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You shouldn't go broke on web hosting: 6 cheap services worth your money

You don't need to pay an arm and a leg to have a good web hosting service. We researched the best affordable services by pricing as well as features like customer support, security, and backups to determine our No. 1 pick as well as several other honorable mentions. A2 Hosting is ZDNET's top choice, but here's how it compares to the others.

Can you buy a month's worth of web hosting for less than the price of a Starbucks grande cappuccino? Yes you can, and it'll be quality web hosting, too, as we discovered when researching the best web hosting services for this buyer's guide. The average advertised monthly price for the 10 hosting providers we listed is a low $3.19.

We also discovered, when we looked a little closer at the details of those cheap web hosting plans, that three of the immutable laws of bargains still apply here: 1. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is; 2. Always check the fine print; and 3. (Most important of all) You get what you pay for.

You're an ideal candidate for the services we review here if you already have experience with web hosting and don't need much hand-holding. If you lack those technical skills, consider hiring a designer/consultant who has the requisite background, and let them help with the comparison.

The listings that follow offer a starting point for your research and do not represent hands-on reviews or formal recommendations. All information was accurate as of December 2021, but details can change at a moment's notice. Because the details of promotional prices and hosting plans vary so greatly, we haven't included prices in the capsule listings that follow and instead recommend that you compare prices and plans carefully based on your long-term needs. Our goal is to provide the information you need to build a shortlist and then evaluate and compare alternatives, ideally using the trial period each provider offers.

Must read:

  • Customer Support: Phone, chat, ticket available 24/7/365
  • Backup: Complimentary backups are provided for accounts up to 50GB "on a best effort basis." Each weekday backup is kept for seven days. Each Sunday backup is retained for a month. Options for manual backups include full server, home directory, MySQL databases, and email forwarders/filters.
  • Security: SSL support is free, via Let's Encrypt, and two-factor authentication is standard. Out-of-date version detection is included, with WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal installations patched automatically.

A2 (the name is a shout-out to the company's home in Ann Arbor, Michigan) makes it easy to get started, with free migration, one-click Softaculous installers for a wide range of software packages, and "optimized" WordPress installations. Website building software is included with all shared plans. Non-promo pricing of the high-performance Turbo Boost and Turbo Max tiers ranges from $21 to $26 a month, compared to $11 for the Startup tier.

Pros

  • Free website migrations
  • Free trial with a money-back guarantee
  • 99.99% uptime commitment

Cons

  • Can be expensive for short-term plans
  • No Windows hosting
  • Customer Support: Available via call and chat, 24/7.
  • Backup: Automated backups are not free; instead, you can pay $2.99 per month for Codeguard, a site backup tool that does unlimited daily backups of your websites.
  • Security: Two-factor authentication is standard, and free SSL certificates are offered via Let's Encrypt.

In business since 2005, Bluehost claims that its platform runs two million websites. Shared hosting plans above the basic level include one Microsoft Office 365 Email Essentials license, which is free for the first month. The company offers three tiers of managed WordPress hosting, with hundreds of free WordPress themes and a high-end option geared to online shopping. For $150, you can transfer up to five sites and up to 20 email accounts from another provider. The Weebly website builder is standard for all customers.

Pros

  • Free CDN setup
  • Plans include storage options from 10GB to 100GB SSD storage

Cons

  • Customer service calls are a long process
  • Loading time is slow
  • Price is high compared to competition after initial term
  • Customer Support: Support is available 24/7, but live chat is limited to 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Pacific Time), and phone support is via callback.
  • Backup: Automated daily backups are retained for two weeks.
  • Security: Two-factor authentication is standard. Let's Encrypt SSL certificates are free on shared plans; Comodo certificates start at $15 a year. The DreamShield malware scanner costs $3 per month per domain, and you'll pay $199 for assistance in cleaning up a hacked website.

You won't find any introductory pricing here. Instead, the low prices come with three-year commitments. Shared plans come in only two options: Starter (one website, email is an extra charge) and Unlimited (as many websites and email accounts as you wish). For those shared plans, there's a 97-day money-back guarantee. The company also has a full range of higher-end plans, including managed WordPress, VPS, and dedicated server offerings. Site transfer is included with managed WordPress plans and costs $99 with shared hosting plans.

Pros

  • Interface that is easy to navigate
  • Fantastic uptime

Cons

  • No 24/7 live telephone customer service
  • No domain email under the cheapest plan
  • Customer Support: Phone and live chat options are available 24/7/365 via phone and LiveChat.
  • Backup: Daily CodeGuard backups and weekly offsite backups are included.
  • Security: Two-factor authentication is not available. Server monitoring is standard.

If we were looking for a generic hosting provider, we found it here. The prices are competitive, and you get free site transfers and a decent website builder package with every plan. The "QuickInstall" feature allows one-click access to tons of apps. We like the no-contract policy and the 45-day money-back guarantee.

Pros

  • Quickest average loading speeds of those included in this list
  • Excellent customer service
  • Good for beginner and experienced users alike

Cons

  • Uptime is the lowest of those included
  • Renewal rates are high
  • Customer Support: We were slightly put off by the lack of live chat for new customer inquiries. For paying customers, a representative confirmed that phone support is not available, but live chat and email support options are.
  • Backup: Daily backups are standard.
  • Security: Two-factor authentication is available as part of each customer's profile. Additional security features protect against DDoS attacks.

Hostinger has some of the absolute lowest introductory prices we've seen, with limited-time offers starting at 99 cents per month. Their website builder is limited, but the templates we saw looked well designed. They also boast of cutting-edge "Next Generation Tech," such as "customizable server-level caching solutions that can serve up to three times more requests per second" and data centers in seven global locations. That's an odd mix, but we suspect it will be appealing to tech-driven bargain hunters.

Pros

  • Cheapest price of all hosting platforms included
  • Easy setup making it great for beginners

Cons

  • Less than ideal customer support
  • Loading speeds are slow for users outside of the US and UK
  • Customer Support: The support center offers an almost overwhelming number of options, but traditional chat, phone, and ticket options are available for customers.
  • Backup: Automated backups are an option, "available at checkout."
  • Security: Two-factor authentication is standard.

InMotion Hosting's landing page features a list of reasonable price tags on a wide range of plans ("no hidden -- anything"), with commitments to open source and investments in technology like PCI compliance, as well as the promise of a US-based customer service team. Entry-level tiers include strict limitations on the number of websites and allowed storage. Management tools include a CPanel option that's different from most. Free "no downtime" transfers are available. The BoldGrid website builder package is free with all plans, or you can pay $99 for a custom-built QuickStarter website with a promised two-day turnaround.

Pros

  • Up to 10 email addresses included in base package
  • 100GB of SSD storage included in cheapest package
  • Unlimited websites are included for just $4.99 per month

Cons

  • Free domain is not included in base package
  • Have to pay by the year on most packages

What is the best cheap web hosting?

A2 is ZDNet's top choice due to its host of excellent features. If you want to use WordPress as your website's foundation, this is a great hosting service to consider.

Cheap website hosting service

Wordpress integration in base plan

Free website migration

Free SSL support in base plan

A2 Hosting

✔️

✔️

✔️

Bluehost

✔️


✔️

DreamHost

✔️

✔️


HostGator

✔️

✔️

✔️

Hostinger

✔️


✔️

InMotion Hosting


✔️

✔️

Which cheap web hosting service is right for you?

Is the price right?

All the above web hosting providers are well-established companies, and at a glance, they all extend pretty much the same entry-level offerings. The cheapest plans offer shared hosting for an introductory price of a few dollars a month. So what's the catch?

For starters, these plans offer storage space and bandwidth on servers that are shared with other customers. The more sites that share a single server, the more likely your visitors are to encounter slow performance; shared servers also offer a greater risk of security breaches.

Some of the low, low prices you see on the landing page for these web hosting services are introductory offers. When the promotional period ends, the regular prices can be significantly higher. 

Likewise, the low advertised price might require a lengthy commitment. At HostGator, for example, the advertised starting prices range from $2.75 to $5.95 a month, but when you click the Buy button, you'll see that those rates are for a three-year contract. If you'd rather go for a month-to-month deal, the price ranges go up dramatically, to $10.95 to $16.95, which is also the price you agree to pay when the promo period ends.

Another common gimmick is the "limited time" offer: Buy now before the price goes up! Some of the hosting providers we checked out included a countdown clock on the home page. When we went back a few days later for a second fact-checking pass, the countdown clock had been magically reset.

Those prices might still be a good value, but you'll have to dig a bit to make accurate long-term comparisons.

Upsells and options

Those dirt-cheap teaser rates are designed to lure you in, and some web hosting providers are not shy about making up the difference by charging extra for features like backup and site migration; here, too, you'll have to factor in those costs before you can make an informed choice.

A low-cost shared hosting plan is probably good enough for a personal website. It's also adequate for a basic business site whose main purpose is to serve as an online calling card and a landing page for visitors who want to know more about your organization. It's not a good choice for a site that occasionally needs to handle large spikes in traffic or e-commerce.

If you choose a cheap plan, expect regular upsell offers for more full-featured (and significantly more expensive) plans. Those upsells come in a wide range of plans. Some of the most popular include these:

Website builder tools Typically, you don't get much hand-holding with these services, as you might with turnkey solutions like Wix, Squarespace, or Wordpress.com. Some hosting providers do offer wizard-driven tools that allow less technically sophisticated customers to build a site by pointing and clicking. DreamHost, for example, offers its theme-based Remixer tool as part of a shared hosting plan.

Managed WordPress hosting Most of the companies listed here have a managed WordPress offering that insulates customers from the chore of managing the underlying web server or installing and maintaining their own WordPress instance. Most such offerings include a selection of ready-made themes; others include WordPress-oriented website builders.

Virtual private servers (VPS) In the bare-bones shared hosting environments, multiple tenants share the hardware and software resources of a single server. In a VPS, multiple tenants share the physical server hardware, but each server instance is isolated from the others using virtualization software, with resources (memory and storage, for example) assigned directly to the VPS. This configuration ensures that performance remains consistent, regardless of what's happening with other sites that share the physical server hardware. It also dramatically reduces the likelihood of security issues that can affect accounts in a shared hosting environment. This type of solution can be managed or unmanaged, and costs significantly more than a shared hosting plan. 

Dedicated servers This is the most expensive option of all, with physical hardware dedicated to a specific customer and not shared with other accounts. This option is most appropriate for high-traffic websites that can't afford any downtime, but the price is far from cheap. At A2 Hosting, for example, the non-promotional price for a managed dedicated server starts at $200 a month, compared to $70 for a managed VPS and $11 for a basic shared hosting plan.

Choose this cheap website hosting service...

If you want…

A2 Hosting

A high-quality hosting service that allows for plenty of options to upgrade in the future

Bluehost

A host that excels in allowing you to run unlimited websites on the same server 

DreamHost

A host that allows templates and an easy interface for new website-builders

HostGator

To run websites that load in the blink of an eye

Hostinger

A host that allows you to run your website without breaking the bank

InMotion Hosting

A website host that gives you 10 domain addresses on just the base plan

How did we choose these cheap web hosting services?

Evaluation criteria

When choosing a hosting package, there's more to consider than just a low price and a feature table packed with checkmarks. We considered a wide range of extra factors that can be crucial when it comes time to separate contenders on your shortlist of hosting providers.

Let's start with the most important factor of all: A money-back guarantee. Every provider we surveyed offers at least 30 days during which you can try the service risk-free. DreamHost has a 97-day "zero risk" guarantee for its shared hosting plans, and A2 Hosting offers a full refund for the first 30 days and a pro-rated refund for unused service after 30 days. We strongly recommend taking advantage of a trial period to test the following factors:

Customer support How many contact options does the provider offer for the plan you've chosen? If phone support isn't available and email and ticket-based systems are the primary mechanism for problem resolution, how quickly does the support team respond?

Bandwidth and storage For shared hosting plans, most providers offer "unlimited" data transfers and storage, but there's invariably a page full of fine print that requires you to abide by "reasonable" restrictions and acceptable-use policies. More expensive plans typically include hard limits on storage and monthly data transfer.

Backup Every provider offers the ability to create manual backups and download them to local storage, but automated online backups are the most reliable way to recover from a disaster such as a sitewide compromise. Most hosting providers offer automatic backups, but some charge extra. Bluehost, for example, offers the Codeguard site-backup tool for an extra $2.99 per month. Be sure to check the retention policy to see how long backups are preserved.

Performance As a rule, the less you pay for a shared hosting plan, the more likely you are to encounter slow page loads, because those low-cost plans typically cluster more shared accounts on the server. The simplest way to boost speed is to choose a higher-priced storage plan, especially one like A2 Hosting's Turbo plan, which includes support for caching and HTTP/2. Also, look for content delivery network options such as Cloudflare.

Security Every provider brags about its secure infrastructure, and as a solitary customer, it's impossible to put those claims to the test. You can, however, look for basic security best practices. Does the provider offer multi-factor authentication? Are crucial software packages updated automatically, or are you required to stay on top of updates yourself? How easy is it to add SSL support, and how much does it cost to renew a certificate? Ask the support department whether it will assist if your website is hacked, and if so, how much the assistance will cost.

Email and domain options Several providers offer free domain registration as part of a hosting package, but of course, the cost of that registration is built into the bill for the plan itself. And don't expect to find any loopholes: Every provider that we checked with will assess a fee to recover that registration cost if you cancel your plan and try to transfer the domain. In addition, you can expect basic web-based email options from every provider, with some offering more advanced features. If email is important, make sure to test those offerings during the free trial period.

Are there free website hosting services?

Yes. But they often don't allow for many customization options. Free web hosting services include Wix, WordPress, and GoDaddy. For more and to learn all about their caveats, see ZDNET's guide:

How much does it cost to run a website?

It all depends on which web hosting platform you decide to use. But paid web hosting for a single website ranges anywhere from $2 to $10 per month.

Are there alternative web hosting platforms to consider?

As mentioned at the top, you need to weigh your options before finding which web hosting service you plan to use. While these three services didn't make their way into the top eight, they are highly reliable and great options if none of the other web hosts appeal to you.


Susan Preston of Clearly Presentable, a New Mexico-based website and presentation design firm, provided research assistance for these listings.  

Editorial standards