Building a website is one thing, but hosting it is a whole other can of worms. Say you’ve settled on WordPress, for instance, and you have to start your research all over again.
Who’s the cheapest web hosting provider? The fastest? And the most reliable? And does it even matter?
Yes. Yes it does. That’s because hosting your site with a poor provider could really damage:
- Your UX (user experience): have you ever closed a tab in frustration because the page wouldn’t load fast enough? You’re not alone. Google calculated that 53% of mobile users leave a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.
- Your SEO: Google and other search engines favor fast-loading websites. That means the more reliable it is, the more chances it has of climbing in their search results pages.
Now to measure “reliability” there are really two metrics to focus on: uptime, and speed.
Table of Contents
Understanding Website Speed
But it also depends a lot on your hosting providers’ servers. Those with more resources will allow data to move faster. Dedicated hosting providers (where there is one server per website) will also be faster than shared hosting (but also a lot more expensive, and usually for enterprise web owners).
However, it’s not always easy to get a good idea of speed simply by testing the website yourself. You need to account for where visitors are coming from, at what time of the day, and from what device. It’s also useful to benchmark the speed of your hosting provider with that of other hosting services.
What about Uptime?
You can replace “uptime” with another word: availability. It might come as a surprise, but even if you pay for your website hosting, there could be some downtime. Yes, that means seconds, minutes, or worse, entire hours when users can’t access it.
It could be due to glitches, maintenance and fixes or spikes in traffic that choke your bandwidth. Regardless, it’s important to have as much uptime as possible, for obvious reasons.
In fact, Google could penalize your SEO, which is why most providers will claim a 99.9% uptime per year (that’s still around 1.44 minutes of downtime per day, or 8.8 hours downtime per year).
And if you want to calculate uptime yourself, here’s the formula: uptime divided by total time = availability percent.
How We Ran Our Tests
The good news is that there are already several reliable services that calculate website speed and availability.
The bad news is that running one speed test isn’t enough. So I put in the work and ran 5 rounds of testing with 3 different tools, over a 1-2 month period: GTMetrix, Pingdom and Google PageSpeed Tools. In fact, this is the second time I run these tests, so what you’ll read are the latest, updated results.
My first step, though, was to create dummy sites with each provider: A2 Hosting, Bluehost, DreamHost, GoDaddy, HostGator, InMotion, iPage, Hostinger, GreenGeeks, Kinsta, Cloudways, WP Engine and SiteGround.
I then tested different locations around the world, including Vancouver, Mumbai, San Francisco and New York.. Later, I averaged all of the above together for our 13 providers.
Finally, for the uptime, I monitored the site availability over a period of 3-12 months.
To carry out these tests we used the tools included in each provider’s hosting plans. For instance, if the hosting provider included a built-in caching system or a premium CDN in its hosting plans, those were used during testing. However, we did not tweak hosting accounts or improve its optimization by doing things like enabling CDN services, external caching add-ons, or site optimization tools like code minification or image compression. This is because our goal was to test the hosting account exactly as it comes – that is, how non-technical users are likely to use it.
We used the following hosting plans for each provider: A2 Hosting Turbo Web Hosting, Bluehost WooCommerce Premium, Cloudways DigitalOcean Entry Plan, DreamHost Shared Unlimited, GoDaddy Economy Linux Hosting, GreenGeeks Lite, HostGator Shared Business, Hostinger Single, InMotion Hosting Pro Plan, iPage only offers 1 plan, Kinsta Business 2,* SiteGround GoGeek, WP Engine Startup. All were tested from US data centres.
* Kinsta is the only provider that we tested in a real account, meaning that besides the test website that we created, we also host a live project, which may have had a (negative) impact on its performance.
If you want to pore over the data yourself, here’s the Google Sheet where I logged in all the info. For the conclusions, just read on below.
The Results: Who Was the Fastest?
The first thing to note is that more than 9 out of the 13 providers cleared the 3 seconds mark recommended by Google. SiteGround was the fastest, followed right behind by Kinsta and WP Engine in equal second position. Sadly, although Bluehost’s speed was a bit better, it still wasn’t great. We’d like to have seen more from them.
It may come as a surprise that a host as renowned as Bluehost underperformed.
iPage, Hostinger and InMotion’s average speeds were so poor that I would hesitate to recommend their services to most users at this stage. But maybe they’d make up for it later? (Spoiler: they didn’t)
|GTmetrix||Pingdom||Google Speed||Average speed
Results in seconds
Who Had The Best Uptime?
Considering you’ll have to drop below 99.95% for it to be problematic, I’m happy to report every host but iPage, InMotion and Hostinger did more or less well when it comes to uptime.
And since this is the second year that I run these tests, it’s also interesting to see that results are fairly consistent.
The only providers that would give me pause are iPage and Hostinger, as they dangerously went under the lowest recommended threshold. But be aware that HostGator and GoDaddy could have had better uptime results too – they are below the 99.95% recommendation.
|Kinsta (3 months test)||No data||100||$30/month|
|Cloudways (3 months test)||No data||100||$10/month|
|WP Engine||No data||99.99||$25/month|
|GreenGeeks (3 months test)||No data||99.98||$9.95/month|
Admittedly, it’s a bit unfair to compare uptime measured over different time periods, but the Kinsta results, for instance, align with our experience of the service (we use them to host one of our websites).
So Who is The Most Reliable Web Host?
Before I answer that, let me also add another factor: the quality of the support.
You see, if your website is down, or slow, I think it’s also important to be able to get a clear answer from the platform.
Note that your mileage may vary, but I found that generally, SiteGround, InMotion, WP Engine, Kinsta and DreamHost had fantastic support. The answers came fast, and they made complete sense.
A2 Hosting and Bluehost also did a fine job, even if they sometimes took a little bit longer to get back to me. Bluehost’s support system was also a bit tedious to use due to their heavy authentication process.
Finally, I was quite frustrated by GoDaddy, HostGator and iPage’s support teams. They often left some of my questions unanswered or took way too long to get back to me.
The number one thing to note? At this stage, I would clearly stay clear of iPage, Hostinger and InMotion. Their uptime was poor, speed below par, and it’s not helped by an unreliable support team.
The average loading speed for websites hosted on Bluehost and HostGator could also give me pause, but it’s probably OK for most smallish projects.
Now, on the other hand, the two WordPress hosting specialists, WP Engine and Kinsta had killer results. But remember that you get what you pay for, and these are at the pricier end of the spectrum starting at around $30 a month for 1 website.
And the winner? SiteGround consistently passed all our tests with flying colors, which is also why it’s one of our top-rated solutions for website hosting. However, it’s not the most affordable one either as it starts at sitegr$14.99 a month for 1 installation, but well cheaper than Kinsta or WP Engine.
Details unclear about the test? Let me know in the comments below.
16 Feb 2021 – Information about the test setup
01 Oct 2020 – Second performance tests. Kinsta, Hostinger, WP Engine and Couldways added
04 Jul 2019 – First performance tests