The web hosting guide founders, startups and entrepreneurs need
We Need To Talk About Web Hosting
Searching for anything on the internet is a little like setting sail on a dangerous voyage, and web hosting is no different. The topic is like an ocean, simply huge. Even worse, the currents are strong and treacherous, sucking the unwitting beneath the waves and hammering them with unforeseen costs. A well intentioned founder or startup could soon feel like they’re drowning.
All of this means It’s hard to tell what to trust and what to dismiss.
If you’re a founder, startup or even a consumer then you know the value of an awesome website. It acts as your virtual storefront, converts customers and usually serves as the flagship of your brand. All of that makes it an extremely important (and potentially costly) factor of your business.
So how do you optimise it for success?
What Is Web Hosting And How Does It Work?
Your gorgeous website may look like a DaVinci painting but it’s actually composed of a multitude of extremely boring files. Those files need a home on the internet so that they can be loaded whenever someone clicks on your link or types your URL into their search bar.
“Web hosting” is the process by which those files that compose your website are allocated space on a server. Whoever owns that server is your “hosting provider”. They’re your virtual landlord, and that means that you’ll owe them rent.
As a result of that, you’ll want to ensure that you’re not paying over the odds for a substandard service. You want to know exactly what you’re getting for your money and the service you can expect to receive.
Web Hosting Comes In 4 Main Forms
As already mentioned, “web hosting” is a huge topic, and comes in many shapes and sizes. However, we usually group them into 4 broad categories:
- Shared Hosting - Remember how your website is composed of files? Well if your files share server space with another website then that’s shared hosting.
- Dedicated - No sharing here. Your website is greedy and has decided that it wants a server all to itself.
- Virtual Private Server (VPS) - You’re still sharing physical server space here but the VPS imitates the experience of a dedicated server. This can get extremely technical extremely fast so we’ll leave it there. Needless to say that not all VPS’ are equal so you’ll have to ensure that there’s a notable improvement in performance before parting with your money.
- Reseller - A “middleman” purchases server space from a hosting provider and “resells” it for a profit. Not the approach we recommend for readers of this article.
The form of hosting you’re going to choose will determine how much room your files are allocated on a server. So it’s a crucial decision for every fledgling business as your server space is a deciding factor in how your site actually performs to consumers.
We’ll focus on shared hosting in this guide because it’s economic and is going to serve the needs of 99.9% of startups and small to midsize businesses out there.
The 5 Questions You Need To Ask Your Hosting Provider
Ostensibly, the main players in the web hosting game have nearly identical introductory offers. However, once we delve beneath the surface we begin to understand that they essentially use “upsells” as a means of differentiating themselves from the competition.
These “upsells” are bolt-on services that enhance a facet of your site, giving you an edge on the competition. By interrogating these we’ll focus on the metrics that matter, saving you precious time and resources.
So what are the 5 questions that you need to ask when choosing a hosting provider?
1. How fast will my site load?
Being noticed on the internet is vital to your sales funnel as a startup or small business. You want to ensure that your site is ranking as close to the top of the search engine results page (SERP) as possible to get the most clicks and customers.
How long are you willing to wait for a website to load? 2 seconds? 5 seconds? Even 10 seconds? The truth is that research has proven that increasing site load times from 2 to 3 seconds more than quadruples your bounce rate from 9% to 38%!
2. What’s your security like?
Don’t be that person who opens an email to discover that their Stripe account has been disabled due to a hacker. You’ll have to sit there and watch as your competition hoovers up your revenue.
If your website intends to collect data or process payments in any way then your hosting provider’s security can literally make or break your site. Despite this, we continue to see it underappreciated as a metric.
Robust security is non-negotiable and secure socket layers (SSL) are just an entry level criteria. This means you’ll have to rely on the hosting provider’s security package, unless you go with static hosting.
2. How do I contact customer support?
If you’re not technical enough to manage faults on your own server then you’re going to be on the phone to your hosting provider’s customer support at some point. Despite this, the first time most people take note of their hosting provider’s customer support is the first time they have to use it.
This is a huge mistake as site downtime is no joke. It’ll alienate your customers and cost you money. That means that the key metric to look for here is “time to resolution” and not “time to acknowledgement”. You want a customer support system that is nuanced enough to handle whatever you throw at them as opposed to just giving you generic responses.
3. Can my hosting provider scale my site?
I’ve yet to meet a single founder or small business for whom “growth” wasn’t at the top of their agenda. This means that you shouldn’t just rate your hosting provider on their ability to meet your current needs, but also on the cost of their meeting your future needs.
That means you’ll either need a hosting provider who prices in growth from the outset or allows you to upgrade your hosting plan economically. If you don’t take note of this then costs can spiral quickly and you’ll be forced to migrate your site to another host.
4. How much does my web hosting provider cost?
As already mentioned, all the major hosting providers have almost suspiciously similar offerings. However, the basic plans are extremely sparse on services so you’re undoubtedly going to want to opt for a few extras.
The solution to this is to take a holistic view and factor in ongoing costs and future growth. That should prevent you from being hoodwinked by attractive introductory offers that don’t actually deliver the value advertised or the service you need.
What’s Wrong With Hostinger?
It’s impossible to compare other hosting providers to Hostinger without first assessing where the Lithuanian headquartered hosting provider is falling down.
Now don’t misunderstand us, Hostinger actually does a lot of things well. Very well even. They have blisteringly fast load times that averaged out to around 400ms, well below that 2 second threshold we discussed earlier. Also, their basic plan is an almost criminally low $1.99 a month! That’s incredibly impressive given that they also throw in a free domain and website builder Zyro (although we’re big fans of elementor for Wordpress site builders).
If they’re so good, then why are we picking on them?
Well, first and foremost, you have to sign up for a minimum of 4 years to unlock that phenomenal introductory offer. Honestly, that’s a ridiculous amount of time to shackle yourself to a web hosting provider. Their customer service also lacks any phone support, however this is mitigated by their extremely knowledgeable support staff so they score highly in the “time to resolution” metric.
There are no mitigating factors for the 1 to 2 hours of downtime they average each month though, or for the lack of daily backups in their basic plan. Even their ludicrously fast load speeds are let down by a lack of a content delivery network (CDN) in their basic offering.
Fortunately, Hostinger aren’t the only players in the hosting provider game. So let’s move on and explore the best alternatives to the popular hosting service.
The Top 5 Hostinger Alternatives
1. Tiiny Host
With a rapidly growing reputation for delivering the most intuitive static web hosting service on the market, Tiiny Host are proving that they’re capable of punching far above their weight class.
Load times are only going to grow in importance when it comes to determining who will reign supreme at the top of the SERP. Tiiny Host’s niche static web hosting offering enables them to beat their competitors at a fraction of the cost.
This alone makes them a phenomenal option for any industry where speed is of the essence, such as ecommerce.
Dynamic content hosting requires your server to run back and forth like a madman trying to serve all the folks clicking on your website. This creates a phenomenal amount of traffic and exposes your server to all sorts of malicious activity as the packets fly faster than Elon Musk’s tweets.
Tiiny Host is loading cached content, which eradicates your server’s need to expose itself as frequently. Bulletproof security is therefore built in at a base level and at no extra cost.
Tiiny Host don’t offer 24/7 support or a phone line, which is initially disappointing.
However, they mitigate both of these by focusing on that important metric of “time to resolution”. Each and every complaint is handled by a human as standard. This means that there’s no need to qualify your complaint through a chatbot which is certainly artificial but far from intelligent.
Tiiny’s “drag and drop” design is phenomenally simple and therefore eminently scalable. It allows you to intuitively use the platform and cheaply and rapidly test content. That’s perfect for non-technical small to midsize marketing agencies that want to scale projects at pace.
Even better, you can password protect anything you want by toggling a button. Genius!
It’s not just Tiiny Host’s UI that’s scalable. Their pricing model has clearly been crafted with startup growth in mind. They make it easy to add sites and increase file sizes at the click of a button which means you can scale your services and offerings without paying a premium.
Siteground have a really solid value offering and there aren’t many negatives when it comes to their hosting dynamic content.
Siteground rank behind Tiiny Host when it comes to load times but have the fastest load speeds of any of the basic plans we tested for dynamic content. Their “supercacher” feature means that they’re able to provide incredible load speeds without the need for a dedicated server. They also reportedly deliver on their promise of 99% uptime for your site.
An impressive package for hosting dynamic content.
Siteground’s basic security offering is arguably the best of a bad bunch. Their IDS/IDP security shields your site from malicious bots and all of their shared servers are fitted with Modsecurity.
They also update their security rules weekly and implement a custom web application firewall. Nevertheless, you’ll probably want to opt for their security enhancements, which significantly increase the cost.
Siteground offers 24/7 multichannel support which ensures that you can reach a customer support assistant no matter your country of residence. However, the support offered appears rather generic and lacking in nuance.
Siteground’s “supercacher” means that your site can run hot for longer, which is important given your undoubted desire for content generated traffic. They also throw in a CDN with their basic plan which is great for international consumers. However, increasing server space and 30% faster PHP will send the price skywards.
Although Siteground’s introductory offer clocks in at an attractive £2.99 a month, it comes at a price. You’re required to lock in for a minimum of a year and upsells lurk around every corner. You’ll quickly find yourself paying through the nose if you’re not careful.
With over 2 million sites hosted and PCMag’s web host provider of choice for 6 straight years Hostgator have a great offering. There’s just one catch (which we’ll come on to).
Hostgator’s load speed for dynamic content is comparable to Siteground’s. However, we’d have to give the accolade to the latter. Siteground’s “supercacher” and free CDN (not matched by Hostgator) mean they have the edge here.
Hostgator’s basic plan includes an SSL certificate and their free “spamassassin” spam protection. That being said, if backups and automatic malware protection are important to you (And they should be) then you’ll quickly find yourself reaching for that credit card…
Once again, Hostgator closely mirrors Siteground in their support offering. They both operate a ticketing system, offer 24/7 chat and phone coverage and host a decent knowledge centre.
Ultimately, there’s not much to differentiate Hostgator from their competitors here.
Hostgator’s unmetered bandwidth offer is pretty crucial for those sites who want to generate content like there’s no tomorrow and run hot. We’d caveat that the lack of a CDN is disappointing here though.
Everything listed above can be yours for the attractive price of less than £3 a year. However, remember our mentioning that catch? Well, you’re probably asking yourself if it’s that you need to purchase Hostgator’s sitelock essentials. Or perhaps it’s that the price more than doubles if you do? We’re afraid not, the massive fly in the ointment here relates to contract length.
Hostgator require you to lock in with them for 3 years to unlock their introductory offer! Although not quite as criminal as Hostinger’s 4 year term, it’s still a ludicrous amount of time to be wedded to any web hosting provider.
A catastrophic tumble at the final hurdle for an otherwise decent offering.
Bluehosting is an absolute web hosting juggernaut so you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s little to critique. However, there’s a fair amount letting the hosting powerhouse down.
Bluehost may let themselves down in some factors of their web hosting offering, but speed isn’t one of them. Their load times for dynamic content are simply groundbreaking and they’re the only provider who can reportedly beat Siteground’s “supercacher” for speed. They also scored near perfectly in site uptime.
The web hosting stalwart clearly isn’t falling at the speed or consistency hurdles.
Bluehost may dominate the dynamic content competition in speed, but they trail them in security. Their basic plan allows for nothing more than an SSL certificate. A paltry offering which ushers in the famous Bluehost upsell. Security essentials and backups quickly rush forward to plug the gap and we can only watch helplessly as the price begins to rise.
Bluehost’s support offering mirrors their competitors in the sense of mediums and 24/7 availability. However, we’ve heard anecdotal evidence of decidedly lacklustre customer support assistants. That’s a nightmare scenario for someone who’s experiencing issues with their site.
Unmetered bandwidth is excellent for those who are looking to rapidly scale their startup. Their standard offering also includes 5 separate email accounts, which is enough to see you scale from bootstrapped status to a small business.
Bluehost have an unbeaten introductory offer of £2.20. However, not only does that include locking you in for a year but also exposes you to unavoidable upsells. You’ll undoubtedly purchase at least a few given their paltry initial offering around security.
Another juggernaut in the world of web hosting. GoDaddy do the basics of web hosting very well. It’s therefore a shame that they challenge Bluehost when it comes to ludicrous upsells.
GoDaddy racked up a blistering 480ms load speed in user tests. I feel like we all have to take a moment to appreciate that from a company whose name implies middle aged men in sweater vests.
An impressive outing for GoDaddy here.
The hosting provider are stupendously disappointing when it comes to securing your site. Their basic plan doesn’t even include an SSL certificate. GoDaddy’s lack of any meaningful security with their basic plan nearly guarantees that you’ll be opting for their upsell here.
GoDaddy fall firmly in line with their competition with 24/7 support, a chat function and phone line. Reports of wildly fluctuating waiting times are worth taking note of though. Being ignored by customer support is never fun, and even less so when you’re haemorrhaging money from site downtime or a hack.
If you’re looking to migrate your site to grow then you’ll find stony ground with GoDaddy as they don’t seem to cost site migrations. However, their unmetered bandwidth and 100GB of storage raise their basic offering above bluehost’s.
With an introductory offer of £3.99, GoDaddy are a shade more expensive than their competitors and we honestly can’t justify the reason for it. This price disparity is compounded by their attempt to lock customers in for 3 years like Hostgator. Initially more expensive, ludicrous contract lengths and upsells undermine impressive speed and pack-leading storage.
Web Hosting Explained For Founders, Startups and Small Businesses
The web hosting industry is surrounded by confusion and this works in favour of the major players like Bluehost and GoDaddy. We’re not saying that any web hosting provider is bad, but not every hosting provider is suited to your startup or small business.
Leverage this web hosting guide to ask the right questions and identify the hosting provider that fits your needs.