Far too often people do NOT ask me, or my colleagues in the industry, whom they should use as a web hosting company. Most business owners figure they are smart enough to at least select a host — especially when it comes to hosting a WordPress site.
And they Google it.
From the instant they made that decision they are screwed. Web hosting is an insanely profitable business and as such it has attracted tech titans; companies with a couple zeros in the “millions column” on their revenue sheets. They earn millions every month in hosting fees and pay a LOT of money to be the “first recommended” by Google or others.
Finding and honest review should be easy — but it’s not
The truth of the matter is that the hosting companies are running the show when it comes to who is listed and recommended. The most popular web app on the planet, WordPress, even has a WordPress Hosting page. That HAS to be a good resource, right?
Not so fast. The companies that get listed on a page like that pay a LOT of money to be on that list. From “trade for service” to contributed man-hours to the Automattic and WordPress development teams, there are literally millions of dollars in play based on that one WordPress hosting page. That is not to say the companies listed are NOT good hosting companies. Some are pretty decent actually. But the point is you cannot trust the list as being unbiased and in YOUR best interest. The companies are listed because they are in the best interest of the folks running the “WordPress World”.
I can hear you thinking “OK – THAT may not be honest, but I’m sure Google search will filter out those types of lists.”
No. Not even close.
The dishonest unbiased review sites
Companies not only spend millions being listed on established sites like the WordPress hosting recommendations but also spent as much on “owning Google”. They know how the game is played. Spin up separate companies with separate brands and give them generic-sounding names like “Top Web Hosts” where, somehow by magic the “unbiased” site creators always rank them at the top with a few “not-five-star reviews” to make them look legitimate. They even sprinkle in competitor listings — after all there’s enough for everyone and a stunning 85% of visitors will click the first site listed and never look back.
Nearly every single one of the top TWENTY sites listed when you search Google for anything related to “best WordPress hosting” or “top web hosting” or anything in between are nearly 100% guaranteed to either be a hosting company subsidiary OR be affiliate link farms that list the BEST PAYING hosts first. So in a sense they are the “best” — but like the WordPress page they are the “best for the site owner” not the best for you.
So what is the best way to get the best hosting?
STEP AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD.
Seriously, do NOT use a search engine to do this type of work. If your business depends on web technology for anything important, like gaining customers and earning revenue then you MUST do it right.
Talk to people you TRUST. If you’ve been doing this a while you have come across at least a couple of tech nerds you now and love. Ask THEM who they would host with. If they are good at what they do they’ll have a couple recommendations, share the shortcomings, or at least advise you to talk to someone THEY know and trust that knows more about hosting than they do.
Who do I recommend?
You don’t know me or you’d have asked me this via text message or personal email already. However I do NOT run a link farm and will not make anything from this article.
Personally I use Amazon AWS service with EC2 , RDS, Cloud Monitor and other web stack services for anything that demands performance and expandability. If you do not have technology experts on your team or have a consultant on retainer this may not be for you. It is certainly a LOT harder to manage and maintain your own EC2 instances with load balancing fault tolerant configurations — the least expensive way to do hosting. It also is FAR more expensive than other platforms. That said, if you have the tech resources available it has proven to be by far the best performing most stable platform I’ve ever used. I keep coming back to it. Less than an hour of down time in 7+ years combined with stellar performance. It cannot be beat.
That said, Amazon quietly launched the Lightsail pre-configured hosting that can compete with low-cost web presence providers. They’ve not done a very good job promoting it and I’m not sure why. I’ll need to try it out and possibly write a follow-up based on my findings. If you are operating a basic website without a lot of “turning gears” it may be a viable low-cost option.
Personal experiences with hosting companies
If you don’t want to spend $5k/year or more on hosting, though if it truly is critical to your business I’m not sure why you’d “go cheap” on hosting, there are other managed services out there. Here are some I’ve seen “in action” and my opinions on them.
SiteGround has also been decent. Very similar to WP Engine and possibly “a touch” faster from the times I’ve been on client sites hosted there. I’ve heard good things about support responses as well. A lot of solid tech people that work in the industry recommend Site Ground and I’ve heard few complaints. Not perfect as there is alway a trade-off with affordable hosting. That said my current experiences gives them a solid “B” rating.
WP Engine has been used by numerous Store Locator Plus clients. As such we interact with WP Engine sites frequently. In general they perform well, but are not the fastest sites we’ve seen. Others have had notable performance issues and we’ve noted they have seemed to be getting slower over the past year. They do have a decent interface for managing the site and make it easy to stay current on the latest software stack. They also have a great staging/live system which is a MUST for any web presence these days. Support is fairly good at responding from what we’ve heard. I’d give them a “C” grade. That said, a trusted high-level tech guru has had multiple clients with issues on their hosting plans — I get the feeling he’d rank them lower.
HostGator is NOT a good hosting company despite appearing on the top of a lot of “best hosting” lists. In my experience every single client I’ve come across that has hosted with them has had problems. One of the catalysts for this very article is a client that jumped, without consultation, onto HostGator. The site is inaccessible at least once every hour — not from the web software but because the HostGator routing services go offline on a regular basis. Stay away from HostGator. They get an “F”.
GoDaddy , while much improved based on what I’ve heard, is still not a company I can recommend. Far too many locator clients purchase a low-cost hosting plan with GoDaddy and they ALWAYS have performance problems. Every single customer that switches to another host, we often tell them to use WP Engine or SiteGround if they ask, has ALL of their performance issues (and many other site issues) go away. While GoDaddy is probably better than HostGator these days it is only marginally better. Why compromise? Shop elsewhere. They get a “D-“.
LiquidWeb, DeluxeHosting or whatever else they are calling their “simple web presence” company these days is also problematic. While my clients have seen far less downtime than HostGator or GoDaddy there should be near-ZERO downtime. More than 5 minute a year for simple web hosting it too much. Their support is also not well trained and often makes mistakes, as they did just this week for a local client that need an SSL certificate, which they set to expire in 51 weeks versus the FULL YEAR he purchased. We’d probably not have noticed if they didn’t set it to expire in this year, a WEEK AGO. Their servers do stay up more than GoDaddy and HostGator. However uptime is not the only metric, though the most important one IMO; dishonesty is a big deal in ANY business so they get an “F”.
So there you have it — a few of recommendations and a few on my “wouldn’t go near them with a 10-foot pole”. This is based on my personal experiences over the past 5 years and may not be the “norm”. That said, I probably see a lot more websites hosted on a variety of different providers than you do. My opinions are based on multiple interactions with each of the above companies not a one-time mistake or “shining example of goodness”.
A lot of people in the “WordPress tech space” mention Pagely quite frequently but they are costly (though properly priced, IMO) compared to the others listed here. The price points tend to deter our WordPress plugin clients as many are cost adverse; I’ve not had the opportunity to work directly with Pagely.
Final recommendation – don’t be so cheap
That’s a good starting point for your web hosting homework, but my number one recommendation:
Don’t be a cheap S.O.B.
I cannot believe how many clients reach out to me in a panic. “My website is DOWN, I’m losing $10,000 per hour”. Well, you spend TEN DOLLARS PER MONTH on hosting. Seriously, WTF.
Even if you are not earning $10,000 every hour from your website, how much do you earn? $100,000 per year from web leads/direct sales? Then why in the HELL are you not spending more on hosting?
Personally I believe your total IT budget for your entire web stack should be at least 10% of the net profits it generates for your business. More if it is the SOLE SOURCE of income. Your web hosting, security service to thwart DDOS attacks, and CDN to speed up site access should be thousands if not tens-of-thousands of dollars for most companies. Web hosting should be the lion’s share of that investment.
A $500/month OR MORE hosting service bill should the normal for a company generating six-figures in revenue from a website.
Now get out there and upgrade your web presence. Your customers will thank you and your bottom line will improve