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.
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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.
My first step, though, was to create 8 dummy sites with each provider. You can click on their names to see the sites in action, hosted by: A2 Hosting, Bluehost, DreamHost, GoDaddy, HostGator, InMotion, iPage and SiteGround.
I then tested different locations in North America, namely: Vancouver, Chicago, San Francisco, Dulles (VA), Dallas, DC and New York. Later, I averaged all of the above together for our 8 providers.
Finally, for the uptime, I monitored the site availability over a period of 4-12 months.
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 half of the providers cleared the 3 seconds mark recommended by Google. A2 Hosting was the fastest, followed right behind by SiteGround and DreamHost. It may come as a surprise that a host as renowned as Bluehost underperformed.
|Provider||Speed (in seconds)|
iPage’s average speeds were so poor that I would hesitate to recommend the service to most users at this stage. But maybe they’d make up for it later? (Spoiler: they didn’t)
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 did more or less well when it comes to uptime. The only provider that would give me pause was iPage, who hovered dangerously close to the lowest recommended threshold.
|Provider||Uptime (percentage of time checked)|
And it may sound like nitpicking, but even if their results weren’t poor, HostGator and A2 Hosting should probably make a bit more of an effort to remain competitive there.
So Who is The Most Reliable Webhost?
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 and DreamHost had fantastic support. The answers came fast, and they made complete sense.
A2 Hosting and HostGator also did a fine job, even if they sometimes took a little bit longer to get back to me. HostGator’s support system was also a bit tedious to use due to their heavy authentication process.
Finally, I was quite frustrated by GoDaddy’s, Bluehost’s 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. Their uptime was poor, speed abysmal, and it’s not helped by an unreliable support team.
The average loading speed for websites hosted on Bluehost and InMotion could also give me pause. Since uptime seems pretty high for almost everyone, page speed should be the determining factor (except for A2 Hosting and HostGator who could really focus on their uptime efforts).
Details unclear about the test? Let me know in the comments below.