I first wrote this post a few years ago after researching new web hosting options for my various websites. In the end, I chose SiteGround and TMDHosting and purchased 3-year plans for each to get the best discount. After a couple of initial hiccups with each, I have been mostly happy with my experiences. Nevertheless, since my contracts were expiring I decided to re-investigate options to decide if I want to stay with those or switch, and to see how the landscape has changed. I have completely re-written this guide to reflect those changes.
This article is about finding a good WordPress hosting service, but there are other potentially good web hosting options as well. If you are undecided or just curious about all the options (or unclear about what exactly qualifies as WordPress hosting), expand the section below to read more. Otherwise, just keep reading.
Web Hosting Things to Consider
Skipped the overview of web hosting plans or read it and are still unsure what to get? Choose either a shared WordPress or a shared cloud account. Choose a cheap basic shared server plan if your top concern is price and you are willing to sacrifice performance. If performance is critical and you need a lot of hand holding, go with an expensive managed WordPress account.
Assuming you plan to get some sort of shared server plan, what should you consider in choosing one?
I have read that when it comes to web hosting there is an expression: “Cheap. Reliable. Fast. Choose only two.”
That seems about right to me, though the bigger problem is that it is very easy to end up choosing only one.
Below I will list some very specific things to consider but the big picture is this: you want to consider price, service reliability, speed/performance (resources and technical specifications), and quality of support.
There are a lot of price points and a few slick practices in the market. It is possible to find a bargain but generally speaking, you get what you pay for. Still, consider the following:
Hosting companies are notoriously misleading about price on their sites. Usually the prices shown are only valid if you purchase a long-term contract, typically three years. And, except in rare cases, that price will NOT be the price you pay upon renewal. Some are sneakier still, charging extra for what seems to be a core function. Some hosts also list their discounted sale price and a “regular” price. That “regular” price is a price based on a multi-year renewal. Some companies don’t even allow a month-to-month purchase and others that do, charge a setup fee for that option. Finally, some make canceling difficult and/or require 30 days’ notice.
This fee rarely exists since hosts want to make it easy to switch from a competitor. In the rare cases where it does exist, it is almost always only if you want a month-to-month plan.
Money-back guarantee – duration and limitations
30-day guarantees are most common, though some are better. For example, A2 offers a prorated refund at any point during your contract. Some fine print clauses include only offering refunds for minimum-contract purchases, only for higher-priced plans, excluding extra services (e.g., dedicated IP, backup, etc.), excluding a setup fee, pro-rating the refund based on number of days already used, etc.
Fees for exceeding resource limits
Your web hosting plan will have resource restrictions, most importantly CPU, RAM, and bandwidth usage. Some hosts are pretty forgiving, some will nudge you (nicely or aggressively) to upgrade to a higher plan, and some (yikes!) will simply shut off your service (usually until the next day or the next month). Then there are those that will let you exceed your limits but charge you an extra fee for doing so.
Some hosts offer marketing incentives, such as free Google Adwords or Facebook advertising vouchers.
Server reliability is obviously important. You never want your website to go offline because the web hosting company or your server is having a technical problem. Some hosts will offer you some kind of compensation if your site goes down (usually a pro-rated refund of your monthly fee) but that is not what you want. You want the site to always be running.
These days reliability is pretty good for the major players but investigate your shortlist hosts to be sure. Later I will list some useful review and ranking sites that include performance and reliability monitoring results.
Support and Service
Sales and technical support are things that don’t matter too much when everything is going well but are very important when problems arise. Here are some specific things to consider.
Hours of tech support
Most major providers offer 24/7 support, but some may advertise that when in fact they only offer 24 hour sales support. Some others do offer 24/7 tech support but their “real” techs aren’t available in off hours.
The main options for reaching support include: telephone, email, online ticket system, live chat, and Skype. Note that some hosts offer some options for sales but not tech support. Also, look for a good knowledge base and/or support forum. These often have answers to questions that can save you the hassle of dealing with tech support.
This is hard to get a handle on but there are usually some reviews around the web that mention this for whatever hosts you are considering (assuming they are not fake reviews). Also note that some hosts offer an elevated level of support for more expensive plans or for an extra fee.
Expertise of support staff
This is really tough to gauge. If this is of high importance to you, look for a host that offers WordPress support expertise. Obviously, tech support is not going to help you modify a theme design, but knowledgeable techs can help you find a rogue plugin that is causing your site to crash or use too many resources, can recommend a good caching plugin, etc.
Tech skills vs. communication skills
I don’t know how to test this and it probably doesn’t matter anyway since every host I have ever used employs techs with poor communication skills. They may be knowledgeable but talking with them is sometimes like talking to a wall.
Test support by asking questions
A lot of things I discuss cannot easily be assessed from a provider’s website or most online reviews. So, take the extra step of contacting each provider on your shortlist to see how quickly and thoroughly they reply. You will probably only be able to contact sales staff, which is usually going to be much more responsive than tech support. But hey, if they can’t get that right, they probably can’t get tech support right either. If you can contact tech support directly, try to ask some questions about their technology, security precautions, speed enhancements, etc. to see how knowledgeable they sound.
When it comes to securing your website, there are two basic factors: the site itself and the network. Usually you are in charge of your own site’s security, though some web hosts do block potentially dangerous plugins and may also offer a tool to keep your core WordPress installation and plugins updated. Some providers even offer a regular scanning feature to find malware and site breeches, though that is usually a paid feature.
As for network security, the goal is usually to prevent email abuse and to block bad traffic (e.g., denial of service attack, bot traffic, hacking attempts). Network security is often only available on managed plans or is offered as a paid service, but a few hosts do offer at least some basic protection included in all plans. If you use the Cloudflare CDN you will also get free network security.
Some security products you will see listed as either free or upgrade options include Imunify360, SiteLock, and BitNinja.
Another feature worth considering is two-factor authentication to protect website and server logins.
Web Hosting Plan Features and Options to Consider
As you start investigating hosts you will see that the way different providers highlight plan features varies a lot. Some barely list any features, even if they have many good ones and some list everything under the sun. So, don’t consider the size of the feature list as an indication of host quality or value. Instead look for the features you actually care about.
Below I will discuss all the features I have seen, what each means, and any “gotchas” to be aware of. As you will see, there are a lot of them to consider. Some will matter more and some less. Hopefully, being aware of the different choices will help you make a better purchase decision.
Core Web Hosting Features
Disk space and type
The two biggest considerations regarding disk space are what type and how much.
These days, SSD disks are becoming more and more common. That is definitely what you want as it will make your server much faster.
As for the amount of space, this will need to accommodate not just your site files and uploads but also database space, email kept on the server, temporary files, cache, traffic and usage statistics, log files, backup files, etc. Also, regarding space limits, something important to understand is that there are usually two limits at play. First is the overall size of your files. Second is the total number of individual files and folders (collectively known as inodes). Usually the latter isn’t a big issue, but if you have a lot of small files, it could be. Also note that some hosts only use SSD for databases and operating system but not for website files.
Number of domains
In the early days of WordPress hosting, most plans only hosted a single site. These days, allowing multiple or unlimited domains is becoming more common. As mentioned, other resource limits will still apply so unlimited domains does not mean you can load up your server with lots of high traffic sites.
Most plans offer unlimited email accounts and forwarding addresses and you probably don’t need very many anyway. Most plans also impose a per hour email sending limit, typically 200-500 per hour. For most people this is no real problem, but if you plan to have a newsletter that you will administer and send yourself it could be an important consideration. Also consider whether the host uses any anti-spam software.
PHP is the underlying WordPress scripting language with regularly released updates. Some hosts are slow to upgrade though, so make sure you choose one that offers the latest version. However, even hosts supporting the latest version will probably NOT have that version enabled by default (for some good reasons). So, you want to also make sure that you have the ability to update the version, either by yourself via cPanel or via a tech support request.
PHP also has a lot of settings that can be adjusted to achieve different functionality and performance (typically via the
php.ini file). Some web hosts allow you to modify the settings and some don’t. I would generally recommend a host that does, but for simple blogs you probably won’t really need that.
When I first wrote this guide not all hosts offered free SSL certificates (HTTPS), though these days it is standard. Usually, it is the free solutions Let’s Encrypt or AutoSSL but some plans offer a better private certificate. That is probably only important if you run an e-commerce site or a site with multiple subdomains.
There are plugins (I like UpdraftPlus) and third party services to backup your WordPress site, but it is good to have a regular (daily) backup provided by your web hosting provider and many do offer this. However, some hosts that claim to offer backups do so only for their own administrative purposes. In other words, you don’t really have access to those backups or you cannot use them to restore from.
While that isn’t common, many hosts do provide user-accessible backups they label as free but charge a one-time fee to actually restore from one. You will rarely or hopefully never need to restore from a backup so this is probably not a huge concern, but some better hosts do offer free restoration.
Price aside, check the frequency (daily is better) and the how many copies the company retains. If the host automatically updates WordPress and plugins, ask if they perform a backup prior to updating. Also check if you are able to make a manual backup on demand. This is especially useful before you make a change to your site.
Finally, some hosts will stop providing backups if you pass a threshold for disk space or number of inodes. As for using a plugin to perform backups yourself, be aware that these can use a lot of resources, perhaps more than your plan allows (I had to disable mine with SiteGround).
cPanel website administrative control panel
This is by far the most popular control panel and it is fairly easy to use. Don’t waste time with anything else. One benefit of using only cPanel is that you will know how it works if you decide to switch hosts. The other big benefit is that it is easy to transfer websites between two web hosts that both use cPanel.
Free site migration
Just about every web hosting provider offers free migration of your site(s) when you switch from another host, though some charge for it, especially if you are moving from a host that doesn’t use cPanel. Also note that some will only transfer one website for free, but that’s also usually only for servers not using cPanel.
Server Resources and Restrictions
Many basic shared server plans don’t discuss server resources much but cloud and WordPress plans usually do. For those, the following are the things to consider.
Processing Power (CPU)
Processing power is described by the number of CPUs. Sometimes this is referred to as CPU cores or just cores. Alternatively, some web hosts will specify CPU time usage instead.
The more RAM the better. Ask if it is guaranteed or burstable. Also, ask if the number describes physical memory or virtual memory (using the hard disk to emulate RAM memory).
WordPress requires MySQL (or MariaDB—they are basically the same thing) so obviously any WordPress hosting plan will offer it. The question is whether there are any limits imposed. Typically, these are in the form of the number of databases and/or the size for any single database. For most basic sites you will only need one database, but depending on what plugins you are using and how much content you have, size could potentially be an issue.
Number of Processes
Some hosts will limit the number of concurrent processes your sites can run at any time. This is not something you will probably need to worry about, but all things being equal, more is better.
Server resources (I/O speed)
I/O speed refers to how fast data can be accessed from storage. This is a bit geeky and probably not worth worrying about. Still, all things being equal, faster is better (5 or 10 MB/s is common though faster is possible).
Resource usage reporting
You know that your web hosting plan comes with all sorts of resource limits, but it is nice to know what those are and to see them listed in your control panel. Some hosts do this on the sidebar and some do not. Also, look for a host that offers detailed graphs of your resource usage over time. This can help troubleshoot problems and give you some indication when you might need to upgrade your plan.
Some hosts, especially those offering fully managed plans, restrict the plugins that can be used. Usually this is to prevent conflicts with their server configurations or caching features. Sometimes, however, it is because a plugin is known to be a resource hog or has had a poor security history in the past. Whatever the reason, if there are plugins you rely on, make sure there is no restriction on using them. If you are curious what kinds of plugins get banned, check out HostGator’s full list of disallowed plugins.
Cron job limits
A cron job is a way to schedule a script to run. You probably won’t need this, but if you do, consider if there are any limits imposed. For example, SiteGround will not allow you to create a cron job that runs more than twice an hour.
Speed and Performance
The page speed of your sites is important to your visitors and to search engines. Your choice of web hosting provider can significantly impact that. here are the things to consider.
Operating System (OS)
The two main choices here are Linux and Windows, with Linux by far the more common choice. There are actually many Linux variants available but for the most part you shouldn’t really care, with one exception. Look for the increasingly popular CloudLinux OS, developed especially for shared hosting providers to improve server stability, density, and security by isolating accounts and allocating resources to each defined server. All things being equal, I would give preference to a host using CloudLinux.
Web server software
Web server refers to the software used to process requests for your site’s pages and serve them to the requester. There are four main options in use: Apache (the most popular), LiteSpeed, Nginx, and IIS (Windows). Do you really care which one a host uses? Maybe. Why? Because two of them, LiteSpeed and Nginx, offer greater performance, though not without drawbacks. LiteSpeed is a paid product and thus is usually available only on more expensive web hosting plans. Nginx’s major issue is that it does not support popular Apache features like the use of .htaccess files. You don’t generally see mixing and matching of these web servers, though SiteGround uses Apache while also using Nginx for their SuperCacher feature. All things being equal, choose LitesSpeed as it is the fastest. It is also sort of an indication that the host takes performance seriously.
Since WordPress is database-driven software, every time someone visits your site it must retrieve the requested page from the database. This can be slow and inefficient, especially as your traffic increases. Caching is a system for storing static copies of your pages so that this database lookup is unnecessary. This lets your site’s visitors view each page faster and reduces the load on your server.
There are two basic types of caching: site caching and server caching. You can control the former via a plugin like WP Super Cache, though some hosts also offer their own proprietary plugin for that. Server caching is up to the host to provide and is often one of the key features that differentiates a cloud or WordPress plan from a basic shared plan. Personally, I wouldn’t even consider a plan that doesn’t offer server-based caching.
Different web hosts use different server caching technologies, making it difficult to compare one host with another. Some technology focuses on caching static page elements and some focuses on caching database queries.
Which caching technology is best? That is beyond the scope of this article, but the most common options you will see are OpCache (which is actually a PHP caching system), APC, Memcached, Varnish, Redis, Nginx, and LiteSpeed (the last two are actually web servers that include caching). Some host combine more than one. All are good, but LiteSpeed would be my preference.
You are familiar with HTTP since you type it into the browser (HTTP/2 is the latest version of the core HTTP technology and it vastly speeds up website performance. So, having it is very good. In fact, it is now one of my must-haves.
Content Delivery Network (CDN)
A CDN is a geographically distributed network of proxy servers and their data centers. The goal is to distribute your site’s content across the world so that when someone visits your site he or she will be served the content by the closes geographical node. A CDN can provide high availability, increased speed, and lower server load.
There are a lot of commercial CDN providers, but when it comes to shared hosting, the most likely CDN on offer will be Cloudflare. it’s popular because it offers a good free plan and works closely with web hosting companies to integrate the services. Note that some hosts will highlight their CDN but not mention who provides it. If you contact sales you will usually find out it is Cloudflare.
There is a lot to love about Cloudflare. Besides content delivery, it also provides security features by screening out malicious and spam traffic. It can do this because all your site’s traffic is first routed through Cloudflare servers before being forwarded on to your host server.
Normally, to use Cloudflare you create an account and then configure your DNS provider to use the Cloudflare name servers. The nice thing about using a web host that tightly integrates with Cloudflare is that you can usually avoid this name server step.
As I said, Cloudflare is great, but it is not perfect. While the free plan offers quite a lot, some useful features do require a paid plan, which is not cheap. Also, although using the service usually speeds up your site’s performance, it can negatively impact Time to First Byte. That’s a bit technical but it can end up hurting your page speed test scores.
Cloudflare has a feature called Railgun that can speed up the connectivity between its servers and your host server. It is a premium feature, though some hosts offer it for free. The ones I am aware of are A2, ChemiCloud, HydronHosting, MDD Hosting, NameHero, and SiteGround.
Miscellaneous Web Hosting Features
Choice of server location
Web hosts, especially larger ones, often have servers physically located in multiple locations. Some let you choose which location to use for your account. This can be helpful if the majority of your users are located in a specific geographical region.
If you don’t use WordPress, many web hosts offer site building software as either a free or additional paid service. Weebly is the most popular but there are others.
Free domain registration
A common offer from web hosting companies is a free domain registration with a new account. Sometimes this is free for just a year but often it renews each year for the duration of your account. If you ever want to change to a different host you will need to change the DNS settings. So, if the host you are leaving controls that it could (in theory) delay or refuse to make any changes. I haven’t heard of that happening often so it’s probably not a big concern. Another consideration is whether the host includes domain privacy. This is an optional, usually premium, feature of registration that keeps your personal information private (by default, domain registrations are public).
As your site grows, it may need more resources than the plan you started with offers. Some hosts offer seamless upgrade options so you can either change plans or simply add more of the specific resources you need (memory, disk space, etc.) and not suffer any website downtime. This is more likely to be possible with cloud or WordPress hosting plans than with basic shared server plans.
Dedicated IP address
Typically, shared server hosting plans not only share a physical server, but they share an IP address as well. In most cases, this is no problem. In the past, you needed a dedicated IP address to get a SSL certificate. It still can if you want a private certificate, but with Server Name Indication (SNI) you can now use HTTPS with a shared IP address. Another reason you might want a dedicated IP address is if you plan to do email marketing and would like to control your sender reputation. But, for most needs, a dedicated IP is not necessary.
Dedicated database server
Most servers handle both your site’s core files and the underlying database but some separate the two. In theory, this can provide enhanced speed and performance. I wouldn’t really worry about this.
Most hosts offer premium paid features, including SiteBuilder, SiteLock, SEO services, private DNS, anti-spam and security services, Google apps, and various marketing discounts or coupons.
Hotlinking (inline linking) is the use of a linked object, often an image, on one site by a web page on a second site. So, say you have a photo on one of your posts and somebody else wants to use it (usually illegally). Normally, they would download a copy of that photo to their server and link to it. Sometimes, however, they just link to your original. So, even though someone reads a post on a website hosted by someone else, your server must use resources to serve that image. Obviously this is not good. You can manually prevent this from happening and some WordPress security plugins do indeed offer this prevention feature. As an alternative, some web hosting companies offer this as a server option.
Many hosts offer free account analytics tools, usually AWStats or Webalizer (the former is better). These may be nice to have, but with Google Analytics being free and easy to use with WordPress, this feature is not a real differentiator.
If you run more than one WordPress site you probably already know the pain involved in doing updates. There are tools that can help you manage multiple sites from a single dashboard. I use and love the MainWP plugin but I have seen a couple (still rare) hosts with their own tool. Actually, I don’t know if they are offering a proprietary tool or simply offering one of the existing tools. Either way it is a nice feature that I would like to see increase in popularity.
A staging site is a copy of your live site that lets you test plugins, themes, and custom code to see if they will cause any problems before making them live. You can create a development site on your computer or create a staging site with a plugin like WP Staging. Alternatively, your web host may already provide a staging service (e.g., SiteGround does on some of its plans). Currently, this feature is usually found on more expensive plans so depending on your budget it may not be a realistic feature to choose.
WP-CLI is the command-line interface for WordPress. This is a feature mostly desired by developers so don’t worry about it.
WordPress and additional script installation
Most web hosting companies offer a one-click WordPress install option. If you already have it setup and are transferring to a new web host, this won’t be an issue. For a brand new site it might be nice to have. In addition, most plans also provide a tool (most commonly Fantastico or Softaculous) which makes it easy to install and configure a number of popular scripts (e.g., forums, polls, chat, etc.).
FTP / File manager
File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a method of connecting to your server so you can transfer files. Almost everyone offers this. Alternatively, cPanel has an easy to use online file manager.
This is pretty much the standard program for working with your database. You may never need it, but it is good to have. I have never seen a host that didn’t offer it though, so I wouldn’t give it much thought.
Investigating Web Hosting Providers and Plans
Now that you know what to consider in a WordPress hosting plan, it’s time to investigate the various providers and narrow the options to a shortlist. With so many to choose from, where should you start? If you want to get a quick start, skip to my discussion of the various web hosting companies I have used as well as ones that made my shortlist. Otherwise, you will probably want to look for reviews and rankings online.
Online Web Hosting Reviews — Beware!
In searching for a web host, your first instinct is probably to use Google to find reviews. Why not? It has served you well for other purchases and you consider yourself to possess decent to excellent Google ninja skills. Unfortunately, finding trustworthy web hosting reviews is not at all like finding reviews for a new camera or other consumer product.
Because web hosting is an insanely competitive industry (a $16 billion industry in the US alone and growing at 10% per year). If you have started investigating options already you know what I am talking about. It seems there are an endless number of companies to choose from.
Why is that relevant?
Well, to get ahead in this competitive market, most companies make heavy use of affiliate programs, paying a commission for referrals. Some of these commissions can be pretty good, so naturally quite a lot of people decide to make a few bucks this way and slap up a review of their hosting provider or a “Top X” list of providers, etc. Those are the small-time players and what they produce is hit or miss.
The bigger problem is that there are now many sites completely focused on providing reviews and information about web hosting providers. Some of these are very large and popular and rank very well in Google searches. All are playing the affiliate game. Some are completely useless, merely listing the companies that pay the highest commissions and some are biased but still provide useful information.
A Note about Affiliate Links
I have yet to come across any review of a web hosting company or service that doesn’t use affiliate links. That’s because it is big business with the companies all having affiliate programs that pay out pretty nice referral fees. This article also uses them, BUT only for the companies that made the shortlist during my own research or that I have actually used in the past.
Michael at Research as a Hobby offers a table comparing the affiliate programs of various web hosting companies (the lower the “Aff Score” columns, the less aggressively that company uses affiliate programs to drive sales).
Tips for Reading Web Hosting Review Sites
Despite what I just wrote, it’s pretty hard to imagine making such an important purchasing decision without some kind of reviews as guidance. And, hey, there must be some decent ones out there, right?. Well, there are, and even some of the completely biased ones can still be of some use.
Here are some tips for avoiding the useless ranking and review sites and finding some value in the rest.
If you do a bit of research, you will start to see the same usual suspects cropping up in rankings. The problem is in knowing whether they are always represented because of their generous affiliate payouts or because they are genuinely the best. Avoid sites proclaiming the “best” web hosts when they only list these usual suspects. These web hosts can be perfectly good choices, but they are also very regularly recipients of pretty awful criticism and reviews from users so if they are listed as the “best” you can be sure that either no real criteria were applied or the author simply is looking for the best affiliate payout possible.
EIG Web Hosting Companies
Be wary of any site that lists only Endurance International Group (EIG) companies. Who/what is EIG? It is a large company that has consolidated many previously independent web hosting companies. Popular brands they own include Arvixe, A Small Orange, BlueHost, Dotser, FatCow, HostGator, HostMonster, iPage, iPower, IX Webhosting, JustCloud, JustHost and Site5 (see full list of EIG hosts). Note that you will not see any reference to EIG on any of these companies’ websites.
A lot of people dislike this company and try to avoid any web host owned by it. The general consensus among the haters is that EIG buys a previously well-regarded independent host and then promptly crams more sites onto each shared server and reduces the quality of service provided (often by outsourcing to cheaper, less qualified techs). How true this is or whether it is something you even care about I leave up to you to decide but definitely consider with great skepticism any review site that doesn’t list any non-EIG hosts.
Apples to Apples Web Hosting Comparisons?
Be aware that many reviews and rankings compare apples and oranges. For example, they compare one company’s basic shared server plan with another company’s WordPress hosting plan, thus making it difficult to get an accurate perspective on what you really care about. Or they might focus on the lowest cost plans, which may not be what you are looking for.
A related issue is when a site claims to list the top WordPress hosting providers and you see some on the list that don’t even offer WordPress hosting plans and others that you know do but are not included. I wouldn’t rely on these types of reviews.
A Recent Review?
Once you have found a useful, reliable review site, pay attention to the age of the review(s) as things change quickly in the industry (consolidation, improvement or deterioration of quality/service, etc.). Also, don’t be fooled by the publication date or current year in the title. Many review sites simply update the title and date without changing the content.
Special Web Hosting Rates
Don’t be fooled by “special rates” available only from the review site. I have rarely seen any “deal” or “special offer” that wasn’t the deal price available on the web hosting site. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use one of those codes. If you found a review site especially helpful and want to reward them, by all means sign up via their link. Just don’t expect an actual deal.
Test-based Web Host Rankings
Actual test-based rankings are helpful, but even those are not without issues. The biggest being the list of hosts actually tested. It would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming to test all hosts but when the review site just chooses the usual suspects, you cannot really expect a proper assessment.
Another issue is that what gets tested is often a stripped-down WordPress implementation that may not resemble the demands your own site will have. Typically, the entry-level plan is what is being tested and some entry web hosting plans don’t offer all the features of their other plans, like caching, SSL, etc.
Another issue to consider is server location. Good, robust testing will test speeds from various places around the world to accommodate this biasing factor.
Finally, did the reviewer test sites only once or with load testing also? Did they test over an extended period of time (say 30 days)?
Even considering these issues, test-based rankings tend to have more value than possibly fake customer review-based sites.
For review sites that rely on customer reviews, what is the source of those reviews? Is it user-generated with no controls in place to ensure the review isn’t fake? Are they culled from Twitter, Facebook or other social media posts? Do the same reviews get used on multiple sites? Are they almost uniformly positive? No host will ever get all positive reviews, so if that is what you are seeing they are probably fake or at least largely fake.
Ultimately, you will probably never know if some of the positive reviews are paid or fake or if the site omitted some of the most negative reviews. Still, assuming you believe that at least some of the user reviews are legitimate, focus only on the ones that provide specific, useful information about a host. Look for reviews from (1) long-time customers who have more experience/history to report on, and (2) customers that have had experience with multiple web hosting companies, ideally specifically referencing those companies and comparing them to the current host.
Ignore reviews that only focus on the helpfulness of sales staff – that won’t be of any help actually running your site. If a review does mention good customer service, look for specifics. Just saying they had great service is useless. Saying they were getting an error message when they installed a plugin and tech support helped fix it by modifying the
php.ini file and did so professionally in less than five minutes is the kind of review that is helpful.
Detailed Web Hosting Provider Reviews
After you have used the various mega review and ranking sites to generate a “shortlist” of web hosts to consider, try to find a few detailed reviews of each. Look for reviews that include performance tests. Also look for those written by someone that has used—or even better, still is using—the service.
Web Hosting Provider User Forums
Once you have your shortlist, check to see if any of them have publicly accessible user forums. If so, peruse these. If the company is proactively posting useful information and responding to user posts and if there aren’t a lot of user complaints, that’s a good sign.
Why so much variability in web hosting reviews?Ratings and reviews of shared hosting providers and services often vary greatly because so much depends on (1) the type of plan you are using, (2) your shared server neighbors, and (3) your unique needs.
If you have a higher-performance cloud or WordPress account, your experience will probably be much better than someone using the cheapest basic shared server account, but most user reviews fail to mention which plan was being used.
If you have “good” neighbors your server will probably perform relatively well and you will be satisfied and if you have “bad” neighbors you might be very unsatisfied.
You can also see different performance at the beginning of your contract if you are on a still not fully populated server and later once it is full. Likewise, a company may have a rule on how many accounts can populate a shared server but not a rule about how many domains. So, 500 accounts each with one site may differ from 500 accounts with an average of five sites each. And, of course, one popular site can use more server resources than five unpopular blogs.
This is why a company like SiteGround generally does very well in ratings relative to its peers—because it is pretty strict about each account’s use of server resources. The flip side is that this strictness can piss off the offenders, which leads to some negative reviews (sour grapes). Finally, some people don’t have many technical problems or complications and thus don’t really notice bad customer service and so they are more apt to be satisfied.
Possibly Useful Web Hosting Review Sites
What Web Hosting Do Your Heroes Use?
Another way to potentially identify a good host provider is to see which ones power the blogs you like. You can do so easily via a network trace. For shared hosting, you can also usually do a reverse DNS lookup as most shared hosts have their customers use generic, web hosting company branded name servers (e.g., ns1.hostingcompany.com). Of course, you can always reach out to the blog owner and ask what host they use and what they think of it.
My Current and Former Web Hosting Providers
If you would like to know what I think about the hosts I have used, read on.
MDD Hosting is my newest web hosting provider, replacing SiteGround. I cannot find anything but highly positive reviews of this small, independent company. One thing I like about the company is that they only offer two types of hosting plans: cloud and VPS. To my mind, that means they are not wasting time supporting price-sensitive basic shared server plans that use different (lesser) technology and instead are able to focus on making the limited plans they do offer work really well.
As for the shared plans, there’s a lot to like. Since they are cloud plans starting small and scaling up is easy. The speed and performance is great thanks to CloudLinux and LiteSpeed along with LightSpeed caching. And plans come with generous resource limits for the price.
I especially like the pricing of the plans. Not just the value but that renewal prices aren’t higher than signup prices as is typical with most providers. The Cloud1 plan is only $7.00 per month but provides 1 CPU core and 1GB of RAM. That’s the cheapest price I have seen for that level of resources (Cloud2 doubles this for double the price).
All plans also include unlimited SSD storage, which is fairly unusual. Perhaps to offset that unlimited storage, inode limits are a bit low (250,000) but reasonable. I/O speed is much higher than most competitors (50 MB/s compared to a more typical 5 or 10 MB/s).
servers perform daily backups and store them for one week. They use JetBackup, which lets you easily self-service restore from cPanel.
Automatic malware scanning and cleaning by Imunify360, ModSecurity WAF (firewall) and SiteLock Lite are all offered for free.
Finally, MDD Hosting is one of the small number of providers that offers the premium Cloudflare Railgun service for free.
I just left SiteGround after three years, but not because I was in any way unhappy with them. In fact, the quality, features and the support offered by this company impressed me.
So, why did I leave? For two reasons. First, I simply wanted to try a new web host in the name of research and experimentation. Second, SiteGround is ditching cPanel for a homemade control panel. They have already done so for new accounts and are working to migrate existing ones as well. I mentioned that cPanel is a must-have for me, mostly because it makes moving to a new host very easy. So, I thought now is the perfect time to move.
cPanel aside, SiteGround consistently does very well in performance and reliability tests and has among the highest customer ratings.
One great thing about SiteGround is that—like my new host—they offer the premium Cloudflare Railgun option for free.
A unique feature is SuperCacher, a three-level (static, dynamic, and database) caching solution that works very well. You manage SuperCacher by both a control panel management page and an associated plugin. The latter even includes a tool to check that your site is compatible with the latest version of PHP.
Yet another great feature is their WP Auto Update tool, which allows you to automatically keep your core WordPress code and all plugins updated. The tool will even perform a backup before updating so you can easily restore your site if one of the updates breaks something.
SiteGround also has a robust firewall and other security measures to protect your sites from unwanted traffic and hacking attempts. All accounts are also isolated from each other to prevent problems that any bad neighbors might cause.
There is a lot to like about SiteGround and I recommend you put them on your shortlist. However, I do offer one huge caveat: the resource restrictions are strict and they will shut down your account automatically if you exceed your daily limits (which I guess is the major reason some people give SiteGround negative reviews).
If your account is suspended, it will last until the next day, when the limits are automatically reset, but it can be pretty stressful. Naturally, you will want to resolve the underlying cause so that it doesn’t become a daily occurrence. Fortunately, that is where the excellent technical support will really show its value.
Your account won’t be suspended without any warning or notice. Once you hit a usage threshold (80% I think), SiteGround will send a warning email. They will send another email if you actually hit 100% and suspend your account. The warning is helpful, but if the problem that causes your excessive resource usage is quite sudden (like a rogue process or a surge in traffic due to a page going viral, etc.), you may not notice the email in time to take corrective action.
This probably sounds pretty scary, and honestly, it can be, but most sites experience fairly consistent traffic and resource usage that don’t come close to exceeding the limits. And, you can easily monitor your usage in the control panel, which I recommend you do in the early days. Pretty quickly, you will start to see what your typical resource usage looks like (as a percentage of the limit) and can decide how safe or dangerous your situation is. If you are regularly flirting with your limits, you will want to consider upgrading your plan or figure out what plugin, theme code or other thing is causing your site to use more resources than it should.
So, what happens if SiteGround suspends your account? Well, it actually happened to me twice! The first time I didn’t notice the warning in time but when I did, I contacted technical support and they helped me figure out the issue (a problem with a plugin I was using) and then re-enabled my account. The second time was actually the same problem (I forgot to disable the plugin on one of my sites) but fortunately I did see the warning email in time and again contacted support, which raised my limits for that day after confirming that I had solved the problem.
So, to summarize the resource restriction issue, I would say this: the company is not out to screw you, they are just trying to run a tidy ship, which ultimately benefits all customers (no rogue neighborhood activity will be dragging down your site’s performance). Once you (or they) can figure out what caused the problem and resolve it, they are happy to re-enable your account.
Regarding tech support, I have mentioned their helpfulness when my account was suspended. I also had a strange problem with my Wordfence plugin not working properly. It turned out to be a PHP configuration issue that tech support identified and fixed for me. I had one other small issue that they also dealt with professionally and quickly. You can open a support ticket or use the chat option. I prefer the latter.
As with so many hosts, SiteGround’s initial price is much lower than the regular price, which is higher than some competitors and lower than others. Obviously, the longer your initial contract, the better the deal, but then you lock yourself into the service or risk losing that upfront investment.
I have been hosting a few of my websites with TMDHosting for three years now. I use their Business Cloud hosting plan rather than a WordPress plan as it is more powerful and robust for the same amount of money. Although there are a few differences in features, either type of plan should be good for your WordPress needs.
My experience with TMD has been mostly good. I had about a dozen tech support issues, most in the initial months of my contract. I resolved all of them via a ticketing system (there is no live chat option). Some of these required a bit more back and forth than I would have preferred, but ultimately they were all resolved satisfactorily. So, overall, I can give good marks to TMD support.
As for features, TMDHosting offers most of what you would expect and probably the best CPU/RAM value around. There are a couple of things to consider, however. First, they have disabled the cPanel backup and restore option, though they do a weekly full backup and a daily database backup. You can also open a support ticket to request a backup. Still, this is not ideal so you should probably investigate your own backup solution.
Another thing I would note is that they list Memcached as a feature but it was not enabled by default when I signed up. I simply needed to contact tech support and ask them to enable it, but they didn’t make that clear anywhere, which I found disappointing. I am not sure if that is still the case today.
The biggest concern I have with TMDHosting is that they use security software BitNinja. This software often blocked me from accessing the site when I was in Thailand. If it was blocking me, then I wonder how many other legitimate site visitors it was blocking. Having said that, it has been a long time since I have seen that issue. I recently asked them about BitNinja and they told me they still use it for DDoS protection, so perhaps they have stopped using it as a firewall and that’s why things have improved.
1&1 (now called IONOS) is one of my three current web hosting providers. It gets pretty awful reviews and you won’t see it in many best-of list (if you do, don’t trust that site). Honestly, I can understand why.
In fact, I had a problem from the very beginning since I was in Thailand when I ordered my account. Apparently, that triggered a security flag in their system so my account setup never completed. In the admin area the only message said “Setting Up” and that the process could take up to 48 hours. So, I patiently waited 48 hours with no progress. So, I got on the phone and got the real story. Why didn’t they just send an email explaining the account was on hold and needed some verification?
Perhaps the biggest usability downside with 1&1 is that their system doesn’t use cPanel. That wouldn’t be so bad if their control panel were intuitive or even half as good as cPanel. Sadly, it is not, which undoubtedly leads to extra support calls.
Speaking of support, once you find yourself in need there is no online option at all, only phone support. Now, normally I applaud when a web hosting company offers phone support because these days many don’t. But, phone-only support kind of sucks, especially if your issue isn’t very time sensitive and you are too busy to sit on a phone waiting for a representative. Also, I might be mistaken, but I got the impression that when you call support, you first speak with someone that is more of a gatekeeper than a support tech. Their goal is to provide answers to the simplest questions and for anything more complicated they have to pass the issue on to someone else.
I actually had a few issues after initial setup that required me to contact technical support. I would like to say that they were helpful in resolving the issues, but I cannot. They were courteous, for sure, but I found their actual knowledge and expertise quite lacking.
The first issue I had was not being able to send emails via secure SMTP, which their online documentation says can be done via the typical ports (465, 567). I was actually able to use TLS via the typically unsecured port 25, but I could not get the other ports to work. In the end, I got poor responses and no resolution to this issue and just gave up.
The second issue I had was that some scripts I had were timing out and showing a strange Nginx error that had no associated documentation. After explaining multiple times and asking them to check the server error logs to tell me what was happening (because I don’t have access to those logs via my account), I got nowhere. Finally, I realized what the problem was on my own. In fact, it was that secure SMTP issue again. My script was trying to send an email and was encountering that problem I had never gotten resolved. So, I switched to using port 25 and now things are fine. But, that is in no way thanks to any efforts by tech support.
Finally, I cannot get DKIM working. I have read online that they don’t support it on their shared servers, but there is actually very little information available and I haven’t bothered to contact support yet because I don’t really have any confidence in them at this point (and SPF still works fine so it is more an inconvenience than a real problem).
Another IONOS annoyance is that some of their additional, for-fee services are sneaky. For example, I accidentally ordered the virus scanner because it was preselected in the create a new email account screen. Normally, you would expect premium features to be deselected by default and, in either case, to be clearly identified as a premium service with the relevant price. Not with IONOS.
There is also a technical annoyance regarding all new IONOS accounts. With most web hosts you can set up and debug your sites on the new server before actually changing the DNS name servers at your registrar (which is what starts sending live traffic to the new server). This is not only a good practice, it is really a necessity as different servers run different versions of OS, PHP, MySQL, etc. that could affect site functionality. The problem I had with IONOS is that I wanted to upgrade the PHP version, but that change can only be made after the site is live on their server (they check that the DNS name servers are set to theirs to verify).
By now you might be wondering why I am using IONOS, which is a good question. Mostly, because they have the least restrictive per hour email sending limit of all the inexpensive web hosting companies. Since the site I am hosting with them sends out around 13,000 emails per day, typical limits of 500 or even less emails per hour would require more than 24 hours. Additionally, in fairness to 1&1, besides the initial support issues, my site has always functioned reliably.
Other things IONOS gets right are a good server setup, proactive malware scanning and protection (I experienced this firsthand), SSH, and SFTP. You also get a free SSL certificate, even on the cheapest plan, which is great, though interestingly, it isn’t the free Let’s Encrypt option.
Finally, one very nice thing about IONOS is that their Basic WordPress hosting package is dirt cheap ($3 per month).
I first purchased a cheap shared server plan from HostGator back in 2005. Back then it was a scrappy independent up-and-comer with a good reputation. Some years ago EIG purchased them, which I didn’t realize at the time. Some people claim it has gone downhill under EIG ownership, but it was always reliable for me and I even switched to one of their cloud plans some years ago. At the time they didn’t offer free SSL (they do now) which is mainly what prompted me to seek out SiteGround and TMDHosting.
On my latest deep web hosting research I again read lots of bad things about their basic shared server plans. However, I read surprisingly good things about their cloud plans, especially regarding speed and performance. Obviously, the cloud plans are slightly more expensive, but I think still quite reasonable. This is probably the only EIG company I would consider if I were you.
My Web Hosting Shortlist
The shortlist of web hosts I ended up with is different than when I researched options three years ago. In addition to the new company I chose (MDD Hosting), the following—in alphabetical order—were in strong contention.
On paper there is a lot to like about A2. Their feature listing is one of the most detailed around, with nice expanding descriptions of the features which merit describing. And those features are quite good. They are a green company (carbon neutral?) and they are independently owned. Finally, they generally perform near the top of the pack in online speed tests.
One negative regarding A2 is their lack of transparency in pricing. Some advertised features are not actually included in the base price. Also, they list two prices, a sale price and a “normal” price. Well, that normal price is not in fact the renewal rate you would pay. Instead, it’s the price you would pay initially for a three year contract if there wasn’t a sale. Got that? Neither do I.
GeekStorage is another company that doesn’t get much attention in review sites, though Michael Bely rates them highly. It has some pretty impressive specs and features. The PX-2 ($10.99) and PX-3 ($15.99) plans are great value and the speed and performance are excellent. Besides using CloudLinux and LiteSpeed, both plans offer generous CPU/RAM resources (PX-2 is 2 cores and 1.5GB of RAM). They also have a high number of concurrent connections (75) and one of the highest inode limits I have seen (2,000,000), though the SSD storage limit is average (20GB/40GB).
Note that the difference between unlimited and performance plans is not clear so I contacted them to ask. Basically, they are the same server but unlimited plans offer more disk space with less performance and inodes whereas performance plans offer less disk space with better performance and more inodes.
Finally, one nice thing about the plans are that they offer lifetime discounts. That means the price you pay at signup is the price you will pay at renewal as well. That’s almost unheard of in the industry.
In the final analysis I debated between GeekStorage and MDD Hosting. I opted for the latter thanks mostly to its support for Cloudflare Railgun.
GreenGeeks is a relatively popular provider that tends to do very well in performance tests. As their name implies, they aim to be a green company, using or offsetting their energy uses with clean energy. The Pro plan is a good value at $14.95 per month ($5.95 on long-term discount), offering 2 CPU cores and 1.5GB of RAM with unlimited SSD storage and 300,000 inodes. Concurrent processes are generous at 125 as well. LiteSpeed coupled with proprietary caching ensures good performance. They also include a wildcard SSL certificate. The only real negative I found in the plans is that only the most recent daily backup is maintained. So, if you plan to go with GreenGeeks, use your own backup method.
Hawkhost is another host I hadn’t heard about until my most recent investigation but it seems promising.
The performance setup is solid, using CloudLinux and LiteSpeed, with Memcached and Redis caching. For a high-performance, inexpensive plan it’s great at only $4.99 for 1 CPU and 1GB of RAM with 10GB of SSD memory. You can make that unlimited storage for double the price.
The big drawback as I see it is that there aren’t many levels of plans. So, when you double the price from the Primary to Professional cloud plan you don’t double server resources. If you do need more resource you must switch to one of the semi-dedicated plans and there are only two of those, both only giving 2 CPU cores with 2GB of RAM.
So, I would say for low usage site(s) that probably won’t grow substantially, HawkHost is a worthy contender but it’s probably best to avoid it for more resource-intensive needs.
I only came across NameHero as I was finishing up this article. I found it when I was doing some research on Railgun, which they offer for free. The little I have read about it sounds very promising. Good performance, features and price. I am not sure why it is never included on best-of or roundup review sites but I think I will give it more serious consideration in the future if I need a new web host.
Other Web Hosts I Considered
The following are other web hosting providers I considered. Though they didn’t quite make my shortlist, they all have some redeeming qualities that may make them a good choice for you, especially if your priorities are different than mine.
Bluehost is a well-known EIG company. Interestingly, almost all review sites compare their basic shared server plans, which they advertise as WordPress plans but are actually just basic shared server plans. The real WordPress plans (WP Pro) start at $19.99 per month (regular price $29.99). I haven’t seen any performance or customer reviews that justify that kind of price. If you somehow want to go with an EIG company, choose a Hostgator cloud plan.
Chemicloud doesn’t often make it to rankings and review sites, but the technical specifications and feature list are impressive. The prices are also competitive. I also like the levels of plans on offer. My only hesitation about these guys is they use MailChannels for email spam filtering. That is the same service that caused me to ditch a Hostwinds account I tried a few years ago, so I fear that the same might apply.
DreamHost is a similar story to Bluehost. They offer cheap basic shared server plans that they market to WordPress users. Many review sites use those plans, but only their DreamPress plan is actually optimized for WordPress. It costs $19.95 ($16.95 if annual purchase), which is a bit high. Price aside, DreamHost often does well on review sites (or, at least, the ones that use the proper plan).
FastComet is another provider that isn’t reviewed often but when it is tends to perform very well. The price to feature combination is quite good. The main reason I didn’t add it to my shortlist was that it uses BitNinja. Recall, I have had a bad experience with it when using TMDHosting (though not currently).
Flywheel primarily markets their plans to designers and creative agencies. They offer advanced site collaboration tools, billing transfers to your clients, staging sites, and reseller options that appeal to that market. Plus, you can manage all of your sites from within one attractive dashboard. I have read that it is more than just a web hosting provider because it focuses on streamlining the workflow for web designers everywhere. The prices are high, but the reviews are among the best in the industry so if you fit the market demographic and your budget isn’t too tight, maybe give them a look.
Hostinger is a new discovery for me and seems like a great option with one major drawback, namely that it opts for its own control panel rather than using industry standard cPanel. If that doesn’t bother you, check it out as it seems to perform incredibly well on speed and performance tests and the prices are competitive.
Incendia Web Works
IWW is a small, independent web hosting company and they only offer plans that support a single website. Their plans are designed for high performance. Basic plans are fairly inexpensive but you will have to add $10 per month for their beefed up WordPress plans. This is probably a bargain if you are trying to host a high traffic site but a basic plan is probably more than sufficient for an average blog.
Kinsta isn’t included on review sites very often but when it is the reviews tend to be very positive. Probably the reason it isn’t included is because it is quite expensive, with the least expensive plan at $100.
Media Temple has been around for ages and has a pretty good reputation. In the past I have considered them but always went with someone else. This time around, their price point put me off. I believe GoDaddy now owns Media Temple.
WP Engine is a pioneer in the WordPress hosting space and almost always ranks very highly on best-of lists. But, it is one of the pricier options and they are pretty restrictive about allowed plugins. They also have some strict resource limits as well.
Other Web Hosts
I didn’t really do enough research on the following web hosts to have any strong opinion, but they are not the “usual suspects” so they might be worth further consideration.
Overall, there are more web hosting options that seem quite good today than the last time I was in the market and researching three years ago.
Keeping in mind that your needs most likely don’t match mine, in the end my shortlist was MDD Hosting, GeekStorage, NameHero, HawkHost, GreenGeeks, and A2 (in that order). And, I have been happy for three years with both SiteGround and TMDHosting so they were both high on the shortlist.
If I were to go with an EIG company I would choose Hostgator Cloud (not basic shared). It’s one of those hosts people love to hate but I have used it two different times in the past with success and their cloud plans do amazingly well on performance. I don’t like their choice of caching (Varnish) or that they don’t fully support Cloudflare but for performance/price it’s a contender. Lots of others recommend Bluehost but their low inode limit (50,000) is a deal breaker for me.
Choosing a good web host is incredibly important and not at all easy. I hope that I have provided all the information you need to make an educated purchase. Good luck! Please leave a comment if you have any tips, warnings, personal experiences, or other suggestions.
Editor’s Note: I originally wrote this in September 2017 and completely revised it in June 2020.
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