There are certainly no shortage of options when it comes to finding a service to help you host your website. There’s also been a huge explosion of cloud web hosts like Amazon, build-a-site web hosts like Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, and Shopify, and managed hosts like Pagely, WP Engine, and Rackspace, as well as traditional web hosts remaining popular. It’s all a bit daunting. How do you choose?
It’s been several years since I last shared my thoughts on the best web hosting solutions. The scene has changed and I thought it would be a good time to try and round up my thoughts on web hosting today.
My thoughts on this subject are based on my 10+ years of experience as a professional web designer.
First, as I try to make sense of all the options, we’ll start with the kind of hosting that’s still the most popular today, your basic, traditional, cheap, shared web hosting options like Bluehost. To understand this type of hosting, you should first understand that nearly all of them are owned by the same company: EIG (Endurance International Group).
While the list is much larger, I’ll list the most known brands that you’re probably familiar with: Bluehost, HostMonster, HostGator, iPage, FatCow, JustHost, and Homestead (remember Homestead?). While each entity does not operate exactly the same way, I can tell you from years of experience that Bluehost and HostMonster are virtually exact clones of one another.
Of the 80+ brands that EIG owns, I would recommend ignoring all of them except for Bluehost or HostMonster, concerning quality and value for your dollar.
Within this same category, but not owned by EIG, you have GoDaddy, DreamHost, and 1&1. I strongly recommend avoiding GoDaddy. With my experience as a web designer working on all kinds of projects, on all kinds of hosting services, GoDaddy still remains at the top of my do-not-recommend list. Their proprietary control panel is chaotic to use and even the simplest of tasks, like creating emails, setting up domains, etc., is very slow to propagate.
If you’re considering using GoDaddy, DreamHost, or 1&1, I would strongly recommend just using Bluehost instead, with one exception, which I’ll explain in a moment. Bluehost (or HostMonster — remember they’re clones), has the best, most easy to use, and fast control panel of any web host. Why? Because they didn’t try to make their own. They use cPanel, which is the most battle-tested hosting platform around.
Now, the exception would be DreamHost.
If you need to host a website that might contain a lot of profanity, taboo topics, nudity, and definitely pornography, basically anything considered adult content for a mature audience, Bluehost is not going to allow it. For example, a website like Reddit would not be allowed to be hosted by them. Whether this is because the company is located in Utah (where Mormons are based) or whether the company is in any way run by Mormons, is certainly open to speculation, but honestly, a lot of web hosts are uncomfortable with defending this kind of content when they receive complaints to their abuse department.
On the other hand, DreamHost is comfortable supporting any content which is legal within the United States. It’s for this reason, although I use Bluehost to host most of my projects, that I made the judgement call to host one of my recent projects Ideamark with them. The reason for this is because it’s very important to me to make Ideamark a safe and neutral place for creative people to sell any kind of digital works, including mature content, so long as it is legal within the US.
Traditional Hosts Recommendation Recap
Honestly, 99% of you out there that need a website (and that’s a lot of people), should just start with Bluehost. It’s cheap and it offers a lot of capability and control. It’s not the fastest host around once you start building thousands of visitors, but you can always scale up within Bluehost or move to another host if and when you reach that point.
I realize that most people think that their idea is the best thing since sliced bread and that they’re going to need the best hosting money can buy. Most people are wrong. Most people will abandon their website before they ever even gain enough visitors to even need a higher-scale web host. Don’t throw your money away. Bluehost is the right starting point.
Again, for this type of hosting, Bluehost is your best bet. However, if you need to allow more mature content, your safer choice (to avoid getting your account suspended) is DreamHost. Although this is yet another host that’s duct-taped together their own proprietary control panel that’s a bit clunky, they more or less have the same offering feature-wise that Bluehost does.
First, what is cloud hosting? … I wish I could concisely explain it, but I’m not sure I can, I’m not sure anyone can. But here goes nothing:
Cloud hosting simply means that your data is stored online, and the only difference from traditional hosting is that it’s not stored on one static server. It’s instead stored on multiple servers in multiple locations, enabling faster loading and allowing your site’s bandwidth and other resources to scale as needed.
But, seriously, don’t take my word for it. There are many ways in which the word “cloud” can be used in technology, in many different contexts. Have fun.
Most of the aforementioned hosting services above now also offer cloud hosting services at raised prices, but aren’t necessarily worth it. I’d recommend instead keeping your cheap hosting plan, add a dedicated IP and possibly an SSL certificate if you’re up for it, then just use CloudFlare, which although I was iffy about a few years back, has become really easy to set up and use.
But, if you really want or need to go for it, if you need to be able to handle huge amounts of traffic, that is hundreds of thousands of people or even millions, AWS (Amazon Web Services) is probably the way to go. Amazon runs massive services like Netflix, as just one example to give you an idea of the scalability.
Now, up until this point, everything I’ve recommended is easy enough to use for any average website or soon-to-be website owner to set up and manage. However, AWS, relatively-speaking, is not easy for average website owners to use. Despite the constant reassurance that it is, and the fact that I can’t find any pages where people are honestly cautioning the average internet user about using AWS, again, it’s not easy to use.
Watch this video. Unless you’re already super tech-savvy, and even though this is a video demonstrating one of the easiest ways to set up a site on AWS, I imagine you’ll quickly find this to be intimidating and daunting. AWS is not for everyone. Unless you hire a web guy or gal to set it up for you, or you’re a big company that already has a whole tech department to handle it, AWS is probably too impractical of a learning curve for most people.
There! Someone finally giving it straight. Hey, but maybe I’m wrong. If you’re NOT a web designer and you’re NOT a programmer, and you’re just some average, non-tech-savvy website owner and you were able to set up AWS easily all by yourself without a huge learning curve first, I’d love for you to leave a comment below. I don’t think you exist, but I love being proven wrong.
Cloud Hosts Recommendation Recap
Instead of even switching to or signing up for a more expensive, specifically cloud, hosting service, consider just adding on CloudFlare, which offers a free plan which is adequate for most small to medium-sized businesses.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt to the quality of Amazon Web Services. Some of the fastest, most reliable services, which support millions of users, are running AWS. However, it’s entirely impractical and unnecessary for the average website owner. It’s not easy to use and one should only invest the time and money into AWS if your website reaches that level. If your traffic is lower than 100k visitors a month, I couldn’t in good conscious recommend AWS. If your website is that big and continuously growing without any signs of slowing, definitely, hire someone with experience using AWS to migrate your website over.
As you can see, AWS is pretty much king of the cloud, when most other cloud hosting services also rely on it. The way CloudPanda works is very similar to how WordPress.com works. When you sign up, your site is instantly installed with WordPress, themes, and plugins, ready to go. From there, you can add-on a custom domain, email, and SSL.
It’s sort of a hybrid between cloud hosting, managed hosting (without the high price tag), and build-a-site hosting. If you need maximum control, stick with traditional hosting. If you’re looking for super easy and cheap, essentially hands-off hosting, feel free to utilize our free 7-day trial and shoot me some feedback.
These are the most expensive ones.
It’s exactly what it sounds like. The host manages all the back-end, the infrastructure, security, databases, etc., and you just focus on creating website content. For some people, those are all pros, for others (like myself), we find those to be cons because we want that control ourselves so we can more quickly get things done, and at a higher level of specificity than can be done on a managed host.
We’ll start with Rackspace because this one is not limited to just WordPress. It allows for the creation of any kind of website. It’s built on top of AWS, giving you all the quality of those servers, without the difficulty of use.
Next up, Pagely and WP Engine are exclusively just for hosting WordPress websites. Pagely is also run on AWS, but I believe WP Engine has its own, proprietary set up (I fact-checked and came up empty). In any case, that’s a pro in that their service is highly refined to a very specific platform, but a con if you ever need to venture outside WordPress for any part of your website.
Working on a high traffic project, we made our way through all 3 and the main complaint I had was support. The support for all 3 was wonderful, highly-dedicated and competent, the problem, again, going back to control, was for the simple fact of needing to contact support in the first place for even the simplest of tasks that you could handle yourself, quickly and easily at other hosts.
Managed Hosts Recommendation Recap
I won’t recommend a managed host because I don’t recommend managed hosting to anyone, period. It’s too expensive for the peace of mind you’re getting. I understand that for some, just offloading your concerns for security, optimization, etc. onto someone else is the only way you can keep sane and focus on just what you need to, but I’d recommend hiring your own dedicated webmaster and/or system administrator for that purpose instead.
In the short-term, you’ll definitely spend more on a dedicated professional, yes, but in the long-term, hundreds of dollars a month, indefinitely, you’ll spend much more on managed hosting.
These kinds of hosts (Squarespace, Wix) are the most trendy type lately. They also offer the least amount of control over all other types of hosts. These hosts are so popular because they’re the easiest to use. Pick the kind of a website you need: info website, blog, store, etc., slap a beautiful theme on it, and go.
Very, very easy, but that convenience comes at a price: branding. When you’re selecting pre-made themes from the same pool that hundreds of thousands of other people, maybe even millions are too, regardless of how beautiful, you end up with what we call cookie-cutter. Because your website wasn’t custom designed just for your brand, it looks just like thousands of other websites. It’s not unique; it’s not professional.
Build-a-site Hosts Recommendation Recap
While I hate these kinds of hosts, they are cheap, they are easy, they are beautiful. I can forgive and understand a beginner’s desire to use a service like this. So, if this is the kind of host you want, and since I don’t have an alternative recommendation for this type of service, if I had to recommend one, it might as well be Squarespace. Since the main appeal of these kinds of hosts is that they offer quick and pretty solutions, I might as well recommend the prettiest.
Obviously, I didn’t get into exact prices, feature lists, and stats. I’m not looking to make you nauseous or otherwise overwhelm you. I wanted to give you a straight guide to understanding the basic, current landscape of the web hosting services available to you. If you have specific or technical questions for me to better guide you to what web host is right for you, I’m more than happy to help answering those questions in the comments area below.