Hosting the Leading Websites:

Evaluating Hosts

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Some reviews by other people are linked to, for your consideration. I did not use them to determine or change rankings. The opinions are by both experts and customers, though mostly only self-described as such. I didn’t include reviews published in video form or any for which I had to supply an email address or meet some other unwanted condition in order to see the review. More reviews can likely be found through Google and other search engines. I’ve hardly stated any opinions of my own (except on one host that wasn’t chosen by these customers), so you probably needn’t send me yours, although I’ll likely look at it. There are many websites that welcome the adding of opinions, especially those based on expertise or experience. I prefer to find opinions through systematic searches applying relatively consistent criteria.

Weeding out useless reviews and reviews posted by competitors (even if they try to pass as credible) was one of my efforts. Many reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, since many are fluffy, as if they’re relying on the host’s promotional material, or, on the other hand, since some reviewers write as if they didn’t do enough to help solve their own problems themselves. However, even the enthusiastic ones often include some “cons” or negatives to consider, or have comments by other people at the bottom, and many of them have something contrary to say. While it appears that many hosts compensate many reviewers for reviews that result in referrals for new business, it’s also possible that listing negatives may increase credibility and referrals, so it may be worth reading from top to bottom or at least skimming all of the section titles. A few duplicates may appear, because someone might have posted in a couple of places, but probably that’s rare, and more often a reviewer may have copied or paraphrased from someone else’s opinion, so we get one experience stated twice. Competitors might have posted reviews that are unfairly negative. One means of verification of not being a fake review would be if we knew of a reviewer’s website so its hosting could be verified, but often it’s not identified or time has passed and the hosting may have changed. I ignored star and similar ratings; they tend to weigh all opinions as equally valid. Some came with charts or graphs that were colorful but, on closer examination, meant nothing.

Lay people can’t evaluate a host as well as technically-trained people can, but lay people can try and will have something to say. I included a few reviews from the Better Business Bureau and Yelp. I did that knowing that they probably came from less-technical people who don’t understand tech issues well. People who are more deeply into tech issues tend to use moderately tech-focused websites to state their views, and those are mainly what I linked to.

One thumbs-down review is usually not going to be a deal-breaker. That’s because of proportionality. The hosts who have more customers tend to have more reviews, including more negative reviews. However, all else equal, a single review is probably less meaningful when it’s about a host with many customers. On the other hand, an unusually serious charge, although it appears only once, should be considered and weighed.

Reviews are not mandatory. It is possible for a small host to be excellent and unreviewed. However, in that case, you should consider whether you know any website manager who would recommend that particular Web host from experience. Allow for differences between that website and yours.

Some reviews have later access dates. Although I was systematic in the first search, I was not adding reviews to slant the results. However, sometimes I made an error, like not copying the URL, and I had to use the other information I had preserved to revisit the review so I could provide the information I did for other reviews. Then I cited the new access date, which is what you saw.

The order the hosters are in is the order of popularity, in descending order. Percentages of customers are cited. Within each percentage range, they’re sorted by the exact number of customers from my research database. Where that number was equal, the order didn’t matter, so they’re in reverse alphabetical order, because I sometimes like giving people at the end of the alphabet a slight advantage over those who usually come first.

Standards Compliance

Compliance with various industry specifications is explicitly offered by some hosts. It’s good that they at least say so. It means someone is, at least, thinking about it. However, be aware that compliance varies. Often, variation — technically, noncompliance — is for superb reasons. You can ask about it but you may not get very detailed answers. If you’re bringing enough business, you might negotiate a contract clause whereby the host agrees to comply with a standard you’re concerned about. You’ll pay, of course. At the same time, many aspects of hosting are not regulated by those standards (many of which are called RFCs for an unusual historical reason). You’ll generally do well enough by judging the overall quality of the hosting service and looking at performance parameters that matter to you.

Some Hosts Not Like Others

All hosts are not alike, not by a long shot. Web hosting is complicated. It’s not likely to get easier anytime soon. Every major operating system is complex. Server software has many options. Supporting software, such as might be needed to run PHP files or MariaDB or MySQL databases, has to be maintained. Challenges arise roughly daily and from many quarters, including many who have adverse purposes in mind or are simply reckless. Web hosts have to protect against most of them, even before customers notice a problem. That requires a skillful and devoted person or group of people at the helm of the website host. Someone could start a hosting service in their home without full-time help, but it probably wouldn’t be very good yet and probably is not in this list.

Not even all full-time well-intentioned Web hosts are about equally good. One host was adding a link to itself on thousands of customers’ websites without telling the customers. They did this in time for Google’s search engine bot to count up all the links and rank the host highly in search results. Then the host deleted the links, but this is still tampering with customers’ websites. Sharp-eyed customers with fortuitous timing discovered this and made their opinions known. (This was years ago.) The host claimed it was done by an employee without permission. I, for one, don’t buy that story, because the employee almost certainly announced their clever achievement to the boss in the first month. The host could claim that their intentions were good, in that rising in search results would produce company growth and better service, but it’s still tampering and wrong. I doubt the Web hosts chosen by these customers would be caught dead doing a stunt like this without permission.

A subsidiary may or may not be operated just like its parent. It depends. One company that was probably okay started being the subject of many customers’ complaints after it was combined into another company. It appears that its website hosting service was combined into the parent company’s hosting service, and the customers of the latter were probably less demanding or knowledgeable about quality hosting, but the brand was kept separate. Some highly qualified customers, in this list, are still with the subsidiary, so I assume it still does a good job for some. But if a Web host’s history includes being merged or made independent in recent years, the host’s subsequent terms and service should be considered.

Evaluating a Host Directly Yourself

The host’s own website will give you clues to hosting quality. If the host can’t make their own website work properly, either check in again an hour later (to allow for a rare glitch that surely they’ll fix) or refuse to do business with them. When they need to test or experiment, they can do that with some other machine. The host’s website is proof of their ability to keep a steady hand on their own hosting service. You don’t expect a doctor to be sick out of stupidity. You don’t expect a host to have downtime out of stupidity.

Longevity matters to a point. These Web hosts weren’t born yesterday, but if they’ve been around at least three years that’s a good minimum. Five years provide for plenty of experience. It probably doesn’t make much difference in quality if they’ve been around for five years or for a lot longer, because technology changes fairly rapidly and people with the needed skills keep graduating from schools or building the experience the Web hosts want. Mergers, when two hosts merge and not when a host merges into an unrelated business, should be considered not from merger dates but from when the hosting firm first started operating under any name and ownership. In terms of business stability, for U.S. entrepreneurship it’s likely that half or more of all businesses fail within five years, so lasting past that point suggests, albeit does not prove, that the host will be around long enough to meet your needs or for you to see some sort of a red flag justifying your jumping ship in time. I have included some reviews that date earlier than five years ago, in case you feel that judging by a longer time frame would be more pertinent.

Registering as a company is something a host should have done, but their official locations are spread around and determining that may be a challenge requiring legal skills. It may be easier to rely on other indications of a host being long-lasting. An individual doing hosting from home, at least in the United States, is putting their personal assets at risk and therefore indicates being either new or small, and you should consider that before trusting them with your financial details.

The host’s phone number should be real, and we shouldn’t have to say so, but I was astonished to see someone claim that many hosts use fake or forgotten contact phone numbers on their own websites. A host does not have to offer a phone number, because many prefer online communications, which are efficient. However, offering a phone number that’s useless is bad news. At best, the host is amateurish. At worst, it’s fraudulent.

Environmentally Friendly

If a host tells you they’re green, that they’re environmentally sensitive, look for specifics. All atoms are recycled and so is almost all water, so everyone can claim to be conservationist and not wasteful. It’s probably pointless to ask a Web host by phone, since their answer is likely to be unaccountable. See if the host’s website makes any specific, recent, and verifiable claim of doing the kind of good you want to see done.

First Prize Whoop-Di-Doo

Some hosts promote themselves by saying they won a prize. They show an icon of a medal. Most of the prizes don’t mean much. I don’t know of any that are highly coveted and tough to get by good criteria. There’s no Nobel Prize for website hosting.

Plenty of businesses will make certificates, medals, and trophies for a fee. Tell them what you want.