If you’re a small business owner in the throes of launching your own e-commerce website – or upgrading your existing one – you probably know you need a web hosting service. You probably also know that there are more services out there than you can shake a well-crafted, artisanal walking stick at.
There are dozens of companies to choose from, many of which provide different tiers of services. Will a shared hosting service suffice? Do you need dedicated hosting? Should you specialize with WordPress hosting? What’s the difference between all of the available services?
We’re going to break it down for you, starting with how shared, cloud, VPS, dedicated hosting and other services compare, which service may work best for your situation and which companies stand out across categories, according to our research.
Ultimately, your best decision lies in understanding your needs as a business owner and talking about those needs with numerous service providers before making your final choice.
One caveat, however: Net neutrality, which simply means that ISPs are required to treat all content equally, regardless of what it is, and they can’t give preference to some digital content providers over others, including yours.
Of course, the Federal Communications Commission repealed those rules in late 2017, and while there have not yet been any widespread reports of ISPs changing the way they are treating content, many experts are concerned the internet could ultimately become “pay for play.” That could mean small business owners may have to shell out more money so potential customers can see their sites quickly, easily and without any interruption. If you aren’t able to afford the additional fees it could seriously impact your ability to do business online.
We mention all of this because you can choose the greatest web hosting service in the world, but if your ISP is putting some kind of limitations on your site, or trying to charge you unaffordable fees to reach a wider audience, your hosting service isn’t going to matter. Nothing about your website, in fact, will matter at that point.
Different Types of Web Hosting
There are some key differences between the different types of hosting, so it’s important to understand your short- and long-term goals for your website and which services will handle not only your needs today, but can grow along with your business. Here are some of the primary types of web hosting currently available.
The least expensive web hosting option is shared hosting. It is pretty much what it sounds like. You share a server provided by the hosting company with other businesses. This can be a good option if you don’t have, or expect to have, a lot of customer traffic to your site.
The amount of disk space and bandwidth you have with a shared service are limited, and you’ll be charged if you surpass the amount you’ve purchased in your package. Obviously, shared hosting can be limiting for a growing e-commerce site but a great place to start to grow your online presence.
Managed WordPress Hosting
Specifically designed for WordPress websites, this can be much faster than generic shared hosting, more secure and even offers better uptime. But it can be restrictive for users who have highly customized WordPress pages because some plug-ins are not supported by various providers. And, in case you were wondering, yes, it is more expensive.
Unlike shared hosting, when you buy a dedicated hosting package, you are purchasing a dedicated server for your business that you do not share. This is especially important for sites with heavy traffic or those that expect heavy traffic in the near future. The negative of dedicated hosting is that it tends to be more expensive than shared hosting.
There’s a hybrid option available from some web hosting companies called VPS, or Virtual Private Server, which mimics a dedicated server within a shared hosting environment. The benefits of VPS are that it can be significantly cheaper than dedicated hosting while providing similar bandwidth and disk space. Keep in mind that VPS hosting can be significantly more expensive than shared, so if your site traffic doesn’t yet warrant an upgrade, you may be spending money unnecessarily. Also, some hosts don’t allocate server resources for VPS as well as other services do, so research is crucial in making your final decision.
Cloud hosting is basically the same thing as VPS hosting. In fact, some providers have abandoned the term VPS altogether. In a nutshell, your hosting is provided across a network of servers instead of just one. This allows for significantly better uptimes for your e-commerce site, with the added benefit of a stronger safeguard against DDoS attacks, which attempt to overwhelm your site with traffic to essentially shut it down.
With all of this in mind, let’s get to some of our favorite web hosting services and why we think you should consider them for your e-commerce business.
Best Overall Web Hosting Service: HostGator
Simply put, HostGator offers superior shared, cloud, WordPress, VPS and dedicated web hosting packages. Each of these services includes tiered plans so you can choose the services that are best for your business.
More Information on HostGator
The one negative, in our opinion, is that HostGator offers only Linux servers for its VPS hosting. Its shared and dedicated packages, however, offer both Linux and Windows servers. The service comes with unlimited storage, email and monthly data transfers for all hosting tiers.
HostGator’s shared web hosting plans start at under $3 per month for the most basic service. That includes a single domain, one-click installs and unmetered bandwidth. HostGator recommends its Business Plan as the best basic option, and we agree. It also includes a private Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) security and your own Internet Protocol address, plus free Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service.
HostGator’s dedicated hosting is comparably inexpensive, with its most basic service starting at $119 a month. This Value Server package is comprised of a 4 core/8 thread Intel Xeon-D CPU processor with 8GB RAM and 1TB hard disk drive, unmetered bandwidth and a Linux or Windows OS.
Its most expensive dedicated package, Enterprise Server, starting at $149 per month, includes an 8 core/16 thread Intel Xeon-D CPU processor with 32GB of RAM and 1TB SSD.
What we really like most about HostGator is that its broad range of quality offerings allow your company to start small with exactly the bandwidth and disk space you need, plus enough options that will let you grow slowly or quickly without changing your hosting provider.
Pros: Solid customer service and support, with great uptime across a variety of hosting plans, and highly scalable hosting offerings. Solid website building tools and unlimited data transfers.
Cons: No Microsoft-based option with VPS hosting
Best Dedicated Hosting: Liquid Web
There are so many considerations when choosing a dedicated hosting service – price among them – particularly for newer businesses looking to grow. We looked at many contenders, including GoDaddy, Liquid Web, Rackspace, HostGator, 1&1 and Amazon AWS.
We selected Liquid Web as the best dedicated hosting provider for small businesses for several reasons. To start, Liquid Web’s customer support is outstanding. The company promises assistance in less than a minute by phone or chat and in less than 30 minutes when you submit a help-desk ticket.
It was this kind of support that led John Gonzales, owner and principal of TRUST Consulting Group in Austin, Texas, to choose Liquid Web to host his company’s website.
TRUST, which Gonzales co-founded with his wife, Alicia Pounds, provides electronic onboarding and Work Opportunity Tax Credit management, plus hiring support for a variety of clients across the country.
“We chose a web hosting service when a customer set forth some specific technical standards that required we have a dedicated system,” Gonzales said. “We interviewed three companies and focused on service times, server variety, upgrade options, price and what assistance administrators would give.
“The biggest requirement for us was that the server administrators be able to assist with any problem on the server, from SSL certificates to SQL issues, upgrades and user maintenance. Many companies didn’t include all of these services or charged extra hourly rates,” Gonzales said. “Liquid Web had the best value. They were not the least expensive choice, but their product included many services that were add-ons with other firms. When we need an expert to help us, we know that they are available and willing to help.”
Liquid Web’s dedicated server hosting begins at $199 a month, offering 4 cores at 3.4 GHz, 16GB RAM, 2 x 250GB SSD Primary Drive, 1TB SATA backup drive and 5TB bandwidth. And, of course, what Liquid Web refers to as “the most helpful humans in hosting.”
If dedicated servers aren’t right for your company just yet, Liquid Web also offers less expensive services, starting with its Cloud VPS hosting for $29.50 per month (introductory offer). Like HostGator, it’s a company you can grow with, but you’ll most likely want to have significant web traffic already established to justify the cost.
Pros: Excellent VPS and dedicated plans with high-end specs, solid customer support, excellent scalability, disk space, security and bandwidth
Cons: More expensive than some competitors and no shared hosting plans
Read our LiquidWeb Review
Best All-In-One Hosting Service: GoDaddy
If you’re just starting out and you need literally everything – from a domain name (or names), SSL certificates to keep your customer’s information secure, access to Windows 365, solid site-builder and online marketing tools AND web hosting – and you want to do it all with one-stop shopping, it’s hard to find a service that does a better job than GoDaddy.
More Information on GoDaddy
Its feature-packed services include great customer service, intuitive and flexible site building tools, and great uptime, so your customers will never be left hanging when trying to get to your site.
In fact, TRUST’s Gonzales uses GoDaddy in managing websites for about 50 of his clients.
“We needed a tool that was easy for a nontechnical role to use,” Gonzales said. “We were able to hire a nontechnical role to use the GoDaddy web tools, and they can develop a new website in less than a day. While there are limitations with graphics, layouts and integrations, it allows us to deliver a simple, customized website at a value price for our customers.”
GoDaddy has extensive tools for finding the domain name(s) you need, robust tools to build your site and a broad range of hosting options that should be able to serve your needs. Basic web hosting starts at $2.99 per month (regular introductory specials lower this price) for a free domain name, 100GB of disk space, unmetered monthly bandwidth and up to 50 FTP users. And, like HostGator, there are Linux and Windows server options. Also like HostGator, GoDaddy offers growth flexibility, meaning you can upgrade your services as your business grows. Keep in mind, however, that your domain name can only be used with GoDaddy hosting, so if you ever leave, you can’t take it with you. And unlike HostGator, you won’t get free VoIP phone service.
Pros: 24/7 customer support, easy to use, great uptime, relatively inexpensive, solid security, bandwidth and disk space. Scalable services that can grow with your business.
Cons: Domain names cannot be transferred to other host service companies.
Best Web Hosting for Newbies: BlueHost
When it comes to price, ease of setup, use and maintenance, it’s hard to beat BlueHost’s shared hosting service. It’s basically everything a new operation could want.
At the time of this writing, BlueHost has a great introductory offer of $2.95 per month (regularly $7.99 per month). For that price you get:
Unmetered website space
Free SSL certificate
Unlimited parked domains
Unlimited sub domains
Unlimited email accounts
Unlimited email storage
Site Backup Pro
BlueHost also offers 24/7 support, superior security, reliable uptimes, one-click WordPress installation, and offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. Best of all, BlueHost’s services are scalable (including cloud hosting), so you can upgrade your services as your business and site grow.
Pros: Most plans include a free domain name for a year, plus unlimited disk storage, domain hosting, email addresses, and bandwidth. BlueHost offers excellent security and there are many databases available.
Cons: Customer service gets mixed reviews, and the persistent upselling can be annoying.
To find the best hosting services for a wide variety of small businesses, we began by talking to small business owners who each use varying types of hosting services, from shared to VPS and dedicated servers. We asked what features were most important in choosing a hosting service and what features they would change or improve. Across the board, cost, uptime and support were mentioned as the most important features. Scalability of services as business needs and website traffic changed was also important to users, as was security.
Along with talking to users, we did our own extensive research, reading hundreds of online consumer and professional reviews. We then narrowed our list to the 11 most mentioned hosting brands, comparing and contrasting the options offered. We also reviewed service specs and customer resources, among other things.
Based on this research, we developed these criteria to evaluate each product:
Website building tools
Free domain names
Ease of use
In addition to the winners above, we’ve reviewed several other options worth taking a look at.
Rackspace was once an industry leader, particularly for dedicated server hosting. The company’s “fanatical support” was the stuff of legend. Something has apparently changed in the last few years, though. There are thousands of online complaints about the reduced quality of service. The service and its comparably high prices – starting about $10,000 a year, according to many reports – are the reasons it did not place among our best services. You’ll need to request a quote to find out just what Rackspace will charge to host your business.
Like BlueHost, this is a good option for small businesses just launching a website because of the many site building tools available. We didn’t recommend it because parent company, Endurance International Group (EIG) is moving customers from other hosting brands it owns (eHost and Host Clear, for example), so we’re unsure what kind of impact that may have on services and support.
iPage offers unlimited bandwidth, disk space and email accounts, but there are wide reports of uptime issues. At the time of this writing, iPage was offering an introductory rate of $1.99 per month (regularly $7.99 per month) with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
eHost & Host Clear
Both of these hosting services, owned by EIG, have been closed to new customers and current customers are being converted to other hosting service brands owned by the company. Phone inquiries are answered, but new service is directed toward EIG’s other hosting brand, iPage.
An all-in-one builder and host with easy-to-use, drag-and-drop tools, Site Builder offers free templates and site building tools. Its most basic shared hosting service costs $8.99 per month but doesn’t allow for an e-commerce store. Nor does it offer priority support. For these two features, you’ll need to upgrade to the $19.98-per-month plan, which is expensive compared with other shared hosting services.
Another great service, especially for dedicated server hosting, 1&1 offers Linux and Windows-based servers, exceptional customer support, good bandwidth and disk space, plus excellent uptime. It’s a great choice for WordPress hosting. Competitors have longer money-back guarantees, though, and coding of site templates is limited to higher tiers of service.
Amazon offers highly flexible, customizable hosting services at a range of prices, but the options can be overwhelming, especially for beginners. Still, if you know exactly what you need and have the technical savvy to put it all together, Amazon provides great flexibility. Pricing can be as overwhelming as the options. Because virtually anything is possible, you may start with what seems an inexpensive service and end up with something expensive.
This article was updated on February 9, 2018.