This is a review of top 10 web hosting companies along with WP Engine.
If you are looking to buy web hosting service, you will find this post extremely useful. This is a unique post because the entire analysis is data driven, giving you an unbiased insight into top 10 web hosting companies. I’ve also created an Excel spreadsheet you can use to find the best web hosting company for your needs.
Data used in this analysis comes from public sources as well as my own experience with multiple hosting companies. The data was used to analyse performance of these web hosting companies across multiple parameters.
While you can host any type of website with these companies, I will call out WordPress specific offerings / tools as it is the most popular website software.
– Over 37 million sites use WordPress – that is 19% of all websites
– 48 of the top 100 Technorati blogs use WordPress
– 22% of New U.S. Registered Domains Run on WordPress
Such huge user base translates into high demand for WordPress hosting services. Not surprisingly, the best web hosting companies in the world make it a point to offer specialized support for WordPress. The goal of this post is to help you find which one is best host for your needs.
The origins of this post go back a couple of years when I was desperately looking for a new host for my WordPress site (not this one). At that time, my site was hosted by a popular company and I had a really good plan, at least on paper:
– About $4 per month for shared hosting
– Unlimited bandwidth, domains and storage
In reality, it sucked. The site was down 4-5 times a month and the email would go down even more frequently. I was frustrated and wanted a host that would give me peace of mind.
I found plenty of information on the net but most of it was very shallow. It lacked the rigor of data driven analysis and did not use information from real customers or unbiased benchmarking tests. A lot of the reviews were actually trying to sell affiliate plans.
So I started collecting data about the popular web hosting companies. My goal was to collect objective data for top 10 companies and analyze it to find the best option for me.
In this post, I share my analysis with you so you can find the best option for your needs. The 10 web hosting companies included in this review are:
In addition to these ten companies which offer shared hosting, I also included WP Engine.
WP Engine offers only managed hosting so it is not strictly compatible with other hosting companies. I included it only because it is very popular for hosting WordPress sites.
I started my research by creating a list of must haves in my new hosting provider:
– The site should not go down more than once a month
– It must have an excellent customer support – a site can go down for many reasons so a fast and responsive support is needed to quickly bring it back online
– The site should load my pages in 1 second or less
Since I use email service provided by the hosting company, reliability of the host was most important.
Creating a List of Best Web Hosting Companies
I created my list of best web hosting companies by searching Google and using the Keywords Planner tool. I used large search volumes as a proxy for popularity of the company.
Next, I headed over to customer review sites. These sites have hundreds of customer reviews for most popular hosting companies. I collected data for the last three years for averaging and five years for trending. Companies with less than 50 reviews were not included in the analysis.
The data was collected from the following sites:
I collected data for:
– Customer Support
– Server Uptime
– Server Speed
A quick look at the data revealed that some companies started off really well. But as the business grew, they appeared to have dropped the ball on quality of service and support. But they still have 5 star reviews from the earlier years. To account for this downward pattern, Consistency. It measures the change in service quality and support over time.
Which hosting company has best customer support among the Top 10?
I looked at customer support first because good customer support means the company cares about its customers. You would expect a company that cares about customers to invest in providing solid, if not the best, service. Any web host will have some downtime; so getting reliable and timely support is crucial. If the company has great customer support, then it would proactively manage the outages and respond quickly to your complaints.
The chart below shows customer support score for the top ten companies and WP Engine. It shows average score over the last three years. Five companies on this list score 4 or more on a scale of 5. Two others score a solid 3.9. Surprisingly, some of the most popular companies scored very poorly. Perhaps they had become a victim of their own success – too many customers to be able to provide good support.
Siteground, Web Hosting Hub and Inmotion Hosting took the top three positions with Dreamhost, Hostgator and Bluehost bringing up the rear.
Which web hosting company has the highest Uptime or Quality of Service?
Website uptime is a result of superior IT infrastructure and proactive maintenance. A good IT infrastructure includes fast and reliable servers, strong network, security management and sufficient bandwidth. Proactive maintenance ensures that servers are optimally loaded, are well maintained and will not go down frequently.
It does not mean the servers will never go down – nobody can guarantee 100% uptime - but a good infrastructure ensures website outages are minimized.
The server uptime is usually captured by quality of hosting service in the reviews. Most people consider a web hosting service to be good if their website stays up. The chart below shows the quality of service for these companies:
Once again, out of our list of top ten companies, Siteground and Web Hosting Hub top the list. These two are followed by WP Engine. Bluehost, GoDaddy and Hostgator bring up the rear.
Notice something interesting here - companies which have good customer support also tend to provide better hosting service. It’s not a coincidence. High level of customer service indicates that the company cares about its customers and therefore will do its best to provide the best product or service it can.
Which hosting companies provide fast WordPress hosting?
Website speed has become an important factor in SEO. Major search engines, Google and Bing, rank faster loading pages higher in their search results.
A fast loading website also means better experience for users. A fast server usually indicates a better technical infrastructure – faster servers, optimal load management, more bandwidth and better network management. Fast hosting service is essential for your online business.
Shared web hosting is the biggest part of business for most hosting companies. It is also the cheapest plan you can buy. In shared hosting, multiple websites are hosted on the same server. So companies try to reduce their cost by putting more sites on one server. If the server is overloaded by putting more sites than can be optimally supported, it will slow down your website. Surprisingly, none of the hosting review sites allow customers to rank the companies on this very important parameter.
This is where blogs such as WPsitecare came to my rescue. They test various hosting companies under similar usage and load conditions and record response times. I collected data from a few different blogs to avoid sampling error and to make sure I had data on all companies in the list. Fortunately, most bloggers use WordPress sites for testing, probably because they use WordPress themselves. So most speed test data I got is for WordPress sites.
While comparing server speeds may seem like a simple exercise, in reality, it isn’t. For example, a web host may serve a given page quickly but may not be able to hold up that speed over time. The speed will also drop as the number of users accessing the site at the same time increases. Servers are tested using automated tools which can simulate multiple concurrent users and record minimum, maximum and average response times.
A good server is one that stays consistent, as the load increases. Unfortunately, for most web hosting companies, server response is not very consistent. For my analysis, I looked at minimum and average response times to understand how long a typical user may have to wait to load a page.
I was looking for minimum server response time below 1 second and average response time below 2 seconds. I classified a web host as Fast if it met both these requirements. If the web host met only one of these, I ranked it Medium. Fortunately, all web hosts met at least one of the two requirements.
The matrix below shows the performance of different web hosts for WordPress:
Notice that companies with high quality of service also tend to have faster servers because of their superior infrastructure.
Which is the Most Consistent Hosting Company?
Selecting a web hosting company is a long term commitment. Most of us prepay for a year so we are locked in for at least a year. Even if you are not locked into a long term plan, moving websites is not easy. You can lose data and emails while moving hosts. Your website will likely be down during migration till the IP address of the new server propagates through the internet. This is why people do not like switching hosting companies.
While none of the review sites talk about consistency, I believe it is a very important factor in selecting the web host.
Think about it – if you are going to make a long term commitment, should you not expect the same from the company? Will it continue to provide the same level of service in future that it is today?
Since there is no way to predict what would happen in future, I decided to look into the past and see how these companies had performed over the years. As data was not readily available, I read customer reviews written over a period of 4-5 years to see the trend. I tracked the rating and review over time to determine if the service quality and support had deteriorated, stayed the same or improved over the years. What I found was both interesting and shocking.
The early reviews for most companies were good. But over the years, either due to complacency or problems that come with large number of customers, most failed to keep up the good work. Companies that started out as five star 4-5 years ago have now become three star with an increase in customer complaints.
I was particularly surprised that only a few companies had managed to keep their service standards high over such a short period. Webhosting is a tough business. Companies typically have thousands of small customers paying less than hundred dollars a year for shared hosting.
Ensuring that websites of thousands of customers keep running without a hitch and answering their questions can be very expensive and difficult. Training new hires to maintain the high standards of service and technical competence is difficult. No wonder only a handful of companies have displayed consistency of hosting quality and customer service.
The chart below shows the variance in quality of hosting service between 2010 and 2015:
The chart below shows the variance in Customer Support Scores between 2010 and 2015:
Once again, Siteground stands out for being extremely consistent, both in quality of hosting service as well as customer support. Web Hosting Hub and Inmotion Hosting are also very consistent while WP Engine seems to be getting better each year when it comes to support.
Dreamhost, Bluehost, Hostgator and Godaddy again bring up the bottom.
Which Top 10 hosting company provides most secure hosting?
While website security may not be at the top of your list, it is important if you are trying to build an online business. Most of us think about website security in terms of vulnerability to hacking. But a far bigger problem for most sites is the issue of malware and spyware.
Hackers can take over site, deface it and steal data. But they can also install malware or spyware on your site. It can potentially infect all visitors to your site, your own computers, and damage your reputation.
Search engines are pretty good at finding out if there is a malware on your site and will immediately flag your site as unsafe. The information can spread rapidly through the net and may result in loss of traffic, and business.
There can also be medium term damage as some of the sites may not remove malware warning even after you have cleaned up your site. The web is responsible for network security. For shared hosting, it has to maintain the servers as well.
While you can do everything to secure your site, if the server and network are not secured, your site’s security can be compromised. Good hosting companies provide strong server level protection and firewall. They will also alert you in case of any security breach. If your site gets hacked, you will need urgent help your hosting company.
As I read through the reviews, I looked for instances of security breaches reported by customers, and help provided by the hosting company. There are not a whole lot of issues reported on the review sites. However, I did find a lot of information on discussion forums and individual blogs.
The good news is that most companies on the list seem to be good when it comes to helping you after a security breach. Most of them provide clean up service for a fee as well as guidance if you want to do it yourself.
However, as someone who has experienced a malware attack, I do recommend you take some precautions. At the minimum, subscribe to a Hack Alert monitoring service to get alerted in case of a malware attack. Some hosting companies bundle a deeply discounted hack alert service.
There are more sophisticated services than basic hack alerts. These services will not just monitor but also protect your site against malware and other common types of attacks. They cost more but may be worth it if your business depends on your website.
As I did not find anything that would greatly differentiate hosting companies on the basis of security, I gave all of them the same score, except WP Engine. Since it is a managed hosting service, it provides much higher level of security than regular shared hosting plans can.
Which is the Cheapest Top 10 Hosting Service?
We love deals, don’t we?
Naturally, when we see a $4/month hosting plan, we get sucked in. But focusing only on cost can be counterproductive.
The ideal process to follow for selecting your web hosting company is to first decide what you want from it, find companies that are able to meet your needs and then look at the prices. There is no point in buying the cheapest product or service if it does not meet your needs.
The cost of web hosting varies significantly depending on the plan you buy. For example, I have multiple websites and need a plan to host unlimited number of domains. I also prefer a plan with unlimited data transfer.
Starter plans from the hosting companies are the cheapest; but these plans are usually limited to hosting just one domain with limited storage and data transfer. If you want more, you have to look beyond starter plans.
For this blog, I considered only shared hosting plans with unlimited domain, unlimited bandwidth and unlimited storage. I only looked at hosting companies with strong WordPress Offerings. The two notable exceptions were WP Engine (limited domains) and Siteground (25GB storage).
While the hosting companies list prices on their sites, finding the actual price you are going to pay is much more difficult. The price listed on the website of the companies is just that – an indicative list price. The plans are either on sale most of the time or you can find a discount coupon on the net. You need to invest time and effort in finding these coupons so you don’t overpay.
Some companies like Siteground have standard discounts so you would not need to find a coupon. When you sign up, you know you are getting the best possible price. Some others such as Hostgator and Dreamhost allow affiliates to create their own coupons. In this case, you need to search the web to find the best coupon; but you are never sure if you are getting the best price.
Here is how the companies on stack up on price. Note that I used the lowest price I could get for each of them:
You can see that there are three distinct price bands forming here. WP Engine is missing from this list as its managed WordPress hosing plans are way more expensive than shared hosting plans.
Once I looked at this chart, I knew why some of the companies are so popular – they offer really cheap web hosting plans. Not everyone is looking for high level of hosting quality and support. Low prices can swing the deal for many people, especially small businesses getting on the web for the first time. Many people also host personal websites and blogs and may favour the cheaper plans.
There are some fine prints you should be aware of when selecting a particular hosting plan. For example, check to see if the company offers free website transfers. Most hosting companies include transfer for one website free with an annual package.
If you do not know how to transfer websites from one host to another then you will end up paying the hosting company between $50-100 for each site. Many times, the transfer fee can turn out to be more than an entire year’s hosting fee.
You should also make sure that the company offers c-Panel hosting. It is not just easier to manage your sites with a c-Panel but also easier to transfer them to a new host in future.
Since we are talking about WordPress websites, it is important that the host provides support for easy, 1-click WordPress installation. All top ten hosting companies reviewed here provide this feature.
Here is how every company on the list stacks up when I bring together all the information in one chart:
There are three distinct clusters of companies:
- Price warriors (The Walmarts of web hosting)
- Service Leaders (The Nordstrom’s of Web hosting)
- The In-betweens trying to balance cost versus value (think Target)
Each group has its advantages and disadvantages and the group you decide to go with depends totally on your business needs. So go ahead and pick a group that suits you best. If you are serious about online presence, you should be looking at the Service Leaders. If you are just dipping your toe in the water, consider Price Warriors.
You can also download my Web Host Selector Excel tool here. You will find the instructions on using it on the sheet titled Control Panel.
So which hosting company you should go with?
If you want the absolute best in shared hosting, whether you are hosting a WordPress site or something else, then go with Siteground.
I have been with Siteground for almost three years now. I have to say they have been a delight to work with. It has not just been my best hosting experience; it’s one of my best experiences as a customer.
In close to 3 years, I think the site has gone down only 5-6 times, that too for only a few minutes. The email has been offline just once. When I do have a problem, they respond within minutes of raising the support ticket.
They are certainly not the cheapest but definitely one of the best. If you want peace of mind, I would strongly recommend you go with them.
If you are just starting out or have a limited budget, consider Bluehost. They are a good compromise between price and quality of hosting. I recommend Bluehost for people who are just setting up online presence or testing an online business idea. You will get started for a low cost with acceptable performance.
For those looking to host a WordPress site that gets large traffic, I recommend WP Engine. They are absolutely the best for dedicated WordPress hosting. Event though they are pricier, they do provide peace of mind for more complex and busy sites.