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The top performers in our review are InMotion Hosting, the Gold Award winner; DreamHost, the Silver Award winner; and Arvixe, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a web hosting service to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the best services.
If you own any online real estate beyond a simple blog, you know that it comes with a price. Thankfully, though, that price is minimal.
Many people mistakenly think that owning their own websites only has to do with owning the names themselves; however, a large part of having a site is hosting the data and information contained on your site.
Top Ten Reviews has reviewed web hosting services going on 12 years. We've evaluated 45 services, hundreds of plans and spent 300 hours testing and evaluating providers. This year was no exception: We pored over services, analyzed the best plans, created our own websites, and evaluated and ranked these services to help individuals and small business owners find the very best web hosting service that won't bust the budget.
Whether you're just launching a website or migrating your site from one hosting service to another, in this article, we outline exactly what you need to know – the fine print; the typical structure of web hosting services; the plans, fees, and terms that web hosting providers don't readily disclose; and the features you need to look for in a web hosting service.
If you've never had a website before and will be launching one, before you sign up for a domain name, 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'll need.
If your existing (or future) website has images, blog posts and video content, you need a service that provides unlimited disk space. Further, if you anticipate a lot of traffic to your site, you should also seek a package with unlimited bandwidth.
When you first start searching for a web hosting service, you'll find a lot of free services, such as Weebly, Wix and Jimdo. Free web hosts are a good option for personal users that envision a simple website and don't need extensive web design tools or bandwidth. The two main tradeoffs, however, are that, one, these services place ads on your sites as a way to earn revenue, and, two, they usually only provide a subdomain.
Small business owners will want to focus on paid web hosting services. You get your own unique domain, which offers more credibility than subdomains, plus many services offer unlimited disk space and bandwidth as well as security features to protect customers from malware or hackers.
The top web hosting plans typically include free domain name registration but for one year. A domain often requires an annual payment, usually between $10 to $15, but Arvixe includes free domain registration for as long as you use its service. If you are only looking to purchase a domain name, each of the services on our list can help you secure and register a name.
When signing up for a web hosting service, keep in mind you're probably only seeing the promotional rate (and this number varies further, because it depends on the storage and bandwidth your site requires). Look past the introductory price to get the real scoop on what you'll realistically pay once the promotional rate ends.
During our years of evaluating web hosting providers, we've noticed that several offer an alluring, affordable plan, only to triple the monthly price and charge nearly $20 for domain registration when renewal comes around. Our comparison displays the regular monthly rates for both one-year personal and business plans after the promotional price has expired. We've included this price so you know exactly what you can expect to spend after the first year.
Web hosting is a very competitive field. The features, options, pricing plans, etc., can be overwhelming. Most web hosting providers offer three pricing tiers, with features that vary between each plan.
DreamHost, GreenGeeks and FatCow, however, buck this structure by offering one plan, respectively. The features and bandwidth of these plans are similar to those of higher-tiered business plans offered by other web hosts, so the cost may be higher than plans from other providers. While these companies only offer one shared hosting plan, they all offer virtual private server and dedicated server hosting plans for businesses requiring more bandwidth.
For our review, we focused on shared hosting (where multiple websites reside on one web server), because it typically provides the least-expensive plan. If you see a low price advertised on a web hosting service's site, it's most likely referring to the lowest-grade shared plan.
But 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 a moderate amount of visitors, shared plans are probably your best option.
Every client on a shared server shares hosting space. Most companies can initially promise reliability because they're planning on your site generating an average amount of traffic. But if you exceed the allotted bandwidth regularly on a shared plan, the provider will require you to upgrade to a higher plan. You can find more specific usage restrictions in each web host's Terms of Service document.
VPS, or a virtual private server, is a step above shared web hosting and packs in a bit more power on the CPU side. Companies that generate a decent amount of traffic should consider these plans.
Server space is still shared; however, you have more opportunity to customize your space management, plus businesses benefit from added security features compared to shared hosting. These plans typically offer more features as well.
Rather than renting server space as you do in shared or VPS hosting, 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.
A dedicated server is the most independent way to go but not for personal bloggers or small business owners. The downside of this enterprise-level web hosting option is its steep price. That, and you'll either need expertise or access to an expert in setting up and managing a dedicated server, because any maintenance needed on the server is done by you, the owner.
Another option is cloud hosting, which is where your information and bandwidth is spread across multiple servers to improve redundancy. Like a dedicated server, cloud hosting is expensive, and you're responsible for any maintenance and repairs.
For our review of web hosting services, we purchased month-to-month hosting subscriptions. These plans renew automatically each year (or until you cancel), and, in most instances, they come with free domain name registration for one year.
We evaluated the basic shared hosting package offered by each provider. The numbers indicated on our side-by-side comparison for disk space and bandwidth are all based on the service's introductory plans.
Shared hosting should be flexible. As your business grows, your web hosting service should accommodate your growth. We measured the flexibility of each service by assessing the number of plans each service offered and then checking to see how easy it is to upgrade plans even if you're in the midst of an existing contract.
Three is the standard number of hosting plans offered under a company's shared hosting umbrella, which gives you three different options to grow if you're unsure about initially investing in a higher-priced plan.
Still, some web hosts only offer one shared server plan. Providers with a single plan often do not provide enough bandwidth, storage and domain capability for the value. Upgrading from one of these single shared plans is going to be costly, because it requires paying significantly more for 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 there are similarities between each service's cPanel, the best web hosts provide several features, simplifying the creation process. We arrived at the usability score by testing the hosting interface and scoring the cPanel and proprietary website builder.
We first tested usability based on 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 simultaneously, 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 will move on to the next hosting service.
Once we accessed our accounts, we tested the dashboard of each service. The standard interface is called the 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 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 useful tools to create a site, manage the hosting and market it to the online world.
Customer Support Quality
Customer support is an important factor when searching for the best hosting service. As a site owner, you 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 each web hosting service 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 to possess sufficient product knowledge without sending us links to the FAQs page. In support calls, we deducted points when the service tried to upsell us rather than resolve the problem. Personability, in both chat and phone support situations, was another factor in our scoring.
We also tested live chat during busy business hours and after normal business hours, evaluating how quickly we were connected with a representative as well as the response time between each question. The service with the fastest response time is GreenGeeks.
The average wait time overall was just over 10 minutes. The longest we waited to reach a representative was 45 minutes. Testing the support staff of each service was essential to the process, because it is one of those characteristics that distinguishes the best web hosting services from average and mediocre ones. Often, a company boasted about its live chat support, but, in our experience, the team was consistently offline or unavailable. Other times, the staff could only help with sales and upgrades but not technical support.
Each company offers promotions to get you to sign on with it, but below are the 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. However, unlimited does not mean infinite. Instead, the term technically means, "not exceeding regular use," which every site spells out in the fine print.
While some 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 to reduce usage or you will be temporarily shut off. And because it's a shared server, you are at risk of taking other customers' allotted unlimited space. If you exceed bandwidth or disk space multiple times, you'll be required to upgrade your plan.
Every host provides different allotments for domains, subdomains and parked domains, despite calling that allotment "unlimited." There are services, like DreamHost, that don't have expandable shared hosting plans but don't truly need to provide the option because they offer unlimited data and space in their basic plans. Each of these plans come with the option to create email accounts with your URL, although the number you are allowed varies.
Technical problems can happen at any time. Each company on our list 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, 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, therefore, 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, or however many years you remain with the web host. If you have 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. Those that did received higher scores. One service that makes domain registration and content migration easy is InMotion Hosting.
All of the web hosts on our list offer limited money-back guarantees. Further, a handful of companies allow you to cancel at any time without penalties.
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 secure sockets layer (SSL) security protocol and secure shell (SSH), like 1&1 Hosting. Should your site go down, many of the web hosts on our list back up and restore your site without charging you an additional fee. Some also protect your email accounts from spammers for 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 offer eCommerce solutions, such as shopping cart systems and the ability to accept credit cards. Nearly every web host we tested offers promotional advertising credits to jump-start your marketing efforts.
In our evaluation of the basic plans each web hosting service offered, we were surprised at the level of control and site-creation capabilities that were available for a low monthly cost.
InMotion Hosting provides superior features, like free data backups and restorations, as well as access to over 400 applications in its starter plan, something that business owners should consider when weighing value. Also, its support staff was prompt and helpful. InMotion earned the highest support quality score on our lineup – 95 percent. The combination of service, features and performance pushed InMotion Hosting to the top of our list as the best web host for both beginner and advanced users.
DreamHost not only offers the longest money back guarantee, but it also offers a superior web hosting package than any of the other services we reviewed. The web host includes unlimited storage, bandwidth, domains, subdomains and email accounts. Arvixe, our Bronze Award winner, provides small but important perks, like giving you a free domain for the life of your contract with the company. Each of these companies provides great ongoing customer support, intuitive interfaces and extra security features.
GreenGeeks' plan is among the more expensive web hosting plans we reviewed, but it offers some of the best features and performance. With a feature-filled control panel and high usability, it outranks most of the other web hosting services. In fact, its unlimited shared hosting package compares to the advanced business plans offered by competing web host providers. Additionally, it comes with every security tool you need to protect your site and customers.
Our sister site, Business News Daily, outlines the pros and cons of web hosting as well as other important considerations small business owners shouldn't overlook when considering which web hosting service they want to go with.
While most web hosting services include a cPanel, check out our other reviews of related products you can use with your new hosting plan. We've done the work to evaluate and pick out the best web design software, web builders and blog hosts.
For Mac users, we've identified the best Mac web design software. Be sure to review our side-by-side comparison, plus you'll find a more in-depth assessment of the tools and features within each application by reading the individual product reviews. For more information, read our articles on web hosts and other related business services.