Web hosting is one of the most, if not the most important decision you’ll make when getting your website online. No matter how amazing your website looks, how well optimized it is, how great it looks like mobile or desktop – none of that matters if your hosting provider can’t deliver on the most basic requirements you need to stay relevant in the online space.
If you’re looking for an expert, with tons of data and numbers, then this isn’t the article for you. But if you’re looking for an honest depiction of what web hosting is, and how it’s affected my 10 years of experience in the field, then I’ve got you covered.
So first, what is hosting? Well, web hosting, as defined by website.com is:
Web hosting is a service that allows organizations and individuals to post a website or web page onto the Internet. A web host, or web hosting service provider, is a business that provides the technologies and services needed for the website or webpage to be viewed in the Internet. Websites are hosted, or stored, on special computers called servers. When Internet users want to view your website, all they need to do is type your website address or domain into their browser. Their computer will then connect to your server and your webpages will be delivered to them through the browser.Website.com
Make sense? Oh well good – short blog post! Okay, but maybe for the rest of us it would be helpful if I broke this down a bit more. :)
It’s Your “Land”
I like to describe the whole website structure as though you’re buying a house. The house, the building in which you are living, is the web site. That’s where all your stuff goes. It’s where you go. You are the content, that is, you are what people come to the house to see. Your domain is your street address – which fitting, since a domain is also referred to as a web address. And the hosting – now, that’s the land. That’s the property in which your house sits.
Does that make sense? Probably a little better than the technical paragraph above, right? Maybe not, but here’s a terrible gif complete with dashicons to help clear up that analogy.
Location Location Location!
The location of your host, much like your land, matters tremendously. However, in this situation, I’m not necessarily talking about the physical location of your host – although that also matters. A CDN (Content Delivery Network) can “fake” the physical location of your host. Using a CDN to make sure your files are being loaded from the closest web server available, will speed up your website load speeds. And by a lot for people in different parts of the world, which will help your SEO quite a bit!
CDNs are something that can be handled by your host, but they also can be picked up and set up to work with just about any host. I think CDNs are great and should be a big reason why you choose a host, but if you end up going with a host without a CDN, it’s not the end of the world. What does matter is the quality of the host you go with.
Hosts Vary in Quality – By A Lot
Not all web hosts are the same. When you’re choosing a web host, you should be comparing things like customer service, server response time, and security. You’ll also want to consider some other important things like bandwidth, storage space, and if it comes with a specific feature you’re looking for (like proprietary website builders).
As a web developer, I’m not super interested in proprietary website builders like GoDaddy’s “Website Tonight” garbage, but I do very much appreciate good customer support. Because no matter how much I think I know about web hosting, there are always times where I find that I don’t know quite as much as I think I do – and that’s where the web host support comes into play for me.
In short, if I know more than the customer support agent on the other end of the keyboard in regard to my hosting infrastructure, then either I got really unlucky with which agent I was assigned, or my web hosting has garbage customer support.
So lets me briefly walk you through the last 10 years of my experience in the field.
My Experience In Choosing A Web Host
When I first needed to choose a host for my websites, I had two at the time, I made the decision based entirely on cost. I didn’t know what any of the hot words the different hosts were saying. All I knew is that I needed a host to get my website online, and these guys could do it for something like $1.99/month. They claimed to offer “unlimited” storage and websites, and as a novice in the field – and a financially broke one at that – that sounded right up my alley!
If you’ve been paying attention to the web hosting market in the last decade, you may be able to guess which host I was using. But honestly, you’d just be super lucky if you got it right. Since nearly every web host at the time was offering the same thing.
See, I thought that was because it was a very competitive market and that’s good for the customer, right?! Not so much. It turns out that there is a single megacorporation that owns pretty much every single major web hosting of the early 2010s. That company, of course, is EIG – formerly BizLand.
So what’s the big deal? What does it matter to me that this company owned all of these hosting providers at the time? Well… the big deal is that this caused finding a “good” host increasingly difficult.
If you’re unlucky enough to have gone from one of these EIG companies to another, and then to another… after the third one or so, you might just think, “Well they’re all this, then right?” And you’d be half right.
Yes, every EIG-owned hosting provider I have worked with, with maybe BlueHost being the exception (barely), has been a steaming pile of dog doo-doo. EIG’s customer support is terrible. Most unlimited storage only means a few dozen GBs before you start to see your speeds throttled. Also, their “features” are about half a decade old at this point.
Is it really that bad?
You might think that I should be bringing some facts if I’m going to making grand claims like “their features are half a decade old now.” You’re probably right. So here’s what I know. Of all the websites that I’ve cleaned malware from in the past 3 years, at least 80% have been EIG owned.
And in fact, just a few weeks ago, I was in a situation where I needed to upgrade hosting from PHP version 5.4 (wow…) to the most recent available on that server. That server’s most recent available was only 7.2.
And then there’s the matter of speed. I promised not to include a ton of data in this mostly experience-based article, but I’ll make an exception here.
As this graph from Web Hosting Buddy shows, not all web hosts are equal… And the ones towards the bottom of that list have a common parent-company, EIG.
Why I Love And Recommend SiteGround
So who do you go with? How do you decide which host is right for you? I think the best way to do this is to decide what’s really important to you. Are you trying to save a couple of bucks and have no interest in SEO or growing your business online? If that’s the case, any of those EIG companies might be perfect. It physically pains me to say that, but if you’re truly not trying to grow your business online, any one of EIG’s hosting companies could work.
But if you’re trying to build that brand, grow that business, make that money… well, I think the best bet to get started is SiteGround. It’s who I, after 8 years of floundering with EIG, landed on and they’ve only gotten better!
Their Features Are Great!
SiteGround’s features outshine any other host I’ve worked with. From their Free SSLs to their incredible customer support, SiteGround is truly a must-have in 2020.
Free Let’s Encrypt SSLs
The year is 2020 and if you’re running a website without an SSL, you’re probably doing it wrong. Google Chrome is even throwing shade at you with “Insecure Site” notices when people land on your website. It’s a whole thing. But SSLs are expensive, right? Well, they used to be… especially on hosts like GoDaddy and EIG networks. But on SiteGround, they have full “LetsEncrypt” integration. This allows you to get the benefits of an SSL for SEO and basic security, without needing to pay tons of money. You also have options of more secure SSLs, if you’d like to go that route, but for most of my customers, a simple LetsEncrypt is good enough.
Backup and Restore Tools
Whenever you’re investing money into something, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan. In websites, that backup is quite literally a backup of your investment. Where in the case of vehicle or home, you may have insurance that will cover a percentage of your loss. On a website, you can have a full backup of the files and database so nothing is lost.
Many hosts offer backups, but not very many have backups as regularly or easily available as SiteGround. This feature alone has saved my butt a few times when an over-zealous administrator starts installing some sketch plugins.
One-Click WordPress Staging
This is a godsend for me in development. What is staging, I hear you ask? Staging is when you take a website and duplicate it somewhere else. This enables you to make changes without the public seeing them. Once those changes are done, you’ll push them to the live site.
On other platforms, this whole process is a bit of a game of cat-and-mouse. Especially if the site you’re staging also is going to continue to get content updates while you’re developing a new site.
With SiteGround, staging is as easy as logging into your dashboard and clicking a few buttons. Then once you’re ready to push it live, doing the same thing. When pushing the site live, it even gives you an option to merge the old content with the new! This means you won’t lose those new posts!
WordPress Migrator Plugin (meh..)
Whenever you’re in that position where you really realize that you just can’t stay on your current host anymore, anything to make the transition easier is helpful. SiteGround offers free migration for any new customers, which I’ve had great success with in the past. But they also offer a plugin called “SiteGround Migrator.” This plugin is really similar to Duplicator or All-In-One Migrator.
The way it works is you log into your SG Dashboard, create a place for the WordPress site to go, and create a migration key. Once you have that key, you go to your current WordPress dashboard, install the SG Migrator Plugin, and use the key. After a few moments, the site will have been cloned from your previous host to SiteGround! I’ve had mixed success with this to be entirely honest. But SiteGround’s support has always been there to help get things sorted if the plugin doesn’t work.
SG Optimizer Plugin (Yeah!)
This plugin from SiteGround is not a “meh.” SG Optimizer is incredible. In fact, I featured it on my “The Best, Most Useful WordPress Plugins of 2020s” article I posted earlier this week. The simple front-end optimization tools it gives, in combination with the caching and back-end performance boosts makes this a must-have if you’re hosted on SiteGround.
I love SiteGround Hosting…
There’s a reason I currently have an SG banner ad under my contact form on every page of my website. And believe me when I tell you that it’s not because I’m making bank on the referrer link it sends me! It’s because if a customer is on SiteGround hosting, I know that they are serious about their web hosting. I also know that my life is going to be way easier when dealing with customer support.
So yeah, I love SiteGround hosting, and I think you should be using them like I am! If you’re currently looking for a hosting provider for your new or existing website, please consider using SiteGround. And if you use this link, I’ll get a small kickback from your initial purchase. It’s not much, but it does help support my addiction to Mexican food.
Is there anything better than SiteGround hosting?
Well…. sort of. SiteGround is the perfect mix of incredible features at a budget-friendly price. Because of this, they cover all the bases for nearly every sized company that I work with. However, they’re not the premium hosting option.
Like all things, you can get really cheap hosting (like EIG hosting mentioned above), a good middle ground (like SiteGround), or premium hosting. This “premium” hosting comes at a bunch higher price tag, but with quite a few additional features.
And to be fair, you probably spend 5x as much on your cable bill.
But What If You Need HIPAA Compliance?
Okay, so this is super niche, but I should mention that neither SiteGround OR WPEngine is HIPAA compliant. They are not and do not offer HIPAA compliant solutions. So what do you do if you need HIPAA Compliancy and a WordPress website? You get hosting from someone that specializes in that.
Enter Atlantic.net Hosting!
Atlantic Hosting is a hosting company that is both located in the United States and specializes in HIPAA compliant WordPress hosting. If you need both HIPAA & WordPress, these guys are your guys. And look… you could go and just sign up on their website, but if you’re looking for a HIPAA compliant hosting, you probably don’t want to just run through whatever funnel they have on their site right now, right? You probably want to actually speak to a person? That’s where my contact Brendan comes in. :)
So if you’re looking for the premium / best WordPress hosting available on the internet at the time of writing this article, you’re probably looking for WP Engine.