One of the most important aspects of launching a web project is which website hosting companies you choose to select from. Website hosting is the service which allows your website to be served to those that visit it and come in a wide range of quality and price ranges. In this article, we offer some web hosting reviews from our personal experience with a number of popular choices.
Types of Website Hosting
Website hosting comes in many different forms, often catered specifically to certain use cases. Some companies will provide you with a dedicated support team to help diagnose and repair any site issues, some companies will provide free backups, and some companies will even provide free access to enterprise-grade analytics tools like the New Relic APM technology. Additionally, there are many differences between web hosts that can impact your site’s consideration by search engines and the ability to provide value to visitors. This article isn’t meant to serve as an exhaustive discussion of website hosting options and is heavily biased by personal experience with specific hosting providers. Nonetheless, below you’ll find an overview of some important basic features to look for in a website hosting provider.
Managed vs. Unmanaged
Mage Mojo is one of the best Magento website hosts on the market today. They offer low-cost, high-quality solutions for Magento-based eCommerce Websites. They’re a great managed hosting solution for Magento websites but would be a poor choice for a WordPress site. By comparison, FlyWheel is a great managed WordPress host but would be unsuitable for a Magento-based site. What MageMojo and Flywheel have in common is they are both managed hosting providers. That means that they manage your server, put into place framework-specific optimizations, manage backups, and handle a lot of the nitty gritty involved in keeping a website online. Other non-manage website hosting providers such as Godaddy, InMotionHosting, and SiteGround all offer a wide range of unmanaged hosting packages which require you do manage the configuration of your own website. These solutions range in price but are generally lower quality and lower price than managed website hosting.
With the lowered price of solid state drives and high-performance memory, many web hosts have been upgrading their technology. Unless you’re looking for the bottom of the barrel hosting, in terms of quality, you should expect to have your site on a server with solid state hardware. If you’re planning on managing your own website server configurations you’ll also want to assert the inclusion of popular database and server management tools like cPanel. This type of software is pretty much considered standard among website hosts. cPanel makes tasks like creating email addresses, managing database tables, and installing SSL certificates much easier by providing a visual interface. There’s a lot of technical considerations one could make when selecting a host but in practice; a popular website host with solid state drives is going to be pretty similar to others. One important thing to double check is whether your website host supports the latest versions of popular web frameworks like PHP. Having the latest version of these packages installed can help your website run faster and more efficiently.
Shared Hosting, Virtual Private Servers (VPS), Dedicated Servers, and IP Provisioning
A web host is essentially just a company that has agreed to allow your put your website on one of their computers which will be connected to the internet for others to use. It would be entirely possible to host your website from a laptop at your home. By using a webhost you can be sure that your website is available as frequently as possible as well as keeping a separation between your home IP address and the world-wide-web. Just like your personal computer has a unique IP address, a web host will assign an IP to your website. Depending on the type of webhosting you sign up for, you might share an IP address with other websites or have a unique IP address just for your site.
One popular alternative to multiple shared hosting accounts is to buy a reseller account from a host that allows the purchase of dedicated IP addresses
Generally, shared hosting is going to be a lower quality service than dedicated hosting. For those that are building many unique websites it’s often beneficial to be able to assign a unique IP address to each of these sites rather than have several sites sharing an IP. Having multiple shared hosting packages from different hosts will accomplish this separation but can also be a pain to keep organized. Each webhost typically has their own unique interface and learning how to navigate several can be a pain. One popular alternative to multiple shared hosting accounts is to buy a reseller account from a host that allows the purchase of dedicated IP addresses. This allows one to create an indefinite number of websites all with unique IP addresses within the same hosting account. While these sites have unique IP addresses, they are still on the same server. To have a server reserved exclusively for your website you would need to purchase a dedicated server package; these usually start in the $50 dollar range and require a lot of management on your side of things.
Bandwidth Caps and Overage Charges
Paying close attention any potential restrictions from a specific webhost can help avoid annoying downtime and performance issues. Bandwidth allocation is the number of visitors (really the amount of data served) allowed to your site each month. Most quality webhosts provide unlimited monthly bandwidth but it’s still important to double check before pulling the trigger. If your website gets subjected to monthly bandwidth caps you could lose out on some serious profit. As an example; imagine your website receiving ~50K visitors a month which drives about $2500/mo. Now imagine your content makes it to the front page of Reddit and suddenly you face an onslaught of an additional 150,000 visitors in a single day. Now, in all likelihood you’re going to run into problems here regardless. This many people will likely cause your website to start loading slowly and having difficulty serving content to all the new visitors. If you have a bandwidth limit however, your site will just go offline and no one will be able to access your site until your next billing cycle. Some hosts allow elastic hosting in such a degree that they will launch another instance of your site to accommodate increases in traffic and simply charge you an overage. In most cases, this is ideal service but also typical only to managed hosts such as Pantheon.
Memory has gotten really cheap in recent years. It’s not unreasonable to see a shared hosting provider offering 50GB of solid state storage space for less than $5 per month these days. Getting caught up in comparing storage space among webhosts is usually a waste of time. For the vast majority of websites, especially affiliate websites, 50GB is going to be 100X more storage space than you actually need. If you plan on serving large download files from your website, self-hosting video files, or having large galleries of high-resolution images you might run into issues with storage space. In most cases, these issues can all be avoided by serving large files from third party sources like Amazon Web Services or CDNs like MaxCDN. In all likelihood, a WordPress install, a custom theme, and handful of articles and images will still land you under the 100mb total site size.
Website Hosts Compared
There are few better illustrations of website hosts than an in-depth look at individual features, benefits, and downsides. Some webhosts excel at providing an excellent service backed by tremendous product support while other really seem to excel most in their marketing. Many webhosts are simply resellers as well, meaning that they purchase computer access from other companies (think data centers) and simply resell that access to you. While this might seem shady at first, it’s standard practice within the industry and considered ideal in many cases. When selecting a website host it’s recommended to try and ignore all their marketing efforts, including sales and special offers, and look at the nuts and bolts. Below you’ll find a rundown of some of the best webhosts on the market today, what we find to be their strongest selling points, and our personal experiences with them.
Flywheel is a managed WordPress Hosting company that’s one of our favorites. They are a WordPress-only provider and their plans start in the $15/mo. range for enough power to serve content to about 5000 users per month. They offer free migrations, free Open SSL HTTPS encryption, daily backups, one-click restores, and many more features. As you move up in their plans they offer free content-delivery networks (CDN), free staging sites, and never charge for overages. Overall, they are our favorite Managed WordPress Hosting provider and our top choice for basic websites.
WPEngine is one of the most-popular managed WordPress hosting companies on the market. They’ve come a long way since their inception and now power some of the largest WordPress websites on the internet. They offer 24/7/365 support, have free Open SSL HTTPS encryption, staging sites, and can accommodate enterprise level demands. Our personal experience with WPEngine was great years ago but as this company has grown we feel their customer service is often lacking in relevant solutions. Still, they are leagues above a non-managed solution for those wanting to focus more on marketing and content development than server management.
Pantheon is one of the most-unique managed WordPress hosts on the market and also offers managed Drupal hosting as well. Pantheon boasts the fastest page speed times of any WordPress hosting provider. They serve some of the world’s largest websites, including the United Nations, NVIDIA, and even Dell. They have elastic hosting solutions to help handle large spikes of website traffic, offer free SSL solutions, and provide access to enterprise-grade development tools like New Relic APM and custom collaboration tools. We do not have an extensive amount of experience with this company but have heard many great opinions from clients and coworkers we trust. The only issue we’d pick out is a bit of pricing gap they have for sites receiving more than 100,000 pageviews per month but less than 500,000.
Our experience with Godaddy is that they will only ever try to sell you things. You’ll get $.99 hosting only to realize that it renews at $14.99 a month, or buy their Domain Discount Club subscription to save on renewals only to realize it includes a $11.99 recurring subscription to their premium parking services. We recognize that Godaddy has an option for nearly every product from managed hosting and dedicated servers to site builders and shared hosting. We buy auction domains from Godaddy when we have no other option but, for anything else, we avoid this company like the plague.
SiteGround is webhosting company that provides a wide-array of options for your website or application. They offer shared hosting, VPS solutions, dedicated servers, and also have managed hosting solutions for WordPress. In addition, SiteGround offers custom Enterprise-grade managed solutions for nearly any webservice you can imagine. We’d recommend them to anyone looking for a stable hosting solution that may or may not wow you with their features or support. Overall, our limited experience with SiteGround hosting has been pretty neutral. The issues we’ve experienced are typical to those experienced by any webhost in the SiteGround pricing range. This webhost is a good choice for anyone looking for reliability while minimizing overall monthly spend.
HostNine used to be a very strong player in the digital marketing world because they offered reseller packages which provisioned a unique IP address for each install, up to 100 websites. This hosting solution was the top-pick for private blog networks (PBNs) since they provided separate IP addresses. Their regular hosting packages were nothing special, but comparable in performance to other budget webhosts. In recent years, their support system has desegregated into nothingness—tickets are left unanswered, live chat typically doesn’t work, and features are constantly breaking. We grew tired of constantly navigating their peculiar backend systems and began transferring out our web properties. Unfortunately, the SQL exports all resulted in errors during import despite our best efforts. We are the first to admit the possibility of user-error but it’s our opinion that the fault was theirs. Unfortunately, we weren’t ever able to hear their opinion on the subject since our support tickets were never answered. Overall, the 100 IP address option on reseller packages may seem like it’s worth the hassle for $29.99/mo. but we assure you—the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. Avoiding this webhost altogether is our recommendation.
We don’t like BlueHost. We’ve seen the stats they put up and accept they are competitive within their space. Still, we don’t like BlueHost. They are another budget webhost that has a lot of different options to choose from such as Managed WordPress hosting, dedicated servers, and even cloud hosting. It’s been our experience that they have decent (or at least competent) customer support. The majority of our experience with BlueHost comes from purchasing domains that were already hosted there. They have a custom cPanel solution that sometimes seems a bit counter-intuitive but is still well-functioning. They are a decent budget webhost but when given the option we’d go with SiteGround nearly every time.
InMotionHosting is the best budget and un-managed webhost you’ve never heard of. Well, they’ve grown so much in recent years that most people have heard of them by now. They constantly receive top marks among benchmark reviews and our experience with them has been positive as well. They offer a wide range of hosting including shared hosting, dedicated hosting, reseller hosting, and even managed WordPress hosting. They have a very responsive support staff which sometimes offers overly-generic solutions but never hesitates to elevate tickets to higher-level engineers when needed. Our overall experience with this host has been solid and we’d recommend them to anyone looking for a budget hosting plan or reseller packages.
MageMojo specializes in one thing; managed Magento hosting. Magento has grown a notorious reputation for being a resource hog and can frequently require thousands in monthly hosting fees. For many small eCommerce shops (the kind that would need to use Magento) this isn’t a viable option. MageMojo provides a managed Magento Hosting solution that guarantees 99.99% uptime (they say 100%) and a time-to-first-byte (TTFB) speed of 2 seconds! Magento is a powerful framework built from the ground up for eCommerce but can often be hard to manage from the server side—requiring a lot of customization. Our experience with MageMojo has been tremendous and we’d recommend them to anyone seeking to host a Magento website without breaking the bank.
Finding the best webhost for your website can be a tiring endeavor. Luckily, for the vast majority of personal websites many of the options are separated only by nuance. Bandwidth limitations, storage space, automated backups, and quality support are some of the key features to look for in a quality webhost. When considering managed solutions you’ll need to weigh more premium features like uptime guarantees, free SSL certificates, staging sites, and access to free enterprise software. There are more webhosts popping up every day and trying to compare each one would be exhausting. Deciding whether you want a managed solution or non-managed solution is a great first step to weed out options. After that, just remember that switching website hosts down the road isn’t impossible, though it’s certainly a pain sometimes.