From more than 15,000 options down to 3
If you have a business, you need a website — but you might not know how to go about getting one. Don’t worry, that’s normal. When Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens famously referred to the internet as a “series of tubes,” he was merely singing along with a chorus of confusion. Most people have no idea how the internet works, let alone how to build a website. It sounds complicated, too: Getting your business online means renting server space, building a website to store on that server, and wrapping it all up in a dot-com (or org, or net, etc.) domain name. Every single one of the 15,000 hosting companies we came across (really!) can help you do this, but the best web hosting companies also have excellent customer support, an intuitive and easy-to-use back end, and a reputation for reliability. And to be honest, quite a few web hosts fit that description. InMotion Hosting took the crown for 2016 Best Overall web hosting company by doing it with just a little more class.
Stevens was half right — the internet is a vast network of computers that are interconnected through physical means, but it’s more of a series of servers than it is a series of tubes. These servers are basically just big, powerful computers that all hang out together in data centers. When you go to a specific website, you’re really just downloading files from a distant computer. Theoretically, you could host a website on a PC in your living room, but that’s complicated, expensive, and probably not worth the effort. It’s much more efficient to simply rent server space from a company that has a lot of it. You know, a web host.
What kind of hosting you need depends on your business requirements, but it basically comes in three flavors:
- Shared Hosting: The least expensive and most common form of web hosting. It’s also the least powerful — different customers “share” a server’s resources among potentially hundreds of clients.
- Dedicated Servers: These offer unmitigated control of the server’s resources, but can be pretty expensive, and are probably overkill for most projects.
- Virtual Private Servers: This option lies somewhere in between: the versatility of a dedicated server without the expense of renting an exclusive hardware stack.
If you’re not sure what you need, Shared hosting is a good place to start. You can always upgrade to VPS, Dedicated, or a custom hosting package later. Simply Googling a shared web host won’t get you far, though: There are thousands of companies leasing webspace, and at a glance they all look kind of the same. They aren’t — some companies specialize in only one type of hosting; some have poor customer service, are unreliable, or run on outdated technology.
We separated the wheat from the chaff by merging the top-ranked, US-based hosting companies from sites like WhoIsHostingThis, HostMonk, WebHostingStuff and CNET, among others — outfits that ranked sites based on server uptime, verified user reviews and technical support. This left us with just over 200 well-regarded hosting companies. A good start.
We eliminated providers without a clear upgrade path.
Picking a web host is a lot like buying shoes for a child — you’re looking for something that fits, but still has room to grow. If you’re a small business setting up a website for the first time, that means starting out with a Shared hosting plan, but being ready to upgrade to a Virtual Private Server or Dedicated hosting if necessary.
The nature of shared host means you’re “sharing” a server’s storage space, bandwidth, and processing power with other websites. If these neighbors are doing significantly more traffic than you, it could make your site run slower.
“If you move away from shared hosting, you gain some advantages — like not being disturbed by ‘noisy neighbors,’” Dave Rosenthal, a web systems architect at Core Media Technologies told us. “The guy you’re sharing with could be slowing everything up for 8 to 10 hours a day.” This doesn’t always happen, but Rosenthal explains, “even if it happens once a year, it’s enough to be a problem.”
Your site might be fine on a shared server (and your hosting neighbors might not be noisy at all) but if your business grows fast enough, that shared space could start to feel crowded. Candidates that couldn’t meet the needs of an expanding business were cut.