I recently decided to change my hosting provider. I didn't really need to move, but as with everything, you don't really know if something better is out there until you actually go search for it. I first noticed how saturated the hosting market is, there are tons of available hosting and you never know which reviews you can trust and which are simply marketing attempts.

My needs

The first thing to do when looking for a web host is identifying your own needs. Some hosts are better for low traffic web sites while others are better for high traffic/bandwidth requirements. I only need to host a couple of blogs with very little traffic.

Among the plethora of options available, a few seemed a bit better (and more trustworthy):

  • A Small Orange
  • DreamHost
  • FatCow
  • GoDaddy
  • NearlyFreeSpeech
  • WebFaction

My experience with the hosts

GoDaddy

I used to be with GoDaddy because I didn't know any better. The price is definitely on the lower end and offered everything I need. The administration panel is also one of the best I've seen. The only complain I had was the performance; Loading any of my blogs was too slow for my taste.

FatCow

FatCow logoThe first contender I seriously considered was FatCow, it was recommended to me and they claim that they are 100% wind powered (they actually buy Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to offset their energy use. The reviews online were more positive than for the average hosting company so I went with it.

I'll just start with saying that I didn't even last a day. In fact, I couldn't even purchase a hosting account on my own, I had to go through a support agent via a live chat (nice!) to set-up my account (first red flag). The whole administration admin is a mess, the options are not always shown for no reason, the navigation menu won't load most of the time, etc. (second red flag). I decided to still go through and try to set-up one of my blogs to see how FatCow performs. Well, I couldn't even import my data, their phpMyAdmin installation wouldn't even run my SQL import scripts and wouldn't tell me why. That's when I pulled the plug and cancelled my account.

They have excellent support (even though I suspect they use bots for most support tasks), but they lack a decent hosting service.

A Small Orange, DreamHost and WebFaction

A Small Orange logoI didn't try those three because they didn't match my needs, but they all were highly recommended to me. A Small Orange has a unique 25$/year plan for very small hosting needs (perfect if you have just one or two small websites). DreamHost offers something quite similar to GoDaddy without being GoDaddy. Finally, WebFaction costs a little more than others but seems to offer much better quality hosting. The only reason I didn't go with them is because they offer more than what I need and I didn't want to pay for something I don't need. If my needs ever grow, I'll definitely consider them.

NearlyFreeSpeech

NearlyFreeSpeech logoI just said that I didn't want to pay for something I don't need, well NearlyFreeSpeech was the perfect choice for me and was very highly recommended by many. Unlike most web hosting company, there is no contract, you simply pay for what you use (there's even a pricing estimator). If your needs are small, it's going to cost you a lot less than at GoDaddy for a much better host. They don't offer free support, but their FAQs are well written and I haven't needed more than what was in there. I wouldn't recommend this to someone not familiar with hosting, but for anyone who has a little knowledge of hosting, this is a great host. You can even play around their administration panels for free because you don't have to purchase anything to create an account.

The way they charge you for your usage is that they take money from a bucket of money that you set up. For example, you could add 10$ to your account and NearlyFreeSpeech will substract the money from that amount. You can set-up alerts at certain amounts to be notified when you need to add more money.

They are missing one feature that I would've liked: support for Ruby applications. I don't actually know Ruby, but it's something I'm interested in learning. If I ever decide to do so, then it'll be time to look for a new host which is going to be easy since I'm not on contract with anyone.

Wrap up

I'm a little saddened that the search for a reliable web host is so difficult. I would've thought that by now a few web hosts would have made their mark, but this is still a field where there are mostly small players and none of them is standing way above the crowd.

Identify your needs and do your research.

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