The web hosting information founders, startups and entrepreneurs need.
What is web hosting?
When it comes to overused terms “Web hosting” probably only misses out on the top spot to “entrepreneur” (because everyone is one in 2022). The problem is, although web hosting has never been more important for businesses, few people actually understand the term.
If you have a website (or want one) then you need a website host, think of it like a home for your website. Your site is made up of files, and web hosting is the process of allocating those files space on a server. Whoever owns that server is your hosting provider.
And not all web hosting providers are created equal…
Not all web hosting is created equal
There are 4 main types of hosting. The one you choose will determine the amount of space your hosting provider allocates your site on their server. This, in turn, will affect load speed, site security and a whole host of other factors that can hinder or even devastate your SEO.
The 4 main types of hosting are:
- Shared - Does what it says on the tin. Your website shares space on a server hosting many other sites.
- Dedicated - You guessed it. Your website is the only one hosted on that particular server.
- Virtual Private Server - VPS hosting simulates the experience of a dedicated server, even though you’re sharing the physical memory space. We won’t worry about how this is managed, it gets extremely geeky and technical extremely fast.
- Reseller - This is simply where an intermediary purchases hosting space off a provider before packaging and reselling it. We’re not concerned with this approach and wouldn’t recommend it.
The kind of hosting you choose is going to determine your server technology, level of service and management. The providers below focus on shared hosting as it’s a cost effective means of launching a website that still meets beginner needs.
However, each hosting provider will further complicate the matter by differentiating themselves through additional offerings. This is going to have a huge impact on the load speed and quality of your website so it’s something you should pay attention to.
5 main considerations
So what attributes should you focus on when deciding where and how to host your site? Well, you should keep the following 5 considerations in mind. They’re the most important when it comes to site performance, which impacts your ranking on Google. This means they’re also the metric by which we’re going to rate them as competitors to the might Bluehost.
Whether it’s in the ring, on the road or for your website, speed kills. The majority of users are going to expect your site to load within 2 seconds and will vote with their digital feet if it doesn’t. Google already downranks any slow loading pages, so a high bounce rate is only going to compound the hurt. Several factors affect website speed but you want to ensure that your hosting provider has a fast server and enough memory and processing power.
This one really is a no-brainer. Security should rank extremely highly when considering a hosting company, but especially if you’re intending to play in the ecommerce sandbox. Secure socket layer (SSL) is no longer optional but serves as the bare minimum.
Do you understand server management and do you have the internal resources to manage your website? If there’s any shade of doubt there then you want to use a hosting company that has both of those. 24/7 support is important for those sites expecting global visitors and customers, but so is the quality of that support.
Nobody likes paying for a service they’re not using, but it’s worth taking stock of your current website traffic and content before committing to a web hosting service. Do you intend to grow your site traffic and content significantly beyond its current level? If so then you’ll need the resources to do so and a web hosting provider capable of accommodating that level of expansion.
Sometimes (most of the time in fact), it just comes down to that all important dollar. All of the major players in the web hosting space tend to have similar introductory offers. However, you need to be cautious of the upsells as the price soon racks up!
What’s wrong with Bluehost?
Before we begin listing the top alternatives, we should probably deal with the elephant in the room. Just what exactly is wrong with Bluehost? Well, tell me if the scenario below feels familiar.
- You have what you think is an incredible idea.
- You chew your family and friend’s ears off regarding your groundbreaking idea.
- You begin to imagine the international business mogul you’ll soon become.
- You do a bit of market research (but probably less than you should).
- One thing stands out above all others. You’re going to need a kick-ass website.
- You finally decide that it’s time to take the plunge and start googling web hosting providers.
- You’re faced with a baffling number of options for hosting your website and probably turn to Bluehost in desperation.
How do I know this? Because I’ve been there and done it as a first time founder. I too was puzzled and I too turned to Bluehost in desperation. Why? Well, it probably had something to do with the fact that they’ve been around for a long time and are heavily promoted thanks to their excellent affiliate program.
Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t one of those articles whose sole intent is to bash Bluehost. However, if you think that there’s nothing wrong with the most popular web hosting service then you’ve clearly not used it for long or ever checked out it’s competitors.
With such a choice on the market, there are better options for founders and startups which better position you for future growth.
The Top 5
1. Tiiny Host
The independent static website host offers a punch far above its weight. With unrivalled loading speeds and phenomenal support and scalability.
Speed - Tiiny host are extremely difficult to beat on speed given that they specialise in hosting cached static websites. In fact, they ranked the fastest on this list, a hugely important factor when you consider the onus Google places on this metric. Oh, and if you think static website’s speed can’t be leveraged for e-commerce, think again.
Security - Static websites are pretty rock solid by sheer virtue of the fact they’re static. Your database has to work overtime whenever someone loads your dynamic content. That results in security vulnerabilities. You can’t even run a query on a static website so you can wave goodbye to those dreaded SQL injection attacks. The internet’s a little like the ocean, and there are sharks. Each time you build dynamic content on the fly your files go for a swim. I’m not saying you’ll always get bit, just that you increase your chances with every dip.
Support - Tiiny compensate for their lack of 24/7 service by offering the most personalised support of any provider on this list. Their independent status means that they offer a more nuanced and human approach to customer service. I don’t care how many datasets you’ve run through the algorithm, your “AI” bot isn’t fooling anyone.
Scalability - Tiiny is the most user-friendly of the Bluehost alternatives and the only one to leverage a drag and drop design. This simplified process coupled with the fact that you only need to generate content once enables both rapid and cheap scalability.
Pricing - Tiiny host certainly have the most understandable pricing framework of any hosting provider mentioned. They represent the highest upfront cost of any of the providers on this list BUT (and it’s an important “but”) the lowest ongoing costs of any provider mentioned. They’re also unbeaten on value when it comes to rolling monthly packages (by a fair margin). Crucially though, they’re also the only hosting provider that doesn’t attempt an upsell or to lock you in to their package deal for up to 3 years.
Siteground offers an extremely impressive package and are probably our favourite hosting provider when it comes to dynamic content.
Speed - Siteground boast extremely fast loading speeds for dynamic sites thanks to their supercacher feature. They also guarantee that your site will have 99% uptime, an undeniably impressive feature. In fact, when it comes to loading dynamic content, they’re pretty hard to beat.
Security - Siteground have IDS/IDP security systems to tackle malicious bots and Modsecurity is installed on all of their shared servers. A custom web application firewall alongside updating their security rules weekly further enhances their security credentials. A pretty decent offering at this price point.
Support - Siteground offers round the clock multichannel support, absolutely imperative for those whose sites are their livelihood or operate across multiple time zones and can afford no downtime.
Scalability - Sitegrounds fast load speeds and free content delivery network (CDN) as standard aid their scalability. If you’re loading particularly rich dynamic content then you can acquire greater server space and 30% faster PHP. However, those are premium features that are going to cost you.
Pricing - Siteground has a great introductory offer at the moment of £2.99 a month. However, that only applies if you lock in for a year and doesn’t include domain registration or site security. So you’re actually looking at an upfront cost of over £80. Cheeky upsells aplenty here.
Ranked PCMag’s web host provider of choice for 6 straight years and with 2 million sites hosted since 2002, Hostgator know what they’re doing.
Speed - There’s little to differentiate Siteground and Hostgator when it comes to load times for rich dynamic content but the prize would go to the former by a hair thanks to Siteground’s supercacher.
Security - Hostgator offers SSL as standard and free spam protection through SpamAssassin. They offer an impressive array of security features (including automatic malware protection) through their Sitelock security plan, but it’s worth noting that peace of mind requires a further investment, and the cost quickly accumulates.
Support - We honestly found little to differentiate them in this regard. Both Hostgator and Siteground offer 24/7 chat and phone support alongside a knowledge centre and tickets.
Scalability - Hostgator offers unmetered bandwidth (in line with their terms and conditions). This is pretty impressive for a shared hosting provider and allows your site to scale and grow organically. However, it’s worth noting that they don’t offer a free CDN with their basic plan.
Pricing - Hostgator have an even better introductory offer than Siteground (at the time of writing). They’re offering web hosting with a domain included for less than £3 a year! There’s only one (rather humongous) catch, you have to lock in for 3 years. Also, once you add on security essentials and backups the price more than doubles.
The only independently owned hosting provider on the list, Dreamhost fail to leverage their entrepreneurial background to offer a more personalised service.
Speed - Dreamhost has 2 data centres located in the U.S. but doesn’t offer a CDN as standard so you’re going to want to upgrade if you anticipate overseas visitors to your website. Although reliable and fast, Dreamhost didn’t compete with Siteground’s impressive load speeds.
Security - Dreamhost includes an SSL certificate in your plan but one-ups it’s competition by throwing in domain privacy for free. You can purchase more advanced protection through Dreamhost’s Dreamshield plan, which operates in much the same way as Hostgator’s Sitelock.
Support - 24/7 support through both chat and email ostensibly brings Dreamhost in-line with their competitors. Couple that with their U.S. based service and you feel secure that your needs are taken care of. However there’s an awful surprise in that Dreamhost don’t offer any inbound phone support!
Their live phone support is delivered through callbacks. Meaning that you’ll sit and twiddle your thumbs until the phone rings. What’s even worse is that it’s not included in their basic plan, but can be bolted on as an upsell.
A phenomenal vulnerability on a battlefield that the independent hosting provider should flourish on.
Scalability - Dreamhost offers unmetered bandwidth as standard and 50GB of SSD storage (enough to run a sizeable website and likely to fulfill the needs of any start up or founder).
Pricing - You’d think that Dreamhost would be exorbitant given their more personalised and niche offering, but they actually fall roughly in line with their competitors on price. The problem is that the price doubles when you add their security essentials. They don’t lock you in for 3 years (we’re looking at you here Hostgator) but the cost does double once again when the contract renews after a year.
Pretty much everyone’s heard of them, and for good reason. A basic offering done well has been the moniker for GoDaddy.
Speed - Although GoDaddy performs surprisingly well in load speed tests (clocking up 480ms), it fails to compete with competitors such as Siteground. Still, an impressive load speed for a hosting service not renowned for it.
Security - The basic plan lacks the security features boasted by their competitors. We hunted for an SSL certificate to no avail and backups were distinctly missing.
Support - GoDaddy boasts a similar offering to their competitors in that they offer 24/7 customer support through a chat function, a decent knowledge base and an extensive phone network. However, customers have reported wildly fluctuating support times.
Scalability - Although GoDaddy offers unmetered bandwidth and beats their competitors with 100GB of storage they suffer due to their lack of basic security offerings and uncosted site migrations. You’ll certainly want the former if you intend to scale and adding these features rapidly increases the price.
Pricing - You guessed it, GoDaddy clearly keep an eye on the competition as their price mirrors others on this list. However, they’ve followed Hostgator’s lead and seek to lock you in for 3 years. The monthly cost also doubles once we throw in their security essentials.
The Wrap Up
Website hosting is a crowded market and it can be difficult to differentiate between the top performers’ value offering, especially for first time founders.
That being said, our guide ranks website hosts on the metrics that matter to startups and those looking to host their first site. Make no mistake, this is a pivotal decision and one that you should do your utmost to get right.