If there’s one thing I learned in my first year at Singapore Tech, it’s that all the big brains walking around campus don’t equate to knowing squat about web hosting. It didn’t take long for the place to look at me as sort of a savant on the topic.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I find the subject fascinating and have spent months comparing uptime, load time, and customer support quality among the so-called “big” name hosting companies. It turns out that the ones you thought were best, might not be.
The Smart Way to Choose a Web Host
I know all you really care about are the three hosting companies I recommend. Don’t worry. I’m not going to make you scroll through a ton of text to find them. What I would like to do is give you a quick sketch on how they were chosen.
- Selected a couple dozen likely suspects with which to open testing accounts.
- Created bare-bones WordPress sites because it’s the most massively cool content management system in the galaxy – so far.
- Made up reasons to get in touch with customer support to test their people skills and knowledge. If you know next to nothing about getting your site hosted, quality of support is a huge deal.
- Undertook an ongoing performance monitoring program that is in its third year. This forms the basis of the recommendations you are about to read.
Just so we get off on the right foot, you should realize that some of the links you run across throughout the rest of the article are affiliate programs. Simply put, this means I get paid a few cents when you click on one. Do or don’t as you see fit.
Any money I make goes towards defraying the cost of maintaining all these test sites. Web hosting can be cheap but when you have close to 30 accounts…you get the idea.
My Top 3 Web Host Picks for 2018
#1. Siteground (Great, especially for WordPress users)
Load Time: 585 ms
Support: 2 minute response time for live chat
Cost: $3.95 USD per month
The #1 choice on my list might come as a surprise to some. SiteGround probably doesn’t even make the top 10 in name recognition for most people, thanks to a decided lack of advertising, but don’t let that dissuade you.
Singaporeans are probably a little more in the know about this nifty little company than the western world. Here’s a feather in their cap you might not know about. Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress.org ALL officially recommend SiteGround for their CMS software.
I might have underwhelmed you by referring to SiteGround as a nifty “little” company. With more than 800,000 domains presently hosted, this ain’t some dude cobbling together server space on a couple of old desktop computers he cadged from the local thrift store.
SiteGround operates top-shelf data centers and servers on a global basis, which makes a difference to those who might not be near a population center. You can expect screaming fast speed in most places in the world.
Uptime: In today’s world, we’ve come to the point where we split hairs when evaluating uptime. Any credible web hosting company should be able to hit more than 99%. I’d be a little suspicious of the ones who claim 100% because, over time, that is a literal impossibility.
But with SiteGround, uptime comes about as close as a company can get to reaching that goal. I attribute this to the fact that they create their own software solutions rather than buying pre-built packages.
Load Time: While it’s a toss-up as to whether load time or uptime is more important, suffice it to say you’re going to be one disappointed geezer if you happen to purchase your hosting with a slow loading company. This metric is measured in milliseconds and refers to how long it takes a web page to show up after you click on a link.
A lower number is better. More studies than I want to talk about have concluded one online reality: a slow-loading website will cause visitors to depart your site like lemmings off a cliff. Seriously, if it takes longer than three or four seconds you might as well take your website down and find a different line of work. SiteGround wasn’t fastest, but it was very, very close.
Customer Support: I get the feeling that the powers-that-be at SiteGround put a huge emphasis on providing top-notch customer support. With 230 employees dedicated to handling the tsunami of emails, chats, and phone calls that come in daily, you can expect your problem or complaint to be dealt with promptly and professionally.
- Managed WordPress hosting for all
- Free security upgrades
- E-commerce friendly
- Free website transfer from another host
- Affordable pricing
- 30-day money back guarantee
Since nothing in this world is perfect, let’s talk about the nitpick I have with SiteGround. You probably already realize that web hosts tend to play a pricing game that forces you to sign up for multiple years in order to get that sweet monthly price they brag about.
SiteGround plays a different sort of game, if you want to call it that. You can eschew the multi-year plan and still receive the low monthly rate but you’ll be dinged a setup fee of $14.95 on your first month’s bill. While not straight up slimy, I have to say, “Come on, guys. You’re better than this.”
The Final Verdict
SiteGround isn’t the cheapest or the most expensive, but in my opinion, it is the best of the web host services I tested. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
#2. A2 Hosting (Second best but barely)
Load Time: 473 ms
Support: Response to chat request kind of slow
A2 Hosting isn’t shy about making a lot of heady claims regarding the quality of their web hosting service. Nothing like confidence, right? The question is can they back it up? It turns out that, for the most part, they are running neck and neck with SiteGround.
I didn’t literally flip a coin to decide who received the top spot on my list, but it was a darn close call. At 200,000 domains hosted, this company was spot on with claims of 99.9% uptime and “guru” customer support.
Impressive Uptime: My testing revealed the test website was online and open for business 99.92% of the time. A slightly lower number than SiteGround but nothing to sneer at. Industry average uptime is about 99.79% so anything above that is fine by me.
Hold on Tight Speed: Remember how I said that SiteGround was fast but not the fastest? Well, that honor goes to A2 Hosting with an average load time of 473 ms. For all practical purposes, this is an instant page load, which is SO important when it comes to keeping visitors on your website and not clicking away to play another game of Candy Crush. (No, I don’t have a problem. Really.)
The secret sauce to A2’s speed is a hard limit on how many customers they put on a shared server. Too many websites on a single server slows page loads for everyone. In addition, the technique of caching allows the static parts of a website to be served faster.
Customer and Tech Support: As mentioned, their initial response to my chat request was kind of slow – about eight minutes – but once I got them online, responses to a variety of “clueless” questions came fast and furious. Like SiteGround, A2 provides multiple methods of contact: email, chat, phone, and a ticket system, all available 24/7/365.
Other Notable Features:
- Additional security against hackers provided automatically
- Free site migration if your present provider uses cPanel
- Click setup for WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal
- 30-day money back guarantee
- Traffic routed through Cloudflare CDN to take advantage of the fastest path to the server and back
- Green web hosting via carbon offset purchases
By now, you probably have surmised that I think A2 Hosting is a pretty alright company, but there is one thing that sort of ruffles my feathers. Besides the usual pricing game preventing you from getting the best price unless you sign up for two years, I’m a bit nonplussed at the level of restrictions placed on entry level hosting packages.
As compared to the moderately more expensive Swift and Turbo plans, A2’s Lite plan limits the number of websites and databases available to you. Maybe this is a problem for you and maybe not, but it sort of sticks in my craw. Would it kill them to make it unlimited like the other two options? Regardless, choosing the Lite plan doesn’t seem to limit your bandwidth or speed. I got good numbers on both so no worries there.
The Final Verdict
A2 Hosting ranks below SiteGround on my list but only by this much. I’m holding my thumb and finger less than an inch apart. The factors that detracted from putting this company in the top slot were not major.
Besides what I’ve already mentioned, you get punished to the tune of $25 if you downgrade from either the Swift or Turbo plan. On the plus side, there are not many upsells along the way, which is rare in this industry.
#3. HostGator (For those who trust only massive corporations)
Load Time: 991 ms
Support: Ticket system slow for my taste
Last time I cared enough to check how many domains were hosted by the Houston-based Hostgator it was around nine million. In my opinion, the company reached this level of market penetration primarily by saturating the airwaves and internet with ads featuring a funky blue alligator.
This doesn’t mean it’s a poor hosting choice. Just realize that a business this large might suffer now and then in the quality department from sheer size.
Is Hostgator a decent choice for your money? Well, it did manage to make it into my top three, which says something, though I feel there is a long fall in quality between the first two web hosts and this one. Hostgator is a solid option if you realize a few things…
Up Time: At 99.97%, Hostgator and its far-flung server farms do manage to stay online above the industry average. When I first rolled out my test site, there were outages left and right, but that seems to have improved over the months. As of this moment in time, I’d say they’re reliable.
Customer Support: The usual options here – 24/7/365 access to email, chat, phone, and a ticket system. It took about 15 minutes to get a rep on when I attempted to chat.
The ticket I submitted generated a canned response promising personal attention within 24 hours. Not too impressive. If I were trapped under a car, I would have died.
Generous Money-Back Guarantee: Most web host companies give you 30 days to ask for a refund if you don’t like the service. Kudos to Hostgator for upping that to a 45 days.
Now let’s get into the reasons that I think Hostgator is spectacularly average when compared to SiteGround and A2 Hosting.
Load Time: My tests showed that Hostgator’s average page load speed is 991 ms. That’s 11% below industry average and slower than an sleepy turtle. When you consider that Google factors load time into SEO rankings, a slow host like this could literally cost you money.
Backup Games: Unfortunately, the “automatic daily backups” referred to in Hostgator’s promotional material refers to those freely available to anyone using the ubiquitous cPanel interface. For anything more impressive it’ll cost you another $15.95 per month.
More Pricing Games: That rock bottom low price that sucked you in? Get ready to sign up for three years to get it. I don’t know about you but I have a hard time committing to anything, even breathing, for that long. Other gimmicks include “introductory” prices that are exactly that. They apply only to the first invoice and then disappear.
The Final Verdict
Hostgator isn’t a bad choice, but you should realize that you’re signing on for an average industry experience, though it does seem that the company’s braintrust has decided to step up their reliability and speed game in the last couple of years. Hopefully, that trend will continue.
The Final FINAL Verdict
There you have it. My top web hosting recommendations for my Singaporean friends both near and far. All three offer good to excellent quality at solid prices. Neither are the cheapest web host you’ll find but do offer more for the money than similarly-priced services.
Why do I bother with this list?
That’s a legitimate question. The truth is I’m an internet geek and what would the internet be without good page load times? A frustrating pile of cyber dung, that’s what. Keep in mind that my tests are ongoing so check back now and then to see if my top selections have changed.
Now get out there and change the world! I’m just a comment away if you have any web hosting questions.