Variety of hosting options
We required all of our web hosts to offer at least three types of hosting: shared, dedicated, and VPS (virtual private server) or cloud hosting. Shared is most likely your first step if you’re just starting to build your website. Dedicated and cloud hosting are upper service tiers that can help your website flourish as it grows, and an upgrade option will save you the future trouble of migrating to another company as you expand.
Nadzrul Hanif, web developer and owner of Mindtrick, explained it to us like this: “Shared hosting is the cheapest web hosting plan that you can get since you are sharing web hosting resources with many others; it’s similar to living in a house with a bunch of housemates. VPS has similar principles as shared hosting but you get more private resources; like living in an apartment. Dedicated hosting is when you are not sharing the server with anybody — like owning an entire house.”
Easy-to-compare service tiers
We looked for hosts that made it easy for shoppers to compare services by clearly listing service tiers, the differences between those tiers, and how much we could expect to pay for each. Companies were dinged for being misleading. For example, the incredibly low prices advertised on the front page were sometimes only an option if you signed up for a company’s longest-term contract, and some companies also tacked on a “setup fee” if you signed up for just a month-long contract. Other companies advertised special features that weren’t revealed to cost extra until we’d already signed up.
We focused on U.S.-based servers in this review, requiring companies to have at least one data center in North America. We focused on U.S.-based servers in this review, requiring companies to have at least one data center in North America. This helps with both search engine optimization (SEO) and the speed of your site. “Google does place some emphasis for website ranking on server proximity, so the closer the better,” David Ambrogio, web developer and SEO strategist at Online Optimism explained to us. “Geographic location of your servers also has an effect on your website’s speed — the closer it is to where you’re based, the less hoops it has to go through, and the faster your information will move around.” We also preferred web hosts with additional data centers — if you live in Texas but your readers are all in the U.K., it's useful to have a web host with servers in London — but we didn’t require it. We also preferred web hosts with additional data centers — if you live in Texas but your readers are all in the UK, it's useful to have a web host with servers in London — but we didn’t require it.
Uptime measures a company’s track record for keeping websites online all of the time. In a perfect world, your website would be available to readers 100% of the time, but companies typically only guarantee 99.9% uptime, since occasional technical difficulties are inevitable. “Just about any web host will have above 99% uptime,” web consultant Stacy Clements told us. “However, the web host’s uptime doesn't mean your site will be up.”
We used a third-party monitoring service to verify uptime claims and spot top performers: companies that kept their websites up at least 99.95% of the time. Less than 1% of difference in uptime may seem trivial, but each 0.1% of downtime equals 43 minutes of a broken website each month.