Whether you need a website to promote your career or you're a small business owner looking to connect with customers, a strong online presence is essential. Which means so is web hosting. Below is Money’s guide to web hosting platforms, plus our picks for what could be good places to start.
Important Things to Know about Web Hosting
- Renewal rates and service fees can increase the otherwise low monthly cost of some web hosts.
- Uptime (the amount of time that a server has stayed up and running) and speed are important, but make sure to look at a host’s history of customer satisfaction.
- Web hosts may try to upsell their service or convince you to pay for years of subscription time, instead of month to month.
How to Find the Best Web Hosting of 2020
You can think of web hosts as internet custodians. They house your domain name — for example, “Money.com” — and enable you to publish your website, allowing others to see your content. Without hosts, we would all have to be running servers by ourselves.
To find the best web hosting company, begin by identifying the scale you want your website to operate on. A single, trained professional may not need much more than a few static web pages to display their work and resume, but an enterprise-level business will benefit most from a state-of-the-art website with dynamic elements that reflects the company’s size and investment in the site.
Different types of web hosting exist to address users’ various needs.
Shared hosting refers to a web hosting service where many websites are hosted on a single web server. Because a single server can host hundreds of websites, depending on its size, hosts usually charge very little to add new ones. This makes it the baseline for web hosting — it is the most popular type of hosting and, although its performance can be spotty, it’s affordable and widely offered.
With virtual private server (VPS) hosting, multiple websites are hosted on a single server, but each one resides in a closed off environment with resources dedicated solely to it. Cloud hosting works similarly, but the resources that power its server infrastructure are spread out amongst different physical machines. While these types of hosting are more reliable than shared, they’re also more expensive and may require some technological knowledge to set up.
Lastly, dedicated hosting is reserved for large, resource-heavy websites that would not perform well in a shared environment. Your website is given a whole server to itself, which all but assures that it is responsive and that it operates quickly. However, the price can be prohibitive.
Determining which type of hosting you’ll need can help narrow down your choices even further. To compare the twelve companies that made it to the end of our reviewing process, we focused on their shared hosting services.
Here is a list of what we consider to be the four best web hosts of 2020 and where their service excels:
WPX Hosting: Best for Managed WordPress
Cloudways: Best for Scalability
GreenGeeks: Best for the Environment
DreamHost: Best for Beginners
The Best Web Hosting of 2020: Company Reviews
WPX Hosting: Best for Managed WordPress
Plans starting at: $24.99/mo. or $249.96/yr. ($20.83/mo.) for 100GB of bandwidth.
WordPress is more than just a blogging platform. Around 455,000,000 websites — or 35% of the 1.3+ billion active websites today — run on WordPress. Managed WordPress web hosts, like WPX Hosting, specialize in optimizing the platform so that it runs as smoothly as possible. This means users can focus on what they want to show users instead of worrying about coding, databases, or other technical matters.
WPX excels performance-wise, featuring two top tier mentions on Review Signals’ 2020 Performance Benchmarks and three top tier mentions in last year’s benchmarks, one for each category it participated in. It also showed remarkable load time results and uptime statistics in both cases. Furthermore, WPX’s plans eschew traditional web host marketing strategies in favor of transparency. All features other than storage, bandwidth, and the number of websites you can host are shared between plans.
Cloudways: Best for Scalability
Plans starting at: $10.00/mo. for 1TB of bandwidth. 3-day free trial available (no credit card required).
Websites that are growing fast — or are expected to — need to look beyond price and performance. Their first priority when looking at a new host should be scalability, which is where Cloudways excels. Its cloud hosting infrastructure provides natural flexibility thanks to one-click vertical scaling for RAM, CPU, and storage, with rates automatically adjusted based on bandwidth usage and level of storage.
Because clients can choose which cloud infrastructure to use, the performance of users may vary. Cloudways shows overall strong performance results, nonetheless. It received a top tier mention Review Signal’s 2019 Benchmarks thanks to a stellar 99.9% uptime and not a single load testing error. It also received a top tier mention in Review Signal’s most recent 2020 benchmarks, albeit in the $51-$100 price range category.
GreenGeeks: Best for the Environment
Plans starting at: $9.95/mo. or $59.04/yr. ($4.95/mo.) for “unlimited” bandwidth.
In 2013 alone, data centers in the U.S. consumed about 100 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity — more than 2% of the electricity used nationwide; the Internet would rank 6th in the world for electricity usage if it were a country. Many web hosts are aware of this growing issue and are implementing practices to offset their impact on the environment.
GreenGeeks offers the best of both worlds by being an environmentally friendly host that is also affordable and well-performing. Since 2009, the company has been recognized by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as a Green Power Partner. It receives tools and resources, technical support, and advice from the EPA in exchange for committing to use green power for all, or a portion, of its annual electricity consumption. To that end, GreenGeeks invests in enough Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to put three times the amount of energy that it consumes back into the grid.
On the performance side, GreenGeeks consistently rates highly among its competition. It also just barely received a Top Tier mention in 2020’s benchmarks, but still got an honorable mention for its good load test results.
DreamHost: Best for Beginners
Plans starting at: $4.95/mo. or $47.04/yr. ($3.95/mo.) for “unlimited” bandwidth.
DreamHost offers a wide variety of hosting types — shared, managed WordPress, VPS, dedicated, and cloud — at prices well below the competition. Its performance is strong, with a fantastic response time on Review Signal’s most recent benchmarks that makes up for a slightly inconsistent uptime. Regarding user experience, DreamHost features an intuitive control panel and a dedicated support team.
Out of all the web hosts we tested, DreamHost provided the most seamless — even enjoyable — experience. Before we began tinkering with our new website, customer support contacted us through email with several tips, asking whether they could help with anything. Whenever we ran into a problem, the support team would answer promptly, with solutions that always worked the first time around. Our experience with the DreamHost support team is also reflected on Review Signal, where it received the second highest rating for customer opinion of a shared web hosting service.
How We Found the Best Web Hosting
To find the best web hosts among the thousands out there, we first had to reduce the number of potential companies by following a set of guidelines:
1. Focus on hosts that offer shared, cloud, and VPS hosting.
The vast majority of consumers and small businesses don’t need the high levels of storage and bandwidth of dedicated hosting. Reseller and collocated hosting are even more niche than dedicated. Managed WordPress is worth a look, depending on your website, but also limited in scope. What most people are looking for is affordable hosting that can handle a reasonable number of visitors, won’t suffer from downtime, and isn’t terribly slow. Shared hosts fit this description, as do many cloud-based and VPS hosting services.
2. Exclude hosts without any U.S. servers.
Given the location of our readership, we decided to exclude hosts without any servers located in the U.S. Server proximity has an effect on response time, which is why users from the U.S. may have to wait longer to access your website if it’s hosted on foreign servers, such as in the U.K. or Japan.
3. Avoid companies with a known history of negative customer feedback.
Certain companies have made a name for themselves for a number of unscrupulous practices. On the one hand, the online world can often encourage polarization, making customer reviews unreliable. Often, online reviews are fake or paid entities, and even professional reviewers may be motivated by a quick buck for some good words. On the other hand, when online rating trends are replicated across several aggregators, these can feature useful information for consumers about what companies to watch out for.
Once we’d reduced our list of companies down to 12, we began to look for hard data on their performance metrics and testing their platform’s user friendliness. For this research, we used user accounts on review sites and moderated public forums such as WebHostingTalk, as well as data from studies and websites (mentioned below) that show test results on the performance of various hosts.
We compiled a list of features with which to compare the plans from each web hosting service. The criteria to evaluate web hosts can be placed into three categories:
To assess overall performance, we looked at both speed and uptime, which are indicative of the speed and reliability of a company’s hosting architecture. However, this data is not easy to find. For starters, testing each web host for both of these metrics would be a huge undertaking, given the number of variables at play. Furthermore, not a single trustworthy source with these numbers has data for all the hosts we considered. We had to pick and choose between the few sources available to us, compile that information, and then compare what data we had for each of the twelve hosts on our list.
For speed and response time, our only reliable source of information were the Review Signal 2019 WordPress Performance Benchmarks. Its writer, Kevin Ohashi, goes into great detail regarding the methodology and approach he takes for the testing. Of the test results that are available, we used the ones from the <$25/month and $25–50/month tiers. We then compounded this information with the software and hardware criteria that the web hosting community at large agrees increases overall speed.
Our main source of uptime information was, again, the 2019 and 2020 Review Signal WordPress Performance Benchmarks. However, in this case we were able to find data from other sources, as well. These include the CodeInWP’s 2019 web host comparison and HRANK’s uptime statistics.
First impressions can make or break a purchase. Likewise, your first experience with a web host’s platform and their support team is crucial. We looked for hosts with more responsive support lines and a user interface that’s easy to understand and navigate.
To evaluate ease of use, two of our writers, neither of which had any previous experience in setting up a website, were tasked with building one from scratch. They were assigned six different web hosts each and were provided a spreadsheet for them to comment on the overall experience with each host. To evaluate customer support, the writers were told to contact a customer representative. They measured the response time for each web hosts’ support team and later assessed how well they answered our questions.
Two other things we looked for in a web host are around the clock tech support and longer money-back guarantees. For tech support, the golden standard is 24/7 live chat and/or phone support. As for money-back guarantees, any hosts with a 30-day or longer guarantee caught our attention.
Price & Subscription Model
Because of tiered plans, price is a difficult factor to evaluate. The fact that so many companies offer more than one type of web hosting further complicates judging anything based on price. In order to be fair in our evaluation, we therefore focused on considerations other than monthly rates. We evaluated the variety of payment options, availability of monthly plans, renewal prices, and any premium software thrown in for free with a subscription.
Renewal prices in particular were a big deal for us when comparing companies. It’s no secret that web hosts are some of the most egregious offenders when it comes to skyrocketing renewal rates. Some hosts even charge two or three times as much when you renew your plan as they did when you first paid for it. We preferred hosts whose renewal rates did not differ as much or at all from their sign-up rates.
Monthly plans were another important factor when looking at web hosts. Some companies only offer plans for terms longer than a month (e.g. three months, a year). While this may seem like an easy way to save some money in the long run, we advise that you avoid signing up with a new host for longer than that. After all, you are only just getting to know what it’s like to have your website hosted with them. Although opting for monthly payments could net you an additional service fee, paying month-to-month ensures that you understand how and what you are being billed for, before committing to any one company for the long term.
Summary of the Best Web Hosting of 2020
- WPX Hosting: Best for Managed WordPress
- Cloudways: Best for Scalability
- GreenGeeks: Best for the Environment
- Dreamhost: Best for Beginners