Every business, even if it only has a single employee, needs a website. Seriously. A company without a online presence is leaving serious money on the table, because an attractive and informative site can draw a slew of potential clients or customers. That means choosing a Web hosting service and setting up your website.
Fortunately, the process is relatively simple and reasonably affordable. The first step is to find a Web hosting service, the company that will store your files on its servers. The tricky part? Web hosts are all different, offering varying amounts of monthly data transfers, storage capacity, email, and other features. Even how you pay (month-to-month payments vs. annual payments) can be radically different, too.
Web hosting services also offer different types of hosting, including shared hosting plans, virtual private server (VPS) hosting plans, dedicated hosting plans, and managed WordPress hosting plans. The chart above focuses on the Web hosting services that deliver the best all-around package. Many Web hosts offer limited features for the starter packages, and then expand the offerings (sometimes tremendously) for higher-tier plans. Read the small type to make sure the plan you are selecting offers what you need. If you need a site builder application to design your Website, make sure that the low-cost Web host you are picking actually comes with a site builder. Many of them require you to pay for the builder as a separate add-on.
You also want a Web host with 24/7 customer support—if not by phone, then at least by chat. Forums, knowledge bases, and help tickets are all well and good, but sometimes you just need that human to talk to (or chat with).
Some Web hosting services offer a choice of Linux or Windows hosting. If you have specific applications that require Windows, such as SQL Server or a custom application written in .NET, then you need to make sure your Web host has Windows hosting. But don’t let the idea of a Linux host intimidate you. Most Web hosts nowadays offer a graphical interface or a control panel to simplify server administrator and website management. Instead of typing at the command line, you’ll click easily identifiable icons.
One thing we learned in reviewing the services listed here (and many more!) is that even though the packages are very similar, they are not identical. Some are more security-minded than most, offering antispam and antimalware tools. Others offer a variety of email marketing tools. While most of the hosts have built-in e-commerce, you may want to consider using a robust e-commerce application like Shopify$29.00 at Shopify instead.
Some Web hosts give you plenty of room to grow even within the tier, and others require you to upgrade to a more expensive plan. Consider how much you expect to grow your website and how soon before you commit to anything longer than a one-year plan.
If you’re ready to select a great Web hosting service, click the links below to read our in-depth reviews of the biggest and best names in the space.
Every business needs a website, and for that you need Web hosting. It doesn’t matter if it’s a full-blown e-commerce setup or a simple page with little more than contact information. HostGator£2.54 at HostGator UK balances attractive prices and features, while offering plenty of tools to more-advanced Webmasters. HostGator has quality virtual private server (VPS) Web hosting packages, but its shared and dedicated server plans are what make the company stand out from the crowded Web hosting pack. In fact, the shared and dedicated server packages are so well-rounded that we’ve named HostGator the PCMag Editors’ Choice in both of those sub-categories. HostGator is an excellent Web host, but there are a few things about the service that make it fall just short of the standards set by competing Web hosting services Arvixe£2.56 at Arvixe UK and Dreamhost£3.81 at Dreamhost UK, PCMag’s overall Editors’ Choice award winner for novice and advanced Web hosting users, respectively.
In terms of money-back guarantees, HostGator does better than most of its competitors, offering a 45-day guarantee, but Dreamhost is still one of most generous, with an impressive 97-day guarantee.
Shared Web Hosting Packages
HostGator offers month-to-month shared Web hosting plans, but it pushes hard for you to sign up for longer terms, starting at six months. We were irked that, during the signup process, HostGator defaults to a three-year term. It’s one thing to encourage users to not go month-to-month, but pushing them into three years right from the start is a bit much.
That said, HostGator offers Editors’ Choice award-winning shared Web hosting packages that give small- and medium-sized business the room to expand their Web presences. The Hatchling plan (starting at $7.17 per month) offers unlimited disk space, bandwidth databases, and email addresses, plus support for one domain and third-party applications such as content management systems and e-commerce platforms. The Baby plan (starting at $7.96 per month) builds on the Hatchling offering by adding unlimited domains. The top-tier Business plan (starting at $11.96 per month) includes highly specialized options, such as a free toll-free phone number and a private SSL (secure socket layer) certificate.
Although many of the best Web hosting services we’ve reviewed offer unlimited monthly data transfers, storage (except SiteGround£2.75 at SiteGround UK), and email (except GoDaddy $3.99 at GoDaddy – Shared), HostGator is the PCMag Editors’ Choice for shared Web hosting due to its multifaceted awesomeness. For example, HostGator’s one of the few Web hosts that we’ve looked that that offers Linux- or Windows-based shared hosting. The Windows server option is an important one if you plan to create (or migrate) a site built on an ASP.NET framework.
Arvixe matches HostGator nearly beat for beat in the shared hosting game, but HostGator offers slightly more bang for the buck with the inclusion of a private SSL certificate and free toll-free number. If you’re looking for outstanding shared Web hosting, take a gander at HostGator.
Virtual Private Server Packages
HostGator offers Linux-based VPS hosting starting at $19.95 per month. If you need more power, expect high traffic volumes, or have specific compliance requirements that prevent you from using shared servers (but you don’t want to pay dedicated server prices), these are good options to consider.
The most basic VPS plan, Snappy 500, starts with 512MB RAM, 25GB disk space, and 500GB of monthly data transfers. The most advanced, Snappy 8000, offers 8GB of RAM, 240GB of disk space, and 3TB of monthly data transfers. The Web host’s plans are much more flexible than Network Solutions‘s$2.99 at Network Solutions offerings, but not quite as well-rounded as Hostwinds‘s$4.50 at Hostwinds – Shared, the PCMag Editors’ Choice for VPS hosting.
HostGator’s rival has wallet-friendly well-rounded VPS offerings that start at $7.50 per month for 1GB of RAM, 25GB of disk space, unlimited monthly data transfers, unlimited email, and half a CPU core and scale to $172 per month for 28.5GB of RAM, 600GB of disk space, unlimited monthly data transfers, unlimited email, and eight CPU cores.
Dedicated Server Packages
HostGator’s dedicated server packages start at $139 per month, and it offers an excellent set of features for its price. Arvixe may offer an obscene amount of memory (you can configure one of its dedicated servers with an incredible 96GB of RAM!), but you’ll pay for it: Arvixe’s lowest-tier dedicated server starts at $429. If you want to save a few chips but still have a very balanced dedicated Web host, HostGator is the way to go.
HostGator users can customize their servers with up to 1TB of storage, 16GB of RAM, and an impressive 25TB of monthly data transfers that bests the offerings from Arvixe (10TB), GoDaddy (20TB), and many other Web hosts. Dreamhost, on the other hand, is a rare Web host that offers unlimited data transfers per month.
That said, HostGator beats Dreamhost when it comes to operating system options. The company’s dedicated servers come in Linux and Windows flavors, which isn’t as commonplace as you might think; Linux tends to dominate the field. In fact, HostGator is one of the few Web hosts we reviewed that scored well and offered both operating systems. Even Dreamhost, one of our favorite hosting services, lacks Windows-based dedicated servers. Balance and price gives HostGator the dedicated hosting Editors’ Choice nod over the competition.
Setting Up a HostGator Hosted Site
It’s a good thing HostGator sends a getting-started email chockfull of links because the interface is a little tricky to get used to. HostGator has a Billing Login link at the top of its site that leads to the customer portal, where all the payment information, details about the plan, and options to purchase add-ons are listed. This page has tabs across the top for account and domain management. The Hosting tab is where you see the actual control panel with site building tools, applications, and website statistics, to name a few. The introductory email also has a direct link for the control panel, but it looks different from what you’d get through the Hosting tab, making the experience a bit jarring.
HostGator has several options for building a website. You can use the included site-builder, which happens to be Weebly$4.00 at Weebly, our Editors’ Choice for Web-based site-builders. Weeby’s drag-and-drop functionality let us quickly build an attractive page complete with slideshows, contact forms, social media links, and more. You can also install WordPress or other CMS platforms such as Drupal, b2evolutions, Joomla, Mambo, and Tiki, to name a few. A File Manager tool lets you manually upload files to the server to create the website that way. The tool is better than a basic FTP client because you can edit the files directly or use a built-in HTML editor. We like the various ways that we were able to get superfuntechgator.com up and running.
Setting Up WordPress on HostGator
HostGator recently added three tiers of managed WordPress Web hosting: Blog, Business, and Pro. Blog (starting at $12.95 per month) offers the ability to host one WordPrress site, 100,000 visitors, and unlimited email, storage, and parked domains. Business (starting at $29.95) ups things to five WordPress sites and 500,000 visitors. Pro (starting at $89.95 per month) grants 20 WordPress sites and 1 million visitors.
That said, InMotion Hosting$3.49 at InMotion – Shared, the PCMag Editors’Choice for managed WordPress hosting, tops HostGator and the competition by tossing all limitations to the wind. It offers unlimited websites, page views, disk space, and data transfers per month.
WordPress is easy to set up on HostGator even if you don’t go the managed WordPress route. The customer portal has an option called Quick Links that opens a dedicated interface for installing third-party applications. There’s also a handy shortcut called Get Started With WordPress Today that leads to the Quick Links interface. We set the path the blog’s installation, entered the username for the WordPress administrator account, and clicked on the install button. As easy as that, the site up and running. HostGator also automatically installed the WP-Super-Cache plugin to help improve blog performance.
We found the process of setting up WordPress was easy because the database was already set up. The Quick Links interface may look a little intimidating, but it really is point-and-click-and-go. There was also a link to the Mojo Marketplace under WordPress services with premium add-ons and services for our WordPress blog. HostGator lacks a blog import button, but WordPress makes the import process easy enough.
Flexible Email Management
What’s the point of a Web presence if the visitor to your site can’t contact you? Like Arvixe, HostGator provides an unlimited number of email accounts right from the start. Setting up an email account is a breeze. You click on Email Accounts within the Customer Portal to open the form to create email accounts. You create accounts one at a time, which is unfortunate; Network Solutions lets you make several at once. We did like the fact that HostGator let us set mailbox quotas. There’s also a built-in password strength meter, which is important.
Various E-Commerce Tools on Hand
As mentioned, HostGator offers Mojo Marketplace, which has email marketing tools such as DaDa Mail (starting at $34.95 per year), software that lets you send email-based newsletters to a subscribers list. Quick Links also has e-commerce packages including Magneto, phpCOIN, SugarCRM, and ZenCart. We installed Magneto, which provides a drag-and-drop interface to create an attractive online store. There are tons of design options, which can get a little overwhelming.
HostGator doesn’t offer any email security protections, which is disappointing. The Hatchling plan gives you access to Shared SSL to protect your e-commerce store, but to get a dedicated SSL site, you need to upgrade to the Business plan.
During account creation, we were prompted to create a PIN for my billing account. We were restricted to only numbers, and it had to be between 4 and 8 digits long. While we’re not wild about the restriction on the maximum length, we would have preferred a higher minimum. Four-digit PINs are easy to crack brute-force.