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The 14 best web hosting services: Which is right for your website?

We researched and tested the best web hosting services available by pricing as well as features like cPanel, SSL, SSH, backups, and support in order to determine our No. 1 choice and several other honorable mentions. Dreamhost is ZDNET's pick for the best web hosting service overall, but here's how it compares to other leading contenders.

There are thousands of web hosting providers. Some hosting companies run their own data centers. Others rent virtual machines from cloud service providers. All provide some way for their customers to appear online. But choosing the web hosting service that's right for you can prove to be quite the challenge. While you no longer need to be a programmer or an IT professional to properly configure a web presence, you do need to understand marketing to help get your message across.

We've spotlighted four classes of web hosting services, ranging from providers that give you a quick and easy way to build your website, all the way up to the big companies that provide full datacenter infrastructure capabilities as a service.

Must read:

What are the best standard-fare hosting providers?

There are thousands of web host providers out there. One company, Newfold (previously known as Endurance International Group), sells web hosting under almost 100 different brands. In many ways, standard-fare web hosting is about as generic as it gets. Nearly all these web hosting providers offer shared hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated hosting. Some offer the ability to resell their services. Many offer a free SSL certificate.

Be careful: Nearly all the hosting vendors in this category entice customers with a very low entry-level fee. But there are often two critical gotchas in that fee. First, the fee quoted is usually a monthly fee, but the hosting service bills by year (or even multiple years). So while you might be attracted to, say, a $3-per-month fee, you might find yourself facing a $144 bill, because you've been asked to prepay for four years to get the discount. Second, upon renewal, most hosting providers vastly increase the starting fee. So even though you signed up for $3 per month, you might find yourself being asked to pay up to $10 per month just to keep your site operating.

We are always cautious about these sorts of hosting plans because migrating off of them can be time-consuming, costly, and difficult.

Features

  • cPanel: No, proprietary panel
  • SSL: Free
  • SSH: Yes
  • Backups: Yes
  • Money-back guarantee: 97 day
  • Support: 24/7 chat, ticket, and call-back

DreamHost is a full-featured hosting provider that has made an ongoing effort to reduce its environmental footprint. With LEED Platinum and EnergyStar-certified facilities, high-efficiency cooling, partnerships in clean wind programs, and a push to power their data centers from renewable energy, DreamHost is a web hosting service that looks to the future.

As far as hosting offerings themselves, DreamHost has WordPress hosting, shared hosting, virtual private servers, dedicated servers, and cloud hosting. We particularly like the fact that DreamHost has added G Suite integration into their offerings, with domain integration and Google Cloud support. The company also provides a great set of resources and guides that can help customers grow their business. 

Read the review: DreamHost review: I'm a satisfied 15-year customer

Pros

  • Over three-month money-back guarantee
  • Many hosting options

Cons

  • No telephone support
  • Uses a custom-built control panel

Features

  • cPanel: Yes
  • SSL: Yes
  • SSH: Yes
  • Backups: Yes
  • Money-back guarantee: 30-day
  • Support: 24/7 chat, ticket, and telephone

The "green" in the company's name reflects the Green Geeks' commitment to the environment. It purchases three times the energy it actually uses in wind energy credits, essentially putting energy back into the economy. The company does this through a form of renewable energy certificates, which, while complicated, means that it's not just energy neutral, it's actually helping fuel the green energy economy. Yes, it's a gimmick. But it's a good hearted gimmick that might actually help the environment.

Rather surprisingly, the low-end account provides both SSH and WP-CLI access, along with Git preinstalled. It's also possible to customize PHP and PHP.INI, something somewhat unheard of on a bottom-end plan.

Pros

  • Environmentally friendly with one tree planted with every subscription
  • Free domain for first year
  • Nightly backups

Cons

  • Plans can be expensive after first year
  • No Windows server hosting

Features

  • cPanel: Yes
  • SSL: Free
  • SSH: Some plans
  • Backups: Some plans
  • Money-back guarantee: 30-day
  • Support: 24/7/365 chat

Hostinger is a traditional web hosting provider. You can use WordPress or configure your slice of a shared server or virtual private server with any number of Web applications. Unfortunately, on August 25, 2019, Hostinger revealed that up to 14 million users might have been impacted by a security breach. The company reset passwords for all impacted accounts.

When I did in-depth testing of Hostinger last year, I found they had properly updated most of the security components of their servers, at least to within a few months. Performance was adequate, even on their lowest end plan. Just keep in mind that when you get into the generic hosting provider category, pricing is likely to be misleading. It jumps considerably after the first year and while they advertise $1.99 per month, you're actually going to be asked for $47.52 on checkout and more than double that when you renew.

Also: My in-depth review of Hostinger

Pros

  • Excellent customer service
  • Plans start at just $1.99/mo
  • Weekly backups

Cons

  • Daily backups only included in expensive plans
  • No telephone support

Features

  • cPanel: Yes
  • SSL: Free
  • SSH: Some plans
  • Backups: Basic, plus more on select plans
  • Money-back guarantee: 30 days
  • Support: 24/7 chat, phone, email

Bluehost fits into the category we call "standard-fare" hosting providers, in that it offers a wide range of services, ranging from basic shared hosting up to virtual private servers and dedicated machines. We're putting them into the WordPress ecosystem category because Bluehost has a strong focus on WordPress in its offerings.

We particularly like how this hosting service segments their WordPress offerings, ranging from basic shared hosting offerings up to their higher-performance pro plan, and then on to a WooCommerce-based shopping cart solution. All solutions come with some level of backup, an Office 365 mailbox, and malware detection and removal. We also like the staging environment that Bluehost offers, allowing you to test your site and changes before deploying them publicly.

Pros

  • Strong focus on WordPress
  • Free domain for first year
  • Malware scanning on all plans

Cons

  • Can only host in the US
  • Limitations on cheap plans try to pressure you into purchasing more expensive plans

Features

  • cPanel: Some plans
  • SSL: Some plans
  • SSH: Some plans
  • Backups: Some plans
  • Money-back guarantee: 30 days for annual plans, 48 hours (!) for monthly plans
  • Support: 24/7/365 US-based ticket and phone

I talked about GoDaddy when I surveyed email hosting providers, and here they are again in the web hosting provider space. GoDaddy has made a business of offering as wide an array of services as is possible for individuals and small businesses in need of an Internet presence. 

Although most of my decade-plus experience with GoDaddy has been with domain registration, I've come to respect how this web host provides the key services most customers want. They're definitely not the best at anything, but they do a good job with almost everything. Pricing is fair, customer service is reasonable, and although not 24/7, if you need a technical lead to get something accomplished, you can usually find someone with a clue (after jumping through a few hoops, of course).

Be careful. We're not happy that GoDaddy will only refund month-by-month plans if canceled within 48 hours of the sign-up transaction. That's very restrictive.

Pros

  • Free, unlimited SSL for all websites on the Deluxe plan and up
  • Average load time is 171.1 ms
  • Tutorials online to help guide your website creating process

Cons

  • Have to put a large payment down to start hosting
  • Sneaky money-back guarantee

Features

  • cPanel: Yes
  • SSL: Free
  • SSH: Yes
  • Backups: Limited
  • Money-back guarantee: None
  • Support: 24/7/365 chat and Skype

LiquidWeb is a considerably higher-end provider than most that we list in this section. If you're a larger small business, a departmental-size organization, or an enterprise, LiquidWeb's managed hosting services might appeal to you.

The company provides both bare-metal and cloud-based dedicated servers. The cloud servers are technically pooled resources, but managed in such a way as to block out dedicated performance for each tenant application. The company offers some very helpful configurations for more complex projects, including server clustering and the ability to host your own virtual private server network.

Pros

  • Excellent customer service
  • 100% uptime guaranteed
  • Fast servers

Cons

  •  Incredibly expensive
  • money-back guarantee is non-existent

What are the best WordPress hosting services?

We might as well get WordPress out of the way since if we're talking web hosts, we're going to talk WordPress. About 62% of websites with content management systems use the open-source WordPress CMS. And 35.9% of all websites use WordPress. 

Also: Best WordPress hosting in 2020: Pagely, WordPress VIP, WP Engine, Kinsta, and more

The WordPress ecosystem is huge, and finding the right WordPress host is a challenge all its own. Beyond WordPress.com, the service offered by the creators of WordPress, there are a large number of managed hosting providers and an even larger number of hosting providers that specialize in providing a WordPress-optimized server for your website. Nearly every hosting provider will allow a WordPress install.

In this list, we're going to discuss WordPress.com, one managed hosting provider, and mid-tier web hosting service provider that optimizes for WordPress offerings.

Features

  • cPanel: No
  • SSL: Free
  • SSH: Some plans
  • Backups: Some plans
  • Money-back guarantee: 30 day
  • Support: Some plans email, some plans 24/7 chat

Here's where things get confusing. WordPress.com is a hosting provider for WordPress websites. It's run by Automattic, the company behind the WordPress software. WordPress.com offers services ranging from free websites with restrictions, all the way up to major VIP websites like those of CNN and The New York Times. If you want to run WordPress, but you don't want to install it, one place to go is WordPress.com.

Also: Understanding the different WordPress variants

I find WordPress.com a little too restrictive. The lower-end plans limit the plugins and themes you can use, which means custom-built solutions like those I favor are not available. Fortunately, there is a huge market of competitive WordPress hosting providers, and we'll touch on a few more in this article.

Pros

  • Lots of options from free websites to professional hosting
  • SSH, Backups, and support all depend on what plan you have

Cons

  • Not many customization options on base plans
  • Page speed is slow

Features

  • cPanel: No, they have a custom Atom panel
  • SSL: Free
  • SSH: Free
  • Backups: Yes
  • Money-back guarantee: 30 day
  • Support: 24/7 ticket and chat

WP Engine is a well-known mid-tier WordPress managed hosting provider. During my review period, I found that WP Engine did everything expected of it. There were no surprises and no major problems. Unlike many other hosting providers, all the relevant supporting software (especially encryption software for security) was reasonably up to date.

Also: My WP Engine review: It delivers exactly what it promises

WP Engine is not the cheapest host on the block. But if you're serious about WordPress hosting and you're not ready for Pagely (our next review), WP Engine can definitely provide your site with the motive power you need.

Pros

  • Daily backups even on the base plan
  • Ability to design your own plan
  • Free SSL and SSH

Cons

  • Email isn't included
  • Not cheap

What are the best Infrastructure-as-a-Service providers?

Next up are the IaaS providers. These include names you probably know intimately: Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. The five companies we're including in our list are highly credible vendors who've been providing infrastructure for years.

If you're just starting, you might not want to go all-in with an IaaS provider, although they do offer the most flexibility. Some, like Amazon with Lightsail and Digital Ocean with Droplets, allow you to point-and-click configure virtual WordPress machines or almost any other open-source content management system you may want.

One quick note: Because the IaaS providers offer such configurable choices, we haven't summarized cPanel, SSL, SSH, backups, etc. In most cases, you'll need to set that up yourself as part of your overall configuration.

Features

  • cPanel: No
  • SSL: Free
  • SSH: No
  • Backups: Yes
  • Money-back guarantee: No
  • Support: 24/7/365

Rackspace started operations more than 20 years ago as a company that rented out infrastructure. In those days, if you wanted a co-located server at a hosting provider, you'd rent space on a rack in a data center. Hence: Rackspace.

Today, Rackspace is a mostly cloud-centric IaaS provider. Their big claim to fame is the co-creation of the OpenStack open-source cloud computing platform, which runs IaaS loads (virtual servers and other resources) in public and private clouds. The key benefit of OpenStack, beyond its technically-sound cloud management features, is that it reduces lock-in. OpenStack implementations can (with effort) be ported from one OpenStack hosting provider to another.

Rackspace provides a wide range of services and support on its cloud, mostly targeted to large SMB through enterprise. 

Pros

  • Incredibly customizable
  • Low price for an IaaS provider

Cons

  • Mediocre customer support
  • Bad upload speeds

Features

  • cPanel: Yes
  • SSL: Free
  • SSH: Yes
  • Backups: Automated backup schedules
  • Money-back guarantee: Within 48 hours
  • Support: Depends on plan

AWS is the 800-pound gorilla in the cloud computing universe. Perhaps the best example of AWS's power and capability is this: Most of Netflix runs on AWS. When you realize the size of the Netflix library and the incredible demand for Netflix programming, you can begin to understand the scale of AWS.

What makes AWS a truly special web host is how the company has sliced and diced nearly every kind of cloud-based resource, ranging from storage to mail sending to specific, AI-based workloads, and then can sell them to IT operations in very incremental workload-based levels. You can rent a virtual server operation to run Netflix, or you can rent a small virtual Linux install with half a gig of RAM for five bucks a month. It's all there. Plus you can mix and match services, just as long as you have a valid payment method on file.

I use Amazon's S3 to backup some of my files. AWS is the underlying infrastructure for Pagely, which runs my primary Web servers, and I've dabbled with AWS Lightsail to spin up virtual servers quickly and inexpensively.

Pros

  • Not expensive
  • Can host websites big or small

Cons

  • The abundance of options makes decision difficult
  • Only a 48-hour money-back guarantee 

Features

  • cPanel: Yes
  • SSL: Yes
  • SSH: Yes
  • Backups: Yes
  • Money-back guarantee: No
  • Support: 24/7

I like to think of Digital Ocean as "AWS for the rest of us." Digital Ocean offers cloud-based infrastructure like AWS but offers a much smaller set of services. These include scalable compute services (i.e., virtual machines), managed Kubernetes clusters, cloud databases, and simple object storage.

I use a Digital Ocean droplet to host a cloud-Linux server that runs ten of my archived websites, as well as some other incremental workloads. New droplets are incredibly easy to set up and deploy, and just as easy to shut down. I often spin up a Digital Ocean droplet for testing, paying mere pennies for a few days use, and then shut it back down when I'm done with my testing.

While AWS has undeniable depth and breadth, it is a little more complex to use. The actual infrastructure you buy costs about the same as comparable AWS services, but Digital Ocean is more simple and straightforward.

Pros

  • 99.97% uptime
  • 272 ms loadtimes
  • Simple interface

Cons

  • Customer support is mediocre at best
  • Pricing structure is complicated

Features

  • cPanel: Yes
  • SSL: Yes
  • SSH: Yes
  • Backups: Yes with disaster recovery
  • Money-back guarantee: 30-day
  • Support: Depends on plan

Beyond Google's software-as-a-service offerings (specifically Google Workspace, the new name for G Suite), Google Cloud provides IaaS capabilities for those interested in managing their infrastructure using Google's cloud and cloud technology. When you realize that Google Cloud uses the same infrastructure as Google's search and YouTube operations, you see how Google Cloud suddenly becomes a very credible contender.

Google Cloud does offer a similar range of cloud services as the other web hosts but also offers cloud-based capabilities based on Google's search and large data management infrastructure. If you want to tap into Google's unique skill set for a challenging project at scale, Google Cloud is a viable option.

Pros

  • Many customization options
  • Email and privacy protection included in subscription

Cons

  • Not for simple projects; very complex
  • On the pricier side

What are the best point-and-click website builders?

A website builder is a piece of software that lets you craft your business website, generally without programming. Many allow you to choose from templates and then modify those templates to suit your look and layout.

Nearly all web hosting providers include some sort of website building software; but for most hosting plans it's often an afterthought included to simply check off a box on evaluation forms. By contrast, the website builders listed in this section are provided by web hosting services that have made point-and-click website building tools with excellent customer support and solid up-time a core priority in their offering. Each offers a rich library of gorgeous starting templates and then lets you build out from there.

You do sacrifice some control when choosing a website builder solution, but if you've never done any web development and you want a beautiful, usable website by tonight, these services are for you. One warning: There are a lot of lock-ins here. You won't be able to transfer the look of your site (and sometimes the content) to another hosting provider easily. So keep that in mind when you choose a website builder.

Features

  • cPanel: No
  • SSL: Free
  • SSH: No
  • Backups: Site history, but no export
  • Money-back guarantee: 14-day
  • Support: 24/7 English call-back

If you've ever watched a YouTube video, you've sees a Wix ad. They are everywhere. For all that advertising, their market share is still under 2.5% of CMS users. That said, with 4.4 million subscribers, they've got some momentum -- and are certainly capable of grabbing attention.

When selecting a website builder, why would you go with Wix over WordPress? The answer is simple: simplicity. WordPress offers tremendous depth. Wix gets you up and running with an attractive site quickly. There is nothing like the thousands of plugins and themes offered by WordPress in the Wix world, but if you want a well-designed site and you're willing to pay from about $13 per month to $39 per month, you'll get started quite nicely. Higher price plans are available for e-commerce and enterprise use.

Be careful: Like many website hosting providers, you're required to pay for a full year at once, and the second year might cost more when it comes time to renew.

Pros

  • Lots of templates to choose from for beginner web designers
  • Simple interface
  • Website apps available with Wix support

Cons

  • Cheapest plan isn't necessarily cheap
  • Can't switch templates; have to start from scratch 

Features

  • cPanel: No
  • SSL: Yes
  • SSH: No
  • Backups: Limited export
  • Money-back guarantee14 days
  • Support: 24/7 email, chat

In the overall pantheon of Web hosting services with their own website builders, Squarespace is squarely in Wix territory, with slightly more than 2.7%. Squarespace takes the basic website builder complex and allows you to add a variety of custom brand and product sale options -- all with beautiful presentation.

Pricing ranges from $16 per month to $46 per month, but if you pay for a full year, you can save about 30%. We like that Squarespace offers SSL, mobile-optimized websites, SEO features, 24/7 support, and the ability (with the higher-priced plans) to manage contributors. Intriguingly, Squarespace has just added the ability to use third-party extensions, which has been the signature competitive advantage of WordPress. We'll see whether it helps Squarespace compete in the website builder space in the long run.

Pros

  • Template designs are fantastic
  • Live chat makes customer support great

Cons

  • Pages tend to be a little slow
  • Autosave isn't reliable

What is the best web hosting service overall?

Dreamhost is ZDNet's top choice because it offers excellent features at outstanding price points, with a large selection of tools to make the process easy even for beginner webmasters.

Web hosting service

Starting price per month

Free SSL

Money-back guarantee deadline

DreamHost

$1.99

✔️

97 days

GreenGeeks

$2.95


30 days

Hostinger

$2.99

✔️

30 days

Bluehost

$2.95

✔️

30 days

GoDaddy

Free


30 days

LiquidWeb

$13.30

✔️

N/A

WordPress

Free

✔️

30 days

WP Engine

$20

✔️

30 days

Rackspace

$23

✔️

N/A

Amazon Web Services

Free

✔️

48 hours

Digital Ocean

$4


N/A

Google Cloud

Free


30 days

Wix

Free

✔️

14 days

Squarespace

Free


14 days

Which web hosting service is right for you?

Like we mentioned at the top, there are thousands of web hosts, and even 14 included in this article. To help make the process a little simpler, here is a guide to make your decision less of a hassle.

Choose this web hosting service...

If you…

DreamHost

Are a distinguished web-designer and want a host that is the best on the market with a long money-back guarantee period

GreenGeeks

Want a high-quality web host that actively helps the environment

Hostinger

Want a determined web host with great customer support and cheap starting prices

Bluehost

Are are based in the US and don't mind spending a little extra money on add-ons

GoDaddy

Want a web hosting platform that is reliable and versatile for various kinds of websites

LiquidWeb

Like a web host with incredible reliability

WordPress

Want a WordPress website directly from the creator

WP Engine

A web host with daily backups even on a base plan

Rackspace

Run a business of more than 500 employees and need a capable web host for your traffic

Amazon Web Services

Need a web host that is home to some of the biggest streaming services online

Digital Ocean

Want some of the quickest loading times

Google Cloud

Are willing to spend the extra cash to get a complex web hosting platform

Wix

Need a website with simple setup

Squarespace

Want to create a website with great pre-made templates

How did we choose these web hosting providers?

So, there you go. We've presented you with 15 hosting providers in four different categories. When putting together this list, I started with web hosts I'm personally familiar with. I've been running production websites since 1997 or so, and my sites have served millions of pages.

Today, I run a dozen or so sites, some very active and others are archives of older sites. Today, I use Digital Ocean, AWS, Pagely, and GoDaddy (each for different types of work), but I've purchased and tested hosting services from just about all the other sites.

It's impossible to test every hosting provider out there, just because there are so many. We chose these providers because we have some familiarity with all of them.

Which web host is best for beginners?

Wix and Squarespace are the two web hosts we would recommend for beginners. With an abundance of creative templates between the two platforms, users will be able to gain experience in web-development with an attractive site.

Can you get web hosting for free?

Simply put, yes. There are many sites that allow for free hosting, but to do so, you will have a generic, branded domain. For example, if you were to have a free WordPress website, your domain would be [yourwebsitename].wordpress.com.

Who is the largest web hosting company?

GoDaddy is the most popular web hosting service provider with roughly 18.5% market share in a recent analysis by codeinwp.com.

Are there alternative web hosting services to consider?

InMotion Hosting, Pagely, Microsoft Azure, are Weebly are top-notch web hosting services we've also tried and really like, but they didn't make our top 14. They're worth considering if you're still unsure about which web hosting service is best for you and your needs. 



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