If you’re looking for a quick answer, I want to put this upfront:
- Do not buy hosting from HostGator, Bluehost or SiteGround.
- Do take time to learn about how hosting works so you can select what’s best for your business.
- Do buy Cloudways’ Vultr High Frequency VPS hosting if it’s appropriate for your business.
- Do buy your domain and email hosting directly from Google Domains and Google Workspaces.
These are not affiliate links, just concise recommendations for people who don’t want to scroll to find these key points.
With that out of the way, let’s get on with the article.
The Problem with Web Hosting Reviews
You can spend hours consuming articles and videos about the best website hosts.
Sadly, these articles and videos are a complete waste of time. They’re exercises in affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketers check to see what hosts offer the best commission payouts (Bluehost and SiteGround). Then they create extremely long articles or in depth YouTube tutorials with lots of structured content. Google loves length, thoroughness, structure, backlinks, and consistent information. Therefore… the affiliate marketers’ lists rank.
They rank despite actively hurting small business owners who are setting up a site and trying to understand this space. Business owners end up with super slow web hosting that doesn’t meet their needs, or they end up overpaying for hosting services.
If you’d like to explore this point further, continue reading this section. If you accept what I’m saying already, then just skip to the next section where I talk about different types of website hosts.
Why you should not trust reviews on Google for “best WordPress hosts”
When I google “best wordpress hosts” in the US, the top 3 search results are as follows:
- Themeisle: 2023’s Best WordPress Hosting Companies Compared (Manually Tested)
- WPBeginner: How to Choose the Best WordPress Hosting in 2023 (Compared)
- CNET: Best WordPress Hosting of 2023
Let’s talk about these one by one, because they each have something to show you.
Takeaways from Themeisle
Scroll down the page a bit and you’ll see a chart that shows the differences between hosts.
Themisle’s affiliates look pretty good. You can see that SiteGround $2.99 pricing is much better than Flywheel’s $13 hosting. More uptime and more traffic. It’s a clear winner, right?
SiteGround is not $2.99/month for very long. After your promotional period, prices will be $15/month.
Hosting companies know that you’ll likely stick with the same host for a very long time because it’s a pain to switch. So, they get you with a cheap promotional price, and then earn their money back and a lot more once their real price sets in.
Takeaways from WPBeginner
Click on the “reader disclosure”, the text in 8 point font next to the publication metadata that we’re all trained to scan past. Hover over it.
Now you see it: “if you click on some of our links, then we may earn a commission”.
I’d like to think that no one would sell junk to earn a commission, but a ton of BS in this industry has changed my view on this.
WPBeginner proceeds to advertise Bluehost, SiteGround, DreamHost, Hostinger, and HostGator. Please visit any forum of actual web developers and they’ll tell you that these are awful hosts.
Takeaways from CNET
CNET’s article is pretty straightforward. After the author names, it starts right off with a list of the 5 hosts they’re selling. Next to each host name is an icon and a button that says “See at [host name]”.
Click on the first button presented, “See at SiteGround”, and we immediately see an affiliate code (afcode) in the URL: https://www.siteground.com/index.htm?afcode=5dc3624833ba7a9eb4a214533cc11090&subid=cn-5861f26280bc43f8b3d30023c4df9baa-dtp
Web hosting reviews manipulate data
What you need to know is that hosting companies skew their results, their data tables, their reviews, and their recommendations to promote their affiliates.
What Is Website Hosting?
Website hosting is a service that allows people and organizations to make their websites accessible on the Internet. When a website is hosted, it is stored on a server connected to the internet.
What’s a server?
A server is a high-performance computer that stores your data, connects to the Internet, and allows people to access your website from any device connected to the Internet 24/7.
A server has a fast processor and lots of memory so that it can handle requests from thousands of people every day on your website.
Servers include lots of hard drives to accommodate everything on your website (and their other customers’ sites). All these drives are stored on racks and cooled by fans running 24/7.
Who runs cloud servers?
Two thirds of the world’s servers are managed by one of the big three tech companies offering cloud computing: Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.
For example, even if you buy web hosting from Bluehost or SiteGround, your servers are actually managed by Google.
This is one reason why there are not actually thousands of Internet hosts to sift through when you’re buying hosting any more than there are millions of apples to sift through when picking up an apple at the grocery store.
What do I get when I buy web hosting?
The tech company hosting your website employs people whose job it is to make sure these servers never (or almost never) go down.
- To keep your data safe, they write sophisticated code to thwart the 10 million cyber attacks hitting them every day. They constantly update their firewalls, antivirus software, patches, access control, and encryption
- To protect against power outages, they use power generators, uninterruptible power supplies, backup batteries, and redundant power systems.
- To protect against Internet interruptions, they use redundant internet connections, load balancing, caching, and disaster recovery systems.
- To backup your data, they use multiple redundancies in different locations. This is why most people trust their most precious memories to iCloud (which is actually run on Google Cloud servers).
Types of Website Hosting Services
There are three major types of hosting services: shared hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated hosting.
With a shared host, your website is hosted on a server with hundreds of other websites relying on the same limited resources.
Shared hosting works for micro businesses with a few hundred visitors per month who use a website to supplement their business but who are not dependent on their website for anything critical to their mission.
Let’s talk about a few issues with this shared hosting that are often misunderstood.
99.9% uptime still can mean hours a year of outages
If you or one of the other sites have a spike in web traffic, your server may not be big enough to accommodate everyone. This will lead to a temporary server crash.
As you might expect, shared hosting is the cheapest form of web hosting. If you think your brand or sales would be hurt by outages, avoid shared hosting.
Most shared hosts promote 99.9% uptime. There are 8,760 hours in a year. So 0.1% of downtime is about 9 hours of outages a year.
In addition, many shared hosting providers will do scheduled server maintenance , leaving your website down for hours at a time. This, conveniently,is rarely covered in their uptime guarantee.
“Unmetered bandwidth” is not “unmonitored usage”
Most shared hosting plans advertise “unmetered bandwidth”. Check out their Terms of Service and you’ll see language like HostGator’s, stating that you’re not allowed to “exceed 25% or more of system resources for longer than 90 seconds”.
A shared host that advertises “unmetered bandwidth” lures businesses in by promising low prices with no limits on your website traffic. But they’ll still monitor resource usage. If your site consumes too many resources, they’ll kick you off the server or force you to upgrade your plan.
Shared hosting can result in lost customers and bad SEO
The main deficit that plagues businesses with shared hosting every day is just shitty, slow service.
Shared hosts rarely advertise their RAM, processor, or CPU performance. Instead, they cover up specs with vague terms. For example, instead of sharing a number, Bluehost lists its CPU Performance as “Standard”.
A website that takes 10 seconds to load on a shared hosting site will lose about 2/3s of its potential website visitors. Your would-be visitors will click onto a link to your website, wait 3-5 seconds, and click away because modern users don’t typically wait more than 3 seconds for a page to load.
Worse, your long term SEO rankings will suffer. Google does not rank sites well if they take more than 3 seconds for a page to load.
You’re not going to pay $3/month for long
Shared servers make their money with eye popping low prices. After their promotional period or introductory offer, your $3/month plan will start costing you $13/month.
This probably isn’t what you had in mind when you saw the YouTube video on the “best web hosts”.
You can get vastly superior performance for less money. And that brings us to the next type of web hosting service…
VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosting is when a website is hosted on a virtual server that is isolated from other websites. Basically, your web hosts partitions a section of their server just for your website.
You can think of a shared server as a public park, and a VPS as your own private yard with a fence around it.
With a VPS server, if another website on the same server has a spike in traffic, you won’t be affected.
If you determine that you need more SSD storage or bandwidth, then you can upgrade your VPS plan.
VPS hosting performs really well
In real world experience, pages on websites with a VPS load in one or two seconds.
If you have a webpage that takes longer to load, you probably have some terrible code or a few 5 mb uncompressed images. (HD images should only weigh 300kb.) In that case, you should run some diagnostics on GTmetrix and/or get in touch with a WordPress specialist to speed up your site.
VPS hosts are generally transparent
VSP hosts are rarely marred by the BS that shared hosts try to pull.
- They typically give you a number for your bandwidth, something like 1 tb (terabyte), so you know exactly what website traffic volume your site can handle.
- They don’t advertise misleading uptime promises.
- They tell you exactly how much SSD storage you have available, usually something like 20 gb. It’s a number you won’t outgrow right away, forcing you into a higher priced plan.
- Importantly, they tell you all about the RAM and the processor of the server, and other technical information about any management services provided.
Technical details are important. It’s like telling you that your car will have 500 horsepower rather than writing “standard” and hiding the fact that it’s only 100 horsepower.
Cloudways is a good VPS option
Visit any SEO forum, subreddit, or Facebook Group, and you’ll see SEO experts talking amongst themselves, constantly recommending Cloudways.
If you’re in a hurry to get a host, I don’t think you’ll go wrong with this option.
Dedicated hosting is when your website is hosted on its own physical server. The hosting company leases you the server, and you have complete control over how the server is used.
With a dedicated server, you’re responsible for configuring, maintaining and managing the server. The host you lease the server from should monitor, secure and back up the server regularly for you, and they should provide additional tools to help you optimize your website performance.
The cost of a dedicated server will depend on the specs of the server – the RAM, storage, and processing power – as well as the management support your host provides.
Who should use dedicated hosting?
One reason to get a dedicated server is if you have specific requirements for your server configuration or management, and it’s easier to set up the configuration you want with a dedicated server than with a VPS.
For most small businesses who want a really fast site, a VPS is a great choice. If you notice that your site isn’t loading super fast, you could talk to your managed host to see what to do to improve it. They can likely help you improve it in a number of ways before you’ll ever need to upgrade to a dedicated server.
Most likely a dedicated server will only make sense if you’re offering a SaaS or e-commerce service, or you’re a large company with very high traffic or resource demand. If this is the case, you might upgrade from a VPS to a dedicated server in order to better control your site’s performance. Plus, your company likely already has the technical expertise in house to manage your own server.
Managed Hosting and Agency Hosting
Shared servers, virtual private servers, and dedicated servers are all (obviously) types of servers. Regardless of the type of server you choose, now you need to decide who is going to set it up and manage it.
- Will your company manage it with a technical person on your team? This is called “unmanaged hosting”.
- Will your company outsource management to a company like Cloudways? This is called “managed hosting”.
- Will your company pay your marketing agency to manage your site? (Somehow, no one seems to have named this, but let’s call it “agency hosting”.)
Types of managed hosting
You can buy managed hosting regardless of whether you choose to host on a shared server, VPS, or dedicated server.
You can buy managed hosted plans for sites built in WordPress, Laravel, Django, or Ruby on Rails.
What does hosting management involve?
There’s some work involved in hosting a website.
- You need to manage your server’s resources to prevent overloading the server.
- You need to keep your website security and software up to date to prevent attacks on the software your site uses.
- You need to back up your data regularly in case something goes wrong and you need to revert to a previous version.
- For best performance, you’ll want to use the latest tools to optimize your website speed at least once a year.
Unmanaged vs Managed vs Agency Hosting
Advantages of unmanaged hosting
In terms of server resources, unmanaged hosting can be 3 times cheaper than managed hosting.
If you have tens of thousands of visitors per month consuming large amounts of data on your website, then you would have a sizable monthly server cost with managed hosting. Your managed monthly server bill could be $1,000/month or even higher.
In this case, you can save a lot by managing your own server. In addition, you can squeeze the absolute best performance from your server since you’ll have full access to manage it on your own.
Advantages of managed hosting
Managed hosting can virtually eliminate server management tasks for a low monthly fee.
If you’re a small business with 1,000 website visitors per month, the difference between paying $12/month for managed hosting and $3/month for unmanaged hosting is not going to justify the expense of hiring an IT person to manage your server.
Even if you have 10,000 visitors per month, you can likely get a good $30/month managed hosting plan (depending on how many resources each visitor consumes on your site). That’s a solid deal.
For most small businesses, managed hosting is the way to go.
Advantages of agency hosting
Having your agency or web developer host your site is not that different from managed hosting. You should enjoy the same benefits of a seamless experience with good uptime and fast load speeds without having to do any work on web hosting each month.
However, the cost usually is horrible, and you’re getting the same level of service as you would if you paid for your own managed hosting plan on a site like Cloudways.
From networking with other agency owners, I can tell you that generally, all your agency will do is upgrade your plan (and charge you more) when they get an email from their managed hosting provider that says “you’ve reached 90% capacity on your plan”.
Sadly, a lot of businesses pay agencies $100/month for managed plans that they could own themselves for $12-30/month.
Some agencies charge a sensible price for hosting (perhaps a 50% upcharge), but others take advantage of their client relationships to gauge on hosting – a service where they rarely add any value. In some cases, agencies have actually put into their contracts that you must host with them for a set period of time.
If you pay your web developer to host your site, I recommend that you set up an instance of your website on Cloudways and see what your monthly costs will be to run your site on a managed service that you pay for directly.
Who Should Buy Managed Hosting?
You can get a really good idea about whether you want managed hosting or unmanaged hosting by comparing the cloud hosting prices for Cloudways (a popular managed web host) to the cloud hosting prices for Google Cloud (a popular unmanaged web host).
If you’re a small business with normal web traffic
The average small business has just 400 website visitors per month. Anyone with 5,000 visitors or less is almost certainly going to be best off with managed hosting.
You can buy the least expensive plan on Cloudways – the Digital Ocean standard plan at the lowest price tier, currently $10/month. Right now this plan comes with:
- 1 gb of RAM
- 1 core processor
- 25 gb of storage
- 1 tb of bandwidth
None of the big names referenced on popular “best web hosting” web pages is going to give you better value. Bluehost, HostGator, SiteGound and others don’t even list their specs like this.
There are other niche sites similar to Cloudways. Nestify, for example, offers a similar quality plan for $12/month powered by AWS. But, you won’t find these on the “best web hosts” lists created by affiliate marketers. Cloudways’s affiliate program and Nestify’s affiliate program both offer commissions, but they don’t pay out as much as Bluehost.
If you’re a small business with 10,000+ website visitors per month
If you’re getting 10,000 visitors per month, then you’re probably prioritizing SEO and paying for the best performance.
In this case, you might have graduated to a $50/month managed web hosting plan. At this point, you could consider switching to unmanaged hosting on a service like AWS or Google Cloud.
Do you have someone on your team who has the ability to configure your cloud, the expertise to install CPanel or Plesk, the time to make regular updates, and the availability to respond to emergencies?
If so, you could buy unmanaged hosting and then have your technical team member manage hosting for you.
But, is it worth paying someone $500 or $1,000/year to manage your plan just so you can save $600/year?
It’s probably only worth your time if you have a great technical resource who is already a close part of your team. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to wait until you grow to 100,000 visitors per month.
If you’re a CTO
Do you want to be on call 24/7 in case of a server issue?
Most CTOs don’t want that responsibility. So they’d rather pay for managed hosting just to automate backups and security updates.
If you’re an agency
Most agencies that offer hosting simply buy an agency managed hosting plan from a site like Cloudways. Then they resell hosting to their clients at a 50% to 200% markup.
This reduces your responsibility and frees you up to concentrate on meeting new clients and creating assets for your clients – likely, more valuable uses of your time.
If you’re a tech company
Tech companies are probably not reading this article. Tech companies will often choose unmanaged hosting so that they have full access to their server.
One of the downsides to managed hosting is that the hosting platform will lock off controls to prevent customers from making any mistakes. This protection is more of an annoyance than a benefit to people who want full access to optimize their own server.
Managed Hosting Options
SEO experts prioritize site speed, which has the power to significantly boost a website’s ranking. This is why I recommend deferring to SEO specialists’ expertise in choosing a website host.
Cloudways is by far the most popular managed host among SEO experts
SEO Site Signals Lab is a popular SEO community with 70,000 members. It’s a great place to read comments and learn about professionals’ experience with various hosting platforms.
Take a look at this poll from the group:
What sets Cloudways apart is that it lets you choose your hosting provider among the industry’s best hosts:
- Digital Ocean
- Google Cloud
Vultr High Performance is the best option on Cloudways
Among these choices, DigitalOcean Standard is the least expensive. It starts at just $10/month for 25 gb of SSD space.
However, for just $3 more, you can upgrade to the option that SEO experts swear by: Vultr High Frequency. This option is available starting at just $13/month for 32 gb of space. It can easily double the website speed that you can achieve with DigitalOcean Standard.
Hogan Chua conducted some tests on each of the popular configurations on Cloudways and found that AWS and Vultr High Frequency loaded pages in less than a second that other options took 1.5 to 2.5 seconds to load. (This isn’t trivial. Site speed is a major ranking factor in Google search results.)
While Vultr starts at $13/month, AWS starts at $36/month. So, your best bang for buck is definitely Vultr.
If you’re a normal small business, 25 or 32 gb are both more than your website will need until you publish 1,000 blog posts loaded with pictures.
Both options offer 1 terabyte of bandwidth. Very likely, you won’t need to upgrade from this until your business is quite successful.
A2 Hosting has a growing reputation
After Cloudways, the next most popular website hosting provider among SEO experts is A2 Hosting.
You can get every type of hosting with A2.
As of 2023, pricing for one year of hosting, without a longer commitment, and after the promotional period, starts as follows:
SiteGround used to be the #1 name in the independent managed hosting space.
Then in 2020 they increased their prices, reduced customer service, removed information about their pricing, and cut their services to significantly less than what their competitors offer and they originally advertised.
(If you sense bitterness here, trust your instincts.)
If you see positive reviews about SiteGround, there’s a good chance these were published before 2020, or they’re from people using affiliate links.
Today, SiteGround’s WordPress “startup” plan costs $15/month and gives you substantially less service than Cloudways.
You’ll get 10 gb of storage space instead of 25 gb. When your site grows past 10 gb, SiteGround will send you a warning letter that they’ll shut off your service in 3 days unless you upgrade your plan. Now you can start paying them $25/month.
You’re limited to roughly 10,000 monthly visitors. Have a good month, and you’ll also need to “upgrade”.
Even when you move to SiteGround’s $25/month plan, you won’t get as much storage as Cloudways’ $10/month plan.
We don’t know what bandwidth SiteGround allows, because they don’t list it on their pricing page.
Bluehost and HostGator are only popular with newbies
Mention Bluehost or HostGator on a web development or SEO forum, and everyone will laugh, trash EIG, and tell you not to use these hosts.
Once you use Bluehost or HostGator, and notice your site speed, and notice the poor customer service, and notice other issues… you’ll probably want to leave too.
Bluehost is bad
If you want to read screenshot after screenshot showing customers facing horrible customer service, you can.
If you want to read 6,000 words meticulously documenting everything wrong with Bluehost, you can.
HostGator is the worst
If you want to destroy your SEO, publish your site on HostGator and double your page load times.
Domain and Email Providers
With this approach, you can buy your domain directly on domains.google.com. Then you can point your MX records to Google Workspaces for your email and point your DNS records to Cloudways or whatever host you choose for your website.
Buy domains from Google Domains
A domain registrar provides a simple service. You’re buying domain management tools, privacy, and customer support. Ideally, you want an intuitive interface that makes it easy to set up what you need.
I buy from Google Domains based on their pricing advantage, 24/7 chat and phone support, and easy integration with Google Workspaces. You can usually buy a domain for $12 and renew it yearly with privacy protection for $12/year.
All domain registrars have the same names available. If you need any help choosing a domain name, check out my article on best practices and common mistakes.
Free WHOIS privacy protection
Google Domains offers free WHOIS privacy, which will prevent a barrage of junk mail and email at no extra cost. This is a significant feature that many other hosts, like Bluehost and HostGator, do not offer for free.
Cheaper renewal cost
Google Domains also has the industry’s leading renewal cost at just $12/year. Other big names like NameCheap and Domain.com charge $14/year, while DreamHost and GoDaddy charge $18/year and $20/year respectively.
The first year price on Google Domains is higher than other domain providers. But, if you plan to keep your domain for more than a year, you’ll be glad that you paid $12 to register your domain on Google rather than $3 to register on GoDaddy since now your annual renewal cost will be $8/year cheaper.
Set up email with Google Workspaces
I don’t have opinions about which is better between Google, Zoho or Microsoft 365. So, if you’re looking for advice here, I suggest referring to Reddit or comments in your favorite business group or forum.
As someone who’s used Google (and not either of the other two platforms) I will share insights as to why I use and recommend Google.
Easy to use
Gmail (Google email) and Google Workspaces (formerly G Suite) are both easy to use. This can boost productivity for your whole team. Google software has a surprising number of advanced features built in that many people don’t even realize, and all their software is extremely fast and intuitive. (One caveat here is that some team members may be more used to Microsoft 365. So, I suggest asking your team which suite they prefer.)
Google Workspaces accounts for 60% of the US office suite technology market. So they have more revenue to invest into making their services better for customers.
Google has 24/7 customer support that’s easy to access and fairly comprehensive in scope. You can chat with an agent anytime you have questions. Of course, the support team is offshore but they’re efficient in my experience.
Pricing for Google Workspaces offers top value in the industry. Then you can buy Google Workspaces for $6/user/month.
Nowadays, work email is strongly tied to the documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other assets we create at work.
Your work email from Google comes with a free suite of office software including Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Drive, and Google Meet.
With everything tied together, you don’t need to waste any time logging into multiple services, syncing files, or attaching materials to emails.
Easy to leave
Google makes it easy to securely handle an employee exit and archive your company data should you ever wish to switch to another service.
Avoid buying domains and workspaces from a reseller
You have more control over your services when you buy directly. Most of the time, Google ultimately provides these services; other businesses like Squarespace are simply resellers.
You gain a number of advantages by purchasing directly from Google.
- You make it easier to get help from Google Support.
- You protect yourself from future reseller price increases.
- You retain the ability to easily switch your web hosting provider. If you need to switch hosts, there’s less work and fewer artificial barriers like waiting periods.
- You also protect yourself from any possible security vulnerabilities that could be introduced by a reseller.
A common scenario I’ve encountered is a small business who has bought a plan from Wix or Squarespace and opted to add Google Workspaces while they were checking out. At some point, their company’s needs outgrew these services and they want to switch. Unfortunately, the reseller has done all they can to make this a pain. You can avoid this pain by simply buying your domain from Google Domains and your Google Workspace from Google Workspaces.
Don’t let an agency buy your domain
2DogsDesign shares some valuable insights based on the author’s experience working with clients who have had their sites held hostage by rogue developers or marketing agencies. Based on her advice, I would suggest the following:
- Create your own account with a domain registrar like Google Domains. Buy your own domain names. To keep your account secure, use AnyDesk to allow a developer to make updates remotely directly on your computer without ever sharing your registrar password.
- Create your own hosting account in your name. Do the same for any SaaS platform like Webflow or Squarespace that provides hosting. Then give access to your developer on an as-needed basis.
- Hire reputable developers. You can find established and reliable developers on TopTal. Clarity never hurts, so include a note in your web development contract that establishes your ownership of your domain and web hosting account.
- Ensure you have access to the domain registrar, hosting account, and any associated software before your website launches. Make sure you have all your passwords stored on your computer before you pay your final invoice to your developer.
As you can see, I recommend buying directly from Google Domains and Google Workspaces, then setting up hosting using Cloudways’ Vultr High Frequency VPS hosting. This is my article, so I wanted to make one clear recommendation for you.
If you’re curious to learn more about hosting, look for the top performers in your niche. Save those websites to a document. Then paste the URLs one by one into WebHostingSecretRevealed.net.
This neat little tool will tell you each website’s hosting provider, website host (via the nameservers), and the technology the website uses. Conveniently, you can see all this detail in one place.
I checked the output for one of my clients’ websites and it was accurate.
Try putting the best sites in your niche into the tool and see what comes up!
Keep in mind, not all of the best companies in your industry necessarily have the best tech stack. (Tech isn’t always an organization’s strong suit.) Also, keep in mind that websites are often built with infrastructure that was good at the time they were developed, not necessarily the infrastructure a developer would choose today.
Still, WebHostingSecretRevealed.net will help you explore what’s working for leaders in your industry.
Take what you learn and discuss with others in developer forums or SEO forums like SEO Signals Lab to figure out the best tech stack for your firm.
If you’d like any personalized advice, feel free to schedule a time to talk on my calendar.