Last updated: December 12, 2018
Web Hosting Plans: Which Service Is Best For Your Site?
Which Is the Best Web Hosting Plan For You?
You’ve decided you need a website for your business, blog, portfolio, and other online venture. Regardless of your goals, you understand that an online presence is critical in this day and age.
While you could opt for free web hosting (which is rare, but can be found in something like a hosted WordPress plan) or experiment with basic plans from a website builder like Weebly, there are compromises you have to be willing to make for the low (if absolutely no) cost of using these types of web hosting plans.
For starters, free web hosting usually means running your website on a sub-domain instead of one that’s totally custom to you. There are strict limits on the number of visitors, pages, bandwidth usage, storage, and more. These options also aren’t generally ideal if you’re hoping for your site to rank in Google search. It’s not that they can’t be optimized for search, but they likely won’t end up on the first search engine results page any time soon.
This is why finding the best web hosting company for your site and your goals doesn’t always mean finding the cheapest or free web host plan. There are a vast number of considerations to take into account when doing your research.
So, how do you decide which web hosting company to use or which type of hosting plan is right for you? Too many people rely on name recognition from TV and online ads. But a company that’s pouring all its money into producing slick commercial videos isn’t spending that money on hardware or support personnel (or lower prices for you).
There are hundreds of hosting companies, offering thousands of plans. How can anyone research all these different options and figure out which is the right one?
We’ve done that work for you, gathering together feature lists, pricing plans, and crowd-sourced reviews and ratings for your review and comparison, all in one easy-to-use tool.
Our Host Comparison tool can be found on this page when you’re ready to begin your search for the best web hosting company options to suit your particular needs.
Now you just need to know what you’re looking for.
Step 1: Define Your Website
It 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 social media platform? A one-page brochure for an offline business?
Along with figuring out the overall category of your site, you should think about what (if any) exceptions there are to that. A lot of people set up a simple blog, and then realize they also want to sell just a few products. If you’re going to sell something on the website (even just a few things), you’ll need some kind of e-commerce software that will make that happen.
The type of website you want to run should determine what technology you need, in terms of software applications. You need to find a hosting plan that supports the apps you hope to use.
After that you’ll want 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 and risk downtime and site failure when it eventually becomes popular.
Step 2: Choosing a Type of Web Hosting
Let’s begin with the basics. What is web hosting? And why does your choice of web hosting provider and service actually matter to your website’s overall performance?
A web host provides the server technology and infrastructure that your website and all its files and data will reside on. You still have full control over the content of your website. But the servers upon which it sits can affect how your website performs. Also good to know: only with certain types of web hosting will you have the ability to control your server configuration or settings.
This is why it’s absolutely critical to start your search by understanding:
- The different types of web hosting available
- Which will be best suited for your website.
What is Shared Hosting?
IDEAL FOR: STARTER BUSINESS WEBSITES & LOW-TRAFFIC BLOGS
Every website that exists needs to reside on a server — whether it’s your own or one owned by a web hosting company. That’s a given. What’s not a given, however, is what else sits on that server with your website.
In order to keep costs low for customers, some web hosts offer what’s known as “shared hosting.” This means exactly what it says: that you’ll be sharing space on the server with other websites. In some cases, you’ll never even know that the other websites exist. However, if any of them should experience a traffic surge (and begin drawing up lots of your shared server resources to handle it) or should be compromised in any other way (such as a hack), your site might be affected too. Think of it like a person catching a virus from someone nearby.
Shared hosting is very inexpensive and widely popular. This is why shared hosting is really ideal for starter business websites and low-traffic blogs. As your business scales, you’ll want to consider a more robust hosting solution.
What is Cloud Hosting?
IDEAL FOR: SITES THAT NEED TO SCALE UP QUICKLY, AND NEED ROBUST SECURITY
Cloud hosting is similar to shared hosting in that multiple domains may “share” space on the same servers with other websites. That said, cloud hosting handles this type of shared environment more effectively than shared hosting. Granted, it comes with a higher price tag to accommodate for it, but that’s to be expected.
Specifically, cloud hosting:
- Uses a system of virtual servers to host customers’ websites.
- This virtual server system pools computing resources from networks of physical web servers
- You can easily scale up to accommodate a dramatic surge in traffic or any kind of growth. (In inferior hosting environments, your site could simply go offline because you exceeded your allotted bandwidth.)
- You will always receive the allotted bandwidth, storage, and other resources laid out within your particular cloud hosting plan.
- The key difference here is that your website may exist across various server instances.
- This ensures continuity, uptime and security of your site. If any problem occurs on one server, your site will typically be mirrored across multiple servers. You can think of this set up as similar to a multi-hulled ship: if one hull is pierced the ship remains afloat.
- Enables you to make a number of changes to your servers with little to no downtime. This is particularly appealing to e-commerce sites.
What is VPS Hosting?
IDEAL FOR: LARGE BUSINESSES AND E-COMMERCE SITES
Virtual private servers (or VPS) is the next step up in terms of web hosting.
For customers concerned with security, performance, and their server’s configuration, VPS hosting is always a good choice as it gives you greater access and control for each of those. And because you’re receiving a dedicated and private piece of a server, this means you need to have a certain degree of technical aptitude in order to handle the management of the private server space your web host has allotted to you.
In sum, VPS hosting gives you much more control, as well as your own unique IP address and a larger portion of server resources. It is typically the right choice for larger organization and online businesses.
What is Dedicated Server Hosting?
IDEAL FOR: ENTERPRISE USES
For those of you who don’t want any other website residing on the same server as your own website or if you truly need the full power of an entire server to fuel your website, then dedicated server hosting is the best option. Unlike VPS hosting which carves out a dedicated chunk of a server for your website, dedicated server hosting gives you the whole thing.
This option is ideal for enterprise websites concerned with privacy and security, e-commerce sites with a large inventory, and for others that want the ability to manage the entire backend of their website and its server’s configuration and settings.
What is Managed Hosting?
IDEAL FOR: SITE OWNERS WHO DON’T WANT TO HANDLE THE TECHNICAL ASPECTS OF HOSTING
Managed web hosting services are often commonly associated with dedicated server hosting, which makes sense. Not every agency, enterprise, or developer that needs dedicated servers for their websites will want that hassle of managing the backend technology (or simply don’t have the time or know-how to do so). Managed hosting then places the onus of that backend management on the expert instead of the site owner or developer.
You’ll also find managed hosting available for WordPress, though there are some providers that offer it for other content management systems. Regardless of the platform, these types of services work much like managed dedicated hosting in that you, the customer, will focus on building and managing the front end of your website while the management provider takes care of the backend security and uptime monitoring, software updates, and more.
If you want a robust web hosting plan, but just aren’t capable or don’t want the responsibility of managing the backend, then managed web hosting services are a good choice.
About Reseller Hosting
Some web hosting companies offer reseller hosting, too. This is most commonly used by web developers and agencies who want to sell web hosting services, but don’t have the infrastructure or server technology to do so.
How reseller hosting works:
- A customer purchases a dedicated amount of server space and resources from the web host.
- They can then, in turn, re-sell pieces of that server space as hosting plans to their own customers.
- Reseller hosting usually enables users to brand (“white-label”) these hosting services under their own business name.
- Sometimes the parent host company will offer a reseller package that includes technical support to your customers. This would be done under the name of your business.
- Some web hosts also offer white-labelled promotional packages, video tutorials, and more, giving you a “turnkey” business opportunity.
- The “white label” option can make this a viable upsell and standalone business venture for many people.
- A word of caution though: this is a crowded space. Simply having a cool website for “My Hosting Company” and automatic products won’t make sales happen. Try to think of a niche for your hosting business, related to something you know a lot about (e.g. hosting for musicians, gamer community sites, etc.) And figure out your marketing plan first.
You may occasionally come across other types of web hosting. These plans usually revolve around a specific niche need. But it can include hosting that targets specific CMSs (content management systems) like WordPress or Drupal.
Examples of specialty hosting include:
- Email hosting
- Site builder hosting
- E-commerce hosting
- Hosting that is aimed at specific CMS platforms and tweaked optimally for them: e.g., WordPress hosting, Drupal hosting, Magento hosting, etc. In these cases, the best hosts do far more than just provide the minimal requirements for those platforms. They provide a rich, and fully managed environment so your site can perform like a well-tuned machine.
- Health care industry hosting. Some hosting companies enable site owners to fulfill privacy regulations concerning the handling of healthcare information. HIPAA is an example of one country’s (the United States) legal requirements for handling data.
- Hosting that fulfills special privacy regulations, such as PIPEDA in Canada.
Step 3: Identify Your Features and Technology Requirements
In addition to finding the right type of web hosting plan, you also need to consider what type of features comes with it. Since no two web hosts are alike, it’ll be especially important to use the Compare tool above to identify which ones specifically deliver the technology solutions your website needs.
Here is a checklist you can use to narrow down which key features and technology requirements you need:
What do I Need to Know About Web Host Costs?
Cheap web hosts are not hard to find. It simply a matter of finding one that’s reliable and meets all your requirements, too.
When it comes to pricing, generally you have two options to choose from.
- You can sign up for a monthly web hosting plan if your website is only going to be online temporarily.
- You can instead opt for annual pricing, which tends to offer the more affordable price point.
Now, if you’re nervous about committing to an annual contract with a web host, you should look for a money-back guarantee. Most web hosting companies will offer a 30-day money-back guarantee that gives customers the option to opt out and get a refund if they’re unsatisfied with the service provided.
Reliable, Well-Known Web Hosts
Not only do you need to think about the best type of web hosting for your website’s needs, but you have to consider brand and reliability, too. There are some really great web hosts that offer affordable plans and seemingly provide customers with all the built-in features they could ever want. However, the most reliable web hosts will provide you with the peace of mind that your website’s security and performance are in good hands.
So, in addition, to all these necessary features and add-ons, be sure to consider the reputation of the web hosting company, too. Here are some well-known, tested and reliable web hosts:
Do I Need a Web Domain?
Every website requires a new domain name. When using free web hosting accounts, you’ll automatically be assigned a sub-domain. It will look something like this:
As you can see, that domain name is not ideal. It clearly indicates to anyone visiting your website, that you don’t even own your own domain.
This can ding your professionalism or credibility if you’re running a business. Why? Because the basic, bottom-level industry standard is to have your own domain.
Customers or readers may notice that you don’t have your own domain and they may think that’s odd. For example, they could think that your business is not stable, given a domain need only cost a few dollars (pounds, yen, etc) at a minimum.
Acquiring a custom domain is ideal. Here is what a custom domain would look like instead:
In order to get a new domain name, you can either do so through a domain name registration service or you can go through your web hosting company. Typically, the more services you can bundle up under your hosting account, the better. Usually, this is also the cheaper way to go. So, this is the option I would strongly recommend.
When you get ready to compare web hosting companies, pay close attention to ones that offer free domain name registration. You’ll usually only see this “free” add-on with shared and cloud hosting plans, so keep that in mind too if your enterprise or e-commerce site requires a more robust hosting solution.
If a web host is offering a free domain and a money-back guarantee, check their refund policy. Usually, they will deduct a fee from your money-back refund to cover that “free” domain. How much? One reputable American web host deducts $14.99 from the refund. That’s common, but check the small print.
Scalability for Growth-Oriented Sites
For some of you, finding a stable base to put your website is your one and only goal. That’s great. For others, you may have your sights set on major future growth. In that case, you’ll want an easy way to expand your domain and scale up your website success to something much more impressive.
In this case, you’ll need a web host that offers more than just a few basic shared hosting plans. Pay special attention to those that cover the spectrum of web hosting services as well as those with a variety of plan types that cater to specific business types (e.g. bloggers, small businesses, enterprises, agencies, e-commerce companies, and so on).
What to Look for in Web Host Infrastructure
We don’t expect you to be fluent in server technology or all the basic requirements you need in a hosting infrastructure. However, what we do expect is that you work with a web host that is transparent about its infrastructure.
- Where the web host’s datacenters are located
- How many datacenter locations there are
- What type of security and monitoring is available at those locations
- What”Tier” is the datacenter?
- Whether the on site systems include fire prevention and climate control
- How redundancy and failover are handled in the network
You should also pay close attention to the server technology itself. It’s not enough that it’s labeled “best-in-class” or that it promises “blazing speeds.”
Here are some of the key terms you’ll want to see:
- SAS 70, SSAE 16, SOC 2, or SOC 3 data center
- Dual Xeon processors
- Gigabit connectivity
- SSD drives
- CDN or caching technology
You don’t need to see all of these terms, but these are important ones to look out for as they indicate a web host that makes security, speed, and server performance a priority.
Web Host Uptime Guarantee
The last thing you want is to sign on with a web host, excited that you have a reliable home for your website, only to discover that your site goes off intermittently.
Some common causes of sites crashing include:
- Traffic surges on other websites on your shared server
- Security breaches
- Shoddy server performance.
Whatever the case, this won’t reflect well on your website or business. If you’re a professional or hobbyist, consider this scenario: your business/blog is mentioned on the radio, TV, or in an article on a highly trafficked site. Suddenly you have 60,000 web visitors . . . and it’s gone. Your site crashes under the stampede. Poof! There goes all that free publicity.
Or, you just put out that holiday email with your sales specials and your site goes down.
Or, you just paid for a major advertising campaign, and your site went down.
This is why uptime is an important piece of information to get from any potential web host you consider partnering with.
An uptime guarantee from a web host basically says “We promise that your website will be online __% of the time during this billing cycle.” The best web hosts will set that guarantee as close to 100% as possible, and that’s exactly what you should be looking for. By having this guarantee in place, you’re assured compensation from your host in the case that there is a server outage or something else takes your site down.
Unlimited bandwidth isn’t easy to find, especially when you’re trying to procure hosting on the cheap. That said, there are a number of web hosts that provide more than reasonable enough amounts of bandwidth for websites to run sufficiently well.
Just remember to take into account things like the amount of traffic you predict will hit your website at any given time as well as any potential drains on your site’s bandwidth, like streaming music and video.
How Much Storage do I Need?
Storage is another thing you will have a difficult time finding in unlimited supply. However, most web hosts offer storage upgrades in the case that you do need to run over the preset limits of your plan.
Just pay close attention to how much storage you have against your actual needs — this is especially important if you run a media-heavy website like a portfolio, news website, gaming site, video site, or other image-centric business models.
Web Host Security
While it will ultimately be up to you to secure your website from external (and sometimes internal) threats, your web host should take the security of its server and infrastructure seriously too. This means:
- Including a firewall on the server.
- Providing security monitoring across all servers.
- Offering customers security upgrades for DDoS, malware, and spam protection.
While there are WordPress plugins, Joomla extensions, and Drupal modules you can use to add extra security to your website, it’s important to know that your web host has your backend secured.
Do I Need Site Backups?
As part of your server and website security plan, you should also have automatic backups of your website generated. Again, there are typically backup generation tools available through your content management system. However, it’s much more convenient if backups are generated and stored by your web host on a separate server.
Since backups are not a difficult thing to generate of a website, this isn’t necessarily a required feature you should demand of your host. But if one should offer it, you’ll know that you’re working with the best.
Do I need an SSL Certificate?
SSL certificates are another critical part of a website’s security — and — something you absolutely cannot do without if you intend on making sales or collecting customer data from your website. An SSL certificate basically puts an encrypted layer between your web server and your visitors, keeping the exchange of data safe from hackers.
As with backups, SSL certificates are not a necessary feature your web host must offer, this is especially so since companies like Let’s Encrypt offer them for free. However, if you’re looking to streamline the process of getting your site fully equipped and online in no time, the extra convenience of getting this certificate from your web hosting provider is a nice add-on.
Note: I recommend that you acquire an SSL certificate regardless if you’re selling products or not.
This communicates to your audience that your site handles their personal information securely. What personal information might they use on your site? First name, last name, email address, and phone number — these might be used when signing up for an email newsletter, for a free PDF download, registering for a webinar, etc.
Google considers an SSL certificate to be a best practice for all sites and their algorithm favors it.
How User-Friendly is Your Web Host?
Reading this, you’re aware that not every person who goes about creating a new website has the same set of skills. Because of this, you’ll want to know how friendly each web hosting solution is for different types of users.
After all, a small business owner with limited experience with open source software and coding might feel overwhelmed by VPS hosting and cPanel access. On the other hand, a web developer may feel restricted if not given access to all the tools needed to do his or her job properly.
So, while you might see a list of developer features like Apache, Python, MySQL, PHP, and SSH Access advertised in a web hosting plan (since those usually come standard), it’s more about finding a web host that speaks your language and has developed a plan for your needs. When exploring plan options, look to see how they’re described.
Attentive web hosts will provide recommendations for which plans are best for different user types.
This feature will be most important for web developers.
Using a control panel that you’re familiar with and can get swiftly in and out of is important to your workflow. So, if that means having cPanel and WHM available, then pay close attention to the web host’s specs before signing up.
Perhaps you’re less concerned with the familiarity aspect and more with the levels of control available. Then you might be more impressed with a proprietary control panel the web host created specifically for developers.
Linux or Windows Hosting
Here is another developer-friendly feature you’ll want to pay attention to if you work strictly on one operating system over another. Linux and Windows web hosting options are often offered with WordPress hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated server hosting plans. So, if this designation matters, add it to your checklist.
Content Management System (CMS)
If you’re planning to run a blog, a straightforward content website, or a website with a combination of functionalities — like a blog with a store — your best bet is probably a content management system like WordPress. This would provide a stable and flexible platform for doing a number of different common business activities online. Two other popular options in this category are Drupal and Joomla.
One thing we would note, however, is that it’s always best to work with a hosting provider that understands the importance of separating these different technologies from one another on the server. In other words, WordPress installations should not share space with Drupal installations. It creates for an insecure environment and can severely compromise your website’s performance.
For some users, a content management system requires too much technical know-how as well as actual work to build a website. If you’re looking for a simpler solution to get a website up and running, your best bet is probably an online website builder. These tools usually rely on a drag-and-drop website builder interface, which is more intuitive than many content management systems. They also come with a number of pre-made and optimized templates to streamline the website-building process.
Site builders often offer web hosting within the builder plans. This can make these tools an attractive option for anyone who doesn’t want to have to hunt around for both a web hosting plan and a content management system; site builders usually lump it all together for you.
For a large and complex online store with a large number of products, it’s probably better to go with a single-purpose e-commerce system like Magento or ZenCart. Like website builders, some of these tools come with a built-in web hosting plan so you don’t have to worry about shopping around for a separate one.
Just remember to pay attention to the e-commerce features included in the system you’re interested in, including payment gateways, shopping cart technology, inventory management, and more. (For more see: The Best E-Commerce Platform: How to Choose and Which E-Commerce Software is #1 for Your Business?)
Now, whether you choose to use a content management system like WordPress, a website builder tool like Weebly, or an e-commerce platform like Magento, you’ll need to install the software on your server. The same goes for other external applications you want to use for your website, but that aren’t inherently part of your chosen content management system.
Rather than find them online, download them, and then install on your server, you should look for web hosts with control panels that include one-click installations. They’re easy to use and usually only require that you locate the icon for the app you want to install, and then click to get it moving.
Finally, we come to customer support. This might not seem like a feature in the way that the technical specifications and software above are, but we assure you it is.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-time business owner, marketer, web developer, agency manager, or blogger. If you’re taking the time to build a website on a custom domain, then you want it to be taken seriously.
If you should run into problems with the website or are nervous that something has faltered on the server-side, then you need an expert to turn to — and that shouldn’t require you to hire a web developer or other expert to assist in troubleshooting.
When issues arise with your server, then you need a reliable web hosting company to turn to. Technical support can be provided in a number of ways, but here are some of the more effective ways it can be provided:
- Help tickets
- Direct phone support
- Live chat
And while it’s not essential that you work with a web host located in the same country as you, it is important that they be available to provide customer support when you need it. So, if they don’t automatically offer 24/7 support, check their team’s hours of availability to ensure it aligns with your own.
Step 4: Compare Web Hosting
Depending on the type of website you need and how much traffic you expect, you can use the Compare filter the list above for the type of plan you are looking for. From there you can narrow it down based on the specific details (like how scalable the plan is, how they handle traffic spikes, and the cost of bandwidth).
Once you’ve settled on the technology you want to use, you can use the Compare tool to find hosts that specifically support it. Check the “Easy Installs” list. If it isn’t there, you can look for it with the Search feature.
Not all software is specifically supported by name by web hosts, but you can still use it if the requirements are met. You can use the Scripting and Languages filter to find hosts that support the technology that your desired app runs on. Any other questions you may have on how to narrow down your search as you compare web hosting providers, be sure to let us know!
Step 5: Read Our Web Host Reviews
Just because a web hosting company looks good in their feature list doesn’t mean they are. Read the reviews in our review section and see which companies are difficult to deal with and which ones are helpful. You will almost certainly run into problems at some point, so pay attention to reviews that recount experiences people have had with customer service.
The Bottom Line
Are you looking for the best web hosting company for your next online project? If that’s the case, you should use our Compare tool to explore the features and pricing of over 2100 hosting plans from almost 200 web hosting companies, with ratings and commentary from our reviews section.
Use the control panel (on the left) to compare web hosting packages. Results will automatically update.
My Top 3 Web Host Recommendations
As you’ve probably noticed in your travels around the WhoIsHostingThis website, we provide recommendations on the best web hosts that cater to your specific needs./p>
This means drilling down into which hosting plans offer the best environment for platforms like WordPress and Drupal, and PHP and Linux, Apache and NGINX, and more. We also make recommendations based on which plans are best for different business goals and purposes.
Often what we’ve found, though, is that the same web hosting companies keep showing up at the top of those lists, with good reason. Here are the three winners you’ll encounter the most and why we think they’re solid choices:
SiteGround really does it all. WordPress hosting, Joomla hosting. Shared, cloud, dedicated, and even reseller hosting. Ecommerce hosting. Streaming media hosting. And even generic business hosting.
But SiteGround is not a Jack of all trades, master of none.
This company repeatedly makes the top of our “best of” lists because of its commitment to providing reliable, secure, and fast web hosting, regardless of its customers’ needs.
A2 Hosting is another web host you’ll run into as you scour reviews on the WhoIsHostingThis website.
While A2 Hosting does offer the full gamut of web hosting service types (i.e. shared hosting through dedicated), it’s A2’s ability to provide truly specialized hosting plans that stands out among the competition.
ASP hosting, Ubuntu hosting, Laravel hosting… If you require reliability and speed, and want a web hosting plan designed specifically for your platform, A2 does it best.
There’s also InMotion Hosting to consider. This is one of the more user-friendly web hosts currently out there and it’s one we’re happy to recommend time and time again.
Although InMotion does offer a full range of web hosting services (including managed hosting), its VPS and dedicated server hosting plans are our favorites.
Use these categories to find the hosting features you need
- Operating Systems for Web Hosting: Our Expert Guide
- Web Servers
- Hosting Types
- How to Choose an Ecommerce Host for Your Online Store
- Languages and Frameworks
- Version Control
- Script Encoding
- Control Panels
- One Click Installs
- Server Administration