5 Best Shared Web Hosting Companies of 2018

A review of the best web hosts for shared web hosting and what features to compare when looking to purchase a shared web hosting plan.

Our guide to the best shared web hosting

Shared web hosting is the most popular type of web hosting for launching a website. With literally thousands of web hosts offering shared web hosting in a multitude of different plans, finding the right one for your website can be a daunting task. In this article, we’ll list and review the top 5 best shared web hosts, explain the benefits of shared web hosting, and give you some tips on getting started.

The Best Shared Web Hosts at a Glance

A quick overview of the top choices for shared web hosting listing the different purposes we would recommend each one for:

Web HostStarts at:Recommended for:Learn more
InMotion Hosting$3.99/moBusiness & high performance web hostingView Plans
HostGator$2.78/moAll-purpose web hosting suitable for various typesView Plans
Web Hosting Hub$3.99/moAll-In-One, do-it-yourself shared web hostingView Plans
iPage$1.99/moCheap hosting for personal use or new sitesView Plans
A2 Hosting$3.92/moFast, customizable hosting for developers & businessesView Plans

Shared web hosting features to consider

What to Look for When Purchasing a Shared Hosting Plan

Shared web hosting is used by over 90% of all websites currently found on the World Wide Web. It is the most popular and affordable type of web hosting available, ideal for small businesses, start-up companies, bloggers, ecommerce stores, community forums, wikis, CMS/CRM websites, and anyone else looking to host a domain presence online. Because there are a wide range of features offered in shared hosting plans, it is important to know what to look for before signing up for a long-term account.

Outlined below is a list of the main factors to look for when choosing between shared web hosting plans:

Factors to Consider:

  • Service Pricing
  • High Performance Web Server Architecture
  • Unlimited Domain Name Support & SSD Storage
  • Control Panel & Domain Management Tools
  • Web Development Standards & Programming Languages
  • Free SSL Certificates & Email Account Security
  • Data Center Tier Levels with Guaranteed Uptime
  • Marketing Promotions, SEO Tools, & Special Offers
  • Customer Service & Technical Support
  • Web Security Features

To maximize return on investment, shared web hosting customers generally look for the most advanced software stack features, programming language support, database options, & developer tools combined into a single managed platform, all running on the latest/fastest web server hardware available and combined with the lowest overall cost. Best practice is to develop a website on a shared hosting platform and then transition to a VPS or dedicated server if the website traffic scales past what the original account limits will support. Other factors to consider are the long-term reliability or business reputation of a web host, the quality of a company's customer service team, and the introductory discounts available on every plan with a new sign-up account. We’ll get more into detail on these factors below:

Service Pricing

Low cost is considered the most important aspect of shared web hosting plans, as affordable industry rates allow for millions of websites to publish information online in reliable and secure, high-speed public networks. Most shared Linux web hosting plans start at around $3 to $5 per month with the available promotional discounts applied, while high-performance shared hosting for WordPress, Drupal, Magento, Joomla, and other popular CMS publishing scripts can start as high as $20 per month. Retail cloud hosting plans on shared servers with VPS-like features, advanced load balancing, lower account density, and premium hardware are often available in the $7 to $12 per month range, depending on the web traffic support required, number of dedicated CPU cores & RAM, or the SSD storage capacity provided.

The price of a shared web hosting plan is generally reflective of the complete package of computer hardware, web server stack software, third-party developer utilities, and bonus marketing or SEO features included in the platform. Web developers need to cross-reference similarly priced plans for functionality, look for the availability of required programming language support, and research the features offered by the free software utilities included in a shared web hosting plan. Website owners should also determine if they are looking for the lowest over-all cost in a cPanel/CentOS service provider or seeking the technical support & expertise of platform-specific web hosts who offer CMS optimized plans with the latest cloud innovations.

Renewal Pricing

The renewal price of a shared web hosting plan is often much higher than the introductory price (the original sign-up cost) and is a major factor that budget-conscious web publishers definitely need to keep in mind. While it is great to get a low introductory discount from web hosting companies when signing up for the first time, many users simply assume that this is the regular price and get a major shock when the same plan renews at rates that can be over twice as expensive. It pays to shop around for the lowest advertised price for a shared hosting plan, however, this becomes irrelevant when the renewal costs are so high. Some web hosting companies have standardized their rates so that the renewal rates are the same as the initial sign-up costs, but the popularity of new account discounts and headline numbers in marketing promotions means that users will often need to plan ahead for rate changes or even transfer a website to a new host after the initial deal expires.

QUICK TIP: Sign up for the longest term available (often 3 years) to take advantage of the low-cost introductory pricing.

High Performance Web Server Architecture & SSDs

Server hardware which includes the use of the latest Intel Xeon & AMD Opteron servers with multi-core processors and large amounts of installed RAM provide the best performance in a shared server environment. Many companies are even now offering dedicated CPU cores and system RAM similar to VPS account provisioning.

Many web hosting companies offer unlimited bandwidth for shared plans, and some provide low density hardware or faster I/O speeds on higher tiered accounts. In practice, the operating system and a finely tuned software stack also contribute significantly to the overall performance of web server hardware, as well as cloud features like reverse proxy load balancing on web traffic.

QUICK TIP: Shared web hosts often advertising their bandwidth as “unlimited”, but will still throttle websites that consume a lot of CPU resources, potentially taking your website offline at times of peak traffic. It is important to make sure to confirm any account limits based on processing power usage in the fine print before signing up for a shared hosting plan, especially if the hosted websites are running demanding CMS applications with dynamic content requirements.

Almost all the major web hosting companies have now transitioned to solid state drive (SSD) storage and still offer unlimited file storage for users at the same price. SSDs offer read/write and I/O times that are over 20x faster than those available with traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), boosting your pageload speeds. In the contemporary marketplace, web hosting plans based on legacy HDD hardware should be avoided completely as performance speeds will lag considerably over SSD-based plans priced at the same level.

Unlimited Domain Name Support

The ability to host unlimited domains and subdomains on a single account is also important to consider. Unlimited shared hosting accounts can be extremely useful for developing many websites with the same hosting company at an affordable monthly rate. Many companies will promote these options on cPanel sites with additional offers of unlimited hard disk storage, monthly data transfer, and MySQL database installation. Most websites published on shared hosting attract low enough traffic that the web host can still register thousands of domains on a single server without overloading system resources. If a website uses too large of a percentage of CPU processing power, the domain owner will often be forced to upgrade to a dedicated, cloud, or VPS account to avoid throttling or offline time due to “slashdotting”.

Control Panel & Domain Management Tools

A control panel with file management, domain administration, MySQL database & web script installation tools is an essential part of a shared hosting account. cPanel is the industry standard control panel based on WHM and CentOS that includes the ability to manage FTP, email, MySQL, PHP settings, and more in a single administration panel. Other companies have developed proprietary control panels with similar features and functionality. When looking to purchase a shared web hosting plan, it is important to look at which control panel platform is being used.

Different control panels for shared web hosting
cPanel & Plesk are common control panels used for shared web hosting.

While CentOS Enterprise Linux remains the most common operating system used in most shared hosting plans, many companies use other versions of Linux for performance gains or offer Windows plans at competitive prices, all of which use alternative administrative panels to cPanel (which only runs on CentOS & RHEL). Plesk is a popular alternative to cPanel, with a cheaper monthly licensing fee. Some companies may also offer domain name and web server administration tools based on open source software utilities or their own proprietary code.

Web Development Standards & Programming Languages

Support for advanced web development standards is another important fundamental to look for in a shared hosting account. The ability to choose which PHP version is running on a server, including multiple versions of PHP (like 5.x & 7.x), as well as the inclusion of HHVM in the software stack, can be important for many CMS scripts, themes, modules, & plugins to run properly or more efficiently in production. Some website developers will require an option to login to the server with Secure Shell Access (SSH) tools, use command line utilities with root access, or to run Git, Subversion, CVS, etc. for version control. All of these options are becoming more common on developer-friendly shared hosting plans or can be made available by web hosts under special request.

Softaculous screenshot
Softaculous is an open source script auto-installer that is commonly found on shared hosting platforms and supports a library of hundreds of powerful web apps. Take advantage of the “one-click” installation options to speed up LAMP development and quickly launch new websites.

Many users require the option for simple “One Click Installation” applications like Softaculous & Fantastico for easier CMS script management and open source website development. It is recommended to choose a shared hosting account that will also permit web/mobile app development with Python, Ruby on Rails, & Perl scripts on a LAMP/WAMP stack for maximum flexibility and value, although in practice, most retail users never require these facilities.

In terms of database support, there are more web hosting companies offering PostgreSQL along with MySQL currently, with MSSQL database installation limited to Windows servers exclusively. Alternative database frameworks like MongoDB, CouchDB, MariaDB, SQLite, etc. are not generally supported on shared hosting plans at all and will require a VPS account at minimum for developer support.

Free SSL Certificates & Email Account Security

With new changes to the Chrome, IE, & Firefox browsers, it has become almost essential for webmasters to use SSL/TLS certificates on their websites to increase the overall security of data. While SSL/TLS certificates are available from a number of different companies with a variety of verification standards and security levels, one of the most important features to look for in a shared web hosting plan is the inclusion of free SSL/TLS certificates like “Let's Encrypt” for every domain. Many web hosts now provide these free certificates for use with every domain registered under cPanel.

Email account security on shared web hosting relates to the level of encryption used in transmitting messages and attached files to the end client, web browser, or desktop software utility. The easiest way to accomplish this on shared hosting is to integrate a SSL/TLS certificate with the SMTP, IMAP, or POP3 settings in cPanel. Webmail access is offered by most companies using a number of different open source and proprietary tools such as Squirrelmail, Roundcube, & Horde. Check to make sure the web hosting company uses encryption protocols based in SSL/TLS certificates for browser-based webmail access and email downloads as a standard practice, otherwise personal communications or attached files could potentially be “sniffed” in traffic by hackers and other malicious sects.

Data Center Tier Levels with Guaranteed Uptime

Data Centers are governed by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) which have established a system of Tier levels (I-IV) which represent the reliability of web hosting services based on critical redundancy, network uptime, back-up power supply efficiency, and other aspects of cloud hardware support. Generally, a Tier IV standard provides the highest degree of reliability (up to 99.99999% uptime) whereas the Tier I standard may reflect anywhere from 99.5% to 99.9% web server uptime on an annual or monthly basis. A major aspect of this in practice is web host reliance on more than one data center, each with multiple stored copies of all website system data on network hardware like RAID & SCSI storage drives that can survive single unit failure or power loss in an entire complex.

As many web hosting companies have been known to misrepresent their uptime guarantees, and network outages or data center issues can be frequent, it can also be beneficial to use third-party verification and benchmarking services like Pingdom to monitor these claims independently. We use Pingdom monitoring tools to check a web host's uptime and response time in real-time and have published our benchmarks here.

Marketing Promotions, SEO Tools, & Special Offers

Free one-year domain name registration services on the root account of a shared hosting plan is frequently offered and can be viewed as a $10 to $12 discount on the annual price of the service. The provision of a free SSL/TLS certificate for HTTPS support on registered domains is another similar value to look for when included free on shared hosting plans. Many large companies offer Google AdSense or Microsoft Bing Ad credits of $100 to $150 for new account sign-ups, as well as access to various third-party SEO registration services and software utilities.

Shared web hosting marketing promotions & special offers
iPage is notoriously known for their marketing promotions with $500 worth of extras included.

Free offers and special promotions can make a shared web hosting account cheaper by contributing value-added services to the bottom line cost. In the end, it basically depends on the needs, requirements, and personal interest of the user as to whether these special marketing promotions and SEO tools actually have any value. Overall, it is more important to worry about quality web server hardware and the technical composition of the managed software stack than “SEO and special promotional offers” that can also be found elsewhere. However, these bonuses are ubiquitous across the promotional advertisements of the major companies due to the tie-ins that they provide to the branded services of other big IT companies like Google, Yahoo, & Microsoft.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Access to experienced professionals in data center management through technical support channels can also be an important factor to consider. Most shared web hosts offer a 99.9% uptime guarantee and 24/7/365 customer support service pledges. Managed web hosts or specialist companies often outperform larger hosting brands by providing excellent customer service, platform-specific technical support, as well as servers that are optimized for the needs of CMS driven websites. For web developers, this can be worth the extra cost between comparable service plans.

Technically, the main choices offered by web hosting companies for customer support are: email tickets, browser-based chat, phone support, knowledgebase, video tutorials, user guides, & FAQ pages. Some companies charge extra for premium support, which includes a direct phone number to a helpdesk representative without the wait times. A searchable knowledgebase with tutorials, user guides, and videos can be extremely helpful for configuring web servers, installing CMS software, setting up FTP, email, subdomains, etc. on hosted accounts. Most companies will also offer a sales desk helpline to assist prospective customers with finding information about a web hosting plan before committing to payment.

Web Security Features

Website owners are forced into a position of trust for the remote web hosting company that they contract with. This includes the platform security of software, hardware, & networking, as well as the sensitive personal or financial information of customers. Website file integrity and database storage information needs to be hosted safely with 99.9% uptime minimally on an annual basis. Many shared hosting plans now include integrated backup and restore utilities with cPanel or Site Backup Pro. The provision of free SSL/TLS certificates for every registered domain name has also become a major factor to consider when evaluating between web hosting plans, as the purchase of these separately can significantly increase the cost of keeping a small business website online. SSL/TLS certificates provide encryption keys for all of the user data sent in traffic across the web. These are particularly important for ecommerce websites and should be used on all user login, check-out, and administration pages. The inclusion of a Web Application Firewall (WAF), anti-virus software, automated anti-malware scans, brute-force password hack protection, and CDNs with anti-DDoS services all add extra layers of security to a website. Website owners need to be exceedingly cautious about continually updating web design scripts, modules, plugins, and themes as soon as new security releases are available, as script bots and hackers can target websites with known exploits in a manner of hours after a vulnerability becomes publicly known.

Conclusion – Final Thoughts on Choosing a Shared Web Host

In the cloud era of web hosting, most of the major companies are now offering Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) products to consumers based on proprietary web server stack software which combines a large variety of programming languages, database frameworks, and third-party extensions together with commodity hardware to meet the demands of the widest market possible. HTML & CSS support in web hosting has been surpassed by a focus on PHP & MySQL development requirements primarily for web/mobile applications & CMS websites.

When comparing the wide variety of features offered by shared web hosting companies in a competitive and fast-changing industry, it is important to read the fine print of each plan in detail and do a cost comparison analysis between the different service offerings. It is particularly recommended to search out independent reviews and benchmark tests of the various web hosts to see what regular users frequently complain about and if the company's sales & marketing rhetoric matches the actual performance. Small web hosts that develop innovative, platform-specific managed hosting frameworks for WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Magento, etc. that are optimized for these popular CMS scripts specifically also typically employ knowledgeable experts with extra dedication to the open source developer community. Many times, these smaller managed hosting companies can outperform the larger, more generic web hosts by offering platform-specific website development tools, with advanced web server & cloud network optimizations integrated that are worth the cost of an account upgrade.

In making the final decision between shared web hosting plans, remember to compare:

  • The annual or monthly cost
  • The quality of the web server hardware
  • The network architecture
  • The number of free add-on features & extensions available
  • The programming language and database support
  • The quality of customer service provided
  • The security features implemented
  • The introductions of new developments & upgrades in hardware

Attention to these factors can help small business owners, developers, and web publishers to avoid the problem of having to move a site repeatedly between different web hosting companies in order to find the most optimal service to keep a production website performing online.

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