More often than not, when a new client and I embark on a new project together, I get asked for some recommendations for web hosting solutions. Either they currently have a website but they’re not happy with their current host—maybe the support is lackluster, the user interface is clunky, their site is slow—or they don’t currently have a website at all.
I’ve worked with many different flavors of web hosting ever since I started tinkering with websites—everything from the ubiquitous cheap platforms, to managed WordPress hosting solutions, to spinning up my own servers.
What is a web host?
A web hosting provider, or web host for short, is essentially where your website lives. It’s the server that your website runs on and where all of the site files are stored, and where users will be directed to when typing in your URL. Web hosting options can range from shared hosting, where multiple websites share a single server (or, more accurately, a sliver of a server) all the way to a dedicated server, where your website or platform is the only thing running on it.
Here are my recommendations for web hosting solutions. I’ll keep this list up-to-date, and these recommendations may change as platforms and businesses evolve.
A note of transparency, if you click the links below and sign up for a hosting plan, I may receive an affiliate commission.
Managed Hosting Recommendation: WPEngine
What is a managed hosting? Managed hosting means that the web hosting platform is built for a specific framework—in this case, WordPress. I recommend managed hosting to a majority of my clients and anyone that is looking to host a business website. Instead of something like cPanel, the user interface is streamlined to make administering a WordPress-based website a breeze. Managed hosting accounts come with WordPress pre-installed and a database that’s already configured to work with your site, so you can pretty much just hop right into WordPress and get going on deployment. The hosting interface will typically also let you access things like PHP versions, SFTP user management, database administration, and a quick link to your WordPress admin area. What managed hosting doesn’t do is administer the website itself—you’ll still need to actually login to the WordPress admin area to manage your site.
WPEngine is hands-down the best managed host that I’ve had the pleasure to work with, and would highly recommend them for clients that are looking for an easy, intuitive web hosting provider.
When I was working as an in-house web designer, we went through a multitude of hosting solutions, always dissatisfied with one aspect or another. Sometimes it was a lack of resources, other times it was support teams that had to have us walk them through the solution. When we discovered WPEngine, it was a whole new world of possibilities. Suddenly we were able to spin up websites in no time at all, with minimal frustrations from the UI and a lightning-fast support team that knew what they were talking about. Instead of going through a thousand steps to launch a site, we only had to click a few buttons to get up and running.
Their interface makes setting up your website a breeze, and every website I’ve hosted on their platform is blazing fast and secure. The ability to set up staging (i.e. demo) sites before officially going live makes my workflow that much smoother, and clients love to know that their website is in good hands. I’ve been recommending their platform for years, and for good reason.
- Easy to use, intuitive interface
- While the speed of a website is based on many factors, their initial server response times are super fast
- Excellent, highly knowledgeable support team that knows the WordPress platform inside and out
- Smooth development workflows with the ability to create development and staging environments in addition to the live, production environment. Perfect for testing!
- Resources to make your website even faster, like a CDN and powerful caching
- Free LetsEncrypt SSL certificates
- Can get pricey for high-traffic, high-resource websites
Cheap Hosting Recommendation: GreenGeeks
When I was a fledgling designer, I bounced around between a few different web hosting companies that were on the ultra-affordable end of the spectrum. I kept running into the old adage at every turn—“you get what you pay for”. No kidding… platforms like GoDaddy and Bluehost had me pulling my hair out by failing me on all fronts—resources, site speed, user friendliness, and support. Finally, I found a web host that was super affordable and actually delivered in terms of site speed and reliability. Now, I would still recommend managed hosting like WPEngine for businesses, but affordable hosting like GreenGeeks is perfect for side projects, individual portfolios, and other low-investment websites. While GreenGeeks excels in providing an affordable, reliable option, it’s important to note that you still get what you pay for—including things like resource limitations and less than stellar support.
- Reliable, secure platform
- Resource limitations on cheap hosting plans may result in slow speeds
- The cPanel interface is not intuitive, and can be downright intimidating, for folks who’ve never managed websites before
Dedicated Hosting Recommendation: AWS
AWS, or Amazon Web Services, is a cloud-based platform for website and software development. AWS offers a wide range of cloud services, like hosting, storage, domain registration, etc. AWS uses a “pay for what you use” pricing model, which means you actually get what you pay for—in a good way!
Dedicated hosting means your site lives by itself—no pesky roommates sharing your hosting space and potentially harming your website when things get funky on their end. When you sign up with AWS, you launch an “instance”, or a dedicated space to host your website.
I would recommend AWS for websites that have specific resource or security needs. With AWS, you get to configure the server exactly how you need it, allocating as many resources as you need to power your site. You don’t have resource limitations other than what your budget allows, so you have complete freedom and control to scale up or down as needed, only paying for what you use. This is especially important for e-commerce and membership-based sites, where resource demands and high traffic spikes warrant increased flexibility. AWS also has a solid infrastructure, so you don’t have to worry about your site going down.
The major implication of AWS is that server management is done at the command-line level, and you need someone that’s well-versed in AWS management to get you up and running and to maintain the server. When you use a managed hosting provider like WPEngine or GreekGeeks, they do all of the nitty-gritty server setup and upkeep for you, but with AWS, you’re on your own. This is both a blessing and a curse in some respects, and it means you’ll need to make sure someone is monitoring the server and installing security and performance updates as they become available.
I have a lot of experience setting up AWS instances and would be able to configure your server to be optimized for your website. I’ve set up AWS servers for some of my past clients in industries like retail, healthcare, and finance, as well as my own websites!
- Complete freedom. The only limitation is your wallet.
- Reliable, scalable infrastructure
- Tools for security and compliance for clients in industries that need it
- Independent hosting—your website space isn’t shared with others
- Free tier for many of its most common services for 1 year
- Variable pricing means you get what you pay for based on usage. In most cases, this stays consistent month-to-month, but can spike if your website experiences a huge increase in traffic or resources used. For the vast majority of the sites that I’ve built, this usually only results in a difference of a couple cents or dollars
- Command line interface means you’ll need to hire someone that’s well versed in AWS server management
- Cluttered UI. The user interface of your AWS account is not nearly as “nice” as managed hosting providers, and can look very confusing to someone that’s not familiar with the platform. However, since my clients typically don’t need to be managing the server, this isn’t usually an issue.
So, what makes me recommend these hosting providers over other, more ubiquitous providers out there? I see so many commercials out there for providers like GoDaddy and Squarespace, but I can’t in good conscience recommend these platforms to my clients.
Platforms like Squarespace and Weebly are enticing because they look so easy to use—and they are, to an extent. However, it’s important to note that sites built on these platforms are not yours. With WordPress, your website is yours, and your entire site is portable regardless of which provider you choose to go with. Just simply migrate the plugins, themes, and database, point your DNS at the new host, and you’re good to go. Not so with these kinds of platforms. They are not portable, and once you sign up for an account with them and build a website on their platform, you’re essentially stuck paying for their hosting until you bite the bullet and choose to completely start over on another platform like WordPress. While their themes look great, they are highly inflexible, and you’re essentially just plugging your branding, copy, and images into a template. That may work for some people and businesses, but it results in cookie-cutter websites that are very limited in terms of flexibility to update the design and functionality.
Hosts like GoDaddy and Bluehost don’t care about providing a good user experience, and they nickle-and-dime you for every little thing. They often overcharge for services that are either included with other hosting solutions or completely bar you from implementing free or inexpensive alternatives in order to get you to pay for their version. I’m specifically referring to SSL certificates here, which can be obtained for free through LetsEncrypt, but these platforms don’t allow you to install those free certificates and charge exorbitant rates for their own. These hosts may look affordable at the outset, but their servers are so slow that you’ll likely need to upgrade your resources anyway, and there are just much better options out there.
Whew, that was a lot of information! Hopefully this helped you in figuring out the best solution for your website hosting needs. I’m more than happy to provide individual consultations for companies that are interested in learning more about web hosting solutions and need some help with website migrations or server setup. You can reach me at email@example.com to chat more.