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Choosing a Web Hosting Service: A Buyer's Guide

Choosing a Web Hosting Service: A Buyer's Guide
Credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

Picking a web hosting service is a difficult decision for business owners. There are hundreds of companies to choose from that offer multiple services and plans. From shared web hosting to dedicated servers, how do you know which service to choose?

In this guide, we roundup the web and cloud hosting services we think are the best for businesses in 2018, and why we chose them. We also explain our methodology, how much you should expect to pay for a web hosting service, what features to look for and a list of web hosting vendors.

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 one 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.

Our award for best U.K. web hosting service goes to 1&1 because it 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.

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.

To determine the best web and cloud hosting services for small business, we started by asking business owners what company they use or have used in the past. We added vendors we found on reputable news and review websites, as well as companies that have pitched their web hosting services to us. In total, we create a list of 25 web hosting companies to investigate.

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&1Hosting, A2 Hosting, Arvixe, Bluehost, DreamHost, FatCow, GreenGeeks, Host Gator, HostMonster, InMotion Hosting and SiteGround.

Here are the features and criteria we evaluated:

  • Type of hosting plans available
  • SSL certificates
  • Email services
  • Back-up services
  • Storage and bandwidth
  • Customer service options
  • Prices and terms
  • Free trials and money-back guarantees

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.

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 sites. 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 oftenmore 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 you should consider when you choose a hosting provider.

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, you should 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. You'll see this term a lot when you are 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 should be a top concern for most businesses, especially those that have an e-commerce website. Most reputable website hosts are PCI/DSS compliant and have SSL encryption. If you are conducting e-commerce or need extra security, however, look beyond these basics. For example, many hosts only encrypt to 128 bits, but the more current standard for commerce is 256 bits, with the next level, TLS v1.1 or higher, becoming the Payment Card Industry Standard in June 2018.

Even if you don't have or need an e-commerce site, you should still get a SSL certificate. If you don't have a SSL certificate, Google will flag your website and display "Not Secure" in your URL bar.

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 hourlong outage and one that lasts days as you recreate the website content. Plus, it's good for peace of mind. 

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

Arvixie Web Hosting – Arvixie 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 a 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, and has advanced security options and unlimited email accounts. bluehost.com

*DreamHost – DreamHost is our pick for best WordPress hosting services because its affordable plans are packed with helpful features such as 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 that is packed with helpful features. Features include unlimited bandwidth, diskspace, domains, subdomains, email accounts and MySQL databases. However, there are some features such as SSL certificates and back-ups that are only available for an extra price. fatcow.com

GreenGeeks- GreenGeeks is a web hosting company that offer 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 is packed with features, such as 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 to opt for the most expensive shared plan. Each shared plan offer "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

Host Papa – 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 such as 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 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 has hosting plans that offers 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, back-ups, 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 30-day money back guarantee. webhostingpad.com  

WP Engine – WP Engine has multiple packages designed to host WordPress websites. Its plans are packed with great features that business owners need in a hosting solution. Features include free migrations, automated SSL certificates and automatic back-ups. 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, please email your request to: b2bconsiderrequest@purch.com.

Additional reporting by Karina Fabian.

Saige Driver

Saige Driver graduated from Ball State University in 2015 with a degree in journalism. She started her career at a radio station in Indiana, and is currently a B2B staff writer at Business News Daily. She loves reading and her beagle mix, Millie. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.