As a website designer, there are several things I look for in web hosting for my clients’ sites and blogs. I work with small businesses and nonprofit organizations that usually have no previous experience with managing their own websites. It’s really important that they have quality web hosting for the future of their websites or blogs. I choose not to host client sites but rather empower people to manage their own digital assets, which is why it’s critical they have the best web hosting they can afford.
The first thing I look for is whether the host is WordPress (WP) friendly or not. By that, I mean not just that they mention WP as one of their options, but they also support WP with technology employees who understand the ins and outs of WordPress. These hosting companies usually state they have WP Managed hosting rather than simply WP hosting available. Many servers can host WordPress, but only those offering WP managed services will have people with the technical expertise you need for your WP blog or site.
The next thing I absolutely require is top notch customer service. There must be a way for customers to reach technical support. I look for a phone contact and live chat access, in addition to the usual support ticket mechanism. I actually no longer recommend any web hosting business that does not provide live chat or phone access for customers. When you have a challenge with your website, which is your livelihood, you cannot afford to wait a few days for someone to get back to you via a ticket.
I learned a lot of these things the hard way. I’ve had web hosts who took three months, yes, three months to answer a support ticket. This host had no other form of communicating with their customers. I was long gone by the time they answered the questions, but it was an expensive lesson as a year of VPS hosting had been paid for in advance and could not be recovered.
I hosted sites with one company whose service staff seemed to know very little about WordPress and who couldn’t answer the questions I asked via their support ticket. It was as if they didn’t really understand the question or else they had an answer script that didn’t fit my particular problem. They had a phone contact, but when I called them it was a similar experience. I would ask a question and they would give an answer that nothing to do with the problem I had. Although there was no real technical support, they did continue to ask if I would like to upgrade my services…
I think one challenge for customers is that many hosting companies are in it for the money and hire a lot more salespeople than technical staff. Getting the technical expertise and support you need, especially when you are not technically savvy yourself, is really time-consuming, frustrating and unlikely at many web hosting companies.
It’s important to do your homework when looking for the best web hosting. If you find a company you are thinking about using as a web host, be sure to do a Google search for “host name+customer service reviews” This should get you some real reviews on their customer service. Check to see that the site is not the company site (godaddy.com/customer-reviews) but a third-party site. Also look to see how many reviews there are, such as 1100 vs 15. The lower the number of reviews the more skewed the ranking. Yelp seems to draw a few really unhappy people, so I don’t use them as a resource for reviews anymore, but there are a lot of other sites that will give you an idea of the level of customer service a hosting company provides.
In today’s world where Google reigns as the top search engine and their Google-bots determine page ranking for web searches, I work with clients to make sure they have SSL (Secure Socket Layer), a security layer on their website. The web hosting company I recommend provides SSL for free with every site they host giving you what’s called a secure site.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re probably not using the Chrome browser, but Google (via Chrome) is showing which sites are secure and which ones are not. This is a big deal because your readers may not get to your site with all the warnings given. They may hit that “Go Back to Safety” button when they see the message, “Your connection to this site is not secure.”
In addition, according to Neil Patel and other SEO experts, Google gives secure sites preferential treatment in the search rankings, which helps your website be found more easily in a Google search.
An SSL certificate can be added to most websites, but in many cases it can be a challenge to install unless you have some technical understanding. I tried this, too, on my own and finally gave it up. Ideally, you want a web hosting company that can provide this with just a couple of clicks on your part. Be sure to look at their SSL options as you research hosting companies. Many will charge extra for SSL and even more for installing it on your site, which is another reason I appreciate our web host’s free options. Their customer service will also help with the process. They even added SSL at no charge for many of my clients when they called the company to ask how to install it on their sites.
Speed & Uptime
Most web hosting companies provide great speed and uptime, so that is not a feature I look too hard at anymore. I do look to see if they mention it on their site and if any customer reviews mention it as a problem. I also look to see if they offer anything to customers if their sites go down.
But for me, great web hosting is highly dependent upon great customer service. I have to know that if my site goes down, I will be able to get someone knowledgeable and helpful on the phone and have any problem solved in a short amount of time.
There are lots of web hosting companies that are inexpensive. Cheap. Really, really cheap. In the beginning, I thought it would be simple to use the least expensive host while I got up and running, but I quickly realized that if I couldn’t get help, I was not able to run anything very long.
Back in the day, I bought cheap service from one company that then held my website and domain hostage, while they spent a couple of months trying to convince me not to move the sites but to buy more service with them. With another company, as I mentioned earlier, I lost a large amount of hosting fees by not being able to get any help at all. I’ve also moved clients’ websites onto cheap hosting accounts they had already purchased, only to find certain aspects of the website became non-functional. This required purchasing other hosting along with moving and setting up the website all over again. So really, in the long run, cheap hosting can cost a lot more in both dollars and time if it doesn’t work right.
One of the important things to do, before you purchase hosting, is to find out who owns the company. My experience is that once a company goes public, it begins to focus more on quarterly profits and less on customer experience. As a web designer, I now have the advantage of being connected to a network of website developers, which I wasn’t in the beginning of my design journey.
I now belong to a couple of groups with thousands of members from all over the world. From these folks, and my own sad experiences, I learned what makes the best website hosting company. Some of these developers have been creating websites since the 1990s, so they have seen it all and tried an awful lot of it. One of the warnings that came from the group was regarding a publicly traded company called Endurance International Group (EIG). Evidently, EIG has been purchasing hosting companies for years as a way to grow their business. There is nothing particularly wrong with this business model unless it impacts current and future customers in a negative way. What I’ve heard, and experienced myself, is that once they own a company, the quality of customer service declines immensely. Remember the company that took three months to reply to our support ticket? Right, they were owned by EIG. In researching EIG, I found they own over 80 hosting companies, as well as a few other internet service providers. Companies like Bluehost, Hostgator, iPage, Homestead, HostMonster and Constant Contact have become properties of EIG in recent years. Some other publicly owned companies include GoDaddy and 1and1 internet.
Best Web Hosting in 2018
The privately held companies I like include WP Engine, SiteGround and A2 Hosting. For the price, value and customer service, I only recommend SiteGround. I am an affiliate, (full disclosure) but was recommending them long before I knew about their affiliate program. (I could become an affiliate for both WP Engine and A2 Hosting, but their customer service ratings are not high enough for me to be comfortable recommending their services to others.) I’m not saying you can’t get good hosting without SiteGround, I’m only saying that for the things I think are important for websites in 2018 and for a price most of us can afford, SiteGround is the best web hosting company. Whichever company you choose, make sure you do your research because it can be a bear if all that work you do on your website or blog goes missing and you can’t get any help. I know all about that and hope this helps you miss those experiences!
Here’s the free checklist we promised so you can research web and blog hosting companies. Just print out as many companies as you plan on reviewing and follow the directions to help you make the decision that works for you.
Choosing a Web Host for Your Blog Download Checklist