This article is part of a series created in partnership with SiteGround. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.
How do you know you’ll get the features, performance and support you need to run your WordPress website? How do you separate the quality hosting providers from the subpar? With so many alternatives, how do you ensure you get real value for your money?
We’re here to help. In our article The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Hosting Provider we created a series of checklists to help you make an informed decision. In this article we take things one step further. We take five of the best hosting companies out there and run each one through the checklists so you can see how they compare.
Here are the five companies and how they describe themselves:
- Bluehost: “Our mission: to empower people to fully harness the web.”
- DreamHost: “We focus on successful sites for web designers, developers, bloggers and online business.”
- SiteGround: “Web hosting is our craft. Latest speed technologies are our passion. Unique security solutions are our specialty. Amazing technical support is our pride.”
- Flywheel: “Beautiful WordPress hosting and management built for designers and agencies.”
- WP Engine: “WP Engine provides best-in-class customer service on top of innovation-driven technology.”
Not all of these companies are alike. We’re not just comparing apples with apples—because maybe you don’t need an apple. As we work through the checklists, we hope you get a clearer idea of what type of company will best meet your needs.
The first three offer shared hosting with strong WordPress options, giving you lots of configuration at a low price. The last two focus solely on low-maintenance WordPress hosting, but at a higher price. You’ll see the differences that makes as we work through the checklists below.
1. Speed & Performance
Your first priority should be to make sure your website will load quickly. The use of SSDs for storage, support for the new HTTP/2 protocol and having servers on multiple continents can shave seconds off your load times. In addition, options for content delivery networks and caching can speed your site even further.
In a thorough WordPress hosting comparison, DesignBombs tested for performance. They used both LoadImpact and Pingdom to test load times for four of our sites. Here are the results with the fastest listed first:
- WP Engine: 260 ms (LoadImpact), 350 ms (Pingdom)
- SiteGround: 400 ms (LoadImpact, after caching), 942 ms (Pingdom)
- Bluehost: 640 ms (LoadImpact), 2794 ms (Pingdom)
- Flywheel: 1000 ms (LoadImpact), 1580 (Pingdom)
SiteGround is certainly a contender for performance. They have data centers across three continents, excellent performance-related features, and detail their infrastructure upgrades on their blog.
WP Engine has even better load times, though at a higher price. Their Professional plan (and above) have excellent performance features, though not as many as SiteGround.
2. Security, Reliability & Uptime
Security and reliability should also be high priorities when choosing a hosting provider. You want a website that’s always there, and resistant to hackers. WordPress need to be up to date (as do your plugins), and known vulnerabilities promptly patched. Proactive steps should be taken by the host to block attacks, and regular backups should be kept in case the worst does happen. Finally, your site should be carefully monitored so that if it goes down, the problem can be rectified immediately.
ReviewSignal’s WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks (2015) tested our five hosting providers (among others) for uptime over 30 days. Here are the results:
- Bluehost 100%
- DreamHost 94.06%
- SiteGround 100%
- Flywheel 100%
- WP Engine 100%
DreamHost does seem to go down from time to time, including a 42 hour period during ReviewSignal’s testing. The other providers had perfect uptime while being tested.
SiteGround proactively secures websites on three levels with zero-day vulnerability fixes and custom WAF rules. For example, in 2015 they added 855 firewall rules and 43 kernel patches. This level of care is quite unique among hosting providers.
They also have their own sophisticated monitoring system that proactively checks all server processes twice a second, and if a problem it detected automatically fixes it. This means that even when problems do happen, you’re unlikely to be aware of it – it’s typically fixed in less than a second.
SiteLock (a security service used by Bluehost, DreamHost and other hosting providers) is found to be dubious value by some reviewers. The custom security solutions offered by the other providers are superior, as is Jetpack Premium, which is included with DreamHost’s DreamPress plan. We’ll cover WordPress security options in more detail over the next few weeks.
3. Customer Service & Support
When it’s time to contact tech support, you want help, not a fight. You want answers, not a long wait. You need support available 24/7, as well as plenty of self-help resources.
Only SiteGround quote their support response times, and they’re great:
- Tickets: first reply within 10 minutes
- Live chat: instant reply time
- Phone: instant reply time
Designbombs decided to test out support response times when doing their web hosting comparison. They asked each of these hosting providers (and a few more) a simple question via live chat, and timed how long it took to get a response. Their conclusion: “SiteGround absolutely blew away the competition.” Here are the individual results:
- SiteGround: 15 seconds
- DreamHost: 6 minutes
- WP Engine: 11 minutes
- Flywheel: 15 minutes
- Bluehost: 40 minutes
SiteGround’s response time was excellent, while DreamHost’s, WP Engine’s and Flywheel’s were acceptable. Bluehost’s slow response to a chat enquiry is concerning.
4. Features & Limitations
Not everyone needs the same features. Geeks love staging and SSL while beginners value website migration and an easy-to-use control panel. Use the following table to determine which companies provide the features you value.
SiteGround have the best range of features for the price. Flywheel and WP Engine don’t go into a lot of detail when talking about features—their services are aimed at companies who prefer to pay someone else to do the setup, and don’t need to know the details themselves. They find the extra cost a bargain. For those companies they are a good fit.
5. Philosophy, Culture & Reputation
Web Hosts Recommended by WordPress
When finding a host for your WordPress website, what better recommendation can you receive than from WordPress. Four of our companies appear on the official WordPress Web Hosting recommendation page.
We’ve dealt with more hosts than you can imagine; in our opinion, the hosts below represent some of the best and brightest of the hosting world.
The page is updated several times a year, and currently lists these providers:
How Stable Is the Company
How long has the company been around? How many people have chosen them to host their websites?
- Bluehost started in 2003, and hosts over two million websites worldwide.
- DreamHost started in 1997, and hosts over 1.5 million websites, blogs and apps (including 750,000 WordPress installations).
- SiteGround started in 2004, and (as of 2016) hosts over 500,000 sites.
- Flywheel started in 2012, and is used by over 50,000 agencies, designers and creatives.
- WP Engine started in 2010, and have 60,000 customers in 120 countries, powering 500,000 “digital experiences”.
How Human Are They?
The “humanness” of a company is hard to pin down without living with them for a while. Here are some indicators from their websites and social channels which will help you get a feel for each company.
Bluehost’s social channels mainly promote new blog posts, which cover topics helpful to bloggers and webmaster. There’s no mention of staff or real people on their website. Their About page explains the company is part of the Endurance International Group, which includes HostGator, iPage, SiteBuilder.com and Domain.com.
The DreamHost blog covers topics relevant to web hosting, and their social channels are used to promote these. Their website’s front page explains that they are independently owned, “which allows us to stay true to our values and maintain our commitment to our community of customers.” They embrace open source software, and contribute code to OpenStack.
SiteGround displays photos and descriptions of their staff on their friendly website. “We take just as good care of our employees as we do of our clients. We believe that happy employees lead to happy customers, that’s why we offer all kinds of perks to motivate and inspire our staff.” They actively give back to open source communities – they are involved with more than 100 community events per year.
The Flywheel website displays photos of all staff, and has a “Life at Flywheel” section written by Melanie Phelan, the Employee Experience Coordinator. They seem to care about their staff. One of the positions listed is “Happiness Engineer”, which is their term for customer support. The company is “a product we believe in”, which they started “to improve the lives of the millions of web designers and developers.”
The WP Engine website has a professional, corporate tone, which matches the intended audience. They display photos of their staff on the website, along with quotes. Here’s the quote from Jason Cohen, the founder: “I started WP Engine because I wanted to work on interesting, real problems experienced by interesting, real customers, and come to the office every day thrilled to be working with the people around me. Somehow, we’ve been lucky enough to make that dream a reality.” When speaking of hiring opportunities, they use the words, “Join our family.”
ReviewSignal WordPress Hosting Ratings
ReviewSignal use algorithms to rate the top hosting providers using feedback shared on the net. Here’s how it works:
Review Signal turns conversations on Twitter into web hosting reviews. We’ve collected over 335,000 reviews about web hosting companies and publish them for consumers. Our mission is to take valuable insights publicly shared by others and transform it into useful information.
All five of our hosting providers make it into the Top 13 in their list of Top WordPress Hosting Companies. Here’s how they rank:
- Flywheel, ranked #1, rated 84%
- WP Engine, ranked #3, rated 76%
- SiteGround, ranked #4, rated 73%
- DreamHost, ranked #8, rated 58%
- Bluehost, ranked #13, rated 39%
Bluehost (shared hosting)
- Basic plan (single website) $3.95 per month (normally $7.99)
- Plus plan (unlimited websites) $5.95 per month (normally $10.99)
- Prime plan (unlimited websites plus extra features) $5.95 per month (normally $14.99).
DreamHost (WordPress hosting)
- Shared Hosting (multiple sites) $7.95 per month
- DreamPress (fully managed) $16.95 per month
SiteGround (WordPress hosting)*
- StartUp (one website, 10,000 visits per month) $4.95 per month
- GrowBig (25,000 visits per month) $7.45 per month
- GoGeek (100,000 visits per month) $10.45 per month
* With the current 65% off from the special promotion for SitePoint readers.
Flywheel (managed WordPress hosting)
- Tiny plan (5,000 monthly visits) $15 per month
- Personal plan (25,000 monthly visits) $30 per month
- Professional plan (100,000 monthly visits) $75 per month
WP Engine (managed WordPress hosting)
- Personal plan (single site) $29 per month.
- Professional plan (10 WordPress installs) $99 per month.
- Business plan (25 WordPress installs) $249 per month
Bluehost has a money-back guarantee for the first month. “Try us and love us, or get a refund within 30 days of signing up. Your satisfaction is our top priority and we’re confident you’ll be pleased with our services.”
Dreamhost has a 97 day money-back guarantee for shared hosting.
SiteGround has a 30 day money back guarantee for all of their shared hosting plans. “Our 30 day money back guarantee gives you peace of mind that our services will meet the expectations set out in the TOS.”
Flywheel doesn’t give refunds, but with no contracts you are able to cancel at any time.
WP Engine has a 60 day money back guarantee. “If you’re not happy, cancel and request a refund within the first 60 days to get your subscription fee back! Excluding Premium and Enterprise Plans.”
Which Should You Choose?
That’s a lot of information! Which company should you choose? It depends on whether you prefer apples or oranges.
If you prefer your hosting provider to do the dirty work for you—including making the decisions they feel are best for you and your site—then look at WP Engine or Flywheel. Their plans cost quite a bit more, but for many companies it will be money well spent.
SiteGround, our preferred hosting provider, is the best choice if you are willing to do some of the work yourself, and are looking for good value for money. They provide excellent performance and reliability, and their affordable plans include more features and better support than their competitors.
Adrian Try is an Aussie writer, musician, cyclist, and tech geek.
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