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If you are planning to go online to open a store, offer services, or even start a blog, you will need a web hosting service to reach your target audience. Although all web hosting services work in the same way – they store data on servers that are accessible to others on the Internet – they are not all exactly the same. There are many variables to consider when it’s time to sign up for web hosting, and we consider—and test—all of them when we evaluate hosting services.
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Uptime is arguably the most important aspect of web hosting. If your website is down, you will lose traffic, customer trust and, depending on the purpose of your website, money. You don’t want users to search for other options while your site is down and may never come back. No matter how good the pricing, specifications and service features are, it can’t get an overall good rating if it doesn’t have reliable uptime.
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We track website uptime by opening a hosting account like any customer would, buying a URL, building a website, and using Dropmysite to track uptime. Dropmysite hits our test sites every 15 minutes and sends us an email if none of them are reachable for at least one minute. By digging into the Dropmysite data, we can see how long the site has been down. Of course, we prefer sites that show high uptime. We have seen some low-ranking websites go offline for days, which is unacceptable. But even being absent for several minutes at a time several times during the test can affect the score of the host.
We used to collect data over a period of 14 days, but we extended that period to 30 days to get a better overall picture of the host’s Uptime track record.
The operating system, just like a desktop or laptop, determines how the server works. And in the case of web hosting, it also determines what tools you can use to build your site.
One thing you’ll notice when exploring server operating system options is the ubiquity of Linux. You might see different versions of Linux like CentOS or Ubuntu, but every web host we’ve reviewed offers an OS. This is the basic expectation, the bread for your sandwich. The operating system is compatible with many free and open source tools in your web host’s software library.
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However, we give extra points to web hosting services that also offer the Windows Server operating system. Some businesses require this OS support for ASP.NET platform, SQL Server, Sharepoint or Exchange databases.
A reliable web hosting service serves as many potential customers as possible, which is why top-rated web hosting services include most, if not all, of the six main hosting categories: Shared, VPS, Dedicated, WordPress, Cloud, and Reseller. Please follow these links for a detailed explanation of the categories as well as the best web hosts in each class.
Pricing applies to these categories. In fact, the two go hand in hand. Shared hosting, for example, is usually the cheapest hosting available from any given web hosting service; Dedicated hosting, on the other hand, is often the most expensive. So when we compare web hosting services in terms of features and prices, we are comparing apples to apples in the hosting categories. We include an Editors’ Choice for each category in our reviews, so you can see which host we prefer.
Spec comparisons are a big part of our reviews, as they give readers an idea of what to expect from competing web hosts in terms of storage, RAM, email accounts, and monthly data allowances. What services are provided for money? And which one provides the best value?
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We prefer web hosts that offer unlimited email and monthly data, as well as plenty of RAM and storage. However, the expected numbers vary depending on the type of hosting we are looking at. For example, it is not uncommon to see web hosts offer unlimited monthly data with their shared hosting plans, but 1TB or 2TB of data with their dedicated hosting plans.
Customer service experience is also an important part of our testing process. During our test period, we contact the web hosting customer service teams at different times during the day with different questions that require specific answers. (We don’t call ourselves reviewers.) For example, we might ask “How do I set up WordPress hosting?” or “What is your money back guarantee?”
We rate the customer service experience based on whether there is phone support (many hosts rely on ticketing or web chat), whether there is 24/7 on-call staff to answer questions 24/7, times waiting and pleasantness and overall clarity of the answers we get.
The Internet is full of dangers, so you need to make sure that your website is protected from potential threats. If you plan to sell a product or service, you’ll need Secure Layer Security (SSL) or newer Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificates to encrypt data as it travels between the customer’s computer and your website’s server. As a result, we value web hosting services that offer SSL/TLS certificates. Most web hosts include them free for a limited time when you sign up for hosting or let you buy it outright. This is a good thing. After all, if you need to visit another web page to buy an SSL/TLS certificate, you may forget to do so or believe that it is not very important. Note: That’s right!
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Email is another way people are exposed to online threats. Fortunately, there are authentication technologies that help protect domains from phishing, such as Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Known Email (DKIM). In addition, Domain Message Authentication Reporting and Compliance (DMARC) instructs receiving email servers how to handle incoming email that fails authentication. For example, DMARC may block them or send them to your email client’s spam folder. Like SSL/TLS, the availability of these technologies affects a web host’s rating. As are general anti-spam and anti-malware tools.
Please note that we do not currently test the effectiveness of each of these security features. We note what is available and rate accordingly. In other words, a web host that provides these tools will score better than one that doesn’t.
Not everyone who signs up for a web host needs e-commerce and email marketing tools, but it’s nice that services offer them just in case.
E-commerce software consists of shopping carts like Shopify and Wix Stores that allow you to sell goods or services online. Email marketing software such as Campaigner and MailChimp allow you to communicate with a large group of customers on a regular and automatic basis.
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As with web hosting security features, we do not test e-commerce or email marketing tools. Instead, we reward hosts for enabling these tools to improve their business.
There’s a lot that goes into evaluating web hosting services, so we hope this breakdown helps you understand the process. To learn more about web hosting, read how to create a website, how to register a domain name, and the best website builders.
Since 2004, I’ve written nerdy copy related to gadgets and video games for various publications, including the amazing
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. I now apply this knowledge and skills as Editor-in-Chief on the Apps & Gaming team.
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