The top performers in our review are Arvixe, the Gold Award winner; InMotion Hosting, the Silver Award winner; and Just Host, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a service to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the best web hosts.
If you are considering owning any online real estate beyond a simple blog, it comes with a price. Thankfully, the price is minimal. Many people think that owning their own sites only has to do with owning the names themselves. Before you sign up for a domain name, take some time to 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 need.
In our experience, standard landing page sites only require the most basic shared hosting package. If you want to make an active site complete with images, blog posts and video content, you need a service that provides unlimited disk space. If you are planning on having an exorbitant number of viewers, then you should also look to find a package with unlimited bandwidth. Having sufficient bandwidth keeps your site from throttling if many readers flock to your site at once.
Annual and Monthly Payments
The second step to take is to create the right domain name. Web hosting plans typically include a free domain for one year. A domain often requires an annual payment, but Arvixe actually includes a domain for the life of the service. Popular services like Go Daddy are known for being go-to spots if you are looking to purchase a domain name.
At this stage, you are offered promotional rates on several hosting plans, depending on the storage and bandwidth your site requires. Look past the promotional prices that each host offers. We noticed that several hosting services baited us with affordable plans, only to triple the monthly price and charge nearly $30 for a domain when renewal comes around.
Our sister site, Business News Daily describes the pros and cons of web hosting. In this article, they describe that the purpose of web hosting is to help small business owners. Even novices can build something once and let the website take care of itself. These shared hosting services are easy enough for anyone to create something unique.
The web hosting industry is inundated with competition. In our extensive comparison, we researched, tested and ranked each service to find the one that best fits your business or personal website. For more information about this industry, take a look at our articles about web hosts.
To test our web hosting lineup, we purchased month-to-month hosting subscriptions. These plans auto-renew as long as you let them and in most instances come with a free domain name for a year. For each provider, we used the basic shared hosting packages, and the numbers we gathered for the disk space and bandwidth are all based on the introductory plans for each service.
Shared hosting should be flexible. As your business grows, your online presence should have the ability to grow with you. We measured that flexibility by how many plans a service offered and by asking its support staff how easy it is to upgrade in the middle of a contract.
Three is the standard number of hosting plans under a company’s shared hosting umbrella. Three different options give you room to grow if you're feeling unsure about initially investing in a higher-priced plan. Still, many web hosts offer only one shared server plan. In our testing, we found that these plans often do not provide enough bandwidth, storage and domain capability for the value. Upgrading from one of these single-offering shared plans requires paying significantly more with 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 employees here at Top Ten Reviews tested each cPanel and downloaded apps like WordPress to test compatibility. While each version of cPanel is similar across the board, the best web hosts provide more features, simplifying the creation process. We arrived at the usability mark by testing the hosting interface, scoring the cPanel and proprietary website builder.
We first tested usability through 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 at the same time, we gave it points for immediate usability. Half of the products we purchased wouldn't let us create an account without a copy of an identification card and a credit card statement. We side with the new user in these cases. If a service is difficult to sign up for, then most people would move on to the next available host.
Once we accessed our accounts, we test each dashboard. The standard interface is called cPanel, and 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 don't 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 every tool, and then some, you need to create a site, manage the hosting and market it to the online world.
Customer support is an important factor when searching for the best web hosts. As site owners, we rely on each service to have solid uptime. When, not if, a server fails temporarily, services should have a support team available 24/7 by both phone and live chat.
We called 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 sufficient product knowledge, without sending us links to the FAQs page. In support calls, we wanted a problem solved and dinged points when the service tried to upsell us instead of solving the issue at hand. Personability, in both chat and phone support situations, is a major factor. Also, we took into account the initial wait time and the wait time between responses.
We also brought up live chat during busy business hours and after normal business hours. To get a representative number of how long it took to reach each support team, we took an average of our attempts. The service with the fastest response time is WebHostingPad.
The average wait time overall was just over 10 minutes. The longest we waited to reach a live chat representative was 45 minutes. Testing the support staff of each service was essential to the process because it's truly what sets most of them apart. Often, a company boasted about its live chat support, but the team was consistently offline or unavailable. Other times, the staff could only help you with sales and upgrades but not technical support.
Additional Considerations: Picking the Right Web Host for Your Business
Web hosting is a very competitive field, and the best companies perform the same task with a similar range of site management tools. Each company offers promotions to get you to sign on with them, but we looked at few 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. As a consumer, it is important to know that unlimited does not mean infinite. Instead, the term technically means, “not exceeding regular use.” While the 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 informing that you will be slowed down or temporarily shut off. It is a shared server, which means you are at risk of taking other customer's allotted unlimited space.
Most hosts boast about the unlimited data transfer and disk space they offer, but it's important to find each service's definition of that word. Every host provides different allotments for domains, subdomains and parked domains. There are services like iPage who don't have expandable shared hosting plans, but don't truly need to provide the option because they offer unlimited boundaries in their basic plans. Each of these plans comes with the option to create email accounts with your URL attachment; although the number you are allowed varies.
All of the web hosts we tested offer limited money-back guarantees. Even further, a handful of companies allow you to cancel at any time without penalty.
Each company claims to have 99 percent uptime. Technically, they're not lying. There is typically a lower priority on shared servers and many sites could go down. Usually, a service can get it back up in 20 minutes, but that time could mean lost income or traffic if your site is built for those purposes. Technical problems can happen at any time – and there's not much you can do on your end, especially when you're running off a server in a remote unknown location. Responsive tech support 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. If you find a concern with a host, there is no reason to stick with them just because you have a bundle. We looked for services that not only made it easy to migrate to but also export our site content. One service that made domain registration and content migration easy is InMotion Hosting.
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 SSL and SSH. Many of these hosts backup and restore your site without incurring an additional fee. Some of the web hosts also protect your email account from spammers 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 also offer eCommerce solutions such as shopping cart systems and the ability to accept credit cards. Nearly every web host we tested offers advertising credits to help jump-start your marketing effort for your website or business online.
Our Verdict and Recommendations on the Best Web Hosting Plans
Finding the right web host suited to your site is important, especially with so many competitive companies looking for your business. In our tests of the basic plans of each web hosting service, we were surprised at the level of control and site creation capabilities available for a low monthly cost. The best service we tested was Arvixe, for its emphasis on the user. InMotion Hosting came in second place for providing superior features in a starter plan. Just Host ranked third, not only because of its high reputation but also for its quality cPanel. Each of these companies provide great ongoing support, intuitive interfaces and extra security features.