Think that your business doesn’t need a website? Think again. Every business needs an online presence, regardless of its size. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a multinational corporation or the owner of a mom-and-pop bookstore, you need a website so that potential customers can buy your products online or at least learn more about your brick-and-mortar business. Don’t leave potential money on the table, because someone else will pick it up.
After all, an attractive, easy-to-use, and informative site can pull in new clients and customers. A business that lacks a website may come off as out of touch—maybe even untrustworthy. You don’t want your business to fall into either camp. Even the smallest business ought to have a site, and that means choosing a web hosting service. If your site has modest needs, and you’ve got a correspondingly small budget, you should look into shared web hosting services.
Unlike a dedicated hosting server that powers a single site, a shared web hosting server houses multiple sites. The upside to shared hosting? It’s cheap web hosting. Shared web hosting is extremely wallet-friendly; you can host a website on a shared server for under $10 per month in most cases. Dedicated hosting, on the other hand, can cost hundreds of dollars per month.
The downside to shared hosting? Potential website instability, as your site shares server CPU resources with other sites. For example, if you’re sharing a server and one of the sites on that server has a traffic spike, your pages might load slowly—or not at all. Still, shared web hosting is a super-affordable way to get a site up and running.
That said, not all shared hosting plans are created equal. Sure, all web hosting companies let you store files on their servers, but they offer varying amounts of monthly data transfers, storage, and other features. Even how you pay (month-to-month vs. annual payments) can be radically different, too. Most shared web hosts offer multiple plans that represent their low-, medium-, and top-tier products.
Naturally, you’ll pay more for an upper-level service, but you’ll get more features. Web hosts typically give you a discount if you sign up for a multi-month plan.
What to Consider
The chart above focuses on the web hosts that boast the best shared hosting plans of all the services we’ve reviewed. Many shared web hosts offer unlimited monthly data transfers and storage, so other factors may help you decide which service is best for your business. Note, however, that if you’re going to rely on unlimited anything, be sure to read the small print to make sure that there aren’t any gotchas. Make sure your definition of unlimited matches the hosting service’s.
Then there’s the operating system question. Do you need Windows servers? Linux servers? It’s best to shop around. When it comes to server operating systems, Linux is typically the default option. Still, some services offer a choice of Linux or Windows hosting. If you have specific server-side applications that require Windows, such as SQL Server or a custom application written in .NET, then you need to make sure your web host has Windows hosting. But don’t let the idea of a Linux host intimidate you.
Most web hosts nowadays offer a graphical interface or a control panel to simplify server administration and website management. Instead of typing at the command line, you’ll click easily identifiable icons.
There are some specs that you may not find while browsing a web host’s site. For instance, many web hosts don’t list the amount of RAM offered by their shared hosting plans. In such instances, you can safely assume that the RAM total is less than 1GB. A few web hosting services offer premium shared plans that offer 1GB of RAM or slightly more. If you want dependable-under-pressure performance without spending hundreds of dollars per month, look into virtual private server (VPS) hosting. Signing up for a VPS plan will give your future site a significant amount of computer resources.
You’ll also want a web host with responsive 24/7 customer support. Forums, knowledge bases, and tutorials are useful tools, but there’s nothing like getting another human being on the horn (or at least in a web chat).
On the other hand, if you’re looking to create your own web hosting company, but without the associated frustrations, check out reseller hosting.
For the Bloggers
An alternate form of shared web hosting is WordPress hosting. This option is for people who want to build their sites on the back of the popular WordPress content management system (CMS), but don’t want to bother with a lot of the backend stuff, such as updating the apps, plug-ins, and CMS, and enabling automatic backups. Managed WordPress plans typically have security features designed to protect the CMS from ne’er-do-wells.
Some web hosts offer managed WordPress as just one of their many hosting packages. Others specialize in WordPress hosting and don’t offer additional hosting plans.
Don’t Forget Uptime
All the aforementioned features are valuable to the web hosting experience, but none matches the importance of site uptime. If your site is down, clients or customers will be unable to find you or access your products or services.
Recently, we’ve added more-formal uptime monitoring to our review process, and the results show that most web hosts do an excellent job of keeping your sites up and running. If they don’t, they suffer for it in our rankings. Even if they get everything else right, sites with uptime problems aren’t eligible for top scores. All services suffer ups and downs, sometimes for reasons beyond their control. Those sites that fail to address the problem are penalized accordingly.
Starting a website isn’t easy, but our chart gives you a solid foundation on which you can begin your journey. Ready to select a great shared web hosting service? Click the links to read our in-depth reviews of the category’s best services.
If you’re just getting started with web hosting, make sure to check out our primers, How to Create a Website and How to Register a Domain Name for Your Website. The Best Courses for Learning How to Build Websites is another informative starting point.