One of the most important decisions you'll need to make when creating a blog or website is choosing your web hosting plan. With so many different options available, finding the plan that's best for your site can be quite challenging.
We tried to do as much of the work for you as possible in this guide. Below, we'll break down the different types of hosting, help you define the technology requirements for your site, and give you our recommendations for the best web hosting plans.
Now you just need to know what you're looking for. The most popular hosting types include:
Choosing your host can be an overwhelming task, but it's much easier if you take it one step at a time.
Step 1: Define Your Website
This may be obvious, but the first thing you need to do is figure out what kind of website you will be setting up.
Is it a blog? An online store? A one-page brochure for an offline business?
In addition to your current needs, think about what you may need in the future. For example, a lot of people will set up a simple blog and then realize they also want to sell a few products. If you're going to sell products on your website (even just a few things), you'll need some kind of e-commerce capability.
The type of website you want to run will determine what you need in terms of software applications. Your hosting plan must support all the apps that you want to use.
After that, you'll need to consider how busy this website is likely to become. You don't want to overestimate and buy too expensive a plan — that's a very costly form of optimism. But you don't want to shortchange your website either, as this can lead to downtime and site failure if it suddenly becomes popular.
Step 2: Choose a Type of Web Hosting
Let's start with the basics. What is web hosting, and how does your choice of web hosting provider actually impact your site's overall performance?
A web host provides the server technology and infrastructure that your website's files and data will reside on. You still have full control over the content of your website, but this infrastructure will determine how your website performs for your visitors.
There are many different types of web hosting — the right type for you will depend on your site's specific needs.
Shared Hosting: With shared hosting, your site will reside on the same server as many other sites. It's the most affordable type of hosting, but it comes with performance limitations that make it unsuitable for large sites. Shared hosting is ideal for low-traffic blogs and small businesses.
Cloud Hosting: Similar to shared hosting, cloud hosting involves sharing resources with other users. But you'll be sharing a system of virtual servers rather than a single physical server, which allows you to quickly scale up in order to accommodate sudden surges in traffic. It's more secure than shared hosting as well. Cloud hosting is ideal for small to medium-sized sites that expect to grow quickly.
VPS Hosting: This option is more expensive than shared or cloud hosting, but it also provides you with the high-end performance and security of dedicated resources. And you'll get more access to your hosting infrastructure, which means you may need to possess some tech skills if your plan isn't managed by your provider. VPS hosting is ideal for high-traffic sites and e-commerce stores.
Dedicated Server: Unlike VPS hosting, which carves out a dedicated chunk of a physical server for your website, dedicated server hosting gives you the whole thing. This is for users who need the absolute best security and performance — and have the budget to pay for it. Dedicated servers are ideal for enterprise-level businesses and particularly large e-commerce stores.
Managed Hosting: Maintaining VPS and dedicated servers can be time-consuming and complicated, as can working with a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress. With a managed plan, your provider will take care of security updates, performance optimization, and other maintenance tasks for you. Managed hosting is ideal for users who don't have the skills or time to deal with the technical aspects of hosting.
Some hosts provide reseller services, too. This allows businesses to offer hosting services to their customers without making the substantial upfront investment that would be needed to set up their own hosting infrastructure and server technology.
You may also be able to find hosting plans that are designed specifically for your industry. For example, healthcare companies in the United States should check out HIPAA-compliant hosting.
Step 3: Identify Your Feature Requirements
After you figure out which type of hosting you need, you'll then need to decide on which features are most important to you.
Again, this will depend on your specific hosting requirements. The following features are especially important to consider for your site:
Cost: Don't just look at the initial price that providers offer for their plans — these introductory rates are often just a fraction of the base price that you'll be charged when it's time to renew. Also, you can usually get a discount by subscribing to an annual plan rather than paying month-to-month.
Free Domain: When comparing the cost of different hosting plans, you'll need to consider which add-ons are included for free with each plan. For example, a plan that provides you with one year of free domain registration might be a better deal than a slightly less expensive plan that does not include a free domain.
Bandwidth: Many providers offer "unmetered" bandwidth with even their least expensive shared hosting plan, but when you look at the fine print you'll see that sites that use a lot of resources will still be limited. Once you get a steady flow of traffic, you'll need to upgrade from shared hosting.
Storage: If you plan to use a lot of media elements such as high-quality images, audio, and video on your site, then you'll need a hosting package that includes a good amount of storage. You should also look for storage that uses solid-state drives (SSDs) rather than hard disk drives (HDDs), as this improves performance.
Datacenter Location: The closer your datacenter is to your users, the faster your site will load for them. The provider you choose should have a datacenter that's located near your primary users.
Free CDN: Of course, datacenter location won't matter as much if you're using a content delivery network (CDN). A CDN involves an array of servers that are distributed around the globe, ensuring fast load times no matter where your visitors are located. Ideally, your host will provide you with access to a CDN at no additional cost.
Security: To keep your data safe, look for plans that offer security features such as firewalls, malware scanning, and DDoS protection.
Free SSL Certificate: An SSL certificate puts an encrypted layer between your web server and your visitors, preventing hackers from accessing this exchange of data. These certificates make all sites look more legitimate, and they'll help improve your search rankings. Also, e-commerce sites will need an SSL certificate in order to accept payments.
Control Panel: If you're already familiar with the popular cPanel interface, then you might want to seek out a provider that uses cPanel. Otherwise, you'll need to take the time to learn how to use a new control panel.
Website Builder: In addition to hosting, many providers include a drag-and-drop website builder with their plans. While these tools generally don't have all the features that come with an established CMS like WordPress, they make it easy to quickly get your site up and running.
One-click Installs: Many hosts offer one-click installs for popular applications such as WordPress, Weebly, and Magento. This feature allows you to install apps directly through your control panel instead of having to find the download links online and install the software on your server yourself.
Site Backups: With some hosting plans, your site will be backed up automatically on a weekly or even daily basis. At the very least, it should be easy to back up your site manually.
Scalability: Even if you don't get a lot of traffic now, you never know how popular your site might be in the future. In addition to shared hosting plans, your provider should offer more powerful hosting options so that you can easily scale up.
Uptime Guarantee: The industry standard for uptime is 99.9%. When you're considering a host, look for an uptime guarantee policy that will compensate you with a service credit if they ever fall short of this standard.
Money-back Guarantee: After you purchase your plan, most providers will allow you to get a full refund if you cancel within 30 days. That way, you can try out a provider's services without making a financial commitment. Just keep in mind that you usually won't be able to get a refund for add-on services such as domain name registration.
Customer Support: One of the most important factors to consider is customer support, especially if you're using web hosting for a business site. Every minute your site is down is a minute when you could have been making sales, and downtime is bad for your business's reputation as well. Look for 24/7 live chat and phone support in addition to email and ticket-based support. A detailed knowledge base of support articles is quite helpful as well.
Once you know which type of web hosting you need and which features you want, all you need to do is compare what the different web hosts have to offer.
Step 4: Compare Your Web HostingOptions
Just because a web hosting company offers all the features you want doesn't mean they're the right choice for your site. There might be some flaws that don't show up on paper, such as sluggish server performance or poor customer support.
This is why you should always read our review on a provider before you commit to using them. These reviews include both our expert opinion and ratings from our readers, so you'll be able to make a much more informed decision.
The Bottom Line
Finally, you should take the host's overall reputation into account when choosing your hosting provider. The following hosts are known for being especially reliable:
And of the names on that list, there are three that really stand out: SiteGround, A2 Hosting, and InMotion Hosting. You can't go wrong with any of these providers.
SiteGround does it all. Their services include shared, cloud, dedicated server, and reseller hosting. They also offer WordPress hosting, Joomla hosting, e-commerce hosting, streaming media hosting, and even generic business hosting.
But SiteGround is far from a jack of all trades, master of none.
This company repeatedly makes the top of our "best of" lists because of their commitment to providing reliable, secure, and fast web hosting, regardless of their customers' needs.