So I was lounging around the student union between classes at the Auckland University of Technology a few months back when it hit me I was tired of answering website questions from civilian friends and family.
It seems everyone and their dog has a web hosting question. Consider this guide my present to the world. You’re welcome.
How to Pick a World Class Web Host
In case you’re the impatient sort, I’ll put my three favorite web hosts immediately below, then a lengthier discussion of the topic after that. Here’s how I decided on my favorites.
* Opened accounts with a bunch of “name” web hosts. Don’t worry – they all had free trials and modest monthly plans.
* Set up a WordPress website. It’s an awesome content management system. I’ll tell you why later. I’m trying to stay focused here.
* Either experienced actual problems or made some up in order to contact and evaluate their customer support. That’s a BIG thing when you’re a newbie.
* Began monitoring speed and uptime, which has been ongoing since the summer of 2015.
Arrived at my opinions and published them here.
Simple enough, right? Let’s get started. By the way, some of the links you find within the actual reviews are of the affiliate variety. That means I get paid a few cents when you click on one. Trust me, I’m not getting rich, but it does help defray the costs of maintaining this resource you’re reading.
Presenting the 3 Best Web Hosting Services in 2018
#1. Siteground (Best for WordPress)
Load Time: 585 ms
Support: Live chat response in less than 2 minutes
Cost: $3.95 USD per month
While SiteGround may not carry the same name recognition in the western world, thanks to massive television advertising by competitors, those of us in the know (including me) out here on the Pacific Rim don’t hesitate to give it two thumbs up as the best web hosting to be found. And it’s not just my opinion. SiteGround is the recipient of official recommendations from content management software heavyweights like Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress.org.
Siteground is the hosting power behind 800,000 domain names around the world at recent count. The service is delivered to customers in Europe, Asia, and the United States with robust data centers and servers situated globally. For New Zealand and our friends in Singapore across the Timor Sea, this is a big deal because web hosting service can get spotty with some companies as you get farther from the massive global population centers.
For a company that was founded with a single employee in 2004, this is a lot of growth in a short time. They must be doing something right. Here’s my opinion on exactly what it is.
Uptime: In a world where most legitimate hosting companies can boast 99+% uptime, Siteground has pushed that number to essentially 100%, which ain’t too shabby. Part of this quality can be traced to the reality that they create their own software rather than buying out-of-the-box solutions, allowing for the flexibility and creativity to prevent most problems and solve the few that pop up in short order.
This incredible dedication to keeping their customers online resulted in only 10 outages on a global basis during the past year. Some other web hosts deal with thousands. Correction. Actually their customers deal with it in terms of websites regularly going dark.
Load Time: Those new to web hosting often don’t pay close enough attention to this number. Load time refers to how it takes from the time (measured in milliseconds) a user arrives at your website until it actually loads for them to see. Here’s a hint. Lower is better. Studies consistently show that slow-loading websites lose visitors in droves as the time it takes to load increases. How much time do you have? Past about three or four seconds and large percentage of potential arrivals bail out. If you’re trying to build an online business, this is a critical statistic.
Customer Support: While SiteGround scores well in all the speed metrics, so do a lot of other hosting companies. What sets this one apart is an unrelenting focus on quality customer support. With more than 230 people on staff handling thousands of emails, chats, and phone calls on any given day, SiteGround has placed a serious emphasis on resolving customer complaints and problems quickly and satisfactorily.
It took only seconds for an employee to answer our chat request. She went on to handle a series of common questions in a courteous and (perhaps more importantly) knowledgeable manner. This was the only customer support experience I gave a perfect score, which was enough to push SiteGround into the top spot.
* Managed WordPress hosting for all
* Free security upgrades
* E-commerce friendly
* Free website transfer from another host
* Affordable pricing
* 30-day money back guarantee
In my opinion, this is a pretty impressive list of feathers in the SiteGround cap. Taken in totality, it was more than enough to push this company into the #1 recommendation on my modest list of best web hosting services on the planet.
Since nothing on this planet is perfect, I must admit to finding a few items that detracted somewhat from the overall SiteGround Experience. Because I’m a straight up kind of guy, I’m going to tell you about them so you can consider the full picture before making your choice.
Pricing Games: I’m tempted to make a blanket statement that ALL web hosts play various pricing games, but that’s not really fair because those kind of slippery tactics aren’t exclusive to the web hosting industry. You’ve probably noticed that most hosts advertise a sickeningly low monthly price for service. The catch is you don’t get that low price unless you pay for one, two, or even three years in advance, thereby locking you in as a customer for the long term, the better to sell you complementary services and products over time.
SiteGround plays the pricing game from a different angle, which is not necessarily better or worse but simply different. You’ll receive that low advertised monthly price if you sign up for monthly billing but will also pay an extra $14.95 during the first month as a set-up fee.
The additional charge is waived when you commit to a year or longer of service. Furthermore, there is no hint of this fee until you’re entering credit card details and about to push the “pay” button. In my mind, this qualifies as a hidden fee. Obviously, it’s not a dealbreaker to me or I wouldn’t have listed the company first on this list. But it does smack of disingenuity and is a bit of an annoyance.
The Bottom Line
SiteGround comes with my top recommendation. With plans ranging from $3.95 to $11.95 per month, you’re getting top notch quality as prices that fall well in line with companies that don’t offer the same quality. From my experience, you won’t go wrong in choosing this company as your web hosting service.
#2. A2 Hosting (If it’s speed you want…)
Load Time: 473 ms
Support: Chat response about 8 minutes
A2 Hosting likes to use descriptive adjectives (a lot of them) when referring to their web hosting service features. Nothing wrong with that. The question is whether they can back up all those claims with performance? It turns out they do a pretty good job at meeting the high standard set by SiteGround.
Honestly, it was almost a coin flip to decide which company would be placed at #1 and which would be #2 on this list. Though I ultimately went with SiteGround, you can rest assured that choosing A2 would not be a mistake.
With a lineage that can be traced back to 2001 (when it was known as Iniquinet – how the heck do you even pronounce that?), A2 Hosting has followed a steady growth curve that puts them at about 200,000 domains hosted as I write this. Not too shabby. But are their claims of 99.9 percent uptime and “guru” support based in reality?
Mostly, they are.
Impressive Uptime: For twelve months I’ve been watching A2’s uptime. It turns out that 99.92 percent of the time my test website was online and ready for the world. While slightly lower than the uptime boasted by SiteGround, this is still pretty impressive.
Just an FYI, you will likely run across some providers who claim they have redundant systems that allow them to guarantee a 100 percent uptime. My advice is to not believe the hype. Of the more than two dozen hosting service I tested, none reached that lofty level. The important thing to keep in mind is that the industry average is 99.79 percent, and A2 exceeds that. ‘Nuff said.
Screaming Fast Speed: When it comes to flat out speed, measured by how quickly it loads a web page, A2 came in second to none in my tests, boasting a number of 473 ms. At this speed, you’re basically looking at an instant page load. This is critical. As I’ve already mentioned, a delay by even as little as three or four seconds can send traffic scurrying for the exits. Today’s internet user simply has no patience for slow-loading websites.
How does A2 keep their speed consistently above other host services’ speed tests? For one, they put a cap on the number of people using any single shared server. This reduces the bandwidth load and allows for a better and faster experience for these websites.
Secondly, A2 puts an emphasis on implementing a technique known as caching for customers. Caching is a behind-the-scenes process that saves the static parts of web pages in a user’s browser, so it only has to upload the things that have changed on return visits. This greatly cuts down the amount of time spent transferring data between computer and server.
Problem Solvers: The world of web hosting is an imperfect one. No matter how good the company is, sooner or later you will need to ask a question or seek help in resolving a (hopefully minor) issue.
Many of the companies I considered for this list fell woefully short in this area. Not so with A2. For those people out there to whom this makes a difference, support staff is based in the United States and available 24/7/365 by chat, email, a ticket system, or phone. I tested their chat service by sending out a few questions and receiving a response in every case in less than a minute. You’re not going to get much better than that.
Additional Features: I won’t take the time to lay out every single feature A2 offers. I’ve mentioned the major ones above and here are the highlights of the rest.
* Additional security against hackers provided automatically
* Free site migration if your present provider uses cPanel
* 1-Click setup for WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal
* 30-day money back guarantee
* Traffic routed through Cloudflare CDN to take advantage of the fastest path to the server and back
* Green web hosting via carbon offset purchases
If you’re beginning to get the impression that I think A2 is a swell hosting company, you’re right, but in the interest of liberty and justice for all, I’ll mention a few drawbacks that sort of irk me.
Pricing: Remember back in the SiteGround review when I talked about how some companies play pricing games? This is one of those instances. Rather than a setup fee for month-by-month subscribers, A2 has chosen to go the route that so many others do and require you to sign up for multiple years in order to get the advertised rate. In other words, in order to get the $3.92 per month price, you have to commit to 24 months of service.
Maybe that’s no big deal to you because it is excellent service, in my humble opinion. There’s just something that sticks in my craw when a company isn’t completely upfront about pricing without potential customers having to scan the fine print. All things considered in regard to pricing, A2 comes it slightly more expensive than average.
Restrictions: One other drawback to A2 Hosting is that you don’t get all the bells and whistles with the introductory hosting package, known as the Lite plan. In particular, they limit your websites to one and databases to five, which may or may not be problematical to you. Most companies offer an unlimited number of these, but I presume A2 uses this scarcity to encourage you to upgrade to a more expensive package. **Shrug** My experience still shows that even the Lite plan is a speedy little thing, so don’t worry that your getting bandwidth scraps.
The Bottom Line
A2 Hosting comes in second in my top three web host companies but just barely. It could easily have been the number one pick. The sign-up process is easy and straightforward with relatively few upsells along the way – thank goodness for that.
Be aware that if you’re the last person in the world still writing paper checks, there is no refund offered for that payment method. Also, they’ll ding you $25 if you decide to downgrade from either the Swift or Turbo packages in the future.
#3. HostGator (Big Name – Okay Service)
Load Time: 991 ms
Support: Ticket system a little slow
While the first two entrants on this list boast numbers of domains hosted in the hundreds of thousands, Houston-based HostGator clocks in at around nine million.
You’ve probably seen their television ads and concluded the company is sort of a big deal. Partnerships with tech mega-conglomerates like Cisco and Linux contribute to the impression of “hugeness.” But does all that media clout and money add up to a quality web host?
Of the dozens of hosts I tested, HostGator managed to crack the top three, which is saying something, I guess. In my opinion, there’s a pretty serious drop-off between numbers two and three, but we’re still talking a solid option to host your website.
Let’s break down what I liked and didn’t about HostGator.
Up Time: A website is only as good as its ability to stay online. Apparently, HostGator is doing something right in this area because their uptime tested out to 99.97%, which is slightly above average and pretty okay for the behemoth that it is.
The caveat here is that when the test WordPress website first went online there were outages all over the place. It’s been a steady improvement ever since, so I’ll say that I’m satisfied you’ll get good speed from your HostGator account.
Customer Support: Like other legitimate web host companies, HostGator offers 24/7/365 support by email, a ticket system, live chat, or phone. I initiated a live chat that took about 15 minutes for a rep to come online. That was more time than I would have liked, but the gent satisfied my question professionally and knowledgeably.
On a lark, I tested the ticket system too. While I received a quick canned email response, it took just under 24 hours to get personal attention from the company. I’ll say this. Support could be better in its timeliness, but it could be a lot worse too.
Big-Time Money Back Guarantee: Industry standard in the hosting business is to offer a 30-day refund period if you don’t like the service or have second thoughts. HostGator ups the ante by extending that to 45 days. You have an extra two weeks to try out the service, though make sure you read the fine print.
The refund only applies to shared, reseller, or VPS hosting packages. You’re also out of luck if you pay with a check, money order, or wire transfer – essentially, you need to pay with something digital like a debit/credit card in order to be able to take advantage of the refund period.
Bonus Extras: Like SiteGround and A2, Hostgator will migrate your website to their servers at no charge. Additionally, they pay attention to your online security with DDoS attack protection, included SSL certificates, and automatic malware removal and daily database backups.
And for those new to the web hosting sphere, using the interface is dead simple. In fact, it’s so simple a caveman could have his website online in two shakes of a saber-toothed tiger’s tail.
The following issues are what brings HostGator down into the realm of a thoroughly average web host. I’m not saying it’s a bad service – just not great.
Speed: If you recall, both SiteGround and A2 had screaming sick speeds that assured website owners they wouldn’t hemorrhage traffic. HostGator clocked in with my tests at 991 ms, which for those of you keeping score at home, is 11 percent below the industry average and slower than bantha doo-doo. Did you know speed is part of Google’s algorithm when it comes to granting SEO favors? That means HostGator’s slow hosting could cost you visitors and money.
Backup Schmackup: The promised automatic daily database backups promised in HostGator’s advertising literature aren’t quite as impressive at it might seem at first glance. They’re referring to the manual ones you can set inside any cPanel installation and not a separate service unavailable from any other host that offers the same user interface.
The problem with cPanel’s default setting is that you never have more than one week of backups because older ones are overwritten as new ones are completed. To secure true automatic backups from HostGator costs another $15.95 per month.
More Pricing Games: As you have probably come to expect, HostGator is an enthusiastic participant in plastering a super-low price all over their website but then withholding it unless you sign up for three years.
Three years is a long time to commit to anything! Other pricing gimmicks include offering all kinds of “introductory” prices that only apply to your first invoice. By the time that second invoice rolls around, they are long gone.
The Bottom Line
While HostGator is by no means a terrible hosting company, you can do a lot better for your money. If for some reason, you have sworn a sacred oath to never do business with A2 Hosting or SiteGround, then HostGator is a credible option, but I can’t say that I highly recommend it.
One thing I have noticed is that speed and reliability seem to have improved since around June 2016. Maybe the powers-that-be decided to step up their web hosting game at that point.
Shared vs. Cloud vs. WordPress Hosting
In case you didn’t know it, there’s a new world coming when it comes to web hosting. Actually, to a growing number of website owners, it’s already here, and it’s called cloud hosting, as opposed to the traditional service known as shared hosting. Since cloud hosting is on its way to becoming a big deal in the industry, let’s get you conversant on the topic. There are a lot of benefits.
Shared Hosting: As you might surmise, shared hosting refers to the reality that most web host companies set up physical servers in various locations upon which they place files containing customer websites.
Obviously, dedicating an entire server to a single customer is not financially viable unless they charge a significantly greater amount of money. In other words, you could rent your own server but it’ll cost you more than those low promo rates you see on web hosting websites. Much more potentially.
What you’re left with is dozens, maybe hundreds, of customer websites sitting on a single server. At some point, the load becomes too much to bear and quality begins to suffer. You might experience greater downtimes or slow page loading. For the company, it’s a constant balancing act between maintaining an acceptable level of service while maximizing the number of customers they can put on a single server.
These days, signing up for a shared hosting service is only recommended if you don’t get a ton of traffic, don’t have an online income stream that relies on speedy loading times, or can’t afford anything else.
Cloud Hosting: With cloud hosting, a company moves its operation entirely into cyberspace, or “the cloud.” This simply means that rather than having your website confined to a single physical server, you have access to a cluster of servers that work together to store and serve your website files. Why is this method superior? Here are a few reasons.
* More efficient since it expands or contracts the amount of space used as needed
* More secure environment because it’s harder to hack a group of virtual servers than a single physical one
* More stable – if a physical server goes down, the cloud network can simply access a different one
* Unlike shared hosting, it’s simple to purchase (or dump) more or less space if needed for a short term spike or dip in traffic
The bottom line is that an ever-increasing number of web hosts are offering cloud hosting as a slightly more expensive but still affordable option. HostGator is a good example of this. While I only rated their shared hosting as average, if you bump up to a cloud hosting plan, you’re looking at a superior service.
WordPress Hosting: This is another type of hosting you might run across while sifting through your choices. If you intend to use the WordPress CMS (content management system) as either a website, blog, or both, look for a host that offers this.
Without taking too serious a look behind the curtain, let’s just say that this type of hosting has been tweaked to run well with WordPress. Speed and uptime will be more comparable to cloud hosting than shared, which is a good thing.
Keep in mind that WordPress hosts might limit the number and type of plugins you use, thereby reducing the customization options available for your website. That may or may not be a big deal. Just consider how you want your website to look and function before diving in headfirst.
Beware Transfer Fees
If you’re new to all this web hosting stuff, the transfer cost is something you need to be aware of. Not all companies charge it.
For those that do, it might run anywhere from $150-200. Maybe that’s not an earth-shattering amount but one you probably would like to avoid if it turns out you don’t like the web host but have already put in a lot of work building out a website.
Before you sign up for a host, check to see if they offer free site transfer or migration. That means they’ll grab all the files and data associated with your website from your present host and put them onto the new servers.
Don’t be surprised if it takes 24-72 hours for the entire transfer to be complete and your website show up live again.
The Bottom Line
As with so many things in this world, web hosting service runs the gamut from really good to average to awful. It only takes one encounter with a bad company to sour an online entrepreneur right out of the gate. I don’t want that to happen to you. I love entrepreneurialism!
That’s one of the reasons I went to the trouble and expense to test all more than a double-handful of companies. That and because I’m sort of a geek about testing speed and load times.
Ultimately, I wanted to come up with a short list of solid (yes, even HostGator, bless their hearts) hosting services to steer you towards, thus saving the frustration and anguish that often accompanies the search for a place to put your website. There you have it. Now get out there and change the world. And don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you have any questions.
A note to my friends and neighbors in New Zealand and Singapore. All three of these picks have nearby servers, so you should get near the top end of mentioned speeds.