- What Is Web Hosting?
- Web Hosting vs. Website Builder
- Free Web Hosting
- The Best Web Hosting Providers for 2021
- A2 Hosting
Welcome to Cloudwards.net’s guide to the best web hosting providers. Over the next 5,000 or so words, we’re going to guide you through the dense, and often confusing, world of web hosting and give our top picks in particular categories along the way.
We’re also going to define what web hosting is, answer frequently asked questions and talk about why going with free web hosting is generally a bad idea.
Here’s how it’s going to go down: after establishing what web hosting is, we’re going to go through a series of categories that correspond to the ones we used while putting together our web hosting reviews. We’ll give our top three picks in each category, along with a few reasons we like a particular provider. At the end, we’ll give our best web hosting service overall.
Choosing that provider is tricky, though, because the web host you go with depends almost entirely on the purpose of your website. For us, Hostinger is a clear choice because it offers inexpensive, high-performance hosting with an easy-to-use interface and excellent support. That said, you may want to go with another option if your website has particular needs.
What Is Web Hosting?
Before getting into the best web hosts, it’s important to understand what web hosting is. When you connect to a website, your computer sends requests for certain files from that website. Those files are transferred to your machine, interpreted by your browser and, eventually, turned into the image you see on your monitor.
For the browser to find and transmit those files, though, it needs to have a server to connect to. Web hosting is the service of storing and serving your website’s files, and web hosts accomplish that by operating data centers filled with servers tailor-made for the task.
That’s an important distinction to make, especially if you’re new to the web hosting world. Getting caught up in the hoopla of domain registrations, DNS records and WordPress can be a lot. It’s important to remember that web hosting, in particular, refers to storing and serving your website.
Web Hosting vs. Website Builder
One of the major confusions that comes up for web hosting novices is the difference between web hosting and a website builder. HostGator is web host, while SquareSpace is a website builder. That said, HostGator also has a website builder, so it’s not difficult to see why there’s confusion (read our HostGator review and SquareSpace review).
As per our definition above, web hosting is the service of storing and serving your website’s files. A website builder, on the other hand, is simply a tool for, well, building your website. Web hosting is an exclusive service that may include a website builder, but most website builders include hosting.
Many web hosts include their own website builder, such as GoDaddy’s GoCentral and the 1&1 Website Builder (read our GoDaddy GoCentral review and 1&1 Website Builder review). That said, included website builders are generally less impressive than, say, our top pick, Wix, but they’re still available if you buy a hosting package with certain providers (read our Wix review).
If you’ve come to this guide confused about web hosting, domain names and WordPress and just want to put up a personal portfolio or blog, web hosting isn’t worth the hassle. For some applications, website builders are superior services because you can build and launch your website quickly with minimal website knowledge.
Free Web Hosting
Now that you understand what web hosting is and what website builders are, you may be looking for free options, especially if you spotted a free website builder, such as Jimdo (read our Jimdo review). Free website builders are great options, especially if you’re okay using the included subdomain, but we’d urge you to bypass free web hosting.
Here on Cloudwards.net, we generally stay away from telling you what to do. However, in this case, much like we did in our best free VPN guide, we have to recommend against free web hosting. Some popular free web hosts include InfinityFree, 000Webhost and Byethost, and there’s a reason you won’t find them in our web hosting reviews.
That’s because they’re not any good, even if you’re paying. Though some performance degradation is expected from a free option, the consequences of saving a few bucks, in almost all cases, are too many. In addition to having slower speed, you’ll be left to your own devices should something go wrong.
Plus, you could be putting yourself and your visitors at risk. As explained, web hosting is the process of storing and serving your files, so it’s not unreasonable to imagine a scenario where something dangerous is passed along with your website’s data. The servers are often less secure from external threats, too.
We’re not saying that’ll happen for sure, but there’s a much higher likelihood that it will. Web hosting costs money, and free is never truly free, so it’s best to avoid free web hosts. By purchasing a plan with a reputable host, you’re increasing your odds of running a safe, fast and functional website.
The Best Web Hosting Providers for 2021
- Hostinger – Best overall
- Siteground – Best features
- A2 Hosting
- Kinsta – Best for WordPress
With some web hosting essentials out of the way, it’s time to dig in to our best web hosting providers. We’ll give you three recommendations in each of the categories, which correspond to the criteria in our reviews. There’s a lot of cross talk in the web hosting world, though, so choosing providers isn’t that straightforward.
Because companies such as Endurance International Group own multiple web hosting brands that are largely the same, we won’t include two nearly identical providers in a single category. For example, Hostinger and Hosting24 are, basically, the same service, so we’ll only include one in each section.
The only exception would be if there are enough differences to justify having two providers under the same umbrella. HostGator and Bluehost, for example, are owned by EIG and share many similarities, but there are enough differences in aspects of the services for them to potentially show up in the same round.
For a lot of web hosts, features make the difference. It’s not hard to find reasonably priced and fast hosting, so features are often the deciding factor. Unsurprisingly, the web hosts we’d recommend first are ranked highly when it comes to features.
That said, it’s hard to set strict criteria. Though we’re looking for essentials, such as a website builder and daily backups, additional features are always welcome. Because of that, the entire features list — including everything it has and doesn’t — needs to be considered, which is what we did when making our picks.
SiteGround has so many features that even our full SiteGround review can’t cover them all. In that review, we gave it a 95 out of 100 when it comes to features, and for good reason. Every plan includes access to the Weebly website builder, which, as you can read in our Weebly review, is one of the best website builders.
The other essentials are accounted for, too. Each plan includes automated, daily backups, ensuring none of your work is lost to cybercrime or a few missed keystrokes. Plus, you get an SSL/TLS certificate and Cloudflare integration (read our what is Cloudflare guide for more on that).
That said, the best features are kept for WordPress users. You still get the aforementioned features, but also get WordPress staging, managed WordPress updates and dedicated WordPress support reps. Though not surprising for expensive managed WordPress web hosts, the fact that SiteGround is so inexpensive makes it shine.
Hostinger — and its sister company, Hosting24 — is cheap, but despite that, it has a lot of features. The essentials are covered, including daily backups, a website builder and a lifetime SSL/TLS certificate. That said, there are a few unusual features going on behind the scenes.
Those features are on the server, and though you won’t see them, they’ll be helping your website load as fast as it can. Instead of using Apache servers, Hostinger uses LiteSpeed, which is an Apache alternative. It uses the same structure as Apache, allowing you to access features such as ModSecurity, but it has decreased overhead.
Less overhead means faster load times on shared servers, which Hostinger is all about. Also aiding in load times is full solid-state drive storage. SSDs don’t have spinning disks. Instead, they use flash memory to store data, which not only allows the drives to be faster at reading and writing data, but also less prone to failure. Read our Hostinger review for more.
Much like SiteGround, A2 Hosting would require a few thousand words to talk about all its features. Breaking down the essentials, everything is present. You get backups, an SSL/TLS certificate and a website builder. The website builder is less impressive because, like Strikingly, it only allows for a single-page design, but the option is there (read our Strikingly review).
That said, the unusual features make up for it. Some of A2 Hosting’s plans come with a “turbo” feature, which boasts speeds up to 20 times faster. That’s stretching it, but going with a turbo service will help your website load faster. A2 Hosting has fewer users on the server, as well as its turbo cache, which means your website will be faster and more consistent.
The WordPress features are excellent, too. You get some version of Jetpack — which you can learn about in our beginner’s guide to using WordPress — with your plan, which also includes website analytics, backups and more. You can learn more about that, and A2 Hosting’s other features, in our A2 Hosting review.
Web hosting is normalized when it comes to price, at least on the surface. Glancing through product pages, you’d be forgiven for thinking that most web hosts cost about the same, but the details, unfortunately, are dirtier than that. Multi-year contracts, strange discount schemes and deceptive product pages make pricing more complex than with other online services.
For this section, we’re not just looking at price, we’re also looking at contract durations, multi-year discounts and, most importantly, if deceptive pricing is going on. If you want to see the latter in action, be sure to read our Arvixe review.
Hosting24 — and Hostinger, for that matter — showcases that you can offer multi-year discounts while maintaining monthly options. You can purchase almost any duration you want, going as short as a month or as long as four years. Though you’re rewarded for going with a multi-year plan, you aren’t punished for purchasing a monthly plan.
The price per month is the same throughout plans, so Premium Web Hosting, for example, will always cost $11.95 per month. That said, the longer you purchase, the higher the discount you’ll get on the initial term. Though common for most web hosts, Hosting24 provides a steeper discount than most.
For example, the most inexpensive shared package costs under $40 for four years, which is around half as much as a single year at Bluehost (read our Bluehost review). Plus, you can pay any way you want, including a variety of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. You can learn more in our Hosting24 review.
DreamHost gets a lot right when it comes to features, speed, security and more, but the thread that runs through the service is transparency, which is important when it comes to pricing. DreamHost is not only inexpensive, it’s also clear about what you’ll be paying, meaning there are no surprises when it comes to checkout.
On each product page, you can select the duration you’re interested in and see the price update in real time. It seems like such a small difference, especially compared to our best VPN services, but having the ability to adjust prices without committing to a checkout page is huge. You know what you’re paying from start to finish.
That’d be great even if DreamHost was the same price as the rest of the market, but it’s cheaper. By omitting features such as a free domain on monthly plans, DreamHost is able to drop its rates to a few dollars cheaper than the rest of the market. You can learn more about pricing, as well as everything else DreamHost has to offer, in our DreamHost review.
1&1 IONOS has issues — the support could use work and the security features leave something to be desired — but its recent facelift has done wonders for the service. That includes the price, which, like DreamHost’s, is not only low, but clear, as well. That said, it ranks below DreamHost because you can’t adjust the price on each product page.
Even so, 1&1 IONOS shows the price you’ll pay initially, as well as what you’ll pay upon renewal. Instead of acting like a sale is going on, 1&1 is clear that you’re paying a promotional rate. For example, the Essential WordPress plan says you’ll pay $1 per month for the first 12 months, then $9 per month after.
The price is very low, too. The basic shared plan, for example, is only $4 per month and doesn’t require a contract. That means you can buy as much or as little time as you want without worrying about a higher price on a short duration. You can learn more about the price and the new features in our 1&1 IONOS review.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is an interesting category because the scope is limited to the web host. Instead of talking about WordPress or the website builder, we’re going to focus on how easy the web host makes it to set up an account, manage your services and change features on your website.
That starts at checkout, which is a point of contention for most web hosts. For this round, we looked for providers that made it easy to get from checkout to your dashboard. cPanel is a plus, too, because it’s one of the best ways to manage your website, as you can read in our best web hosting with cPanel guide.
We’ve always liked Hostinger’s no-nonsense approach to usability, but it lacked the power of cPanel in its previous form. Thankfully, the interface has been overhauled, maintaining the user-centric ideology while expanding functionality. You get all the features of a normal cPanel implementation, but it’s redesigned to put users first.
Plus, Hostinger walks you through the process the moment after you click “checkout.” It doesn’t leave you to fend for yourself after you hand over your money. Instead, it directs you to the control panel with steps for installing, say, WordPress. If you’d rather go to managing your website, you can skip the setup steps.
Kinsta ranks highly in our best web hosting for WordPress guide, and if you read our Kinsta review, you’ll see why. It’s a fast, feature-rich provider that has a knack for making the complex world of web hosting simple. As we mentioned in our review, we had a website up and running within a few minutes.
You’re directed through the no-nonsense checkout to the proprietary control panel without the need to tab away to your email to find account credentials. The control panel isn’t cPanel, but unlike, say, LunarPages, that’s a good thing (read our LunarPages review). Kinsta makes managing your website just as powerful while being more accessible.
There’s much more to Kinsta, though, making it not only excellent for WordPress, but one of the best web hosts in general. You can learn more in our Kinsta review.
WebHostingBuzz makes its dense lineup feel easy to navigate. Though it displays the full details for each of its plans, finding the option that’s best for you isn’t difficult. Plus, you’re guided through checkout to your dashboard, making it easy to get up and running in only a few minutes.
The control panel is mostly concerned with billing, but you see your bandwidth, disk usage and the most commonly used cPanel items. That makes it easy to manage your website without digging into cPanel, though, thankfully, that option is still there.
There are multiple ways to host your website. You can learn about the differences between them in our hosting types overview, but the short of it is that the way in which your website is hosted has a great effect on performance. Usually, web hosts don’t offer every major form of hosting, making this section difficult.
We judge providers based on the hosting types they offer and the audience they’re catered to. Plus, this section is a chance for us to talk about how well balanced each plan is, going past just the price and features.
DreamHost offers a little bit of everything, and at a good price, making it a slam dunk for this round. In addition to the normal line of shared, VPS and dedicated hosting, you can also purchase cloud hosting, but not in the same way as you would from other web hosts.
Instead of making you pay per month or year, DreamHost only charges you for your server usage. You’re charged from a fraction of a cent per hour up to 8 cents an hour, meaning you only pay for what you use. Plus, there’s a maximum monthly limit, meaning there are no surprises when you settle at the end of the month.
You can still use the service past that point, but it adds a check on how much DreamHost can charge you. Outside of that, there’s also the DreamPress plans, which offer managed WordPress on the cloud. They’re pricier but worth it, especially if you’ve already made it through our advanced guide to using WordPress.
In its previous form, Hostinger was simply an inexpensive shared host. It has greatly expanded its lineup, though, adding cloud and VPS hosting to the range. Though dedicated hosting is absent, the offerings Hostinger has cover almost every base and do so at a reasonable price.
The major addition is cloud hosting, which provides better speed and security than traditional forms of hosting. We’ve seen other web hosts use cloud hosting to great effect — read our Namecheap review for an example — but Hostinger’s plans feel even more robust. That’s because, in addition to being inexpensive, Hostinger gives you a lot of specs for your money.
A2 Hosting has a dense lineup, and though that causes problems in usability, it still leaves you a lot of options. It’s missing cloud hosting. It only offers shared, VPS and dedicated options, but each of those categories have subcategories that expand the lineup. That allows you to choose not only the architecture your website uses, but also the specifics of the architecture.
For example, there are three types of VPS hosting. You can choose between core, managed or unmanaged. The first is a managed option with root access, the second is managed without root access and the third is unmanaged with root access. That flexibility allows you to choose a hosting package that’s right for your website and, hopefully, save a few bones in the process.
Speed and Uptime
While many sections in our reviews come down to preference and isolated experience, speed and uptime is concrete. This section is one of the only times in our web hosting reviews that we can offer data as a point of comparison between providers. That said, website speed is complex, so our numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.
We test website speed by launching a blank WordPress website on the most inexpensive hosting plan. That way, we remove variables, such as uncompressed images and lengthy content, to hone in on how well the web host performs. If you want to learn about optimizing your website, read our how to improve website loading times guide.
The tools we use are Pingdom Speed Test and Load Impact. The former gives us a way to see how an individual user will experience the website, while the latter provides a way to see how the server will perform under load. When combined, we can see not only how quickly the website loads, but how much traffic it can handle before it breaks.
As a more expensive WordPress option, it should come as little surprise that Kinsta performed well when it came to speed testing. Harnessing the power of Google Cloud, it scored a 96 out of 100 from Pingdom Speed Test, which is impressive. There’s a reason massive brands, such as FreshBooks, use Kinsta (read our FreshBooks review).
Moving on to Load Impact, Kinsta performed just as well. Not only was it resilient as we sent 50 virtual users to the server over five minutes, but it also maintained nearly the same response time throughout. Our test sent over 9,000 requests, and Kinsta was able to handle them at a rate of 31 per second.
If you want to save a few bones, Hosting24 delivers just as excellent performance. It also scored a 96 out of 100 from Pingdom Speed Test and kept up with all the requests during our Load Impact test. That said, it was less consistent in response times during the Load Impact test, so your users may have varying speed.
For the price difference, though, the trade-off is worth it and still worthy of a second place spot. Hosting24 is able to achieve that speed at such low prices by using LiteSpeed server software, which is a paid alternative to Apache. It reduces the overhead that Apache requires, meaning fewer resources are dedicated to running the server and more are allocated to your website.
A2 Hosting has excellent test results overall, but you’ll see the biggest performance gain if you use one of its turbo plans. They got a score of 96 out of 100 from Pingdom Speed Test, with only a small amount of time dedicated to fetching data from the server. Most of our test speed, in fact, was taken by DNS resolution.
Even more impressive are the Load Impact results. A2 Hosting was able to handle each user with ease, deviating even less than Kinsta from the response time. Even so, A2 Hosting ranks third in this round because you’ll only see those performance benefits from turbo plans. They’re inexpensive, though, so A2 Hosting shouldn’t be discounted.
Website security is important, not only for you and your data, but also for your visitors. The thing that makes websites vulnerable is that they can be attacked from multiple angles. An attacker could load malware on the website to catch your users in a botnet or your domain could be stolen for use in a botnet or your domain could be stolen for use in a phishing scheme.
Regardless, it’s important to keep your website safe. There are a few ways that’s accomplished, including an SSL/TLS certificate, which encrypts the connection between your website and the user, and malware scanning and removal. Backups are also important because you can essentially render an attack null by reverting to a previous version of your website.
SiteGround took first place in features, and because features and security are so closely related, it’s not surprising to see it show up first here, too. What’s impressive about SiteGround isn’t that it includes the security features we look for, but that it includes them across all plans, regardless of the price you’re paying.
That includes an SSL/TLS certificate, daily backups and the ModSecurity web application firewall. Plus, there are intrusion detection and prevention systems in place to protect the servers from malware. There isn’t any monitoring of your website’s files, but even so, you’re protected.
DreamHost includes everything SiteGround does, including Cloudflare integration and distributed denial-of-service attack protection, but goes a step further with a paid malware removal service. It’s a paid service, so DreamHost has to settle for second place, but the tool is cheaper than competing tools, such as SiteLock, while coming with a few extra features.
DreamShield automatically scans your website weekly, removing malware it finds along the way. It also monitors your website’s reputation, ensuring Google, or any search engine, doesn’t have your domain on a blacklist.
Pagely would show up many more times on this list if it wasn’t for the astronomically high price tag. Its corporate clientele can pay those rates, and as you can see in our Pagely review, they pay them for a reason, but most websites will want to go with another option. Even so, the security features are so excellent that it’s worth a mention.
Security comes in multiple forms with Pagely, including managed core and plugin updates for your WordPress website, automatic backups to Amazon S3 (read our Amazon S3 review) and SSL/TLS management. Plus, you can take advantage of PressArmor, which is a proprietary network security tool, for free.
Privacy doesn’t seem to be a point of concern for most web hosts, as exemplified by EIG brands, such as Site5 (read our Site5 review). That said, some web hosts provide a glimmer of hope by handling the power of your data responsibly.
Plus, its stance on privacy has been demonstrated. In 2017, DreamHost was asked to provide information on an anti-Donald Trump website being hosted on its servers. The U.S. Department of Justice asked that not only the owner’s information be handed over, but also the 1.3 million or so IP addresses and personal information of users.
DreamHost fought the request, eventually getting the court hearing the case to allow it to redact much of the personal information. Though that outcome still isn’t ideal, the fact that DreamHost stood up speaks volumes.
WestHost also has a clear stance on privacy, as does its sister company, Midphase (read our Midphase review). Though WestHost has a few problems — you can learn about those in our WestHost review — the privacy is undeniable, which is impressive considering it’s a member of The Hut Group.
MDDHosting is one of the more unusual web services we’ve reviewed, focusing its lineup around cloud hosting. As you can see in our MDDHosting review, that pays off when it comes to speed, but it’s no slouch in other areas. The security and features are excellent, but the privacy is even more impressive.
Web hosting is complex and, because of that, problems are bound to come up. While problems are common, solutions aren’t always. In this final round, we’re going to rank our top three web hosting services that offer excellent support.
Outside of friendly, prompt support staff, the contact options are important. We like to see live chat, but phone and email support are important, too. Additionally, having a solid knowledgebase and a forum is essential.
Hostinger and Hosting24 stand out with exceptional live chat. No matter where you are on the website, a small live chat bubble with occasionally send notifications asking if you need help. Opening the live chat, you can quickly connect with an agent who’ll answer your question swiftly and thoroughly.
Plus, your live chat records are kept, meaning you can go back and reference previous conversations if needed. That gets around one of the major issues of live chat and makes traditional email support less attractive. If you don’t want to use live chat, there’s an extensive knowledgebase that covers everything from troubleshooting to tutorials.
Support is integrated in your account dashboard at SiteGround. Though the face isn’t as pretty as it is at Hostinger, the setup is just as functional. Navigating to the support tab directly from the account dashboard allows you to find support resources without abandoning whatever you’re doing.
That section is a stripped down version of the knowledgebase. The full thing is excellent, as is the live chat, which you can open from your account dashboard. Live chat reps are just as prompt as they are with Hostinger. SiteGround goes as far as including the reps’ picture and bio, too, and though that doesn’t inherently make the support better, it’s a nice touch.
DreamHost also has a pestering live chat, much like Hostinger, except it’s more annoying. Though that detracts from the support experience, the quality of help you’ll receive is excellent. DreamHost isn’t as accessible as Hostinger or SiteGround, but the reps ensure that any problem you have is solved in its entirety.
You’ll pay for that, though. Email and chat support are free, as long as you’re willing to go through the knowledgebase first, but phone support is paid. Even so, the $10 per call rate isn’t bad if you have a serious issue because DreamHost’s staff will make sure the call solves your problem.
The Best Website Hosting
Choosing the best website hosting is hard. As we’ve hinted at, we believe Hostinger works best for most websites, but there are other options. DreamHost offers excellent privacy and features, Namecheap is cheaper than most and WebHostingBuzz allows even the thinnest wallets to purchase dedicated hosting (read our Namecheap review and WebHostingBuzz review).
There are a lot of options, but even so, there’s a thread throughout this guide. We didn’t recommend a single brand owned by EIG, and that’s not from a lack of trying. We like Bluehost’s integration with WordPress, HostGator’s extensive lineup of plans and iPage’s dead simple interface (read our iPage review).
We didn’t recommend them because they’re lopsided in one way or another. Choosing the best web hosting for you isn’t about there being a single, de facto option. Rather, it’s about looking at all of the elements that make a great host and applying them to your website.
For most people, Hostinger will fit the bill because it’s ultra-fast, easy to use and cheap, to boot. That said, if you feel that another host is right for your website, it’s probably better to go with that option.
There are a lot of web hosts, but we hope the options feel more manageable now that you’ve made it through this guide. Hostinger ranks at the top of the list for us, but it’s a close battle when DreamHost and SiteGround are brought into the question.
Despite our best efforts, there is no best web hosting provider, simply better ones. Hostinger is the best for most, but A2 Hosting might be better if you’re, say, a developer and want to save a few bucks on an unmanaged VPS server. Likewise, Pagely is expensive, but it caters to large businesses and multi-website networks built on WordPress in ways that few web hosts can.
Because of that, we want to know which web host you’re using. Let us know the provider you went with, along with the reasons why, in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading.
Best Web Hosting FAQ
Below some answers to the web hosting questions we’ve heard the most.
What Is Web Hosting?
Web hosting is a service for storing and serving your website’s files. The web hosting provider stores your website on a server and transfers that data to a user when they go to your website.
How Much Does Web Hosting Cost?
The price of web hosting can vary depending on your needs. For most small-scale applications, you can expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $20 per month.
What Is Shared Hosting?
Shared hosting is the most common type of web hosting. Instead of your website being the only website on the server, you share a server with other websites, which makes the cost of shared hosting much cheaper.
How to Start a Web Hosting Business?
It’s difficult to start a web hosting business if you don’t have the money to open a data center. That said, you can resell web hosting with a reseller plan with a bigger provider. Read our best reseller hosting guide to learn more.
What Is Bandwidth in Web Hosting?
Bandwidth is the maximum amount of data that can be transferred across a network. Higher bandwidth means you can transfer more data. In web hosting, your bandwidth is usually the total amount of data you transferred in a month.