For our review of web hosting services, we purchased month-to-month hosting subscriptions. These plans renew automatically each year (or until you cancel), and, in most instances, they come with free domain name registration for one year.
We evaluated the basic shared hosting package offered by each provider. The numbers indicated on our side-by-side comparison for disk space and bandwidth are all based on the service's introductory plans.
Shared hosting should be flexible. As your business grows, your web hosting service should accommodate your growth. We measured the flexibility of each service by assessing the number of plans each service offered and then checking to see how easy it is to upgrade plans even if you're in the midst of an existing contract.
Three is the standard number of hosting plans offered under a company's shared hosting umbrella, which gives you three different options to grow if you're unsure about initially investing in a higher-priced plan.
Still, some web hosts only offer one shared server plan. Providers with a single plan often do not provide enough bandwidth, storage and domain capability for the value. Upgrading from one of these single shared plans is going to be costly, because it requires paying significantly more for a VPS or dedicated server.
Control Panel Usability
With each service, we built a landing page for a business using images and content. A number of reviewers at Top Ten Reviews tested each cPanel and downloaded apps, like WordPress, to test compatibility. While there are similarities between each service's cPanel, the best web hosts provide several features, simplifying the creation process. We arrived at the usability score by testing the hosting interface and scoring the cPanel and proprietary website builder.
We first tested usability based on our experience creating an account. If a service used a one-step process, which entails easy account verification through email and approval of the domain and host package simultaneously, we gave it points for immediate usability. Half of the products we purchased didn't let us create an account without a copy of an identification card and a credit card statement. If a service is difficult to sign up for, most people will move on to the next hosting service.
Once we accessed our accounts, we tested the dashboard of each service. The standard interface is called the cPanel, while some services, like iPage, use their own control panel, which allows for more customization. We evaluated which tools are available in the basic shared hosting plans, taking into account features like simple email creation, a disk-usage meter and access to create cron jobs. Many services in our lineup have the option to back up a site manually or utilize a one-click install section.
The majority of the hosts on our lineup use a standard cPanel and for good reason – it is the industry standard. While the dashboard isn't much to look at, it provides useful tools to create a site, manage the hosting and market it to the online world.
Customer Support Quality
Customer support is an important factor when searching for the best hosting service. As a site owner, you rely on each service to have solid uptime. When a server inevitably fails temporarily, services should have a support team available 24/7 by both phone and live chat.
We called each web hosting service multiple times at all hours of the day and night, testing the quality of the support given. We reached a percentage score by ranking five criteria. A representative needed to possess sufficient product knowledge without sending us links to the FAQs page. In support calls, we deducted points when the service tried to upsell us rather than resolve the problem. Personability, in both chat and phone support situations, was another factor in our scoring.
We also tested live chat during busy business hours and after normal business hours, evaluating how quickly we were connected with a representative as well as the response time between each question. The service with the fastest response time is GreenGeeks.
The average wait time overall was just over 10 minutes. The longest we waited to reach a representative was 45 minutes. Testing the support staff of each service was essential to the process, because it is one of those characteristics that distinguishes the best web hosting services from average and mediocre ones. Often, a company boasted about its live chat support, but, in our experience, the team was consistently offline or unavailable. Other times, the staff could only help with sales and upgrades but not technical support.