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Choosing a Web Hosting Service: A Buyer's Guide

best web and cloud hosting services
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The web hosting industry is one that's constantly changing and evolving. It's competitive, and as companies vie for position with one another, more important features emerge for small business owners. These features can range from increased site speed to short-term contracts and personalized support offerings. Here are some important trends to be aware of in 2019:  

  • Security: Cybersecurity is an important aspect of any small business website. As more and more small businesses are targeted by cyber criminals, your web hosting company can act as the first line of defense. Especially with the implementation of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws, protection of sensitive information is becoming more important than ever.  
  • Better hardware: Storage capacity and traffic volume are two features that web hosting companies compete on. As technology advances, expect more hosting companies to implement Solid State Disks (SSDs) for better storage and performance.  

Web hosting services can host your business website, which is an essential service for small businesses looking to build an online presence. By paying a monthly or yearly fee, you can put the legwork of maintaining a server in the hands of professionals. There are a number of other features to be aware of with web hosting providers, like security, storage and site speed. There are also some red flags to consider, like site downtime.  

In this guide, we round up the web and cloud hosting services we think are the best for businesses in 2019 and explain why we chose them. We also provide our methodology, how much you should expect to pay for each service (including fees), what features to look for and a list of web hosting vendors.

We analyzed over 35 web hosting companies to choose the best for business in 2019. We analyzed various aspects of each company's service offering and conducted sales calls to get a feel for how customer service was prioritized.

InMotion Hosting has everything a small business needs in a web hosting solution. Its great features and customer service earned it our award for the best overall web hosting service. InMotion's affordable plans come with a free domain name, unlimited email addresses and multiple security features, such as SSL certificates and free data backups. These shared plans also come with unlimited disk space and email storage. You can reach InMotion Hosting representatives by phone, email, live chat and Skype.

Read a full review of InMotion Hosting on our sister site Business.com.

We chose Bluehost as the best cloud hosting service because of its affordable plans paired with its helpful features. With Bluehost, your website can grow as your business expands. Its three cloud hosting plans come with one free domain name, automated migration, unmetered bandwidth, unlimited email accounts and advanced security options. You can contact customer service through email, and its website also has a knowledgebase with articles and guides.

Read a full review of Bluehost on our sister site Business.com. 

DreamHost is the best WordPress hosting service because of its great security options and customer support. Each of DreamHost's managed WordPress plans come with free SSL certificates, a 30-day, money-back guarantee and site backups. These cloud hosting plans allow your website to grow with your business. The two more advanced packages come with VaultPress Offsite Backups, which protects your website from things such as hackers and user errors.

Read a full review of DreamHost on our sister site Business.com.

1&1 has numerous features and great security options. Its three shared hosting plans come with daily website backups and free restores, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates and 24/7 service. You can contact 1&1's customer service by phone, email or live chat. It also has an in-depth knowledgebase on its website with how-to articles and video tutorials.  

Read a full review of 1&1 on our sister site Business.com.

To determine the best web and cloud hosting services for small business, we compiled a list of over 35 web hosting companies. We added vendors we found on reputable news and review websites as well as companies that have pitched their web hosting services to us. We also considered companies we've reviewed in the past or found in our preliminary research.

We narrowed down the list by researching each provider and its services and considered the best vendors for different use case scenarios. We posed as small business owners to test the company's customer service and to learn information we couldn't find online.

Our short list of best pick contenders included 1&1 Web Hosting, A2 Hosting, Bluehost, DreamHost, GreenGeeks, Host Gator, HostPapa, InMotion Hosting, SiteGround, WP Hosting and Kinsta.

Here are the features and criteria we evaluated:

  • Type of hosting plans available
  • SSL certificates
  • Backup services
  • Storage and bandwidth
  • Customer service options
  • Prices and terms
  • Free trials and money-back guarantees
  • Cancellation fees
  • Domain transfer/registration policies

Web hosting plans typically charge a monthly fee for hosting your website and an annual fee to register your domain. Most companies offer a range of plans that vary greatly in price, depending on the type of web hosting service you choose.

The length of the plan also affects the price. While some companies offer month-to-month plans, it's usually cheaper to pay annually. The best web hosting companies offer free trial periods, typically 30 days, although there are some that offer free trials for as long as 97 days.

Here's a breakdown of different web hosting services you can choose from:

  • Shared hosting: This is the most affordable option, as your website is placed on the same server as multiple other customers. It's well-suited for small businesses with blogs or basic websites. Shared hosting plans typically start at less than $10 per month.
  • Cloud hosting: If you choose a cloud hosting plan, your website is hosted on multiple servers instead of just one. For basic sites with limited memory and CPU requirements, cloud hosting starting costs are higher than shared web hosting but less than VPS hosting (see below). However, starting costs for managed cloud hosting can be higher than dedicated hosting.
  • Virtual private Servers (VPS): With VPS, the provider divides a server into virtual services, which means each website is hosted like a dedicated server while still sharing a server with other websites. VPS hosting starts at $20 a month but is often more expensive.
  • Dedicated hosting: This is typically the most expensive type of hosting because it's ideal for large businesses with high-traffic websites. Costs usually start at $100 per month.
  • Domain name registration: A lot of companies offer free registration for the first year. Afterwards, it usually costs between $10 and $15 per year for a domain name.

While price is a key factor to keep in mind, there are other features to consider when choosing a hosting provider.

  • Storage and bandwidth: The amount of storage and bandwidth you need depends on what you plan to host on your website. If your website depends on a lot of high-resolution images or if you have a huge inventory, look for more storage. Bandwidth determines how fast information travels to and from your site. Therefore, if you have high traffic, videos or downloads on your website, look for plans that give you a lot of bandwidth. Be sure to include room for traffic spikes and growth. It's important to be aware of "unlimited" plans. Know that unlimited never means infinite. You'll see this term a lot when looking for hosting services. Most of the time, these plans base their claims on the average customer. If your website exceeds the average by a reasonable amount, you may be charged extra or asked to move to another plan. You should check the terms and services or ask about the specifics of the plan.
  • Security: Security should be a top concern for small businesses, especially those that have an e-commerce website. Most reputable website hosts have SSL encryption, SPAM protection and some form of backups. If you are running an e-commerce store or need extra security, however, look beyond these basics. For example, many hosting companies provide advanced encryption levels and other features, like DDoS protection and hack protection. These services are usually outlined in the more advanced plans. Even if you don't have or need an e-commerce site, you should still get an SSL certificate.
  • Automatic backups and one-click restore: The best services also offer regular backups and one-click restore. Daily backups mean that if your website is hacked or compromised because of a programming or other error, you can get back nearly all your information easily. It can be the difference between an hour-long outage and one that lasts days as you recreate the website content. Plus, it's good for peace of mind.
  • Customer support: Whatever company you consider, be sure you can trust it to respond to your needs quickly and knowledgeably. Most web and cloud hosting services can be reached quickly and offer multiple ways to contact them, such as live chat, telephone and email. The best providers also have blog or knowledgebases on its website that can answer frequent web hosting questions.

Here is a full list of web and cloud hosting services and a summary of what each company claims to offer. This alphabetical list also includes our best picks.

*1&1 – 1&1 is our pick for best U.K. hosting service because it's affordable and has everything we looked for in a hosting solution. It offers free SSL certificates, backups, great customer service and plenty of storage space. 1and1.com

A2 Hosting – This provider is a great web hosting solution that has many features businesses need to host their websites. A2 Hosting offers unlimited websites, transfers, free SSL certificates, WordPress hosting and unlimited disk space and bandwidth. However, some features (such as backups and restores) are only available for an extra price. A2hosting.com

Arvixe Web Hosting – Arvixe Web Hosting has shared hosting, virtual private server, cloud hosting and dedicated hosting plans. This provider has every feature we looked for in a hosting solution, such as unlimited email accounts and free SSL certificates. While its business plans are more expensive than most of the other solutions we reviewed, it has personal shared plans at a lower price point. arvixe.com

*Bluehost – With its great features and affordable plans, Bluehost is our pick for the best cloud hosting service. Bluehost has solutions for any business, including shared, cloud, dedicated and virtual private server hosting plans. The cloud hosting plans allow your website to grow as your business expands, plus it has advanced security options and unlimited email accounts. bluehost.com

*DreamHost – DreamHost is our pick for the best WordPress hosting services because its affordable plans are packed with helpful features like free SSL security, domain privacy, fast SSD storage, custom control panels and automatic WordPress updates. DreamHost has cloud and shared hosting plans for WordPress. dreamhost.com

FatCow – FatCow is a basic hosting solution with one shared hosting plan brimming with helpful features. Features include unlimited bandwidth, disk space, domains, subdomains, email accounts and MySQL databases. However, some features, such as SSL certificates and backups, are only available for an extra price. fatcow.com

Go4Hosting – Based in India, Go4Hosting offers a fairly standard package of web hosting services. With an assortment of hosting options, Go4Hosting provides expert advice on which service might best serve your business. go4hosting.in

GreenGeeks- GreenGeeks is a web hosting company that offers a variety of solutions, including shared hosting, reseller hosting, virtual private server hosting and dedicated hosting. It is also committed to the environment by working toward eliminating its carbon footprint. The service offers unlimited emails, SSL certificates, free domain names and unlimited storage. greengeeks.com

HostGator – HostGator offers a range of solutions, including three shared hosting plans. However, if you want to create an e-commerce website, you need the most expensive shared plan. Each shared plan offers "unmetered" disk space and bandwidth. hostgator.com

HostMonster – HostMonster has four shared hosting plans that work great for small businesses. While the basic plan boasts standard features, the Prime package offers unlimited disk space, bandwidth and emails. It also has a simplistic website builder, which can add blogs, image galleries and bulletin boards to any site you create. While HostMonster has multiple plans, its basic packages are lacking some key features, such as site backups and SSL certificates needed for e-commerce stores. hostmonster.com

HostPapa – HostPapa offers a variety of web hosting solutions, including shared hosting, virtual private server hosting, reseller hosting and WordPress hosting. Its shared hosting solutions are well suited for businesses and have features like free domain registration, an easy-to-use website builder and cPanel, and email addresses. hostpapa.com

*InMotion Hosting – With its affordable plans paired with its helpful features, InMotion Hosting is our choice for best web hosting service. Its plans have every feature we looked for, including unlimited emails, a drag-and-drop website builder, backups and restores, and an SSL certificate. Its shared hosting plans are affordable and come with a 90-day, money-back guarantee. inmotionhosting.com

iPage – iPage has one shared hosting plan. While this plan alone is missing some key features that other services offer for free, such as site backups and SSL certificates, it has a good selection of features for an affordable price. You can also purchase the missing features as an add-on. ipage.com

Just Host – Just Host's plans offer industry-standard tools to sustain a variety of hosting needs, though the basic packages are best for small businesses with a smaller client base. This solution provides tools that can help you build, manage and promote your website. justhost.com

Liquid Web – While Liquid Web offers a range of web hosting solutions, it doesn't offer shared hosting plans. Therefore, its packages are more expensive than other services we reviewed. Its virtual private server plans offer built-in website backups, unlimited domains and 5TB of bandwidth. These plans also work with Linux and Windows. liquidweb.com

Midphase – Midphase is a small business web hosting provider that boasts cheap hosting. It is one of the cheapest solutions we reviewed, but it's limited in the number of domains and subdomains you can host. However, it has all the features you need to build, launch and maintain a successful website. midphase.com

SiteGround – SiteGround offers a lot of solutions for businesses of all sizes, including multiple shared plans, cloud hosting and dedicated servers. Its shared hosting plans are affordable and offer every feature we looked for in a web hosting service, including unlimited email addresses, backups, SSL certificates and WordPress integration. siteground.com

WebHostingPad – WebHostingPad offers many common features we looked for in web hosting services. While it typically meets the needs of a small business owners, you may quickly outgrow the cheapest package. All shared packages come with free domain registration or transfer, 24/7 support, Weebly's website builder and a 30-day, money-back guarantee. webhostingpad.com 

WP Engine – WP Engine has multiple packages designed to host WordPress websites. Its plans are loaded with great features that business owners need in a hosting solution. Features include free migrations, automated SSL certificates and automatic backups. With plans starting at $35 per month, this solution is quite a bit more expensive than most of the other plans we reviewed. wpengine.com

If you'd like your company to be added to the list and possibly considered as a best pick for our next round of reviews, email your request to b2bconsiderrequest@business.com.

Additional reporting by Saige Driver and Karina Fabian.

Matt D'Angelo

Matt D’Angelo is a Tech Staff Writer based in New York City. After graduating from James Madison University with a degree in Journalism, Matt gained experience as a copy editor and writer for newspapers and various online publications. Matt joined the staff in 2017 and covers technology for Business.com and Business News Daily.