Web hosting information specifically designed for founders, startups and entrepreneurs
The Difficulty With Web Hosting
The world of web hosting is absolutely massive. There’s so much outdated and simply false information out there. It can be extraordinarily difficult for startups, founders and small businesses to navigate the hosting provider shoals without running aground.
You’ve undoubtedly heard of web hosting, seen it advertised, and you may even have bought it once upon a time. That doesn’t mean you understand it though.
So What Exactly Is Web Hosting?
There isn’t a founder or entrepreneur on the planet now that doesn’t see the value in a great website. It’s your virtual shop front, usually generates the bulk of your leads and builds your brand and authority in your marketplace. All the things that small businesses crave and desperately need.
So you’re sold and you want one. You’ve already got a framework for your website, have sorted the colour palette and your creative juices are flowing. Hold on though, because before you can begin any of the fun stuff, we need to talk files.
You get some truly gorgeous websites these days, but the truth is that they’re all actually rendered from files. Those files need a place on the internet to live. “Web hosting” is the process by which room is allocated for those files on a server. By housing those files, your hosting provider actually hosts your site. They’re your virtual landlord.
There’s one problem though. Just like the real world, there isn’t a set standard for landlords, and you have to exercise caution when looking for a home for your files.
Fortunately, we’re going to further delve into the specifics of web hosting, outline the hosting metrics you should focus on and compare the main hosting providers.
The 4 Forms Of Web Hosting
Web hosting is a huge topic but can generally be grouped into 4 categories. Deciding which form of hosting is right for you is the first of many crucial decisions to make as it will dictate how much space your hosting provider allows your files on their server.
That server space is a huge factor in how your site actually performs in the wild. The wrong choice here could have a catastrophic effect on any fledgling or future SEO efforts.
The 4 main types of hosting are outlined below:
- Shared - No prizes for guessing the nature of this one. The files that constitute your website share server space with others.
- Dedicated - You can probably guess this one too. No sharing space here, your website is the only one hosted on a server.
- Virtual Private Server (VPS) - We’re entering murkier waters here. You’re still sharing the physical server space, but the VPS imitates the experience of a dedicated server.
- Reseller - An intermediary purchases server space from a hosting provider before reselling it for a higher margin. We don’t recommend this approach for your website.
Your chosen type of hosting is going to determine your server technology and level of administration. We’re going to focus on shared hosting in this guide because it’s economic and will meet the needs of 99% of startups and small businesses.
Most of the large providers have a roughly similar basic offering on the surface. This masks the fierce competition that takes place as they seek to win over their audience through differing levels of service, support, speed and security. This heated battle primarily takes place in the form of upsells, and they have a huge determining factor on the quality of your website.
So which ones should you be on the lookout for?
The 5 Most Important Web Hosting Questions
Your time as a founder or small business owner is extremely limited. So what should you focus on in order to ensure you go with the right web hosting provider?
We’ve outlined the 5 most important questions you should ask when seeking a hosting provider below. The out sized impact these factors have on your sites’ holistic performance, all important user experience and subsequent ranking on search engines results pages (SERPs) can’t be overstated.
This means that they’re also phenomenal metrics by which we can measure Siteground against their competitors.
- How fast is the load speed?
This metric is undoubtedly a make or break one for your site. We’ve all had that frustrating experience where a site seems to take forever to load. That’s because we’ve become used to hyper-fast load speeds and expect nothing less. Recent research actually indicated that an increase in load time from 2 to 3 seconds quadruples your bounce rate! Rocketing it from a measly 9% to 38%.
A high bounce rate can be catastrophic for your SERP ranking when you consider that Google already penalise slow loading pages. Your load speed is impacted by server technology, memory and processing power (to name a few).
- How secure is my site?
This is one of those metrics that we feel is routinely underappreciated by those who have never experienced the horror of having their site hacked.
If your startup or business is intending a foray into the ecommerce environment then your security needs to be on point. Secure socket layers (SSL) certificates are an entry level requirement in the modern web. This means you’ll undoubtedly want to beef up your protection with some of the upgraded security packages on offer from the hosting providers below.
- How good is my hosting provider’s customer support?
If you can’t manage your own server then you’ll undoubtedly be on the phone to your hosting provider’s support service at some point. You want them to be responsive, intuitive and resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
Much like security, people tend to undervalue this metric. Spend some time in what I call the “service and support pain locker” though, and you’ll soon appreciate it’s importance. Watching your prospective customers flock to your competitors due to site downtime isn’t a fun experience. Especially when you’re at the mercy of a call centre support assistant that isn’t even interested in your problem.
- Is my hosting provider scalable?
It’s important that you don’t just view your site in it’s “as-is” state. By taking account of it’s future state you can plan ahead. This results in one of two situations. You either need a hosting provider equipped to handle the traffic you’re intending to generate from the outset. Or one who allows you to bolt on and upgrade services to enable your product or service to scale economically.
- How much is web hosting going to cost me?
We have good news and bad news for you here. On the plus side, every major hosting provider has a similar introductory offer. The negative though, is that the basic plans aren’t really fit for purpose and some of the upsells are honestly borderline criminal.
The solution? Take a holistic view and factor in ongoing costs. This stops you being bamboozled by an initially low offer that delivers no real value and doesn’t allow you to scale.
What’s Wrong With Siteground?
Honestly, there’s an awful lot that Siteground does very well. The Bulgarian based hosting provider has been housing websites since 2004 and has over 2 million on their books.
Their entry level “Startup” plan is less than £3 a month and comes with a free SSL, daily backup and free CDN. That’s an extremely attractive offer given their average uptime is over 99%. Their average load speed also clocks in at a downright phenomenal 457ms thanks to their “supercacher” feature.
That being said, there are definitely some issues:
- Siteground’s offer doesn’t include domain registration.
- Their introductory security offering is impressive when compared to their competitors in the dynamic content space. However, you’ll definitely want to reinforce your site through their security essentials package. That’s a significant and ongoing cost increase.
- Their introductory offer locks you in for an entire year, after which the price increases by 5!
- User tests have questioned their hard won reputation as the fastest dynamic content hosting provider on the web.
The Top 5 Siteground Alternatives
1. Tiiny Host
Tiiny Host is rapidly becoming known as the best independent static website hosting provider on the market. They’ve built an impressive offering around awesome load speed, scalability and lack of upsells.
They also top the leaderboard for personable customer support.
Speed is becoming an increasingly important factor when it comes to ruling the Google SERPs and capturing market share. Tiiny Host stand you in excellent stead as they offer miniscule loading times.
Their static web hosting niche means that they can outperform their competitors at a fraction of the cost. This could prove the differentiating factor on fierce battle grounds like ecommerce.
If you’re hosting dynamic content then your server is working overtime packaging and delivering your website files to every Tom, Dick and Harry on the web. That amount of traffic flying back and forth provides attackers with ample opportunity to intercept, ambush, imitate or attack your site.
Tiiny Host’s static hosting offers phenomenal security credentials at no extra cost. This is due to the fact that they’re loading cached content. This means that you’re not exposing your server every single time someone clicks on your site.
Although Tiiny Host don’t offer 24/7 support, your issue is examined by a human as a first port of call. This saves you getting frustrated attempting to qualify through a machine learning algorithm. This personalised service focuses on the metric that actually matters when it comes to customer service; namely resolving issues as opposed to simply acknowledging them.
Tiiny removes the barrier to website launching and scalable content by using a “drag and drop” design. This simplified process is phenomenally intuitive and a perfect project sharing medium for small to mid-sized marketing agencies. Streamlining processes and rapidly testing content means you can scale at pace.
Their scalable pricing framework means Tiiny Host are the perfect fit for startups and agencies. Their ongoing costs are the cheapest of any provider on the list and their bulletproof security and speed mean there are no pesky upsells.
2 years older than Siteground and over 2 million sites hosted. The winner of PCMag’s web host provider of choice for 6 straight years have an impressive basic offering.
There really isn’t much between Siteground and Hostgator when it comes to loading dynamic content. However, we’d have to give the accolade to the former due to their “supercacher” feature.
Hostgator’s basic offering comes with an SSL certificate and their free spam protection “Spamassassin”. However, you’re going to want their enhanced “Sitelock” security features such as backups and automatic malware protection if you’re serious about your site. That involves flashing the plastic though.
Hostgator’s support offering is nearly identical to Siteground’s. They both operate a ticketing system, offer 24/7 chat and phone coverage and host a decent knowledge centre.
Your site’s appetite for bandwidth will grow as it does, and Hostgator offers unlimited amounts of the stuff as standard. However, they let themselves down by failing to match Siteground’s free content delivery network (CDN).
Hostgator’s introductory offer is in line with Siteground’s at less than £3 a month for the first year! Things get more contentious as we look past that initial price point though. The cost more than doubles once you throw in their Sitelock security essentials and, whilst it’s true that Hostgator will also throw in free domain registration (£14.99 with Siteground), they also demand that you lock in for 3 years.
That wasn’t a typo.
3 years is an insane amount of time to commit to a web hosting provider and undermines Hostgator’s otherwise strong offer.
If advertising is to be taken at face value then Bluehost rules the roost when it comes to hosting dynamic content. However, there’s a fair bit that the hosting juggernaut gets wrong.
Bluehost are the only dynamic content provider capable of beating Siteground’s phenomenal load speed time. Couple that with incredibly consistent site uptimes and you have a winning formula. Honestly, excellent effort from the hosting stalwart here.
Here’s where old faithful loses ground against their competitors. Their basic offering allows for an SSL certificate but nothing else. Cue the infamous Bluehost upsell in the form of backups and security essentials and we see the price begin to rapidly creep up.
Bluehost fall in line with their peers in the dynamic content world in the form of 24/7 phone and chat support. However, we’ve heard their phone support described as “indifferent”. That’s the last thing you want when you’re urgently trying to resolve your issue and get your site up and running again.
It’s a mixed bag here for the hosting giant as they offer unmetered bandwidth but less storage than GoDaddy. An impressive email package of 5 separate accounts as standard definitely boosts their scalability rating though. That’s enough to see you through from fledgling startup to small business.
Their unbeaten introductory offer of £2.20 a month for the first year is nothing short of ludicrous. However, the dreaded upsell rapidly raises it’s head and the price more than doubles once we add backups and security essentials.
Bluehost is yet another hosting provider let down by an initially awesome price point reliant on hidden costs.
Like Tiiny Host, Dreamhost are an independently owned hosting provider. However, that’s where the similarities end.
Dreamhost service their customers via 2 data centres located in North America. This means they’re extremely well positioned for the U.S. and European markets but less so for the remaining continents. You’ll want a CDN if you’re intending to target overseas customers, something their basic price plan lacks.
An SSL certificate as standard alongside domain privacy raises Dreamhost above some of their competition as a standard plan. However, you’re still going to want to opt for their “Dreamshield” enhanced security package.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Dreamhost’s customer support offering is firmly in line with their competition. All the monikers are there, 24/7 support, chat function etc. However, although they win brownie points for hosting their customer support in the U.S., they significantly let themselves down by not offering an inbound phone service.
Not only does this leave you at the mercy of the dreaded callback but it’s not even included as standard in their basic package! A shockingly poor offering.
Dreamhost’s unmetered bandwidth offering perfectly mirrors Bluehosts’. This means that they’re likely to serve the needs of any startup or small business.
Dreamhost ostensibly competes with their fellow dynamic content providers on this list. However, their price doubles not once, but twice at the time of renewal once you add their Dreamshield security package.
For many non-technical readers, this will be the most recognisable of the hosting names. Although there’s much that GoDaddy does well, an impressive marketing campaign can’t hide some issues…
Despite a name that implies glacial speeds, Godaddy actually racked up an insanely miniscule 480ms load speed in user tests. That’s a hair’s breadth more than Siteground, a hosting provider renowned for their fast load times.
Oh dear. This is less than pretty. No SSL certificate or backups as standard mean that GoDaddy have really let themselves down. You’re going to need all that speed to run away from the malware heading your way. You’d definitely want to opt for their security essentials package here.
24/7 support, a chat function and an actual number you can call (Dreamhost take note) brings GoDaddy in line with their competition. However, it’s worth noting that there have been reports of wildly fluctuating wait times; less than desirable if your site’s down.
Not only do GoDaddy offer unmetered bandwidth, but they also throw in 100GB of storage. However, we couldn’t find site migration costs or an email feature.
GoDaddy’s introductory offer comes in at £3.99 a month, a shade more expensive than their competitors. However, they let themselves down by choosing to follow Hostgator’s lead by forcing their customers to sign a 3 year contract. Couple that with the fact that the security essentials package doubles the monthly cost and the shine rapidly begins to wear off.
Critical web hosting information, all in one spot
The confusion surrounding the web hosting industry drives the masses towards the waiting arms of the main players such as Bluehost and GoDaddy. The criteria listed demystifies the industry and focuses on the metrics that really matter to startups, small businesses and mid-sized agencies.
Our web hosting guide equips you with the information to make an informed decision as to the right hosting provider for you and your business.