How to choose a web host without fear of costly mistakes: 3. web hosting recommendations

In the first episode of this series about web hosting we looked at the different types of web hosting.

In the second episode we talked about what to look for in a web host.

This week we’ll talk about web hosting recommendations.

This article aims at helping WordPress beginners choose the best host for them. It’s a question that often comes up in my Facebook group.

First of all please note that I’m not a reviews company, and I will not base recommendations on comparison tables full of technical specs.

There are much better articles out there with that kind of list. I tend not to trust those lists much, because they tend to flatten out into an average even those elements that for me are essential for good web hosting: for instance, great support.

In this post I’ll present you with web hosting recommendations that are transparent and honest, always based on my personal experience or that of other WordPress experts I have consulted. Some of the links might be affiliate links: I’ll advise when that’s the case. It will be up to you whether to use them or not.

I will also limit my recommendations to shared hosting and managed WordPress hosting. WordPress self-starters who are only just stepping out into the online world don’t need any more.

Web hosting recommendations: know who to avoid.

It’s not my habit to start from a negative. However, when you choose a web host the first thing to know truly is which hosts to avoid, and why.

The negative has to come first because most of the web hosting companies that show up at the top of most web hosting recommendations are in fact the ones you should steer clear of.

Web hosting recommendations: some web hosts are best avoided. Painting by Follower of Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, second quarter 16th century), Christ’s Descent into Hell. The Met Museum, NY.

Why EIG-owned hosts are not your best bet.

There is a huge multinational company called EIG (Endurance International Group). When you choose a web host it’s best to avoid any host owned by EIG.

EIG buys hosting companies that provide good service and have a good reputation, and then usually ruins them by slashing vital services. Such as great support, for instance.

EIG silently acquires good hosts such as HostGator, A Small Orange, Site5. Then they proceed to re-structure by firing support staff and using cheaper hardware.

As a consequence, service deteriorates, clients are unhappy and move to a different host. However, EIG don’t publish a full list of the hosting companies they own. Disgruntled customers who run away from one EIG company might well fall straight from the frying pan into the fire.

That is to say, they might move to a host that used to be great and independent (A Small Orange, for instance) without realising that EIG now owns them, too.

For more information on EIG and its companies, please refer to this excellent article frequently updated by the author Michael Bely. It will explain in full detail why you should avoid EIG companies when you choose a web host.

The photo below, courtesy of Michael Bely, also contains an auto-updating list of EIG companies.

EIG hosting

Presented by ResearchAsAHobby.com

Why you can’t always trust reviews for web hosting recommendations.

When someone who is a newbie at web development needs to choose a web host, they’ll obviously google something like ‘Best web host 2017’. It would be reasonable to expect reliable web hosting recommendations from this search.

Unfortunately this search often results in many articles giving top marks to EIG hosting companies, or other big guys.

I’ve just done exactly that Google search, and this was the first result: a sponsored result of an EIG website presenting EIG hosting under the very misleading guise of a genuine quality ranking.

Don't choose your web host based on sponsored content that looks like a review. A sponsored content list of EIG web hosts. Sponsored content that looks like a review. Sure, there’s a disclaimer at the top, but most WordPress beginners won’t notice it. This is not a review: it’s a website created by EIG to advertise its own companies.

There is indeed a disclaimer at the top of the page, but no newbie would even notice that. They would just trust the experts and go for one of the EIG web hosts in this chart. In fact this chart is not a review. It’s a website created by EIG to advertise its own companies.

Luckily, now you know better and you won’t trust these ‘experts’.

Even other non-sponsored reviews sites can sometimes offer a distorted view. It’s also worth noting that it’s really not that difficult to fake a review. Read this article by Michael Bely to find out how.

[x_accordion_item title=”A couple of other web hosts that are not so great in my experience”]

There are other web hosts besides EIG hosts that I would not feel comfortable to include among my web hosting recommendations. As usual, they are among the best known ones, so they are the ones that beginners are most likely to go for.

1&1

I had a decent experience with 1&1 in Italy. I had a terrible experience with 1&1 in the UK. Hours that mounted on to days spent on the phone with their ‘support’ trying to get them to understand the issues. Precious time that I will never get back.

I don’t know whether they’ve improved yet, and I’ll probably never find out. If a client comes to me and they are on 1&1, I usually get them to move to SiteGround or Flywheel (both links are affiliate links).

GoDaddy

GoDaddy are another newbie favourite. Mainly because they are big and they can afford advertising, so they are everywhere.

GoDaddy used to have a terrible reputation. Now, in all fairness, the CEO has changed , which is an improvement over the sexist ads and other bad things GoDaddy used to be infamous for.

They are also focusing on the WordPress market and have recently bought lots of companies serving the WordPress community.

However, I wish they’d invested in providing better shared hosting for their low-level clients. They are the ones most likely to choose GoDaddy, and they are not getting a great deal.

One example over all: most reputable hosts offer a free SSL certificate from Let’s Encrypt, so your site can be secure. This is kind of par for the course these days. Not GoDaddy: even if you have a tiny site without e-commerce, if you want SSL so that Google likes you more, you’ll need to fork out $150 a year minimum. Enough for me to discourage anyone from being tempted by GoDaddy’s offers. I don’t believe honest web hosting recommendations can advise anyone to go for a host that doesn’t even offer a FREE SSL certificate.
[/x_accordion_item]

We’ve dealt with the negatives. Now let’s dive down into the positives, and give you a list of web hosts that we feel we can heartily recommend.

Web hosting recommendations: shared hosting.

As announced at the beginning, I am basing these web hosting recommendations either on my personal experience, or the feedback from trusted colleagues and partners from my professional WordPress networks.

SiteGround

[All SiteGround links in this article are affiliate links]
SiteGround is an all-round favourite among shared hosting providers. I can vouch for them with delight. Most of my clients are with them.

They score really highly on most web hosting comparison tables (yes, the ones I was dissing above! Like I said, there are unbiased, independent good ones).

But more importantly, real-world feedback puts them constantly at the top.

SiteGround is cheap for WordPress self-starters, while providing plenty of room for growth. It’s stable, trustworthy, and fast, with proprietary caching technology and data centres all over the world. Pick the one nearest to you when you sign up with them.

Moreover, their support is second to none. In fact, so wonderful that it makes me forgive them for the rather ‘90s PC’ design style of their website. In terms of how to navigate to vital services, the user experience and journey are also less than ideal.

However, I spoke to SiteGround at a WordCamp recently and they told me they are in the process of updating the design to a much more modern, smoother experience. I’m looking forward to that.

I wrote an article waxing lyrical about SiteGround when they were running a promotion a while ago. Read it if you want to know more. I completely stand by it as regards shared hosting. I don’t extend the recommendation to their cloud hosting, but no beginner will need that anyway.

A2 Hosting

Web hosting recommendations: A2 hosting.

A2, like SiteGround, is another web host that comes highly recommended by WordPress professionals.

I have never used it personally as its market tends to be outside of Europe. The people who have praised A2 are among the best WordPress professionals out there, so I totally trust their advice. Having had a look at what A2 offer, I can tell that their offer is solid.

A2 starts cheap and cheerful while providing room for growth as your website expands. It has data centres in Europe, USA and Asia (other important point). It offers 24/7 support with chat, which is great value, too.

They’re less known in Europe, where SiteGround tend to rule. I’ve started recommending them because they do have a European data centre, and because I really like the clarity and ease of use of their website (an area SiteGround don’t excel in).

Web hosting recommendations by a reputable reviewer.
An independent review of web hosts. SiteGround and A2 are at the top, while EIG companies fall way down to the bottom.

InMotion Hosting

InMotion are another hosting company that I have no personal experience of, because they are based in the US. However, many of my American colleagues speak very highly of InMotion, so I feel comfortable recommending them for those of you who are US-based.

Here’s an independent review of InMotion Hosting.

GreenGeeks

GreenGeeks is another host that I haven’t personally tested, but they’ve been on the market for over ten years and their reputation is solid.

Moreover, I feel compelled to mention them among the ‘good guys’ of hosting because they are indeed the cleanest, greenest web host around. “All backed by our 300% Renewable Energy Commitment” as they say.

For a more detailed review of GreenGeeks and other shared hosting companies, visit Cloudwards. They also, kind of inevitably, list EIG companies in their recommendations. However, their comparison tables are very thorough and unbiased. So do use their tables as guidance in your choice.

Managed WordPress hosting

Most, if not all, of the shared hosting providers listed above also offer a form of managed WordPress hosting. In a nutshell, this means a hosting platform that’s exclusively dedicated to WordPress websites.

However, I make a distinction between those hosts, and the managed WordPress hosts who built their servers and user experience exclusively for WordPress users.

WP Engine


Wp Engine is a managed WordPress host that basks in the glory of an untarnished reputation. It is the host of choice for a lot of WordPress professionals who also like to host their clients’ websites but don’t want the hassle of running their own server.

To me, the main attraction of a managed WordPress host like WP Engine is the security at server level. WP Engine employs proactive systems to keep your website safe. And should you get hacked, they’ll clean your site from malware. No shared host offers this.

So, should you choose it over a shared hosting plan? Yes, if you want a completely trouble-free hosting experience. The only downside is the price, starting at $29 a month – almost 10x the price of the lowest shared hosting plans.

Some might say that such a (relatively) high price is too much for a WordPress newbie. Some others argue the opposite: the experience with WP Engine is so smooth and trouble-free, that it’s the perfect solution for hapless beginners.

WP Engine has the added advantage of 24/7 chat service, just like SiteGround.

Flywheel


[All Flywheel links are affiliate links]

Flywheel is a lovely company run by lovely people. Like WP Engine, they are a hosting platform built exclusively for WordPress. And they also offer malware scans and security at server level.

Not just that: Flywheel also clean your website for you if hackers got their evil paws on it. They did that for me when I moved to them and I was very grateful.

However, as I’d moved from SiteGround I’d arrived to Flywheel with an addiction to the 24/7 chat service, which I loved. Flywheel promised a chat service (WP Engine has it) but they haven’t implemented that properly yet and I think that’s their greatest drawback.

Many argue there’s no need for 24/7 chat as everything runs smoothly anyway, but I disagree: sometimes you have a simple question to ask that isn’t in the FAQ, and you don’t want to wait hours or days for the answer.

Having said all this, Flywheel’s support response times are actually wonderful outside of US working hours. If you send a support email within US working hours it might truly take a day for a reply. If you post a ticket outside US working hours you’re given a chance to escalate the issue which means it is dealt with in minutes.

Moreover, Flywheel told me that WP Engine competition is pushing them to implement chat properly, so I’m sure they’ll get that sorted soon.

I hasten to add that I am only delving into small snags with Flywheel because I actually know their service. It’s constructive criticism of a very good service. All in all, I think Flywheel are great. I love the dashboard interface: so well designed and easy to use. And I love how well everything does work.

The advantage of Flywheel over WP Engine is the price: their plans start at $15. It’s much more than the starting point of average shared hosting: but it can be worth every cent for the security and peace of mind.

Conclusions

Most WordPress beginners on a budget will be very happy starting with a basic shared hosting plan and scaling up as necessary. Any of the web hosting recommendations here will give you a good service.

I feel a personal debt of gratitude towards SiteGround, who have supported me and my clients for years. However, the other ones I list also come with great web hosting recommendations from top WordPress experts, so you can rest assured they will treat you right (unless they get sold to an evil multinational in the meantime!).

For a reminder of what to base your choice on, have another look at the second article in this series, offering you guidance as to what features to look for in a web host.

If you are on a larger budget and want to start with the 5-star WordPress experience, then you should go for managed WordPress hosting with WP Engine or Flywheel.

Finally, if you do want the luxury treatment of managed WordPress hosting with zero hassle, get in touch with me and I’ll host you on my Flywheel plan.

A little disclaimer

Web hosting is a huge subject. I do not claim by any stretch of the imagination to be an expert in it: it’s a whole profession into itself.

On the other hand, I do feel qualified to provide advice to beginners, self-starters, my Facebook group and other small enterprises who need help with choosing their web host. This is all.

I am also, as ever, quite happy to stand corrected should I say anything that’s not accurate or old information.

Leave a Comment