by H Burke|Rivermile posted January 23, 2018
As a long-time website manager, choosing a website host is a very familiar process. I've put hundreds of sites in the hands of hosting companies, and seen the good, the bad, the ugly, the over-hyped and the underrated.
A key thing to keep in mind: today's great web hosting company isn't necessarily going to be ranked the same 2 years ago, or 2 years in the future. Hosting is a very competitive sector, and along with the speed of tech advancement, finding the best and most practical host for your website is surely a moving target. That said, these are our favorites in the 2016, 2017, and 2018 era.
Note that our key recommendations all offer managed WordPress hosting, which by definition means they've optimized their environment for the world's most popular content management system.
Mission critical WordPress sites have found a place at WP Engine for a number of years now; the company has risen to prominence for its awesome and quick support, overlooking a strong managed hosting environment where a lot of grisly details of security and performance are just handled.
While technically a shared-resource hosting environment, we can vouch for WP Engine performance. Put that alongside a simplified but versatile control panel, accessible daily and on-demand backups, and more. This host brings the goods. Pricing for single sites begins at about $30/month. Well worth it for business and non-profit sites that depend on their site for everyday workflow.
Designer-focused Flywheel, another managed WordPress host, is newer to the game than WP Engine, but equal in many key ways, in our opinion.
The clean account control panel let's you focus on the key elements of website setup, and Flywheel has security, strong performance and backups. Pricing is $28/mo. per site, although a smaller traffic plan goes for $14. Flywheel includes a nice "blueprints" option and a local development application, which makes it attractive for developers and those handling more than a single site.
While nearly inexpensive enough to fall into the "budget hosting" realm, Siteground is nonetheless a strong performer in the WordPress hosting space.
Siteground plans are more typical of historical shared hosting plans, with the familiar (and somewhat overly-extensive) cPanel control panel environment. You can easily install free Let's Encrypt SSL certificates, access backups and much more.
We find Siteground to be particularly useful for hobbyist or entrepreneurial website owners, who may have several different sites to manage at the same time. Siteground plans allow multiple installations and you can also add non-WordPress sites to the same mix if necessary.
Support is very good, and with the GrowBig plan at $14.95/mo. (just $5.95/mo. initial offer), you can get a lot of bang here for a reasonable price.
For many years, Rivermile used Liquid Web for hosting multiple sites on a virtual private server. Overall, that experience with Liquid Web was quite solid, and we only left them when great managed WordPress environments such as WP Engine began to pop up. More recently, Liquid Web has entered the managed WordPress space, and may be a good solution, especially for high-traffic commerce sites where your budget can allow for more monthly cost than the options above.
Another outfit worth a look is Pantheon. Based on colleague's experiences, we believe Pantheon may very well be comparable to WP Engine and Flywheel, with its own set of potentially advantageous features. Since we haven't used it directly, no formal recommendation is provided here; but definitely one to consider.
While we don't make a habit of negative reviews here, the reality is that choosing the wrong host for your website can have alarming and sometimes time-sucking disadvantages. Anyone who's spent hour after hour, on a weekend, trying to get a hosting company to fix a broken site knows: a bad website host, with negligent support, will eventually cause you extreme pain.
In recent years, a large company named Endurance International Group has bought up many of the "budget" web hosting companies. Names such as HostGator, BlueHost, HostMonster, ReadyHosting, A Small Orange, and dozens of others now fall under the EIG roof, and it isn't pretty. While many had decent reputations in the past, they've since been crippled by their profit-only driven parent. Support horror stories abound in the WordPress developer community. If you're starting a new website, avoid EIG subsidiary brands. If you're already using them, we'd advise you start planning a migration.
GoDaddy has made some waves in WordPress circles recently, with a focus on managed WordPress hosting and a penchant for acquiring quality WordPress sub-systems such as ManageWP. GoDaddy has long had a fine enough reputation for domain name registration and DNS services. But as a website host, they've had a deep history of poor support. Nowadays, hosting a WordPress site with Godaddy is definitely better, and the company has some high calibre WordPress talent on hand. But our most recent experiment with them still found poor support about 50% of the time, including a tendency to not understand their own products. As such, we are not recommending GoDaddy for website hosting just yet. We mention them here, though, since GoDaddy is a ubiquitous name out there in web services.