Our Picks for the Best Web Hosts
The best web hosting service for most people will be as much as they can afford — web hosting really is one of those things where you get what you pay for. Lots of small businesses will be very happy with a great shared hosting provider. Shared web hosting means your site shares a server’s resources with lots of others, which cuts way down on costs. The best, like SiteGround, InMotion, and Dreamhost, do that without sacrificing your site’s performance or customer support.
Best Shared Hosting for Small Businesses
We focus the bulk of this review on shared hosting because it makes the most sense — cost and features-wise — for most small businesses. If you don’t need more, why pay more? You’ll be happy with any of our top picks, which we walk through in more detail below.
Best Web Hosts for WordPress
That being said, if your site runs on WordPress — and you have the budget for it — we won’t hide the benefits of a fully managed WordPress host. They’re optimized to operate WordPress only, which means your site will be faster, more secure, and more stable than on a shared hosting plan. Fully managed WordPress hosts also do nearly all your site updates and maintenance for you, which makes the heftier price tag very much worth it for anyone who doesn’t have the time, resources, or interest for backend admin. Our favorite is WP Engine, although Flywheel is a good fit for small sites with a smaller budget.
Best Free Web Hosting
We suggest avoiding free web hosting outside of a few specific scenarios: a temporary site for an event or an extremely small, extremely low-traffic site. (Though we challenge you — why are you building such a small low-traffic site? Think big!) If you are doing either of those things, we suggest exploring a free website builder like Ucraft or Google Sites first. It’s an all-in-one solution that’ll have you skipping right over web hosting.
They’re both very basic, limited builders, but they are easier to use than a free web host, and they’re the only two that allow you to host on a custom domain names (as opposed to a subdomain). So your temporary and very small site will at least have a trustworthy url of your own choosing.
Our 3 Favorite Web Hosting Providers for Most Small Businesses
This is a quick overview of our top picks. You can read more in our review of best web hosts for small business.
- Best reputation
- Most robust shared plans
SiteGround is a hugely well-regarded web host, with a rabid fan base and glowing reviews — something especially noticeable in an industry full of fed-up (and vocal) customers.
Along with DreamHost and Bluehost, SiteGround is one of WordPress’s three recommended web hosts. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, there are some elements of managed WordPress hosting is built into all of its shared hosting plans — something InMotion considers an upgrade. If your site uses WordPress, and you’re not quite ready to budget for a fully managed WordPress host, this is absolutely a perk: automatic updates, streamlined security, and expert technical support that are all just part of the package.
SiteGround is widely considered to be a technology leader, particularly in the shared hosting space where all hosts are duking it out for business. Its servers are ultra fast and extra secure, and SiteGround is constantly deploying new updates and technology to keep them that way.
While all its shared hosting plans are powerful, SiteGround is especially well-known for its highest-tier shared plan, GoGeek, which is suped up with tools developers will find especially useful, including a staging server and Git repo creation. Lots of small business and personal websites will probably find this overkill, but if your needs are more complex than the basics, SiteGround has a lot to love.
That said, once you blow through SiteGround’s introductory pricing (you choose contracts for one, two, or three years) your plan’s price triples: its lowest tier of shared hosting jumps from $4/month to $12 and its highest tier jumps from $12/month to $35. That doesn’t feel great. In fact, it was the reason for most of the one-star reviews on TrustPilot.
SiteGround also has the shortest trial period of all our other shared hosting our top picks: only 30 days.
In addition to shared hosting, SiteGround offers upgrades to cloud hosting and dedicated servers.
- Best for beginners
- Most impressive customer support
InMotion may not look flashy, but it’s a solid web host with truly excellent technology, a wide assortment of plans, and a legion of longtime customers. Its massive self-help knowledge base is the industry standard, and customer support is among the best. Don’t believe it? Try for yourself. InMotion’s 90-day free trial period for shared hosting is one of the longest around, second only to DreamHost’s 97-day trial.
There’s not a lot of hierarchy in InMotion’s plans. Upgrading from its lowest-tier shared plan, Launch, to Power or to Pro doesn’t unlock access to lots more slick tools or free add-ons. Upgrading is simply designed to accommodate websites that require more oomph — not to upsell. It’s a straightforward approach we like, especially for small businesses and websites that aren’t overly complex.
InMotion regularly runs promo pricing, with deals that start as low as $5/month. Normal pricing for shared hosting bumps up to $8–$9/month after the initial contract is up.
In addition to shared hosting, InMotion offers upgrades to managed WordPress hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated servers.
- Honorable mention
Like SiteGround, DreamHost is one of WordPress’s three recommended hosts, and includes some managed WordPress hosting in its basic shared plans (it also offers a managed plan with more bells and whistles called DreamPress). Monthly plans under $3/month are available if you pay annually, $8/month if you’d like to add email. Like InMotion, it has an industry-leading free trial period — a full 97-day money-back guarantee — and transparent pricing that doesn’t increase after your initial contract. It’s the best of both worlds.
DreamHost is notable for being completely customized, skipping the customary cPanel that SiteGround, InMotion, and so many other web hosts use for a control panel it’s built and tailored in-house. Think of it a little like Apple versus Android: Dreamhost customers love it, but it’s not universally compatible should you ever migrate to or from a different host.
In addition to shared hosting and managed WordPress hosting, Dreamhost offers upgrades to VPS and cloud hosting, as well as dedicated servers.
Spotlight on Managed WordPress Hosts
This is a quick overview of our top picks. Read more in our review of best web hosting for WordPress.
- Most popular managed WordPress host
When most people think of managed WordPress hosting, they think WP Engine. And for good reason — it provides truly excellent service. That service comes at a price. A fully managed WordPress host is noticeably more expensive than shared hosting providers. WP Engine’s lowest-priced plan is $35/month, and that’s only for one 10GB site with max 25,000 visitors/month. If you look at the numbers only, InMotion surpasses WP Engine for $4/month.
But when you factor in what WP Engine does for that price, it’s an incredibly appealing option for WordPress site owners. As a managed WordPress host, WP Engine only provides service to WordPress users, which means its entire infrastructure can be optimized to make WordPress run its best. Lots of stuff that most site owners have to manage with plugins on the front-end, WP Engine takes care of automatically behind the scenes at the server level: caching, security patches, core and plugin updates. The list goes on. This makes for a site that’s notably faster than what you’d get with even the best shared web host, with virtually zero downtime or glitches.
Customer support is also laser-focused on WordPress, which makes for highly competent knowledgeable support staff available through tracked tickets and on live chat 24/7. The biggest WP Engine caveat is its list of banned plugins and scripts. By disallowing certain add-ons, WP Engine can maintain its highly optimized service — but that could be a dealbreaker for sites with a banned plugin that’s integral to business.
- Best managed WordPress host for small sites
Flywheel is newer to the managed WordPress space, and offers small websites with smaller budgets a lot of the great services of WP Engine. Its Tiny plan gives 5GB websites with 5,000 monthly visitors most of the performance and security enhancements — plus expert WordPress support – for $14/month. That said, it’s not until you get to Flywheel’s $69/month package that you gain access to free CDN and a free staging site, both of which are built into all of WP Engine’s service tiers.
Flywheel has also eked out a niche market of agency and freelance designers, who are consistently building and/or managed new WordPress sites. Cool tailored features include “blueprints” for theme and plugin settings you use regularly, plus access to password protected demo sites to show works in progress. Multiple users get their own accounts and access levels, and transferring Flywheel billing to clients is also streamlined.
A Quick Review of Free Website Builders
This is a quick overview of our top picks. Read more in our review of the best free web hosting.
- Free one-page website
- Custom domain name
- “Powered by Ucraft” ad in bottom right corner
Ucraft is a drag-and-drop builder that lets you create a long, scrolling “landing page” site for free. It’s not unlimited. Ucraft is build using “elements” — a text block is one element, a button is another — and you only get 50. But it provides a nice rolodex of modern, customizable templates and is one of only two website builders out there than allows you to use your own domain name.
Ucraft’s drag-and-drop templates are clean and modern.
- Free (very) simple website
- Custom domain name
- Google Sites ad in footer
Google Sites is the other free website builder that allows custom domain names as opposed to sub-domains. Google Sites is extremely basic: You get one template and limited layouts to work with, and they aren’t exactly pretty. But you also can have as many pages as you want, and it integrates with every other Google service, including Docs, Forms, Slides, and GMail. If you’re looking for something simple, or are already paying for GSuite, it’s a no brainer.
Google Sites limits you to one basic template with a few themes.
Free Web Hosts to Consider
We don’t really recommend free web hosting. If you can’t get what you need from Ucraft or Google Sites, we think you’ll be more satisfied paying for web hosting from SiteGround, InMotion, Dreamhost.
But if you’re set on a free web host, or want some hosting perks like email hosting, we suggest trying Awardspace (5GB bandwidth, 1GB storage, 1 email account), Atspace (unlimited bandwidth, 1GB storage, 1 email account, or Freehostia (6MB bandwidth, 250MB storage, 3 email accounts).
How to Find the Best Web Hosting Provider for You
First, get a handle on what you actually need from your web host
The first thing to understand is how much web hosting your site or sites need to function well, without paying for what you don’t need. It starts with a game of Match the Specs.
Knowing your site’s stats (or what you predict your site’s stats will be) before you start comparing options and offers will help prevent that upsold-at-the-register feeling. Here are the basic ones to know:
- Storage: How many gigabytes of space does your website need?
- Number of sites: How many domains are you looking to host?
- Bandwidth: How many visitors do you get in a month? Do you plan on any high-volume traffic surges (for example, from a viral blog post, a big PR push, Black Friday)
- Supported technology: What programs, features, and apps does your site use (for example Perl, Joomla, a shopping cart)? What operating system is your website compatible with?
Match what you need with what each host offers, and try not to get too distracted by the stuff a host offers that you aren’t going to use — Bluehost isn’t a better host than DreamHost because it supports Drupal if you’re never going to use Drupal.
At the shared hosting level — the most common and where most websites start out — lots of providers are fairly tit for tat: two or three tiers of plans with a variety of perks, functionality, and resources that increase with each tier. Unless there are specific conditions you’re trying to meet (you really do need that Drupal, for instances) at a pure specs point of view, you’d probably be happy with any of them.
What does unlimited and unmetered mean?
Many web hosts advertise “unlimited” or “unmetered” bandwidth and storage on their plans, which means there are no set thresholds for the amount of resources your website is allowed to use at any given time. But, as Hostgator puts it, “unlimited doesn’t mean infinite.” If you’re negatively impacting the other sites on your server, every web host in the world will throttle your usage and/or suspend your account until you optimize your site or upgrade to a higher plan. Most let you know you’re exceeding your usage with an email a day or two before they take action.
Even though this sounds alarming, most websites will likely never experience this. (Bluehost claims that 99.95 percent of its 2 million websites stay within “normal” usage.)
Then, put customer service to the test
Beyond any basic “does my website have what it needs to function well,” customer support is the single most important thing a web host can offer. Think of it like health insurance. It doesn’t matter how robust the policy is. If the claims process is a nightmare, you’re going to switch providers.
Customer support can be split into live support — phone calls, help desk emails, and chat — and knowledge centers, which include everything from help articles to tutorials to community forums to blogs. Both live and self-help support are vital for when you’re having issues in set-up or performance.
When it comes to a knowledge center, you want a catalog that’s well-organized and easy to search, with a huge library of hyper-specific content. Bonus points for active moderators who are answering questions.
As for live support, your priorities are fast access and nuanced, specific help from people who know what they’re talking about. That’s tricky to evaluate without being a long-term customer.
One way is to get a sense of a web host’s reputation, particularly over the past two years.
If you start reading user reviews, you’ll notice how many are focused on customer support. This is especially apparent with Bluehost, HostGator, and GoDaddy, whose products rank high with industry publications like CNET and PCMag, but who are ravaged by customers unhappy with the the support they’re provided.
Ratings and reputation don’t always match up
|Percentage of 5-star user reviews on
(1954 total reviews)
(549 total reviews)
(251 total reviews)
(480 total reviews)
(572 total reviews)
(584 total reviews)
|CNET||4.5 / 5||5 / 5||5 / 5||4 / 5||4.5 / 5||—|
|PC Mag||4 / 5||4 / 5||4.5 / 5||—||4.5 / 5||4 / 5|
But the true test of support quality is to experience it yourself, and that’s where free trials come in. Pretty much every web host has some sort of money-back guarantee on their shared hosting plans, which means you can set up your website and see what you think of the service with relatively low stakes — just your time and any add-on fees you opt into, like paying for domain registration. We recommend going to town with customer support during that trial period. Get on live chat, open tickets, hop on the phone as much as possible to see if you like what you’re being served up.
Try not to worry about uptime too much
Beyond customer service, the most common complaint you’ll read from customer reviews is about uptime – or rather, lack thereof. Uptime is vital to your business: in 2013, Amazon.com famously went offline for 40 minutes and lost $4.8 million.
Every single web host in the world strives to have 100 percent server uptime, but there’s unfortunately no industry standard to evaluate how well they do. Lots of web hosting review sites do personal tests to try and gauge server performance, including WhoIsHostingThis and Web Hosting Facts, but since these tests only look at one site at a time, and often for short amounts of time, they are best used as indications, not gospel.
To try to avoid the “just trust us” promise of near-perfect uptime, most hosts provide some sort of guarantee of at least 99.9 percent uptime. However, that guarantee isn’t much of a guarantee. It just means your bill can be discounted in the event of any unplanned downtime. There’s a lot of fine print on these guarantees, too, including not accepting self-reported or third-party uptime data, and not providing refunds for downtime that was out of the host’s control (for example, a hurricane).
SiteGround posts each month’s uptime right on its website.
Pay attention to migration, especially if your website already exists
Frustrating support and downtime — particularly when they’re combined — are the most common reasons to abandon one host and join another.
It’s always possible (and free) to migrate your existing site manually to a new web host (another reason those knowledge bases are so critical). But it gets more challenging the bigger and more complicated your site is, which is why web hosts often provide some sort of “managed” migration to ensure it’s done right.
Look for room to grow long-term
A typical upgrade pattern for a new website is to start with shared hosting, max that out, and then jump to VPS, cloud, or dedicated. WordPress websites might take a pit stop in Managed WordPress hosting for awhile, too — which, depending on the host, could be on a VPS server (like Bluehost) or cloud server (like DreamHost and HostGator).
It’s time to upgrade when your site’s size and traffic over-burden your current plan. Sometimes, the host will let you know it’s time to upgrade — that will happen if you’re, say, overwhelming a server and making everyone else’s sites on that server slow down. Another reason to upgrade is if you’re ready for more functionality, customizability, and autonomy: upgrading usually gets you access to a more robust toolkit.
Not sure what all the different types of web hosting are? Here’s a breakdown:
An easy analogy is homes – GoDaddy has a nice little illustration of this. Shared hosting is like an apartment complex. One big building (the server) hosts lots of different residents (websites), who share the building’s resources (storage, bandwidth, often an IP address). This is an excellent solution for a lot of small and midsize websites, but the downside is if someone on the server hogs too much of the resources, it impacts everyone – imagine sharing the basement laundry with another resident who wants to wash all their sheets and towels and clothes every day. Web hosts offer a range of shared hosting plans. The higher the tier, the “nicer” the apartment building: fewer residents, more washing machines.
A virtual private server (VPS) is more comparable to a townhouse — you’re still sharing a building with other residents, but far fewer than in a shared hosting apartment building. Plus you get more flexibility and control over your space. That’s because the server makes virtual copies of itself, and each resident gets its own copy: you get your own IP address, private access, your own washing machine.
Dedicated hosting is like a house and there’s only one resident: your website. A dedicated server is designed to accommodate huge traffic — you can do all the laundry you want! — and requires a fair amount of upkeep that you or your webmaster is on the hook for. That lawn isn’t going to mow itself.
Not every web hosting service offers cloud hosting — it’s the newest form — but think of it as owning multiple residences. If there’s a problem at one of your servers, your website will instantly go stay at one of the others. In theory, your website will never go offline.
Lastly: WordPress hosting. WordPress is the most common CMS available. As such, most web hosting providers offer managed WordPress hosting, where the plan is designed with WordPress as its primary consideration: WordPress comes pre-installed, WordPress core updates are automatically applied, your server’s security might be more specifically tailored to what WordPress prefers.
This isn’t to say other hosting plans aren’t good for WordPress. They are all designed to be seamlessly compatible. But think of managed WordPress hosting like a yard service: it’s going to water your lawn and trim the hedges automatically.
Always pay for domain privacy
If you’re creating a new website, you’ll need to register a domain. Many web hosts allow you to register with them (sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee) even though it’s not required — you can register a domain with Namecheap or NameSilo and still be hosted by SiteGround or InMotion. In fact, we recommend it!
When you’re purchasing that domain, always opt into domain privacy, which means proxy contact information from the domain administrator will be submitted to the WHOIS registry. If you don’t opt in, you will be spammed. A lot. Domain privacy usually runs $1–2/month, although the best domain registrars offer it free of charge.
Always, always, always get domain privacy. Or you’ll be sharing lots of personal info.
Other web hosting specs to look for
Backups: It’s best practice to manually backup all your files and databases and store them on separate machines — we consider it one of the top 4 content areas you should worry about. But lots of web hosts advertise complementary backups to act as a kind of auto-save in case you corrupt a file, delete something vital, or otherwise break your website.
SSD storage: Solid State Drive technology is notably faster than regular “spinning” hard drives, which in turn means content is delivered to your website and your website’s visitors faster. It’s pretty common among well-known web hosts to include SSD storage in even lower-tier shared hosting plans.
SSL certificates: Certificates for Secure Sockets Layer encryption (SSL) are like internet passports that confirm your website is secure enough for your visitors to submit sensitive data, like credit card information and passwords. It’s considered best practice to have SSL certification — in fact, Google considers it as a factor in how your site will show up in search rankings.
Most web hosts include basic SSL certificates for free in their shared hosting plans. That basic SSL certificate should be enough for most websites. More advanced encryption is needed if your website is also connected with a physical presence, like a brick and mortar store. Those suped-up SSL certificates are available for purchase through all web hosts.
SSH access: Secure Shell access means you have a secure channel straight into your account to manage files and databases. It’s a feature that’s critical if you’re have a web developer or technically-inclined site administrator who wants to manage and troubleshoot everything themselves.
Email hosting: If your web host includes email hosting, it means you’ll have access to a customized email address and room to store your emails. Lots of web hosts offer this, often for free.
It’s worth keeping in mind that email isn’t stored in a separate place — it all pulls from the same server space as the rest of your site, which means it will impact how much room is “left over” for you to use. If that doesn’t sound ideal — maybe your website is already pretty weighty — your web host isn’t your only option for getting a custom email address. GSuite (aka GMail for businesses) and services like Hover also provide email, and often it’s a more robust, more intuitive solution, like what you’re used to with your personal email. Lots of small business owners prefer keeping their email and websites on separate hosts: if your web host is also your email host and it goes offline, you’ll be without access to email. Quelle horreur.
Recap: The Best Web Hosting Services
Best Shared Hosting for Small Businesses
Best Web Hosts for WordPress
Best Free Web Hosting and Website Builders
- UCraft – Best Free One-Page Website Builder
- Google Sites – Runner-Up Free Website Builder
- Last updated January 22, 2019 – We’ve updated this page with the most recent pricing information and added charts to illustrate user reviews and renewal price hikes.
- First published October 29, 2018