languages, including Spanish and German.
SiteGround isn’t the cheapest option for a dedicated server, but when your business needs its own server, you’ll get what you pay for.
- Average page load times.
- Not a bargain service.
In case you’ve lost track, this is Bluehost’s third appearance in this post. It’s just hard to argue with reliable uptimes and snappy page loads even for heavy pages.
Bluehost delivers these same results with its dedicated hosting account. And, Bluehost offers a better value than many other services, especially before your plan renews.
- Great intro price doesn’t continue after the plan’s renewal.
Lately, HostGator has exceeded even Bluehost and SiteGround for uptime.
But I just couldn’t list HostGator first because of its lagging page load times which have exceeded 1 second recently.
Still, the company makes the cut because reliability matters, a lot. Rule 1 in business: You have to show up, and HostGator sets the standard for reliability.
- Lagging page load times.
- Customer service can be slower to respond.
Best Cloud Hosting Service
Cloud hosting now offers an alternative to a dedicated server while still providing some of the advantages.
Rather than being saved in one place, a cloud host will spread your site’s files along with many different cloud-based servers.
As a result, your site isn’t entirely dependent on the health of one physical server.
These companies have done well with cloud hosting:
Dreamhost provides another solid cloud hosting option at a lower starting price.
The company doesn’t offer phone-in customer support or Windows-based servers (Linux only).
If you need either of these options, you’ll want to pay a little more for another company.
1&1 IONIS tops this list of cloud servers because of its flexibility which unlocks the power of cloud hosting whether you need a bare-bones account or fully customized options.
And, the first 30 days of your contract will be free which means you can try out an account before funding a long-term contract.
It’s easier to keep your money than to get it back.
HostGator also excels with cloud-based hosting. Accounts come with access to some strong e-commerce tools if you’re creating an online store.
HostGator offers customer service help via phone and online chat.
What About My Domain Name?
Opening a hosting account is like renting an apartment, but instead of getting living space you’re renting server space where your web site will live.
Your site’s hosting address will be a series of numbers like this one: 126.96.36.199. As you can tell, this address won’t be very memorable for your customers and friends.
Which is why you’ll also need a domain name — something like ‘my-amazing-site.com’ — which points visitors to your site.
To keep things simple, you can reserve your domain name with the same company you choose for hosting.
But it won’t matter if you’ve already reserved your domain name and want to use a separate company for hosting. You’ll just have to change the domain’s settings to point to your new hosted site.
What About Email Hosting?
Email hosting works a lot like web hosting but instead of renting a home for your web site content, you’re using the server space to hold email inboxes.
Small businesses — and even side hustles — can gain credibility with hosted email addresses because your address can match your domain name.
To a new customer, for example, email@example.com seems more credible than firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
You can add email hosting to your web hosting account without too much extra work or money. Some hosts offer a free email address or two. Others charge per inbox per month.
Larger businesses may want a dedicated email server or a cloud-based server.
How Much Should You Pay for Web Hosting?
Comparing costs for web hosting gets tricky because prices change frequently. But here are some general guidelines:
Lock-In Your Rate
Unless you don’t plan to keep your site for more than a year, you should pay upfront for three years of hosting.
Paying upfront lets you lock in a low rate. Your per-month rate will typically be lowest when you pay for three years upfront.
The most expensive per-month rates kick in when you pay monthly or quarterly.
Right now you can pay as low as $2.50 to $3 a month by paying three years upfront. If you pay by the month, expect to pay more like $10 or $12 per month.
Expect Higher Rates After Renewal
Locking in a low rate is great, but after your initial term expires and you need to renew your hosting account, most service providers increase the cost significantly.
Rather than paying $2.50 to $3 per month, you’ll see $8 to $9 monthly fees billed upfront which results in $100 to $110 per year. By paying for three years instead of one year, you’ll usually save a couple of dollars per month.
You could simply switch hosts every few years, but many companies, including Bluehost, charge site transfer fees which would erase your savings.
Pay for Only What You Need
Cloud-based hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated servers matter a lot — unless they don’t matter at all for your site.
You can save a lot by sticking with traditional shared hosting which is what the majority of this post has discussed.
If your business needs the security and control a dedicated server can provide, paying the extra fees will be worth the money.
If you don’t really need that level of service, I’d invest that money somewhere else, like in a custom logo or getting the e-commerce tools you need.
Find The Best Hosting for Your Needs
Your hosting account will be your site’s home sweet home online.
By extension, your hosting account will help determine how your business site or your blog interacts with the wider world.
So before buying a three-year hosting plan, make sure you’re getting a suitable home for your site.