Demystifying web hosting for founders, startups and entrepreneurs everywhere.
What Exactly Is Web Hosting?
Every single founder and small business owner will ask themselves this question within the first few minutes of searching for a home for their website. There’s an eye-watering amount of poor, and plainly wrong information floating around regarding web hosting. Let’s clear away the cobwebs of misunderstanding right now shall we?
Everyone in the modern world either owns a website or wants one. That means they’re going to need a web host. You see, despite what that expensive dev you hired on Fiverr told you, your website isn’t crafted from magic. It’s actually made of a plethora of files, and those files need a home. “Web hosting” is the name given to the process of providing space on a server for the files that constitute your website.
Whoever owns the server where your website files are hosted is your hosting provider.
The problem is, there’s an awful lot of hosting providers.
The 4 Forms Of Web Hosting
Web hosting is a broad church but generally comes in one of 4 forms. Make no mistake, this is a crucial decision for any founder or small business. The form of hosting you choose will determine the amount of space your hosting provider allocates your files on their server. In other words, it affects the size, look and function of your website.
This is important because it’ll affect every factor of your site, including the crucial ones such as load speed and security. A false step here could devastate your SEO efforts and eradicate any strides you’ve already made.
So let’s explore the 4 main types of hosting:
- Shared - The clue’s in the name. Your website files share a server with a load of others. You “share” the server space.
- Dedicated - No prizes for guessing correctly here either. Your website gets a server all to itself.
- Virtual Private Server (VPS) - Things are getting a little more complex now. A VPS mimics the experience of a dedicated server, despite the fact that you’re still sharing the physical space. The technicality and management is something that could only excite the likes of Sheldon Cooper though, so we won’t venture beyond the basics.
- Reseller - This is less complicated than it appears. An intermediary or “middleman” purchases space on a hosting provider’s server before reselling it for a profit. Not a hosting approach we recommend for your website.
Don’t let the above simplicity fool you. The sort of hosting you choose will determine your server technology and the extent of the service and management. We’ve focused our guide on shared hosting as it’s both cost effective and will meet pretty much every small to mid-sized business’ needs.
However, although the majority of the providers listed below share a similar basic offering, they seek to differentiate themselves through different levels of service and additional offerings. These will have an out sized impact on the quality of your website and therefore your user experience, so they’re worth paying attention to (and occasionally investing in).
The 5 Tenets of Web Hosting
So how do you cut through the noise? What should you focus on if you want to make a wise purchase for hosting your site?
First and foremost, keep the 5 considerations listed below at the forefront of your mind when digesting any web host provider offering. They carry a great deal of weight when it comes to your site’s overall performance, which can either positively or negatively impact your Google ranking (and therefore the health of your business).
That also renders them excellent markers to measure Hostgator against.
There’s a reason boxers say “speed beats power”. The majority of us use the internet every day, and we expect our sites to load extremely fast. Indeed, research has consistently shown that a load time of 2 seconds results in a bounce rate of 9%. However, increase that load time by one second and the bounce rate more than quadruples to 38%! Google already downranks slow pages and a high bounce rate will compound your woes. The margin for error is therefore insanely thin when it comes to load time. Several factors impact your load speed but ensure that your hosting provider has a fast server, reams of memory and processing power aplenty.
Remember how we likened your website to your online home? Well you wouldn’t leave the house with the front door unlocked and the windows open would you? Yet this is a mistake we see so very many business owners repeatedly make. Security is always important but doubly so if you’re intending to play in the ecommerce arena. Secure socket layer (SSL) certificates aren’t a guard against thieves, they’re a bare minimum (so don’t believe the hosting provider’s landing pages). Dynamic content will almost certainly require the upgraded security and backups on offer to be made safe.
Everyone always undervalues this metric . All I can say is that those people have never had a costly server side problem that they had no idea how to fix. If you can’t manage your own site then it’s a matter of “when” not “if” you’ll have to lean on your hosting provider’s support system. Nobody can purchase from your site when it’s down for maintenance. Downtime equals negatively impacted profits.
You’re probably like the majority of the human race in that you don’t see the point of paying for something if you’re not using it. Honestly, I’m the same. However, don’t just take stock of your current website content and traffic when committing to a web hosting service. Plan ahead, what do you expect your growth to be over the next financial year? Can the server space handle the amount of rich content you intend to publish? How time consuming is it to create and publish content through the provider? These are important questions should undoubtedly impact your choice of hosting provider.
Ah, the almighty dollar. The good news is that all of the major players in the web hosting market tend to have similar introductory offers. The bad news is that some of the contract terms and upsells are downright hideous. Tread carefully here and consider your ongoing costs alongside your upfront ones.
What’s Wrong With Hostgator?
This is a really important question because the Houston based web hosting service has served their customers well since launching in 2002. They’re still posting a solid average uptime of 99.8% 2 decades after opening their doors, so they must be doing something right.
The problem is that web hosting isn’t a “one size fits all” type of gig, and hostgator might not be the best fit. This is doubly true if you’re a founder or new business.
Growth is likely to be your number one priority as a startup, and that means that you need a web hosting provider that scales with you. Everyone focuses on speed and security but it’s also important to project into the future for price and scalability.
What Hostgator Does Well
You don’t win PC mag’s web hoster of choice award for 6 straight years and host over 2 million websites unless you’re doing something right.
So here’s what they do well:
- Hostgator offer free spam protection as standard.
- Speed really isn’t too much of an issue for Hostgator, coming in at 1.03 seconds for their average load time. This is well below the famous 2 second bounce hurdle.
- Hostgator unsurprisingly offer 24/7 customer support and a decent knowledge centre and ticketing system.
- Unmetered bandwidth really helps reinforce their scalability offering.
- They’re pretty impressive on price too, with an introductory offer of less than £3!
What Hostgator Does Poorly
- That free spam protection is nowhere near enough enough to keep your site secure. You’ll want an (SSL) certificate and hostgator’s sitelocker essentials if you’re serious about keeping the bad guys out. That’s all going to cost you extra.
- Speed’s not an issue but their load time is twice as long as Siteground’s on average. Important given their parity in price.
- If you want an email linked to your url then you’re going to have to pay for it, which is disappointing given the fact that this comes as standard with competing web hosters such as Bluehost.
- That introductory offer only counts if you sign up for a minimum of 3 years! That’s not a typo! The cost rapidly increases if you choose to sign up for a shorter term.
The Top 5 Hostgator Alternatives
1. Tiiny Host
It’s easy to see why Tiiny Host is rapidly building a reputation as an independent static web hosting provider that packs a punch far above their weight class. Boasting phenomenal load speeds, more personable customer support, great scalability and zero upsells.
So let’s see just how they compare with Hostgator:
Speed - Load speed is becoming an increasingly important factor in the raging battle to rule the Google SERPs, and Tiiny Host are nearly impossible to beat in this metric. Their specialisation in hosting cached static websites results in lightning fast load speeds at a fraction of the price. If you’re thinking of launching an ecommerce site then Tiiny Host’s speed might just give you the edge on your competition.
Security - We all wish that the internet was safe but the truth is that there are malicious actors out there. You provide them with an opportunity to attack your site every single time your database has to overheat loading all of that dynamic content. Static sites load cached content, which means that security is pretty much bred into their DNA. That also means that SQL injection attacks are a thing of the past.
Support - Tiiny compensates for their lack of 24/7 support by offering a more personalised support service. This means that your ticket is actually triaged and resolved by a human, as opposed to a poorly implemented “AI” robot that’s certainly “artificial” but far from “intelligent”. Tiiny’s support is provided by humans for humans, which means that they’re focusing on the right metric when it comes to customer support; “time to resolution” as opposed to “time to acknowledgement”.
Scalability - Tiiny is the only provider in the list to leverage a drag and drop design as standard. This means that it’s incredibly accessible and lowers the barrier to website building and project sharing for small to mid-sized agencies. Simplifying processes coupled with the fact that you only need to generate content once results in scalability that’s both rapid and cheap.
Price - Tiiny host’s pricing framework reinforces their scalability credentials, making them a perfect fit for startups and small to mid-sized agencies. It’s the only provider on the list that doesn’t hit you with upsells at every step of the journey and the provider with the cheapest ongoing costs. That heady mixture of bulletproof security, transparency and price awareness results in a strong value offering from the niche web hosting provider.
There isn’t much that Siteground do poorly and they’re difficult to beat when it comes to hosting dynamic content.
Speed - Siteground’s “supercacher” feature means they likely have the fastest loading speed for dynamic content outside of a costly dedicated server. However they’re not only fast. They also guarantee your site an uptime of 99%. Impressive speed and dependability from the web hosting provider.
Security - Siteground’s basic security offering is definitely more impressive than Hostgator’s. Their IDS/IDP security systems protect from malicious bots and all of their shared servers are fitted with Modsecurity. They not only update their security rules weekly but also implement a custom web application firewall. Although this isn’t a bad offering you’ll probably want their enhanced security package which increases costs significantly.
Support - Round the clock multichannel support brings Siteground in line with their competitors. Although the 24/7 support is good (some would argue imperative if your product spans continents), it lacks Tiiny Host’s understanding and personal approach.
Scalability - “Supercacher” keeps your site faster for longer as you scale and is reinforced by Siteground’s offering of a CDN as standard. Increased server space and 30% faster PHP come as premium features if you’re willing to splash the cost.
Price - Siteground’s introductory offer aligns with Hostgator’s ostensibly impressive cost. However, they’ll lock you in for a year and charge you separately for domain registration and daily website scrubs. Upsells lurk around every bend here.
If you haven’t heard of this web hosting juggernaut then I’d like to congratulate you on successfully crawling out from under that rock. There’s a lot that Bluehost does right, but a fair bit it does wrong.
Speed - An impressive average load time of 324ms takes Bluehost to the top of our list for speed and they’re phenomenally consistent when it comes to site uptime as well. It’s difficult to find anything amiss here.
Security - Bluehost fare less well when it comes to their security offering. They go so far as to throw in an SSL certificate with their basic package but that’s about all you’re getting. Backups and security essentials are going to cost you extra, a feature which quickly drives up the price.
Support - The standard industry offering of 24/7 phone and chat support is on offer here. However, user tests have shown both to be a relatively lackadaisical affair. If you’re looking for a sense of urgency (or even a sense of what’s going on) when your site has an issue then you could be on the phone for a while.
Scalability - Unmetered bandwidth but only half of GoDaddy’s offering of 100GB storage. That’s still enough to scale but brings them firmly in line with their competitors. Where Bluehost fares better is in their email offering of 5 separate accounts. It’s just a shame that comes with a paltry 100mb of storage.
Price - Bluehost rules the roost when it comes to introductory offers with a basic package at an ostensibly insane £2.20 a month. However, upsells are a common theme in this list and Bluehost is no exception. Backups and security essentials more than double the monthly price (and they lock you in for a year term as a minimum).
Dreamhost are an independently owned hosting provider, which makes them a little unusual. That entrepreneurial background should result in a more personalised service…
Speed - Dreamhost serves their customers in North America and Western Europe well with 2 data centres located in the U.S.. However, their standard offer doesn’t include a CDN so you’ll want to upgrade if you target overseas visitors. Although impressive, Dreamhost’s speed doesn’t compare with Siteground.
Security - Not only do Dreamhost provide you with an SSL as standard but also offer domain privacy in their basic package. Their enhanced security offering is packaged and delivered through “Dreamshield” and operates as an upsell in much the same manner as Hostgator’s “Sitelock”.
Support - At first glance there’s nothing amiss here with 24/7 chat support as standard. Dreamhost also do themselves a favour by basing their customer service in the U.S., helping reaffirm their nuanced credentials. However, the devil is in the details when it comes to customer support and a little digging reveals a fly in the ointment for Dreamhost.
The dynamic content host fails to offer any inbound live phone customer support service. They do offer a callback option, but it isn’t part of their standard plan and will cost you extra.
This is simply phenomenal given the importance of a well serviced website to a business’ needs and severely undermines Dreamhost’s value offering.
Scalability - Unmetered bandwidth is offered as standard alongside 50GB of SSD storage. That’s enough to run a sizeable website and would almost certainly serve the needs of any startup or founder.
Price - Although Dreamhost manage to compete with other shared hosting providers on the list their shocking customer service oversight costs them on real value. This error is compounded when their price doubles not once but twice. The former when you add their security essentials package and the latter when the contract renews after a year.
If the thought of buying a domain has ever even crossed your mind then you’ve probably been targeted by a GoDaddy advert. This web hosting provider does the basics well and they’ve flourished for it.
Speed - You’d be forgiven for assuming that GoDaddy is one of the slower web hosting providers on the market. After all, “dads” have a bit of a reputation for wearing cardigans and being generally fusty. However, GoDaddy racked up a seriously impressive mere 480ms load speed in recent user tests.
Security - The infamous web hosting provider really lets itself down when it comes to their security. There isn’t even a hint of an SSL in their basic package and we couldn’t find backups mentioned anywhere. Not on par with their competitors.
Support - An extensive phone network, decent chat function and the standard 24/7 operating times is a fair old boast for the stalwart here. However, a little digging revealed reports of wildly fluctuating wait times, the last thing you want when you’re desperate for your site to update.
Scalability - Unmetered bandwidth is on the table here alongside an industry beating 100GB of storage. However, uncosted site migrations and a lack of basic security means you’ll be paying through the nose to meaningfully scale.
Price - No surprises for guessing that GoDaddy’s offering closely mirrored that of their competitors. What is surprising is that the web hosting provider has decided to follow Hostgator in attempting to lock their customers in for 3 year terms. We personally find that distasteful (to say the least) and noticed that the monthly cost doubles once you purchase their security essentials offering.
We’ve done the web hosting heavy lifting
If you’re a startup or mid-sized agency then our web hosting guide pierces through the noise and strikes to the heart of what matters most to you.
I’ve yet to meet a non-technical first time founder who could differentiate between the main players in the web hosting market. That desperation works in favour of the main hosters, delivering the confused masses in their droves.
Choosing a web hosting provider is likely to be the most pivotal choice in the life of your fledgling business. You’re now armed with the information to make an informed decision.