How to Design a Website
The Definitive Guide [2020]

How To Design A Website Featured Image

Solid web design is a critical part of creating awesome websites. Here are the basics.

 

Dale McManus

Co-Founder & Web Developer

Nov. 8, 2019

 

Hey, my name is Dale! My partner Alex and I have helped tens of thousands of people build beautiful websites around the world. In this fully-packed, step-by-step guide, you’ll learn all the basics about How To Design A Website. Let’s dive in!

  • Level of Expertise:
    Beginner
  • Time To Complete:
    1 Hour
  • What You Get:
    A Functional Website

For the record: It’s super important for us to keep this site 100% free for you and 100% high quality. To help us do that, we’ve partnered with some of the products we recommend and earn a commission if you buy through our links. Read our full disclosure and partners list here.

Lies: you’ve got to be some sort of artistic genius or coding wizard with high tech tools to design a website that looks and feels mindblowing.

Facts: With tools like website builders, themes/templates, a basic understanding of website design principles and a bit of practice, it’s pretty darn easy for just about anyone (you included) to design a website that drops jaws.

Especially when you’re armed with a super detailed (yet easy to scan and understand) guide like this one.

Today we’re going over the basics of how to design a website starting… now!

how to design a website

What is web design?

what is web design example site design

Before we dive knee-deep into the process, let’s start with the basics: web design is the process of creating the visual look and feel of a website.

Mostly.

These days “design” also incorporates the idea of “user experience” – which is a whole subject in and of itself, but for our purposes today it means web design isn’t just about how good your website looks, but how easy it is to do things like find information, important links and buttons, etc.

Hence “look” (what people see on your site) and “feel” (how easy it is to use your site).

Websites are built using the coding languages HTML and CSS, which tell a web browser how to arrange all the text on the site, what colors to make things, where to put images, etc.

In the old days, web designers had to hand-code websites from scratch – literally writing every line of HTML and CSS code for each website they made.

These days, you can be a designer without knowing any of that stuff thanks to “What You See is What You Get” website builders and Content Management Systems like WordPress.

These website creation tools do the hard work of creating code for you, so you can use your basic computer skills (dragging things around with your mouse, clicking buttons, copy/paste) to make websites. Fast and easy.

What “look” means

There are a few web design elements that determine how good (or bad) your website looks.

Colors

web design colors

What color is your text? How about the background behind that text? Your header menu? Buttons?

Color is a huge part of making a sweet looking site and a strong part of whether your site looks like it’s supposed to sell expensive watches to business executives or is just a place for your brother to share photos of your nephew’s birthday party.

Fonts

web design fonts

Fonts determine how the text on your site looks. The same words can feel super primo (like the always classy Helvetica) or casual and friendly (#comic sans) based only on the font!

Graphics/Images/Videos

web design cat illustration

These are things like photos, videos, icons, illustrations (where the whole “image” is drawn in a program like Adobe Illustrator – the cute kitty above being an example!), or composite images (like the “how to design a website” image at the top of this post).

The photos would be taken by a photographer, obviously.

The videos would be made by a videographer if they’re videos of the real world, or an animator if they’re made from other images/illustrations.

And it’s technically a “graphic designer” who would create icons, illustrations, and composite images

But, because there’s so much overlap, many web designers have graphic design/photography/videography skills because there’s so much overlap.

Once you have those photos/graphics/images/videos, the “web designer” is the one who adds them to the site in a way that looks fantastic.

Written Content

web design written content

Creating content/written text isn’t the web designer’s job but just like with graphic design, some web designers have content creation skills.

On the web design front, “content” is about arranging the words on the website so that they’re easy to read and attract people’s attention when they should (for instance, we wanted you to see the “Written Content” above before reading these last couple of sentences, so we made it higher on the page AND bigger so it’d catch your eye and let you know what this part of the post was about).

But again, because there’s a lot of overlap – and especially if you’re creating your own websites – the person who creates the website design might also write some or all of the content.

What “feel” means

Besides the stuff above, those visual elements that come together with a bit of web design magic to make a site look spectacular, there are a few elements that make a website “feel” easy and dare we say fun to use.

Layout

sketches of website layouts

Layout is the way graphics, text, and buttons are arranged on your page. 

Layout not only makes your site look good, but a solid layout also makes it easy to use because information is displayed in a way that makes sense, buttons are in places that people expect them to be, images are placed so that they help people understand what you’re trying to communicate without making text hard to read, etc.

Navigation

how to design a website navigation

This is how people get from one page to the next, and for your more complicated pages, how they get around the page.

Using this very site and page as an example (you’re here, why not), this includes things like

  • The header menu (that part with Home, YouTube Tutorials, Written Guides, etc at the top of the page on desktop, or the three stacked lines on mobile).
  • The floating table of contents on the top left (if you’re on desktop; if you’re on your phone like most people these days you saw it towards the top of this page, that part smartly called “Table of Contents”).
  • The “jump to top” button (the white arrow on the blue circle background at the bottom right of the page).
  • The “recently written articles” section at the bottom of the page.

The goal with navigation elements like these is to make it super simple for people to find the pages and information they want, when they want it.

Compatibility

website designs compatibility devices

Compatibility is how well your site/pages load and look on different browsers, operating systems, and devices.

Your site will have to look and function a bit differently for a 6” phone screen where people have to tap things with their fingers than it does on a 15” laptop screen where people use their mouse/trackpad (pro tip: if you’re gonna get into the website building game, get yourself a mouse; even Apple’s trackpads are just so much harder to use).

Web design vs. web development

web design vs web development comparison

As you’re getting familiar with the world of website creation, you’ll see “web design” and “web development” get thrown around pretty much interchangeably.

At the beginner level, they basically are – both are all about creating websites.

But we’re here to help you slingshot from beginner to expert at SpaceX rocket speed, so we’ll break them down for you a bit more.

Web design, as we got into a bit above, is about what people see and how they interact with your websites – the buttons, colors, fonts, images, page layouts, etc.

Web development is about actually getting into the code, writing the HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, etc that form a functional website.

If you’re building websites yourself using website builders or CMSs like WordPress, you’re basically both in a sense (even if you don’t write a lick of code).

As you get more advanced, you might want to build some samurai level skills in web design or web development.

Or you might want to hire someone to help you with certain parts of your website creation process.

So here’s a bit more in-depth into the differences between a web designer and a web developer.

What is a web designer?

web designer guy making graphics

Again, simply put, these are the folks that make websites look good and feel easy to use.

But in the world of big-shot websites like Amazon and Google, and maybe your sites one day, there are actually a couple of different types of “web designer.”

User Interface (UI) Designer

At the top levels of the website building game, UI designers are dedicated to just the visuals – the colors used, the fonts used, what images are used and where, the size and location of text, etc.

Just the visual “look,” the aesthetics, not any of the “feel” stuff.

So when a lot of people say “web designer” this is usually what they’re talking about…

User Experience (UX) Designer

But there’s another end of things in the web design world – the “feel” of your website.

When you’re getting started, and to be honest for a long time and a lot of sites after that, you can just stick to pre-built templates and some standard design forms to determine how things work on your site, where buttons go, where to use navigation menus and elements, etc.

For example, your site should have a header menu for your main pages (contact page, about page, home, blog, etc). Any website theme or template will have these, and just from using the internet you know header menus are a thing your site needs to have at the top of the page.

But deeper into the game, you start to ask questions like “what pages should actually be in that header menu?” “Should I have a button for my contact page in the header menu?” “Should the menu stay at the top of the screen and disappear when I scroll down or stay floating above the content?”

UX designers ask these questions, then do user research and testing to figure out the best way to layout your pages, which exact elements to include in order to get the most people to find your site fun, engaging, and maybe even a little bit addictive.

What is a web developer?

web developer guy with headphones

Again, these are the folks that make the actual code that runs turns a web design (“here’s what text goes where, with what font, in what size; here’s where the buttons go and they should be this color” etc.) into an actual website.

And, again, when you’re getting started out, you’ll use tools like website builders and WordPress to handle this end of things for you – so you’ll be doing the “web development” as you’re doing the “web design.”

When you get more advanced, though, sometimes you’ll want things to look a certain way that you can’t find in a template or can’t make happen with a web builder’s toolkit or WordPress plugin.

When that’s the case, you’ll need someone who understands code to make it happen – or become one yourself.

At that point, you’re definitely winning.

And at that point, you’ll need the help of one of three kinds of web developer.

Backend developer

Backend developers are the guys and gals that work on the core structure of a website.

They use languages like Java, SQL, and C++ to get certain information from databases, load a page when a button is clicked, send a new entry from one of your contact forms to a program like MailChimp so you can do some email marketing.

Basically, if it has to do with something that makes your website work but isn’t directly tied to what your visitors see, it’s a backend developer’s job.

Frontend developer

Frontend developers make the HTML, CSS, and Javascript that makes things visitors to your site see.

You need a button here? A frontend developer will add that to the code.

Need this contact form to have name, email, and message fields? A frontend developer will make those fields appear on your page and able to accept text from someone (but it’s the backend developer that makes sure that data is received properly on the server, and sent over to Mailchimp).

Full-stack developer

Now that we know about frontend/backend developers this one’s easy: a full-stack developer is just someone who can help with both ends of the “web development stack.”

Do you need to hire a web designer or web developer to help you create websites?

Short and long answer: nope!

Especially when you’re getting started, tools like the best website builders and CMSs like WordPress make it easy for anyone to create websites without having to spend a ton of time and years building experience in the finer points of web design or learning how to code.

When you get to a certain point, you might need a designer or developer to help out with some more advanced things you want to do (for example, we have one on our team who created some things like the jump to top button on this page – thanks Dan!).

But you can absolutely build some amazing looking sites without the help of these experts.

And, thanks to resources like this here blog post and our Youtube channel, you can learn to do a lot of web design and development things yourself!

Which leads us nicely into our step-by-step guide on how to design a website…

Step 1: Define your site’s purpose

website purpose compass hand

Yep, the first step in designing a website is a bit of a philosophical one: what are your reasons for creating the site at all?

Do you want to create a blog that gets millions of fans and readers?

Have an awesome online business idea to get some sweet sweet time and financial freedom that you just can’t have with a day job?

Are you learning to build sites so you can make money as a website creator for other people?

Whatever your reason for wanting to learn how to design a website, each website you create has to start with a purpose, a “raison d’être” as the french or people trying to be way too fancy would put it (#guiltyascharged).

Why you ask?

Well, if you’re new to website building, it’s super easy to overthink it; there are hundreds of blog posts on how to build a website, how to start a blog, how to make money online, etc. etc.

All sorts of ideas on what you should do to create an online business, what features you should have on your site, what tools you should use to make one.

Knowing why you’re building a website and what it should do can help you make decisions about what the design you create needs to have – and what’s #extra.

Plus, if you’re not clear on what the website should do/be from the start, you can end up with a “frankensite” that’s some sort of grotesque and confusing patchwork of 100 ideas you’ve had over 100 weeks of website building.

So to help you get clear and off on the right foot with your website design, we have three things for you: 

  • A list of general questions to answer about the website you’re designing
  • Some insights into the 3 basic objectives a website can have
  • Some examples of the types of site you might be looking to build

First, those general, get your Buddhist monk/Einstein on questions:

  • Why do you want a website?
  • What does a “successful” website look like to you?
  • Who do you think your audience/visitors are?
  • What do they gain by coming to your site?
  • What do you want them to do once they get to your site?
  • How does your website idea compare with others?
  • Are you aiming to make money from your site?

That last one leads us nicely into:

The 3 main website objectives

At a high level, a website can basically do three things for you:

  1. Establish your authority
  2. Generate leads
  3. Sell products

The first one is probably the simplest – a few relatively basic pages and a blog is all you’ll really need; you can get more fancy from there but those are the essentials to let people know what you’re about and connect with them enough that they’ll want to hear more from you.

The second, from a technical standpoint, is a bit more complicated but not by too much.

Without going into a whole business lecture, basically by “generating leads” we mean one of two things:

  1. You’re selling a particular service (like graphic design or web design for example), and you want people to be able to come to your site, decide they want to work with you, then have a way to get started.
  2. You’re building an affiliate website, where you want to attract people who will read your content, then click on links to products that they’ll then buy and you’ll get paid a commission from.

For these sites, you’ll need to think a bit more about what kind of people you want and need to attract (which is largely a marketing question but will affect your design as well), and what you’ll need to show and tell them so that they’ll want to click your affiliate links or fill out a form to work with you.

The third is the most complicated – in addition to some basic pages describing what your site/business is about, a blog, and some thought about who you need to come to your site and what you’ll want them to see when they get there, you’ll have to create ecommerce pages and functionality so they can buy products from you.

6 types of websites

Those three basic objectives can translate into a few different kinds of sites, each of which will affect the functionality and aesthetics you’ll need to consider when designing a website.

Here are a few examples, for your consideration (insert broad, sweeping gesture here):

Blog

how to design a website blog example

The heart and soul of a blogging website (like this one) is the almighty blog post (like this one!).

They’re generally informative and hopefully entertaining, there tend to be a lot of them, and more will be added faster than you’d add a new page to another kind of site.

You might have a blogging site that just shares your personal thoughts and adventures like fifty coffees.

You might have a blog that teaches people some skill you have (like this one!).

You might have a blog that makes money, or maybe it’s just for your own personal satisfaction (and that of at least a few visitors).

Other kinds of sites might have a blog, but your site’s whole reason and purpose might be the blog itself too.

Portfolio

how to design a portfolio website example

A portfolio site is primarily meant to describe the work you do and showcase some examples and case studies of that work.

A few awesome examples of this:

Most of the time these are for people with creative skills, though they could be a sort of online resume for someone in just about any industry.

A lot of times, they’ll have at least a contact form that could be for lead generation, but unlike a business site built specifically generate leads (that would have things like “downloadable guides” and pop-ups asking to “sign up for the email list”, that might be it on the LG front.

And sometimes these sites have blogs, other times they’re just relatively static pages that get updated every once in a while.

Brochure

how to design a website brochure example

Brochure websites are similar to Portfolios in that they’re largely informational but might have some lead generation features and/or a blog.

The difference is that Portfolios are sites for individuals, while Brochures are for businesses, groups, and nonprofit organizations.

Which means they’ll have a slightly different set of core pages; where a Portfolio site would have examples of work you’ve done, a brochure website would have a menu or upcoming events page; where you might just have a simple contact form on a Portfolio site, a brochure site might have locations and business hours as well (maybe no contact form either – no one needs to email that hot new gastropub asking about their daily specials).

Examples of solid brochure sites include:

The lack of need for real lead generation considerations is what separates Brochure sites from business from our next category; restaurants don’t really need lead generation, nor do some nonprofits.

On the other hand…

Professional Services

how to design a professional services website example

Professional services sites might include law firms, web design agencies, hotels, real estate agencies, etc.

Basically, if a site needs to tell a business’ story and provide information that persuades people to want to work with that company, it’s what we’d call a “professional services” company.

They’re not necessarily selling products through an ecommerce store, though there might be some level of ecommerce functionality.

The “customers” these sites are trying to get will need to talk to a real person at some point, schedule an appointment, maybe book online.

These sites aren’t “ecommerce,” though, because visitors either won’t be paying through some sort of “buy now” function or if they do, what they’re paying for isn’t simply a product that gets shipped or emailed to them.

Examples:

Ecommerce

how to design an ecommerce website example

This one’s easy because you definitely know this kind of site – Amazon.

But, Amazon’s not the only name in the ecommerce game, there are a ton of (much) smaller businesses that have websites to sell their products directly, without the help of third-party websites like Amazon.

The point of these: get traffic, make sales.

Some examples:

Step 2: Choose your website platform

Wix Versus WordPress website design platform

Alright, once you’ve got a basic concept of the purpose and type of website you’re building, it’s time to choose your “website platform.”

What the heck does that mean?

Well, you’ve got to get this website built (hopefully without having to know too much about coding), connected to a domain name, and hosted on a server so people from all over the world can get to it.

Technically, there are a lot of ways to do this.

Realistically, there are two main ways:

Website Builders

Website builders are tools that let you go from 0 to website super fast.

They take care of the domain and hosting parts for you, then offer a drag and drop interface to let you build your site page by page, button by button – without having to code or mess with the technical parts of building a site and making it available on the internet.

If you want the simplest website building process possible and don’t mind paying a few extra bucks over option 2, this is the way to go.

We’ve got a whole definitive guide to the best website builders for you right mere, in case you don’t want to all the way in atm a few of our favorites:

Wix

Best All Around

Wix
Wix
star ratings graphic
4.5/5
  • checkmark Features: 4/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 4.5/5
  • checkmark Support: 5/5
  • checkmark Price: 5/5

Pros

  • Tons of beautiful templates to choose from to get a solid start
  • The most powerful design and customization features around
  • Quick and easy answers found in their thorough knowledge base

Cons

  • No live chat (but you can call)
  • The editor is a bit harder to use than some – but not by much
  • Not the cheapest

Wix is what we’d like to call “the website builder’s builder” – it really sets the standard for everyone else. 

It’s not the cheapest and because it’s so customizable there’s a bit more of a learning curve. 

But if you’re going to fully dive into the world of website creation, you won’t go wrong here. 

Check out our full Wix review here.

Gator Website Builder

The cheapest… and that’s not a bad thing!

HostGator Logo

Gator Website Builder

star ratings graphic
4.5/5
  • checkmark Features: 4/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 5/5
  • checkmark Support: 4/5
  • checkmark Price: 4/5

Pros

  • By far the least expensive builder…
  • But that doesn’t mean their editor sucks – just the opposite, it’s powerful and easy to use!
  • Lot’s of extra features like built-in analytics and advanced elements that are missing or cost more in other builders

Cons

  • Templates could use some work – they look fine but aren’t amazing out of the box
  • The knowledge base needs more useful articles and a less buggy search function
  • Website speed could be faster

Bottom Line

We fully believe a good website maker is worth paying for… especially when it’s less than $4 a month! 

Gator is certainly the choice for the price-conscious website building beginner, but it’s also powerful and easy to use so you won’t be disappointed as you become a website creation wizard looking for a website creator you can grow with. 

Check out our full Gator Website Builder review here.

Constant Contact Website Builder

The best website builder for small business

Constant Contact Logo

Constant Contact

star ratings graphic
4/5
  • checkmark Features: 4/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 4.5/5
  • checkmark Support: 3.5/5
  • checkmark Price: 4/5

Pros

  • Their editor is the perfect combination of easy to use yet customizable for those who want an amazing website without spending a ton of time to learn how to build them.
  • Price, speed, and support are all top-notch
  • They’ve got some super sweet extra features like a built-in logo maker. Freaking A!

Cons

  • Can’t fully customize your site, great for people who just want a quick site but you’ll want more if you really want to dive into the website building game.
  • Knowledge base is good but needs more articles and better search
  • Their blogging tools could use some work

Constant Contact makes it super easy to make a professional website that looks great, with just enough customization to make your site unique without extra features that take time to learn.

Combine that with one of the best email marketing platforms around and a $10/month price tag and you’ve got a website creator perfect for a small business owner who wants a solid website without having to spend a lot of time or hard-earned cash! 

Check out our Constant Contact website builder review here.

WordPress

wordpress logo hand

The other main platform for designing, building, and launching websites is WordPress.

It’s a “Content Management System” (CMS) that makes it easy to create and customize sites without knowing how to code.

There are, technically, other CMSs besides the good ole WP, but WordPress is by far the most used and for good reason – it’s just a hands-down, no jokes, solid product.

WordPress itself is 100% free to use, which is pretty awesome.

You will have to pay for hosting and a domain name, though, but the total will be cheaper than using a website builder.

The tradeoff: there’s more work to be done.

You have to set up your domain name and hosting, which builders take care of for you.

And, while WordPress is way more customizable and flexible than website builders, that comes at the cost of a bit of a higher learning curve.

Check out the full lowdown on “what is WordPress” here!

Step 3: Choose your template or theme

web page design wix templates

Alright, now that you’ve got some clarity on the purpose of the site your building and the platform you’re gonna roll with, it’s time to choose your template or theme.

The two terms are basically interchangeable, it mostly depends on the platform you’re using.

Some nuanced differences aside, a theme or template basically covers a lot of the groundwork on in the looks department for your site by giving you an initial layout and set of colors to work with.

It’s like the structure of the house that is your website – the basic walls, rooms, colors are there, you’ve just got to fill it in with furniture, repaint a couple of walls, maybe swap out the toilet or add some recessed lighting in the kitchen.

Whichever platform you use, you’ll find a range of templates/themes – organized by the type of site, certain features, particular industries –  that you can preview to find the best starting point for your site.

A couple of notes before we get into some tips on choosing the best template or theme for your site:

  • Some themes/templates come with a set of pre-built pages, so things like your homepage, about page, and contact page are already started; others will just give you a few standard colors/fonts and types of page layouts, then you’ll have to create the pages you need from that starting point – these are a bit more work, but you still get a head start over the people doing it all from scratch.
  • Themes and templates for the best website platforms are all customizable, so you can make your site look exactly the way you want to, but it can be helpful to find one that’s got 70-80% of what you want already built out – saves you some time adding/rearranging things later.

Tips for choosing a website theme or template

Keep it simple

This is where it’s really important to know the purpose of your site.

Some themes come with a lot of flashy animations, complex layouts, and tons of built-in features that can all seem really impressive when you first see them.

But these things can distract visitors.

They can make it more complicated to customize your site.

And they can slow down your site.

So start with the basic features and functions you’ll need to fulfill your website’s purpose.

You can get double backflip fireworks grand finale fancy later.

Check out the competition

Especially with your first few sites, this is a hugely helpful place to start.

Because until you’ve got a few sites under your belt, you’ll probably have a tough time brainstorming ideas for what you want in your website designs, and you might just have zero idea why you should choose one template over another.

So, start with what’s already working for people making similar moves, check out your competitor’s sites, make some notes about what you like and don’t like, then use that to find that badass template you’re searching for.

Be careful not to feel like you have to do everything your competitors are – they could be working with much bigger budgets and they’ve been working on their site for longer than you have.

Just look for some basic good/bad pieces and keep moving!

Pay attention to fonts and colors

We’ll get a bit more into fonts and colors in step 4 below, but this is a big part of choosing a template.

Again, customization is always possible; if you find a theme that’s got the perfect layout but the button colors are terrible, go with it and change those later.

But that can take some work, depending on the website platform and particular template.

So look for something that uses a set of fonts you can at least live with if you don’t absolutely love them.

And pick one whose overall color scheme is close, if not spot-on; if you’re building a super fun and bright kids clothing store, don’t choose a template that’s mostly black, white and grey.

Likewise, if you’re building a site for a law firm, probably best to leave the pastels and comic sans behind.

Keep mobile in mind

You’re probably reading this post on your phone.

How in the world would we know that?

Because most internet traffic these days is from mobile devices.

And we’ve got Google Analytics data that says most of our visitors fit that bill.

In your web design journey, you’ll come across other posts that remind you to “make sure your site is mobile responsive.”

“Mobile responsive” meaning your site shows up one way that looks fantastic on desktops, and automatically shows up a different way (that also looks fantastic) on mobile devices.

We agree, your template should be mobile responsive.

Where we disagree is in “making sure your template is mobile responsive.”

Everyone’s known that’s important for years; any template or theme you choose will be responsive.

So “keeping mobile in mind” isn’t so much about checking to see if the theme you love is mobile responsive at all, it’s about checking that out before you choose.

Some platforms will have a “mobile view” in their demo so you can see what the template looks like on smaller screens.

A hack if that’s not available: just resize your browser window to the smallest width you can.

Just because everyone else mentions “SEO”

Again, like “mobile responsiveness” this isn’t a thing to worry about too much.

SEO (“search engine optimization”) has been important for a while, so any website platform, theme, or template you choose will have SEO in mind.

There are some particular things you’ll want to look for but that’s for another post and a later stage in your website building journey.

So for now, just know you don’t really have to worry about this; whatever theme you choose, you’ll be fine.

Step 4: Choose your initial branding

website design branding

It’s just about time to start getting your hands dirty with some in the weeds page building and website designing, just one more “let’s think about this first” step – choosing your initial branding.

Branding is a big topic, but from a beginner’s standpoint, this basically means the colors and fonts you’ll want to use on your site.

“But wait, shouldn’t I figure out the fonts and colors before I choose a template? Won’t that change what template I choose?”

A smart question to ask. And no, you shouldn’t.

Well, you can but you don’t need to.

Why?

Because when you’re getting started, figuring out what the branding should be is pretty hard; there’s a lot of experience and practice that goes into really understanding the best colors, fonts, and overall style a website should have, why Helvetica would be better than Times New Roman, why burnt orange is a better brand fit than fire engine red.

That’s where taking a look at what the competition is doing is helpful; if they all use a lot of dark backgrounds and sans serif fonts, you probably should too.

Likewise, if you really like the look of a particular theme, it’s going to include certain fonts and colors anyway.

Maybe you should change those, but you might not have to.

So by choosing a theme first, you can provide a bit of structure to your “what’s the brand” decision making, instead of a world of options (which can be confusing and time-consuming to navigate), you’ll just have a few good options that are perfectly great starting points.

That being said, color and fonts are important parts of designing a website.

So let’s go over a few basics about each.

Website Color Schemes

website branding color palate screens

Color is a huge part of defining your website design and overall brand.

There’s a ton of psychology behind what colors mean and which colors are best for your website and the business it’s representing.

There are whole books and websites covering the topic of “color theory,” but we’re here to save you the hours it’d take to read those.

Here are the basics of what colors mean in relation to branding and websites:

  • Black represents luxury, power, elegance, and sophistication. 
  • Gray represents simplicity, neutrality, logic, and “the future.”
  • Red represents urgency, excitement, danger, and passion.
  • Pink represents sweetness, femininity, innocence, and romance.
  • Yellow represents optimism, cheerfulness, and youth.
  • Orange represents creativity, friendliness, and enthusiasm.
  • Purple represents success, wisdom, wealth, and royalty.
  • Green represents health, wealth, peacefulness and nature.
  • Blue represents security, stability, trust, and calmness.

Cool, but how do you choose the colors for your site?

Well, most brands have one dominant color, then two or three secondary colors and a background color.

You’ll want to think about your audience, too – don’t just choose your favorite colors, choose ones that will communicate well with the people who will visit your site.

Building a site for a classy (aka expensive) restaurant? Black, red, and purple are good starting points.

Building a site to sell baby clothes? Blue, pink, or yellow could be the move.

Maybe it’s a portfolio site for your website creation services. Gray, blue, and orange are solid there.

Once you have a general idea of what dominant color is best for your target audience, it’s time to give Adobe’s Color wheel a spin.

It’s a 100% free tool that will let you pick your dominant color, then it’ll automatically suggest secondary colors for you.

And it’ll give you the hex codes (like “#231885”) which are what you’ll use to tell your website builder/WordPress exactly what color to use in certain places (rather than relying on your eyes to try to match – that’s just not the pro move lol).

Once you’ve figured out your color scheme, how do you use it on your site?

The dominant color should be used in most important parts of your site like:

  • Your logo
  • Menu tabs
  • Call to action buttons
  • Backgrounds for important information
  • Headlines

Your secondary colors should be used as accents in places like:

  • Subheadlines
  • Backgrounds for information that’s important, but not the most important
  • Hover effects

And your background colors, which might be white, gray, black, or one of the secondary colors you got from our friends at Adobe, should be used in… the background.

Duh. More specifically/helpfully:

  • Use lighter color backgrounds when you want the words and images of a section of your page to stand out.
  • Use darker colors/your secondary colors to help create some distinction between sections of your page; use these a lot/instead of light or white backgrounds if you really want to push your branding on your website.

Website fonts

website fonts laid out on printing press

After color, fonts are the other big way your initial branding will apply to your web design.

Is your website going to cover serious business? Then classic, classy fonts like Baskerville and Arial are the move.

Looking to do something more fun and lighthearted? Copse or Museo are a good place to start.

One important thing to keep in mind when choosing a font for your website design: make sure they’re readable.

There are some super classy script fonts that are nice for wedding invitations but are just terrible for websites (we’re looking at you Buttermilk; because we can’t tell what you’re saying and we don’t know why that’s your name).

Also, you’ll want 2, maybe 3 fonts for your site max: a primary font (for headlines) and one or two secondary fonts (for your subheadlines and body text).

Cool story, we know, but how exactly do you choose the right fonts for your site?

Well, like we mentioned above, this is where choosing a template first is helpful; you’re probably good to go with the fonts they included by default.

If you want to choose new ones, that’s gonna take some time and exploration.

But to help you get started, here are a couple of handy infographics from our friends over at DesignMantic:

designmantic font moods infographic
Source
designmantic typography commandments infographic
Source

Step 5: Create your website layouts and initial pages

website layout and sitemap graphic

Awesome, now we’re getting into the dirty dirty, hands-on stuff – it’s time to get your initial website pages created.

First up, you’ll want to start simply with a few key pages any website will have.

From there, depending on your site’s purpose and the particular business you’re building it for, you’ll need more.

BUT any site you’re going to make will have the following:

Home page

web design example homepage

For the record though we’re 99.9874% sure you already know this: the homepage is the main page of a site, the one you land on when you go to “thewebsite.com”

Every site has one, and it’s almost always the first thing most visitors see.

A few tips on designing homepages:

  • Be sure to use lots of attention-grabbing visuals.
  • If this is a lead generation or ecommerce website, be sure to include at least one “call to action” or CTA – either something like “contact us for a quote” or “shop now.”
  • If the business has some sort of testimonials or trust badges (like “BBB accredited”) stick those bad boys on there.
  • Make sure there are easy to scan and read sections that communicate what the business/organization/person does and why visitors should care.
  • Include contact information or an email list sign up form if those are part of the website’s purpose.

About page

website design example about us page

We’re also pretty sure you know this page too.

It’s where you tell the story about the business/organization/person who’s website people are reading.

Definitely include images of the people behind the site/business.

And be sure this page answers the following questions:

  • How did the business/organization get started?
  • Who is the site for?
  • What makes this site/business different?

Contact page

web design example contact us page

For lead gen sites, this is definitely one of the most important pages, though pretty much every website should have one of these as well.

Make it easy for potential customers or visitors you might want to connect with to reach out with at least a contact form.

Bonus points for including links to social media accounts, phone numbers, and physical addresses.

But only include these if they make sense (if this is a portfolio site, please don’t put your home address out there for anyone in the world to find – you will get more spam mail and maybe a visit from an overly enthusiastic fan).

Product/Services/Portfolio page(s)

website design example product page

The last of your core pages is really a type of page because it depends on the goal of your site/kind of business or organization it is.

These are portfolio pages that show examples of work, product pages where people can buy things, or services pages where people can learn more about what the business whose site your building does and can contact someone to learn more/get the service.

You’ll definitely want to include lots of relevant information about the product/service/work example, along with some super slick imagery that helps visually communicate the what, why, and how.

And if we’re talking about a product or service page, pricing info is important (though many services pages don’t have this because the cost can vary depending on the project), as is checkout functionality for product pages.

Web page layout best practices

website layouts examples

When it comes to the actual layout of your particular pages, your theme or template will help define a lot of this for you – it’ll put the headlines, images, body text, forms, buttons, etc in certain places out of the box.

But maybe you don’t quite like some of those choices.

Or your the type who just really likes to tweak things so they’re more “yours.”

Well, we like that kind of creative spark.

Just don’t screw up your site for the sake of changing things around.

A good website and web page layout keeps people on your site because it makes important information and features easy to find.

Bad layouts are frustrating and make people jump away from your site faster than your alcoholic uncle consumes a 12 pack of Bud Light (no disrespect uncle Jimmy but damn dude, chill).

Some general elements of a good layout:

  • It’s intuitive – visitors shouldn’t have to think hard to figure out what they should look at/do.
  • It’s streamlined – no fluff or clutter, just the minimum amount of text and imagery needed to get your point across.
  • It’s goal-oriented – want people to click a buy button? Make it bright and well separated from other parts of the page; want people to look at a particular image? Make it big and right smack dab in the middle of the page.
  • It’s designed for skimmers – most people just don’t want to take the time to read every word on a page (if you’ve read every word of this post so far you’re an everyday hero for sure), so use plenty of bullet points and headlines to make it easy for people to see/read the most important information fast.

Website layouts that work

There are a ton of design principles to learn if you want to master the whole “how to design a website” topic.

But to get started, you can definitely get a solid website built by just going with what already works for thousands of other sites.

There are a few standard layouts that pretty much always work, so if you apply these to your pages you’re just about guaranteed to be good to go.

The F

web page layout example f

This is the most fundamental website layout around as it’s how people have been reading books (in English at least) for centuries – start at the top left of the text, read to the right, jump back to the left of the second line of text, move to the right.

Aptly named as this makes people’s eyes look at a page in the shape of an, you guessed it, “F.”

This one won’t fail you though because it’s so standard, it’s not very exciting.

Use it as a default layout to lean on but mix up your pages with sections that use other layouts too.

The zig-zag

web page layout example zig zag

This is the old left text, right image -> right text, left image -> left text, right image trick you’ve seen on hundreds of sites.

“Zig-Zag” because your eye “zigs” then “zags” across the page in the shape of a Z.

People are so used to looking at web pages like this, it’s a real winner for creating a layout that’s a bit more interesting than the tried and true F layout but easy to understand.

The featured image

web page layout example featured image

The featured image is another web design standard – it puts an image, big and bold, towards the top of a page to really hit home on what that page is about in a super visual way, usually balanced out with some text, as opposed to…

The full-screen photo

web page layout example full screen photo

Just like it sounds, whether at the top or some section below that, this is a part of the page that lets an image take a leading role in communicating some key idea you want to get across about your site or the people it’s for.

The full-screen photo is a cool way to make a background more interesting than just using a color (be sure your text is still readable though).

Or you can put the words on hold for a bit and just let people take in the full glory of a photo that’s, simply put, freaking awesome.

Grid

web page layout example grid

Whether images, text, or both, grids are a good way to let people easily browse a lot of information in a short amount of time.

By equally distributing content, they let visitors to your site choose what they want to look at first, second, third, or not at all.

Step 6: Create, find, and add in your content

web design content tools

Alright, you’ve got your initial pages built and laid out, time to add in the content – the words, images, and maybe videos that will make this website masterpiece complete.

Some more technicalities because we like them and they’re useful for you to know:

Finding images/graphics to include on a website is a thing most “web designers” would do; actually taking photos or creating graphics is technically the job of a photographer or graphic designer, but in the website creation world a lot of web designers might do those things too (because they’re such an integral part of building a website.

Likewise, creating the words for a website is technically the job of a “copywriter” (it’s an old advertising term, where the words of an ad are called “copy” instead of just “words” because that’s not very catchy).

But, again, a lot of web designers write copy (“website words”) too.

We definitely don’t have the space to do complete guides on copywriting or graphic design or photography here.

But, for the sake of helping you get to a finished website, here are some tips on writing words for websites and finding images/graphics to include.

Writing copy for websites

web design copy advertisemnt bilboards

Know your target audience

Just as your brand colors and fonts should match who you’re trying to speak to through your site, so too should the copy.

Having an idea of who your ideal visitor, the “target audience” for your website is important for understanding what copy you should write, what words you should use, what information you need to have.

For example, we know a lot of the people who come to our site are towards the beginning of their website creation journey.

So we use the words “getting started” and “as a beginner” a good bit.

And we also aim to filter through the details and deep levels of technicality involved in completely understanding how to build and launch websites to give you information that’s going to actually help you get started.

You probably don’t know what an htaccess file is. You don’t need to when you’re getting started, so we don’t mention them when talking about hosting.

Understanding your target audience, the people who are going to read and take action on your site goes beyond demographics like age, gender, location, etc.

You want to know what problems keep them up at night, the kinds of words they use, what they dream of achieving.

This all will help you figure out what your site needs to say and when it needs to say it.

Know the features, benefits, and objections

This one’s for lead generation or ecommerce sites in particular.

You know what products or services you’re selling – you should write about those obviously?

Not quite.

The cold hard truth is that most of the people who come to the site you’re building aren’t your mom; they don’t really care about you, your company, your products and services.

They’re interested in themselves.

Their problems. Their needs. Their dreams.

The stuff you’re selling is just a means of solving those problems, meeting those needs, and achieving those dreams.

So you have to talk about the benefits – what people get out of buying your stuff or getting your services.

And you have to address the objections they’ll have about whether or not you can deliver those benefits.

The high level of figuring this out:

  1. Make a list of features of the products/services being sold through the website
  2. Translate each feature into a benefit your target audience wants
  3. Write down objections people will have about buying those products/services

Then make sure you talk about those benefits and address those objections in the copy, particularly on your home page and product/services pages.

Put the important stuff at the top

Writing website copy is kind of like fishing – you want to put the juicy bait you’re using right where you need to hook ‘em.

In the case of your website’s pages, that’s right at the top.

If you don’t get your visitor’s attention and interest in the first couple of seconds that they’re on your site/page, right at the top, they’ll leave and find one of a million other things to do on the internet (cat videos and Instagram are probably at the top of that list).

So when you’re creating copy for your web designs, be sure to put the juiciest details and benefits as close to the top (if not at the actual top) as you can.

Don’t try to sound smart or use jargon

When a prestigious, highly intellectual publication like Harvard Business Review suggests we should stop trying to sound smart, well we here at CaPW take note.

Their reasoning: instead of impressing readers, you alienate them; they feel like you’re trying to put yourself above them.

And on top of that, big words and phrases like “these pros are sophisticated and eloquent” just take more time for people to process and understand.

They can be confusing, and in the super distracting online world, people have more fun things to do than being confused reading your website.

So keep your words simple and clear.

And try to avoid using insider terms/jargon that your readers might not understand, or explain what those words mean if you have to use them.

Eg we wanted to make sure you knew WordPress was a CMS further up this post – but explained that meant “Content Management System” and those are basically a way to make websites without having to write code.

We like to use tools like Grammarly and Hemmingway app to figure out if our writing is too complicated – and you should too!

Keep it friendly

This one’s a riff on the last tip.

In a lot of cases, it’s best to write like you would speak – using “you,” contractions (words like “can’t” instead of “cannot” for those of you who don’t remember English class – we feel you), and the occasional slang.

For some business websites, this kind of language isn’t entirely appropriate (most law firm websites shouldn’t include any “sup y’alls”), but in a lot of cases it’s best to just talk to your readers like people instead of some stuffy, stick up his butt accountant for a fortune 500 firm (apologies to the corporate accountants out there that know how to get down).

Finding images and graphics for your website

Website images are powerful stuff.

Simply swapping out an image can have a huge effect on changing the look and feel of your site, and that can be done in a few seconds for little to no money, no super-advanced coding or design skills necessary.

But how do you find and choose some sweet images for your site without spending a ton on professional photography or custom graphic design?

Some tips and a list:

Tip 1: Go high quality

high quality image example mountains

This is hopefully obvious but just to be “clear” (get it, because we’re talking about images… this is why we’re not professional comedians): don’t use fuzzy or pixelated images on your site.

Image resolution is a balancing act on websites because super high res images will slow your page loading down.

But you want to make sure you use images that are at least as wide/tall as the space you’re trying to fill on your site (eg, if you created a page that has a 1020 x 870 pixel spot for an image, don’t try to stretch a 750×420 image to fit).

You can also use images that are bigger than you need, but be sure to use a tool like Optimizilla to compress your images to the smallest possible size without losing quality.

Tip 2: Go unique

When you’re starting out, stock photos are going to be your go-to because custom photography (good custom photography at least) is expensive.

But you definitely want to look for something better than the classic “man in front of a laptop, wearing a button-up shirt, looking at the camera holding a cup of coffee” photos that are the stuff of terrible websites from the ‘90s and memes.

hide the pain harold free stock image

We feel your pain, Harold, for so many reasons.

There are definitely interesting stock photos to be had out there that might not be 100% unique to your site but at least won’t leave people feeling like your mom made your website 10 years ago.

See our list below for places to find these!

Tip 3: Images should have meaning

web design image meaning example puppy in cup

There are enough people in the stock photography trenches that there are loads of well-composed, high-resolution images to be found out there.

But you shouldn’t just slap a photo on your site because it looks good. Your images should help communicate the message you’re trying to share on your page.

If you’re looking for an image for a legal services page, you could find an image of people in suits shaking hands, suggesting “we’ll help you get your legal troubles solved.”

Or for a thought-provoking blog, you could use a shot of a mountain or a sunset over a field of wheat.

Okay, those ideas are borderline cheesy, but the point is you want your images to evoke feelings and help tell the story you’re sharing on your website either directly or in an abstract way.

Random puppy photos are cute but not right for most sites.

Tip 4: Faces are good

web design image face example

People are a special thing. #deepthoughts

r/iamverysmart jokes aside, there’s a lot of psychology behind the power of eye contact and faces in marketing/web design.

People are naturally drawn to faces on a deeply animal level, so be sure to leverage that to keep people engaged with your web designs by having at least one or two friendly faces somewhere on your site.

Where to find images for your site

There are boatloads of places to get super sweet imagery for your web designs, some are free and some are paid.

Do you have to pay to get solid photos?

Not at all. The images in this post are mostly free (we made some ourselves and pay people for their help with that).

Paying for stock photos these days isn’t so much about getting quality images.

But if you pay for an image, it’ll be a bit more unique because most people stick with free thanks to all the free stock photo sites out there.

And you might find images that are better for certain business contexts, as a lot of the good free stock photos out there are either high concept/artsy/inspirational; if someone knows their taking a stock photo that’ll be great for business, they know that business can afford to pay so they’re more likely to post it on a paid service.

But you can find some businessy stock photos for free.

Where??

Awesome places to find free stock photos

Solid places to find paid stock photos

Sweet places to get custom graphics (for not too much)

The best way to learn more about how to design a website

Alright y’all, it’s been a journey but we’ve made it to the end…

For now!

We’ve got plenty of other helpful web design-related written guides here on our site.

And we’re constantly publishing a stream of super helpful Youtube videos too!

So if you’ve got more questions, if you’re hungry for more answers, we’ve got you fam.

Best Domain Registrars
The Definitive Guide [2020]

Best Domain Registrars Featured Image

Ready to get your website’s domain name? Here are the best registrars to buy from!

 

Dale McManus

Co-Founder & Web Developer

Nov. 8, 2019

 

Hey, my name is Dale! My partner Alex and I have helped tens of thousands of people build beautiful websites around the world. In this action-packed, step-by-step guide, you’ll learn about the Best Domain Registrars. Let’s dive in!

  • Level of Expertise:
    Beginner
  • Time To Complete:
    30 Minutes
  • What You Get:
    Working Knowledge

For the record: It’s super important for us to keep this site 100% free for you and 100% high quality. To help us do that, we’ve partnered with some of the products we recommend and earn a commission if you buy through our links. Read our full disclosure and partners list here.

Every badass website needs an equally badass domain name.

Coming up with that can be quite the challenge, but once you’ve figured out what your website/business will be called, it’s time to register that bad boy.

Over the course of our collective website building experience here at Create a Pro Website, we’ve bought hundreds of domain names; to us, the process is as easy as reordering protein powder on Amazon.

If you’re new to the game, though, we know it’s not quite so easy (yet!).

There are literally thousands of domain name registrars (the companies you “register” your domain name with) and from the outside, most look pretty much the same.

But, like each and every one of us, it’s what’s on the inside that counts (twinkly eyes).

And on the inside, there are some big differences worth knowing about.

Never. Fear. As. Usual. Fam.

We’ve got your back with here with our list of reviews of the best domain registrars.

Let’s get jumpin.

best domain registrars
Namecheap
Namecheap

4.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 5/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 4/5
  • checkmark Support: 4.5/5
Google Domains Logo

Google Domains

4.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 5/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 5/5
  • checkmark Support: 4.5/5
BlueHost Logo

BlueHost

4 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 3/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 4.5/5
  • checkmark Support: 4.5/5
1and1 IONOS Hosting Logo

1&1 IONOS

4 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 4/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 4/5
  • checkmark Support: 4/5
HostGator Logo

HostGator

3.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 3/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 3.5/5
  • checkmark Support: 5/5
Domain.com Logo

Domain.com

3.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 3/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 4/5
  • checkmark Support: 4.5/5
Register.com Logo

Register.com

3.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 2/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 3/5
  • checkmark Support: 2.5/5

What is a domain name?

Guessing you know the low down here but just as a quick refresher because we know URLs, websites, hosting, domain names – it can all get a bit confusing.

Domain names are (ideally) easy to remember words or phrases ending in things like .com, .net, .org, .co, etc. that make it easy for people to find and go to websites.

If you think of the internet as a series of streets that go around the world, your website is your house, your domain name is the address that people use to Google maps it over to you to join the party.

If you want to know more/get a bigger refresher, we’ve got a big ol’ guide covering the “what is a domain name” question here.

What is a domain name registrar?

what is a registrar old school book registry

It’s pretty simple really, at least at a high level (which is all you really need to know).

A domain name registrar is a company that lets you purchase and register domain names.

All domain name records are stored in a centralized database called a registry, which is managed by the non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

For a domain name to be recognized and usable, it needs to be added to this database which is way too much work for people like us to do.

Plus ICANN doesn’t want the hassle of doing all that work to register domain names themselves.

So they authorize domain name registrars to register domain names and make changes to the registry for us.

These companies then provide tools to make registering and making changes easy, and compete with each other to win our business (which means better service and better prices for us!).

How to buy a domain name (what to look for)

best domain registrars what to look for

So how the heck do you know what to look for when you’re ready to buy a domain name from a registrar?

Well, starting with this guide was definitely the right step 1 for 2 reasons:

  1. We’ve narrowed down the list to some of the best and most popular domain name registrars
  2. We’re about to tell you a few things you should have in mind when you’re making your choice.

Because there’s so much competition in the domain registration space, you’ll come across all sorts of different offers and features.

Price is definitely a factor…

But there’s more to life (and domain name registration) than money friends!

(Steps down from soapbox).

Some of this info can be a bit hard to track down…

Luckily we did the dirty work for you in our reviews, but just for your edification:

Does the registrar have the Top-level domain you’re looking for?

Without going all the way into the deep dive, the top-level domain is the part that comes after the “.” at the end of your domain name.

Some of the most popular TLDs include:

  1. .com
  2. .net
  3. .org
  4. .info
  5. .co
  6. .io
  7. .me
  8. .us
  9. .xyz
  10. .biz
  11. .tv
  12. .club

You basically always want the .com if you can get it.

But everyone knows that so a lot of people have snapped up a lot of .com domains, either because they think they’ll use it someday or they think you’ll pay them a lot of money (like hundreds or thousands of dollars) to buy it off of them.

Probably don’t do that.

In most cases, we’d recommend nabbing the .co if the .com is taken, or the .net, maybe the .biz or .me.

In these cases, pretty much all of the best domain registrars will let you buy/register them, so you’re probably fine here.

But if you want one of the super fancy new TLDs like .xyz or .club, you’ll need to do a quick search to see if the domain registrar you’re looking to use can register it for you.

How much is this domain name going to cost you?

Once you know a domain registrar has you on the TLD front, it’s time to see how many $$ it’s gonna cost you to nab.

First, it’s important to note: registrars are middlemen between you and the ICANN domain registry that holds the information about your domain (that you own it, a few other things).

The people who maintain the registry set a certain price for that service, and every registrar pays them and charges you extra on top.

But it’s all the same product – as long as the registrar itself is reputable (isn’t a fly by night money grab that will shutdown as soon as you blink), they’re all offering the same basic thing in registration.

There are a few differences in the service (which we’ll talk about more below), but one registration isn’t “better” than the next.

So when you’re looking at prices, if one domain name registrar charges more but doesn’t offer an easier user experience or better support, all you’re doing working with them is spending more money.

Now when it comes to price, most domain registrars will offer a lower price for the first year of your registration than following years.

You’ll be able to register your domain name for a minimum of a year, some registrars will let you register for up to 10 years.

When you’re buying a new domain, we recommend registering it for just the one year.

In most cases we’ve seen, you don’t get a discount for registering multiple years in advance, and if you really get into the website game you’re definitely going to buy a lot of domains that you won’t actually need a year or two later (learntomakegrandmasweaters.com seemed like such a great idea once upon a time).

In general, domain names are pretty cheap when it comes to stuff you’ll spend money on to build your website.

Sometimes you’ll find .com domains for as little as $1-2 a year, sometimes they’re free when you buy hosting as well.

Usually you’ll spend somewhere between $10-15 for a .com, other niche TLDs like .co or .biz can cost more.

Sometimes you’ll see domain names for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

What’s happened here is someone else thought a body like you might want to have that domain name someday, so they bought it in advance thinking they’d sell it to you for a proverbial mint.

Don’t buy these. Just come up with another name, for real, unless your at least 98.67% sure you’ve found the perfect business opportunity that absolutely needs that $10,000 domain to succeed.

Final note: because of the way the registration process works, you won’t be able to get a refund for your domain name purchase.

BUT you can transfer from one registrar to another (more on that below).

Watch out for hidden fees and price jumps

A lot of domain registrars do business like cable companies – you get a nice juicy discount when you sign up, then after that you “renew” at the “regular” price.

It’s not always the case, but fairly common so put it in the “sort of sketchy but not really” category.

The key thing is that you know about the price jumps and what they are before you sign up to avoid a very unpleasant surprise.

We looked into this for you in our reviews below (spoiler: one of the domain registrars that made our “best” list because of its popularity had a jaw dropping price jump).

On top of the after-the-initial-discount price jump, it’s important to watch out for hidden or additional.

The most common additional fee we saw was for WHOIS privacy protection (more on that below).

Other than that, most registrars we reviewed didn’t charge anything more than the price they listed on their main search page.

BUT a lot of them offered add-on services we didn’t need; none of the ones that made our best list tried to automatically sign us up for these additional costs, but some less honest domain registrars might.

Figuring out the renewal cost is a bit trickier (we checked for you in our reviews below, after we bought domain names from each registrar; you might be able to ask customer support about this before you buy for other registrars).

But getting the scoop on additional fees is relatively easy.

For most registrars, you’ll search for your domain name, add it to your cart, then go through the checkout process like anything else you buy online.

At some point during this, they’ll have to show you the full and final price – just make sure that lines up with what you were expecting before smashing that “purchase” button.

Remember to turn on automatic renewal

Re: register your domain for one year at a time, every registrar will have an auto-renewal setting that will automatically… renew… your domain name when it expires.

Most will automatically turn this on, we’ve found one or two that didn’t, so just double check once you buy your domain to make sure you don’t accidentally lose it.

But also double check the renewal cost (re: price jumps) to make sure you want to stick with that registrar; if not you’ll want to transfer your domain to another registrar before it expires.

Whether you turn auto-renewal on or off, every registrar will send you reminder emails and confirmations as the date of your domain’s expiration approaches (they’re required to do this by ICANN).

And if you forget to both turn on auto-renew and miss those emails, some registrars have “grace periods” where you can get your domain back for the cost of renewal plus a fee.

We looked into these for our domain name registrar reviews and…

Just turn on auto-renew. It gets way too complicated (and expensive) if you don’t.

From purchasing to managing, the process should be easy

The best domain registrars get the easier they make your life, the more likely you’ll register your domain through them (and keep it there).

Some registrars don’t quite get this.

Compared to something like hosting, there won’t be too many things you’ll need to do to manage your domain name once everything’s setup.

But to set it up, and sometimes when you’re making changes to your site, you’ll need to do things like update nameservers (where internet servers/web browsers look to find the IP address your domain name is associated with), change DNS records, and you might want to transfer your domain name at some point.

All of this should be easy to do through your registrar’s domain hosting portal.

This stuff isn’t really possible to figure out until you’ve purchased a domain name from a registrar…

But we’ve got your back for the domain registrars we reviewed for our best of list!

On top of that, when you’re buying your domain name, well that process should be easy and beginner friendly too.

Every registrar will have a domain name search tool – that should be easy and helpful for finding related names in case your first idea was taken.

And their checkout process should be easy too, without a lot of hassle trying to dig through upsells.

Customer Support should be solid

We’ve pretty much never had to contact our domain registrar’s support in our collective experience here at Create a Pro Website.

Maybe once or twice when we had to contact them to do a transfer.

But, also, we’ve been doing this a while and figured a lot of it out through reading posts like this.

Maybe you don’t want to spend hours digging through the interwebs trying to figure out what every DNS record means though.

And sometimes in the website world, you actually can’t find the answers to your problems on the internet (shocking, we know, we’re trying to combat that here).

Whether you just want a fast answer from someone who knows what they’re talking about and can look at your specific account or problem, or you’re facing some spectacularly unique can’t find the answer on Google challenge, you’ll want solid support.

First step is their knowledge base – it should be easy to search through and offer helpful answers.

Beyond that, most of the best domain registrars will at least offer live chat 24/7.

Phone support is nice to have too, in case it’s pretty complicated to explain what you need via text.

And a lot of times the support folks can do things for you, so you’ll want them to be tech savvy so they can both understand/figure out your problem but also fix it without breaking things further.

For some domain registrars, you might be able to test out their tech support ahead of time by asking a few questions you have, some you might not

We talked to support for our reviews to give you our impression of those that made our list.

Add-on Services

While you might only need a domain name, many of the best domain name registrars offer other products/services as well.

These might include:

  • Domain privacy (this one basically always)
  • Web hosting (a lot do, not always)
  • Professional Email (a lot do, not always)
  • SSL Certificates
  • Website builders
  • Ecommerce tools
  • SEO services
  • Email marketing

TBH besides web hosting and email, we don’t usually care about these things and you probably shouldn’t either – often times there are better options from companies that are dedicated to making awesome products/services in those categories and the ones your domain registrar offers aren’t that useful.

Whether you decide to get any addons or not, be sure to make sure none of those addons are automatically added to your cart “for you” during checkout.

Except for domain privacy/WHOIS protection (more on that below).

Also on hosting…

You might want to keep your domain name and hosting separate

Basically every web hosting service (including the ones on our list of best web hosting providers) will let you buy a domain name from them.

Some of the domain registrars on our list below are actually mostly known for their hosting!

For sure, it’s easier to get your domain setup with your web hosting if you get them at the same time from the same company.

A few will also offer free domains for a year when you buy hosting and we do love a deal that’s “free.”

However:

  1. A lot of times if it’s free the first year, the host is going to charge you a lot more to renew your registration after that (more than free obviously, but also more than other domain registrars will charge you to renew).
  2. If the domain isn’t free for the first year, you might be able to get it cheaper from another registrar than the company you’re getting hosting from.
  3. It’s a bit more secure: if one account gets hacked, all of your website building eggs aren’t in one basket.
  4. Though it’s a bit more technically complicated to set up hosting and a domain that are each with separate companies, it’s not that hard and you’ll probably only have to do it once.

Ultimately, though, it’s up to you. If you want to take the easier route here, we don’t blame you.

And if you do decide to get that free domain name (because we probably would want it too), you can always transfer your domain name out of your hosting account later.

Which leads us nicely into…

Domain Transfers

Domains can actually be transferred between registrars!

A couple of things to note here.

Firstly, you won’t be able to do that during the first 60 days after a new registration, after that, transfer as much as you want.

Most registrars won’t charge you to transfer your domain out to another registrar, pretty much all of them will charge you a fee to transfer a domain in (usually the cost of one year of registration though they vary – see our domain registrar reviews below for info on their transfer fees).

Most of the best registrars also make it easy to transfer your domain out should you choose to leave them in the proverbial dust – there’s just a couple of steps that you can do through their domain hosting portal to get it all done.

Always opt into domain privacy

ICANN requires some sort of contact information to be connected with your domain name as part of the registration process.

By default, this information is yours and it’s publically available using a “WHOIS Lookup” tool (Google “whois lookup [insert your favorite website here]” to see what we mean).

That information includes:

  • Your name
  • Your address
  • Your phone number
  • Your email address

The problem: while most people don’t care enough to do this for your site or any site, spammers do.

And we’ve gotten the emails and phone calls to prove it.

That’s where Domain Privacy/Whois Privacy comes in.

With this, your domain registrar will include their contact details instead of yours.

They eat the spam, so you don’t have to.

Definitely get this. It’s the one “addon” that’s always worth it.

Some of the best domain registrars will include this for free, the rest will typically charge about $12/year for it.

Our domain name registrar review process

domain registrar reviews process

On the face of it, most domain registration companies are pretty similar.

But we go beyond the face, we take our scalpels to the face and dig into the meaty goodness beneath (yum).

Cannibalism jokes aside, we covered the general things for you to be aware of when buying a domain name above, which we looked at as well.

But, for the sake of transparency and to give you a bit of further insight into what you’ll want to look at and how we got to our ratings, here are the categories we used to rate each registar and what we looked at for each.

Pricing

Like we mentioned multiple times now (including with a juicy, gory analogy), domain registrars are all pretty similar.

So while in the grand scheme of things you won’t be spending a ton on domain registration and for the most part the prices aren’t too different, this is still a key decision factor for choosing the best domain name registrar for you.

But we didn’t just look at the publically available pricing tables on each registrar’s website. You can do that on your own because you’re a smart cookie.

We dug deeper, so you don’t have to.

To rate each registrar based on price we looked at not only the first year price but the first year price INCLUDING domain privacy.

Because you really need that.

And we also bought domains with each registrar and looked at the renewal price for both the domain and privacy, because those do change and that’s not something you can easily find out before you buy.

We then gave each domain registrar a 1-5 rating based on both the initial price + privacy and the renewal price + privacy.

Ease of Use

You can start to get a sense of ease of use just by looking at a domain name registrar’s website and their domain name search and checkout process.

BUT WE DIG DEEPER FRIENDS.

We bought a domain name with each registrar so we could take a look at the backend too, then we gave them each an “ease of use” rating based on:

  • How easy/useful their domain name search is (is it fast, do they give you a lot of good options if your first choice is taken?)
  • How easy their checkout process is (not a ton of steps/form fields)
  • How many upsells they throw into their checkout process (because we don’t want those)
  • How their domain hosting/management portal looks (because looking good = feeling good)
  • How easy it was to change settings you might need like DNS records, nameservers, and making transfers (you might only need to do this once, but it shouldn’t take you 5 years to figure out how to do it; that’s longer than your domain name’s registered for!)

Support

Finally, we rated each domain registrar based on how solid their support is.

You probably won’t need it, but if you do you’ll want it to be fast and tasty (“helpful” for the non-cannibals out there; okay this joke is definitely played out).

Three things we looked for:

  • Knowledge base quality (is it easy to find answers to questions, are the help articles actually helpful)
  • Support channels available (phone, email, live chat; are they open 24/7 for those 1am website building sessions)
  • Support helpfulness (we asked a couple of questions via live chat to see how fast/friendly/smart their tech support people are)

Allright, prep stuff’s out of the way.

Let’s get to the meat of this matter (last one, pinky promise).

The 7 best domain registrars

Namecheap

Namecheap
Namecheap

4.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 5/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 4/5
  • checkmark Support: 4.5/5

Pricing Details

Initial price for a .com + privacy: $9.06 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $13.16

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • One of the cheapest in the industry
  • Domain privacy included!
  • Fully loaded domain management portal

Cons

  • Upsells, that’s really most of what brought them down
  • No phone support; chat is top notch so not a huge deal but we like to see it

Pricing: 5/5

namecheap domain pricing

Namecheap gets a full 5/5 on price because it’s one of the cheapest around!

The only domain registrar that offers a cheaper first-year price is 1and1 with their basically unbeatable $1 offer.

BUT 1and1 jumps to $15 after that, which is fine but higher than Namecheap’s $13 and some change.

Domain privacy is always free which we love because that’s a gotta have.

One of the weird things we saw was that Namecheap adds an “ICANN fee,” which we assume other registrars just include in their price since Namecheap was the only one to explicitly charge for this.

But, it’s only $0.18 cents so not a big deal there, they’re still uber cheap.

Unlike a lot of the other registrars we found, which typically only offer a discount on your first year of registration whether you sign up for multiple years or not, Namecheap seems to offer discounts for getting multiple years at once.

If you register your domain for multiple years on your first checkout, you don’t get the lowest $8.88 price for all the years you sign up for, but it looks like you do get a lower discount than if you renew after your initial purchase.

When you renew, it’s $13.16 for one year, but you’ll get a discount if you renew for more years, as low as $12.76 with a 5-year renewal.

Finally, transferring your domain to another registrar is free (as was the case with every registrar we reviewed).

Transferring a domain from another registrar to Namecheap will cost you one year’s registration, but that will extend your current registration (so if you have 3 months left when you transfer into Namecheap, you’ll be good to go for 15 months after you pay the transfer fee/get your domain moved over).

Ease of Use: 4/5

namecheap domain hosting portal

Let’s look at Namecheap’s ease of use from a few angles:

Domain Search

Searching for domains is fast and easy, and they’ll offer a plethora of different TLDs for your domain in case the .com is taken.

They also offer a “Beast Mode” that lets you bulk enter up to 5,000 domain ideas or keywords (if you’re really getting after it lol), check multiple TLDs, and get variations on your initial domain ideas (eg if you search for “mywebsite.com” they’ll suggest “try-mywebsite.com”).

Purchase Process

There were upsells on both the initial search page (when you add a domain to your cart), and on the first page of the checkout process.

That, combined with the 5-steps needed to complete your checkout (which is more than average), cost Namecheap some points here.

Look and Feel

The main Namecheap site looks great, when you get inside the domain hosting portal it looks good enough but there were a few rough edges (blurry graphics, 2008 style buttons).

They also stick to their upselling guns, with tabs for managing your products (hey, you should buy more than just your domains here), and upgrades like “Premium DNS” (probably not worth it for most of us).

Other than that, you’ve got all the domain management controls you’d want, plus a few extras like:

  • You can add years to your registration ahead of time.
  • You can easily setup email forwarding and domain redirects (instead of having to update DNS records yourself, though you can do that with Namecheap too).
  • You can add “domain managers” which is handy if you want to have other people like virtual assistants manage this stuff for you in the future
  • You can get a transfer code online, no need to call in support if you want to move your domain
  • You can enable DNSSEC (adds some extra protection to your domain)
  • You can also sell your domain through Namecheap too, might not be something you’ll do but nice to have, we didn’t see that feature with any other registrar.
  • And they have DNS templates for Shopify, Weebly, and Wix – so all the DNS records you need to change to get your domain working with those website builders is done automatically for you!

Finally, definitely make sure Autorenew is turned on – they didn’t automatically do that for us which is nice from a “not trying to automatically keep charging you” perspective but you won’t want your domain to expire.

Expiration Policy

If you do let your domain expire accidentally (because you’ve just got solid procrastination skills), they “may offer” a grace period of up to 42 days, but if you renew during that they’ll charge you an extra $88.88 on top of the usual renewal fee.

Support: 4.5/5

namecheap domain hosting portal

On the support front, Namecheap’s knowledge base is easy to navigate and looks great, with an extensive list of articles that are as thorough as they need to be.

We’ve seen some knowledge bases that have videos too which is nice but not needed (Namecheap doesn’t have them).

But they also have nice touches like article ratings (so you can let them know if they need to up their game), stats like number of views (so you don’t feel so dumb for not knowing the answer lol), as well as when the article was last updated (so you know it’s fresh).

AND they have comments on each article, so you can ask clarifying questions and get help from other Namecheap users.

If you’ve got a problem that needs some human help, you’ve got 24/7 live chat and tickets available.

When we chatted with their support we were connected to someone super fast, they responded with knowledgeable answers fast (top notch in our book).

Nice little notes were the ping noise when there was a response (because we like to do other website work instead of staring at chat boxes while we’re getting after it), and you can print or email a transcript of your chat incase you get into a sticky situation (“that’s not what Robert said at 3:45 pm on Friday, October 13th).

Google Domains

Google Domains Logo

Google Domains

4.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 5/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 5/5
  • checkmark Support: 4.5/5

Pricing Details

Initial price for a .com + privacy: $12.00 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $12.00

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Consistent pricing: always $12, free domain privacy
  • From checkout to managing domains – the whole process is easy and looks fantastic
  • Zero upsells!

Cons

  • Google will know that much more about you; not good for the privacy conscious website creator
  • Chat support wasn’t 100, but we’d feel confident working with them to solve pretty much any problem

Pricing: 5/5

google domains pricing

Google’s not the cheapest domain registrar for the first year…

But they are the cheapest to renew with, and their pricing is simple and straightforward: $12 a year, every year, domain privacy included.

No fees to transfer your domain out to another registrar, the same $12 one year registration fee to transfer in and that gets added on to any time you have left on your current registration.

Bottom line: 5/5.

Ease of Use: 5/5

google domains hosting portal

Look, it’s Google, so we figured Google Domains would look amazing and be easy to use.

And we were right!

Domain Search

Fast and clean, Google’s domain search offers related suggestions (variations on your initial domain name idea), as well as a ton of TLD extensions.

And you can filter that list by relevance, name A-Z, price, only see options for certain TLDs, only see available names, and set price limits.

Oh and you can favorite domains for later.

Solid.

Purchase Process

Zero upsells, just two pages: enter your details, confirm your order.

Easy.

Look and Feel

It’s GOOGLE, of course it looks awesome.

And their domain hosting portal is easy to navigate and understand, with all the features you’ll need like changing DNS records, nameservers, etc.

You can also share your domain so others can help you manage it, add additional years to your registration if you want, enable DNSSEC, get a transfer code online, and there’s easy email and domain forwarding.

Expiration Policy

IF you happen to ignore our constant advice to turn on auto-renew, Google’s got a straightforward expiration policy:

  • 30 day grace period: you can renew at no additional cost.
  • From 30-60 days, you might be able to renew but it’ll cost you extra.
  • After day 61, your domain will be deleted and anyone can buy it.

Support: 4.5/5

google domains support

knowledge base… it’s f-ing Google (translation: it’s top notch best in the biz you will find answers to just about anything).

If you’ve gotta get some other humans in on the problem-solving action, you’ve got 24/7 chat, call, and email.

One nice note on the calls: to talk on the phone, you just request a call back (they’ll let you know the estimated wait time) – no waiting on hold!

When we talked to their support, we got the answers we were looking for but there was a bit of confusion.

We asked about the fee for transferring a domain out of Google, our support gal said there was one, but it turns out that she meant there was a fee for transferring in.

Understandable so not many points off, but other support folks got our meaning the first time.

Bluehost

BlueHost Logo

BlueHost

4 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 3/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 4.5/5
  • checkmark Support: 4.5/5

Pricing Details

Initial price for a .com + privacy: $23.87 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $32.87

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Super clean and easy to understand interface
  • Free domain for a year when you get hosting through them

Cons

  • Privacy is extra
  • Renewal costs are a bit high
  • Support could be a bit friendlier

Pricing: 3/5

bluehost domain pricing

Bluehost is in on the higher end of pricing, but not in the realm of outrageous.

They don’t advertise that the first year of both your domain registration and domain privacy is discounted, which is nice from a “not pushing too hard” standpoint.

Registration itself isn’t too bad at $11.99, but privacy isn’t free – you’ll have to drop an extra $11.88 for that.

After that, you’ll pay $17.99 for renewal and $14.88 for privacy, which starts to get towards the high end of costs and there’s no option to register for multiple years the first time to get a discount for longer.

Also worth noting, if you get your hosting from Bluehost, you’ll get your first year for free!

Transfers out are free as usual, and you’ll pay the renewal cost to transfer your domain into Bluehost.

On that last part, Bluehost support told us that transferring in resets your registration date, meaning if you have 3 months left on your registration, you’ll lose that when you transfer in (so you’ll have 12 months left after transferring instead of 15).

Based on how the other hosts handle that (the registration fee you pay to transfer a domain in extends your registration by a year), we’re not sure that’s true, but that’s what we were told…

Ease of Use: 4.5/5 

bluehost domain hosting portal

Bluehost as a company operates at a pretty high level, let’s see how that translates to buying and managing domain names with them:

Domain Search

Searching for domain names with Bluehost is fast, though it could look a little better.

And they do offer some other TLDs and domain name ideas, but the amount is more limited than with other registrars.

Purchase Process

Once you’ve found your domain, it’s automatically added to your cart (along with domain name privacy) and there’s a big obvious “buy now” button to get the checkout train rolling.

That button takes you to the one upsell page (offering Microsoft Office email), then it’s just one more page to enter your info and your set.

Easy!

Look and Feel

Once you’re inside, Bluehost’s domain hosting portal is super clean and fresh.

You could even say it’s “so fresh and so clean” if you want to reminisce the mid-2000s, though you’ll have to do that from your own memories because Bluehost looks very late-2010s (it’s for the best).

Transfers and managing your renewal settings are both easy to find, understand, and adjust, as are managing redirects, parked domains (ones you don’t have tied to a website), and adding subdomains.

We did have to dig a bit to find the pages where you can update your nameservers and DNS records, not super smooth but they were findable.

Expiration Policy

Digging through Bluehost’s domain name registration terms of service, here’s what we found:

  • They might get rid of your domain name anytime after it expires.
  • At 31 days, it’ll be available to be purchased buy someone else
  • At 44 days, it’ll enter a 30-day redemption grace period – if it wasn’t already bought by someone else, you can re-register but you’ll likely be charged a $70 fee on top of regular renewal costs.

Support: 4.5/5

bluehost cheap domain names support

Bluehost has been at the top of the hosting game for a while, so as expected their knowledge base is extensive, easy to search, and has tons of helpful articles – some of which include videos!! [heart eyes]

24/7 call, chat, and ticket to get a human. Solid.

When we reached out to chat support, they joined fast and checked to verify our ownership of the account (a nice extra bit of security not all domain registrars had).

When getting into the chat, though, we wanted more.

Responses started to feel like they were coming slower – there wasn’t a terribly long wait, but we felt it.

The conversation started off friendly enough but took a bit of a turn; there wasn’t a point where they felt out and out rude and we so appreciate that being a customer support person can mean some tough days, but we like to feel like we’re not a bother to help out even if we’re asking tougher questions.

HostGator

HostGator Logo

HostGator

3.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 3/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 3.5/5
  • checkmark Support: 5/5

Pricing Details

Initial price for a .com + privacy: $27.90 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $32.94

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Support was super helpful
  • Free domain name when you sign up for hosting

Cons

  • Have to use Cpanel to manage more advanced things like DNS records
  • Prices are reasonable but on the high end

Pricing: 3/5

hostgator domain pricing

HostGator’s domain pricing is toward the higher end like Bluehost, but not at insane levels.

You’ll get your first year for $12.95 plus $14.95 for domain privacy.

After that, privacy renews at the same cost but domain registration jumps a bit to $17.99 per year.

You can register for multiple years at checkout, but you’ll only get the discount for the first year.

And like a lot of domain registrars that also offer hosting, you’ll get a year’s registration free when you sign up for hosting.

Transfer fees were interesting compared to the other domain name registrars.

There’s no fee to transfer out as always, to transfer in you’ll pay $7.95.

That’s a lower cost to transfer than other registrars that charge the cost of registration renewal which is a plus, but that doesn’t cover any registration renewal – if your domain expires in 11 months, it’ll still expire in 11 months; if it expires in 3, it’ll still expire in 3.

Ease of Use: 3.5/5

hostgator domain hosting portal

Let’s dig into HostGator’s ease of use:

Domain Search

Searching for a domain name was pretty fast and the page where you start looks pretty slick. The page where it takes you, though… 

Kind of 2007.

On top of not looking the greatest, which is forgivable, it wasn’t that easy to use too.

It offered TLDs besides the “.com” we searched for, but they were in a slider at the top of the page and that wasn’t easy to scan through.

The “Other ideas” only showed variations on the domain name, but all .com (eg “superhostgatortesting.com” in a search for “hostgator-testing.com”).

Useable for sure but some points off here.

Purchase Process

Simple three step process with no upsells is a plus, but we had to create an account before checking out (whereas other registrars handle that after the checkout process to keep things super easy).

Look and Feel

Their domain management platform looks super slick and it’s easy to use.

Here you’ll be able to update your contact info, domain name privacy, and manage your auto-renew settings.

BUT in order to do more advanced things like make changes to your DNS records (which you’d need to do in order to use things like CDNs, setup a professional email address through Gmail using your domain with your domain name, forward your domain name or email, etc. 

Cpanel’s a bit more complex to use for beginners…

And you won’t get access to it if you don’t have hosting with them, meaning you’ll have to contact support to get them to update your DNS records if you just get a domain name through them. Extra hassle for sure.

Also, you have to contact them for a transfer code if you want to move your domain to another registrar which isn’t ideal.

Expiration Policy

We dug through their terms of service to find some mention of this and didn’t find anything clear, only that you might get charged an extra fee to renew after expiration.

Not the most confidence inspiring, sure, but you should have auto-renew turned on anyway!

Support: 5/5

hostgator domain support

HostGator’s knowledge base is extensive and super helpful – including video explanations (which we know yall love).

24/7 phone and live chat, good to go on the “talk to a human” front.

When we reached out via chat, the support guy offered a couple of knowledge base articles related to our question before we got into it which was nice; sometimes people don’t search the knowledge base first (which we may or may not be guilty of sometimes).

We didn’t get connected right away and when we did the responses felt a bit slow.

BUT our man was very helpful and friendly, he even added extra info for context around how domain transfers work on top of answering the question directly – which is super valuable if you’re trying to learn everything you can about the pro website making game!

1&1 IONOS

1and1 IONOS Hosting Logo

1&1 IONOS

4 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 4/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 4/5
  • checkmark Support: 4/5

Pricing Details

Initial price for a .com + privacy: $1.00 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $15.00

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • The cheapest domain name registration (for the first year, not too bad after that)
  • Free domain privacy
  • One of the easiest to use

Cons

  • More upselling than most of the other best domain registrars
  • Knowledge base could be easier to search, chat support wasn’t the smoothest

Pricing: 4/5

1and1 ionos domain pricing

When it comes to the first year cost, 1&1 cannot be beat: it’s free if you also get hosting, even if you don’t, you’re only out a buck.

And that includes free domain name privacy!

After that, it’ll be $15 a year, privacy is still free, which is not as cheap as a couple of other registrars but still pretty cheap.

Transfers-wise, it’s another case of free to transfer out and just pay the cost of renewal to transfer in (and extend your existing registration).

Ease of Use: 4/5 

1and1 ionos domain hosting portal

On the ease of use front:

Domain Search

Simple enough to describe: fast, clean, solid amount of domain name suggestions.

Purchase Process

Here’s where the points were lost in this category – 1 and 1 takes the “upsell king” crown.

The checkout process was 5 steps because they had not one page dedicated to upsells, plus more/different upsells when confirming your cart.

Then you have to create an account before you can register.

Not so hot.

Look and Feel

Their website and domain hosting portal are all clean; they don’t feel quite as fresh as Bluehost or Google but they’re close enough that we’ll call them good to go there.

Once you’re inside the domain management portal, though, it’s pretty smooth sailing – all the registration info, DNS record changes, and email forwarding features you’ll want are included and easy to get to.

Expiration Policy

If you let one go only to realize you love her, here’s what to expect (we’re talking about domain names just to be clear):

  • For the first 30 days, you can renew at the normal price.
  • On day 31, they can sell your domain or cancel it.
  • On day 45, you can get your domain back for an additional fee if it’s not be sold to someone else.

Support: 4/5

1and1 ionos cheap domains support

1&1’s knowledge base is extensive and the articles are helpful, though some were a bit hard to find.

If you want a human you’ve got one with 24/7 chat and phone support.

Nice bonuses – you can schedule a call if you don’t want to wait on hold, and you can get a “personal consultant” (which we haven’t tried but seems like a dedicated support person so you’ve got one guy/gal to go to when you need help).

For our test chat, we were connected right away which is nice.

And the support person offered to start the transfer process (we were asking about how transferes worked), which is nice to know is an option if you don’t want to do something like that yourself.

But it felt like we had to wait a bit for responses and that our support person had some trouble understanding the questions we asked; it got figured out so not terrible but could have been smoother.

Register.com

Register.com Logo

Register.com

2.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 2/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 3/5
  • checkmark Support: 2.5/5

Pricing Details

Initial price for a .com + privacy: $16.00 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $52.00

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • You can buy a domain name from them

Cons

  • Insane renewal cost ($52/year including privacy)
  • Support is lackluster
  • Domain management portal isn’t easy to use. And there are ads.

Pricing: 2/5

register.com domains pricing

Ooof. Pricing was not so fun with Register.com.

It started when looking at the domain search results page, where you usually see how much you’ll pay to register your domain name.

Nothing, just add to cart buttons.

A bit weird, but then you get into the checkout process and see it’s just $5 to register your domain.

Oh, awesome!

But domain privacy is an extra $11.

Oh, okay, still not too bad, that’s on the cheaper end.

Where you’d run into trouble, if we didn’t have your backs, if we didn’t get our hands dirty digging into the details of the best, most popular domain registrars around, is renewal.

Domain privacy, add an extra $3 to renew ($14 total).

Not great, okay.

But to renew your domain…

$38

Holy sh*t!

That’s more than any other registrar around; to renew your domain and privacy with register.com you’ll get set back $52 a year.

That’s… That’s just not okay.

As far as transfers go, we couldn’t find a cost.

Normally we’d ask support…

See below for more on that.

Ease of Use: 3/5 

register.com domain hosting portal

Is there any hope for Register.com on the ease of use front?

Domain Search

When you search for your initial domain idea, sometimes it’s taken.

Which is why all domain registrars offer a few other options; maybe one of them is better anyway.

Register.com does this, but there weren’t many alternatives suggested.

They do have a bulk tool where you can enter up to 50 domain names into, so if you come up with a bunch of domain name ideas off the top of your head you can check them all at once.

Purchase Process

It’s just a 3 step process to sign up…

Plus 4 upsell pages.

7 pages to register. Not good.

Look and Feel

The checkout pages and domain hosting portal look 2008 (insert Black Eyed Peas joke here).

It took us a couple of clicks to find the page where we can manage our domain settings, but they were on point with making it super easy to renew for $52 freaking dollars with a big button right on the homepage.

And there are ads in the dashboard. Come on y’all.

You can change nameservers and get a transfer code online (because you’ll want to transfer your domain out pretty fast) – relatively easy.

It’s technically possible to change your DNS records but figuring out how to do that was more confusing than other domain registrars.

Icing on this not so tasty cake: you have to email them to disable auto-renew.

Sigh.

Expiration Policy

Nothing clear from reading their TOS.

They do offer “Domain Expiration Protection” for $9.96.

This doesn’t renew your domain automatically but “secures” it for a year if it expires.

So it seems like you won’t be able to use a domain that is protected but expires on a live website, but at under $10 it won’t go to someone else for a lower cost than just renewing at another registrar.

Probably not worth the hassle to save a couple of bucks though (and risk getting charged $52 by Register.com).

Support: 2.5/5

register.com domain support

On the knowledge base front, there are tours and tutorials.

Those might be helpful but they require flash to play and, like most people, we don’t have flash anymore because this isn’t 2009 (what up OG Youtube!).

And their knowledge base is on Web.com – they’re owned by the same company, but that’s weird/confusing.

And when we were looking for domain help there were references to “network solutions” – another company owned by the parent company that owns Regiser.com and Web.com.

Definitely weird/confusing.

If you want human help, you can email them whenever.

But you can only call 9 am – 12 am Monday through Friday, 9 am – 10 pm Saturday and Sunday.

That’s most of the hours in 24/7, sure.

But no live chat, which is kind of a deal breaker.

You might miss that if you’re just glancing through the site, though, because there is a “chat” button.

But it just lets you search through the knowledge base.

It’s not a way to talk to a person.

It’s not even a bot.

No.

Domain.com

Domain.com Logo

Domain.com

3.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Price: 3/5
  • checkmark Ease of Use: 4/5
  • checkmark Support: 4.5/5

Pricing Details

Initial price for a .com + privacy: $18.98 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $22.98

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Solid knowledge base articles
  • Domain hosting portal is pretty easy to use

Cons

  • Domain Privacy isn’t free

Pricing: 3/5

domain.com domains pricing

Pricing’s pretty find and straightforward with Domain.com, not the most expensive, not the cheapest domain registration.

$9.99 for your first year, $13.99 after that, privacy is extra at a stead $8.99/year.

There’s no fee to transfer from Domain.com to another registrar, it’s $13.99 (the registration renewal fee) to transfer in.

Interestingly, there’s also no fee when you transfer to one of their “sister companies” (as the support guy called them) – meaning those companies won’t charge you to transfer to them from Domain.com

That list includes Dotster.com, Ipage.com, Ipower.com, Netfirms.com and more.

Ease of Use: 4/5 

domain.com domain hosting portal

Domain.com is easy enough to use!

Domain Search

Search is fast and easy and provides a good few extra options if choice numero uno isn’t available.

Purchase Process

Just 2 steps, which includes one upsell page.

Look and Feel

The site looks just a bit dated but overall pretty solid.

Edit DNS Records/Nameservers, renew, transfers (done online), add subdomains – all the usual stuff is there and easy to get to in their domain hosting portal.

Worth noting there’s no email forwarding option (some of the best registrars have it, others don’t) but you can do that with DNS records.

They do offer easy domain redirects including stealth redirects which is nice.

What that means is this: say you have “domain1.com” and you want to redirect anyone who visits that domain to “domain2.com”

With a stealth redirect, anyone who goes to “domain1.com” will still see that in their browser’s address bar, even though they’re technically on “domain2.com.”

This is a fancy feature you probably don’t need but cool to have it.

Expiration Policy

No extra grace periods or anything – if you let your domain expire, she’s out in the wild.

Support: 4.5/5

domain.com support

Domain.com’s knowledge base is solid – looks good, well organized, easy to search, and their articles have helpful images in addition to their detailed explanations.

Phone and live chat 24/7 – good to go there.

In looking at the live chat, they offer some “what are you looking for” options before connecting you with a support hombre.

Sometimes that’s helpful for getting the right support person but none of the options felt right for our questions about transfer fees so we just guessed.

When we were getting connected, the chat window said it’d be a 5-minute wait to connect.

Nice that there was some expectation setting there, also nice that it didn’t take anywhere near that long (we were chatting in less than a minute).

The support guy we got connected with seemed knowledgeable on the details, but had some trouble understanding our questions; kind of understandable because we were talking about transfers in, transfers out, transfers to their “sister companies,” – we can see how it’d get a bit confusing but other registrars figured it out easily enough.

Best Web Hosting Services
The Definitive Guide [2020]

Best Web Hosting Services Featured Image
 

Dale McManus

Co-Founder & Web Developer

Nov. 8, 2019

 

Hey, my name is Dale! My partner Alex and I have helped tens of thousands of people build beautiful websites around the world. In this fully-packed, step-by-step guide, you’ll learn what the Best Website Builders are. Let’s dive in!

  • Level of Expertise:
    Beginner
  • Time To Complete:
    45 Minutes
  • What You Get:
    Working Knowledge

For the record: It’s super important for us to keep this site 100% free for you and 100% high quality. To help us do that, we’ve partnered with some of the products we recommend and earn a commission if you buy through our links. Read our full disclosure and partners list here.

If your gonna have a pro website, your gonna need pro hosting. Here’s how to find the best.

Looking for the best web hosting services to get your pro website game on?

We’ve got your back fam!

In this here monster post, we cover everything you need to know about the what, why, and how of web hosting so you can pick the best one for you – without spending a million hours sorting through feature lists and taking advantage of moneyback guarantees to try a bunch out.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover so let’s jump in, starting a list of our favorite web hosting providers.

best web hosting services

The best website hosting services and companies

Bluehost
Bluehost

4.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Features: 4/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 4.5/5
  • checkmark Support: 5/5
  • checkmark Price: 5/5
Hostgator Logo

Hostgator

4.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Features: 4/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 5/5
  • checkmark Support: 4/5
  • checkmark Price: 4/5
Hostwinds

Hostwinds

4 out of 5

  • checkmark Features: 4/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 4.5/5
  • checkmark Support: 3.5/5
  • checkmark Price: 4/5
1&1 IONOS Logo

1&1 Ionos

4 out of 5

  • checkmark Features: 3.5/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 3.5/5
  • checkmark Support: 4/5
  • checkmark Price: 5/5
InMotion Hosting Logo

InMotion

4 out of 5

  • checkmark Features: 3/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 5/5
  • checkmark Support: 4.5/5
  • checkmark Price: 4/5
SiteGround Hosting Logo

Siteground

3.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Features: 4/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 3.5/5
  • checkmark Support: 4/5
  • checkmark Price: 3/5

What is web hosting?

We’ve already got a pretty badass post covering answering this question in-depth (which you can check out here).

But for the sake of convenience, here’s a video, followed by a quick rundown:



Web hosting services make your website’s code and content available on the internet – so you don’t have to mess with any of the technical details of running servers, making sure you’ve got a solid, fast connection to the web at all times, etc.

The analogy we like to use is this:

If your website is your house, your domain name is your address and web hosting is the land your house is built on.

Hosting companies will usually let you buy a domain name through them to make that part easy.

Unlike website builders, though, you’ll have to handle setting up your website yourself (not too difficult when you use a content management system like WordPress).

In exchange for some of the extra support website builders provide, you’ll ultimately pay less for web hosting than you will for a builder, and you have much more complete control over your site’s design and functionality.

Do you need web hosting?

If you’re not using a website builder, the answer is yes.

Unless you want to host your site on a server you set up and manage yourself.

That’s physically possible, but for 99% of us, it’s just not practical.

You’ve got to be super tech-savvy to do it and even then you probably won’t do it as well as a web hosting company that has hundreds or thousands of people making that magic happen for a living.

Plus, web hosting can be pretty darn cheap (like a few bucks a month) depending on the type of hosting you use.

How to choose the best hosting service for you

choose best hosting service kid candy

Alright, now that we’re up to speed on the basics of hosting, let’s jump into how you can choose the best web hosting service for you!

First up…

Which type of web hosting should you get

We hinted at this in our “types of web hosting” section above, but to make it super clear, when you’re starting out there are really only two options you should focus on:

  1. Shared hosting
  2. WordPress hosting

Why?

Well for a few reasons:

  • Cloud hosting is basically shared hosting and you won’t really notice the differences until you get a serious amount of traffic to your seriously large site (which will take some time, might as well keep it simple and save some cash in the meantime).
  • VPS and Dedicated hosting are a lot more work and only for really large or complicated sites that you probably won’t be building; even as your site scales a shared or dedicated WordPress hosting plan will likely be all that you need.
  • As a rule of thumb, shared hosting is fine if not fantastic for sites that get less than 50,000 visitors a month.
  • In the hosting world, upgrading your hosting or migrating to a different type is totally doable (more on that below)

So how do you decide between WordPress and shared hosting?

This really comes down to two things:

  1. How much do you want to spend?
  2. How tech-savvy are you?

To the first point, WordPress hosting is more expensive.

We’re not talking a lot more – think $10-20 a month instead of $5-10 – but it’s enough that it’s worth considering when you’re just getting started, there are a million other things you can put that extra cash toward to build your site and business.

Which brings us to the second point.

WordPress hosting is optimized for sites built on WordPress, so there are potentially some speed and stability improvements to be had there, but that’s really going to depend on the host and the plan you get.

The more important difference when you’re getting started is how confident you are in your tech skills/how much time you’re willing to spend figuring it out and fixing some small stuff yourself.

If you build a website on WordPress – whether it’s shared hosting or WordPress hosting – a lot of the hard work is done for you; there’s no code to write or server configuration to do to get setup.

But, things break and sometimes that’ll mean you’ll have to know a bit more about how things like MySQL databases, LAMP stacks, and DNS settings work, or get help from someone who does.

With WordPress hosting, you’re a bit less likely to have challenges like that because the web hosting provider is working harder in the background to prevent them from happening.

And if you do face those kinds of problems, their tech support will have trained WordPress experts to help you out.

Not something you’re guaranteed with shared hosting (though, because WordPress is so popular, some web hosting services will have support staff that knows this stuff).

Bottom line:

  1. If you want to get cheap web hosting and are okay with learning a bit more about the technical side of things, go Shared.
  2. If you’re okay with spending a bit more to have fewer problems, go WordPress (and check out our rundown of the best WordPress hosting sites).

Should I use free web hosting?

Hey, no shame in admitting we all like free.

Which is why it’s no surprise that free web hosting services are super popular.

If you’re going to build a pro-level website, this ain’t it chief.

While the “freemium” model works for a lot of things like phone apps or software services, pretty much every free hosting service is just too limited to really be worth it – especially when shared plans are so cheap.

If you’re looking to save money on your website building endeavors, you’ve already started by looking for hosting as opposed to website builders (which have their advantages but almost always cost more than hosting + always free WordPress).

Beyond that, you can stick to free plugins and themes for your WordPress site so really all you’re spending on is hosting and a domain name (which can be as little as $75 a year if you make the right moves).

Some other things to keep in mind

We look at a few specific things when considering hosts and in reviewing them for this big ol’ post – we’ll get to those below.

First, a couple of other things you’ll want to know about when you’re searching for a web hosting service.

Storage/Bandwidth

One of the technical parts of hosting that might actually matter to you is storage and bandwidth.

Storage is how much data for your website you’re allowed to have under your plan – which basically translates to how many pages and photos you can have on your site.

Bandwidth is how much data you’re allowed to transfer – which basically translates into how many people can come to your site.

Even with the cheapest web hosting plans, a lot of times you’ll get unlimited amounts of each.

Sometimes companies will say it’s unlimited but have specific terms of service that place some limits if you want to do crazy double backflip things with your site (we looked into that to get you the skinny in our reviews below).

But for those that don’t offer unlimited, here’s a bit of perspective to give you a sense of what you’ll need.

At the time of publishing, this very site, with all our fancy graphics and custom code and images and thousands of visitors, uses the following:

  • Storage: 431.11 MB
  • Bandwidth: 3.17 GB

We also asked our friends over at Create and Go (which is a much older and bigger site) what they use:

  • Storage: 1.5 GB
  • Bandwidth: 184.84 GB

What does that mean?

Unless you’re going all out with tons of pictures and videos, any plan that has storage limits of 10 GB or more will be fine.

Bandwidth-wise if you’ve got at least 50GB you’re the proverbial good to go!

The price will jump after the promo period

Across the board, 99.9% of the time, web hosting companies will offer lower prices when you first sign up than they’ll normally charge you once you renew.

It’s not particularly shady, it’s a tried and true way for companies to get new customers.

We just want to make sure you’ve got the full facts because that’s how we do.

How long does that promo period last?

Well, usually it’s for your first purchase, and you can usually buy hosting for anywhere from one month to 3 years.

Sometimes companies will also offer their best rates when you buy 3 years at a time – know that when you see one price on the “pricing” page and another in your checkout cart.

We usually recommend starting with one year because:

  1. That’s how long you’ll have to buy a domain name for anyway.
  2. That’ll give you a solid discount without locking you in for a crazy long amount of time

Starting small is fine

  • It’s relatively easy to upgrade your hosting package to suit your needs

Other posts you’ve probably found in your “best web hosting services” search probably explain all the types of hosting and then say “well, if you want to build a big site get VPS…”

No no no friends. It’s not that complicated.

Start small, learn what works, what you like and need to build awesome websites, then scale your hosting as your sites get bigger and you can actually take advantage of the higher rates.

Shared or WordPress hosting are more than enough for starting out.

“Oh, but you see, I’m going to build this big giant awesome site, gather a whole team that does all this custom coding work, publish tons of video, get hundreds of thousands of visitors a month – this shared stuff just won’t do!” you say?

Hey, we’re for it, yes, get after it.

BUT you’re not there yet. No need to go through the headaches of figuring out the more complicated hosting wizardry now, no need to shell out the extra cash.

Particularly because upgrading or changing your hosting is pretty easy.

If you decide to stick with your current host and keep a shared or WordPress plan for a while, you can just upgrade your plan to a higher tier one and instantly get more speed, storage, bandwidth, etc.

If you do want to switch over to another type of hosting or another hosting provider, you’ve got two things to help:

  1. That provider will offer migration services to handle moving everything over for you, they might even be free.
  2. If you’re using WordPress (which you should), there’s a really awesome plugin called All-in-One WP Migration that literally makes migrating a WordPress site take a couple of clicks; just install the plugin on your old site, install WordPress on your new hosting with the plugin, click download on your old site, click restore on your new site. Done!

So start with the smallest plan you can get by with (usually the cheapest, maybe the second cheapest if you need more than one site or a bit more storage), and upgrade from there.

Have you considered page builders?

We’re betting you have if you’ve gotten to this point in your web building journey, but just in case they’re worth mentioning.

With web hosting you have to manage the setup of your site and sometimes do some ongoing maintenance to get WordPress installed and running smoothly (there are other options but please, for all our sakes, just use WordPress).

Also, WordPress takes a bit of learning (or knowing about the right plugins) in order to make an awesome website.

It’s a bit more work, but still pretty easy and definitely cheaper.

But if you’re willing to pay a bit more to not have to mess with as much technical stuff and have an easy to use drag and drop web creation experience, builders are worth considering.

Check out our list of best website builders to learn more about those!

Some specifics

General things to know/look for out of the way, the 4 main things you’ll want to consider when choosing the best website hosting service for you are:

  1. Speed/Uptime
  2. Support
  3. Features
  4. Price

It just so happens, that’s what we looked at for our web hosting reviews!

Let’s take a look at how we did that so you can get a sense of what you’re looking for/how to choose which you want to use.

Our website hosting review process

best web hosting services review process notes

Here’s the basic process we use to test web hosts for our reviews:

  1. We sign up for the cheapest web hosting plan because they’re all fine for getting started.
  2. Then we set up a basic WordPress site on each, test how fast it loads with a tool, and set it up to monitor uptime.
  3. We then send a few not-so-common questions to their support team to see how fast they respond and how helpful they are.
  4. Finally, we look for extra features, check for any hidden costs or tricky terms of service, then compile all that data into a rating in each of our 4 categories as well as an overall score.

When you’re looking for web hosting, you can go ahead and start with our reviews as far as speed/uptime, features, support and price goes.

If you’re still not sure, check out some of the extra features each offers for yourself.

All of the hosts on our list have moneyback guarantees so if you’re torn from there go ahead and sign up for 1-3 accounts, get WordPress installed, try out their support and you should have your winner (cancel and get your money back from the other hosts)!

Here’s what we look for (and what you should, too) in each of our main evaluation categories.

Speed/Uptime

Beyond simply having a space for your website on the internet, the real key things you need from a host are:

  1. For your site to load quickly so people don’t click away out of frustration (aka speed)
  2. For your site to load at all so people can actually see what you’ve got going on (aka uptime)

When you’re getting started, “fast enough” is fine, and fast enough means (according to Google) under 3 seconds.

As you grow, your search engine rankings and beating the competition means you’ll want to go for blazing fast, as fast as possible, Superman around the world a million times a minute fast.

To start, under 3 is good.

To test speed we just loaded a simple WordPress site (meaning we literally just installed WordPress) and tested it with Pingdom.

Which means none of the sites in our test come anywhere close to 3 seconds – there’s just not that much work the hosts’ web servers have to do to make the site load.

But this did give us a general sense of how each host does speed wise – the fastest host in our test will likely be the fastest for the actual sites you build.

Like speed, when you’re getting started pretty much any host will be fine uptime-wise – even the worst hosts are up 90% of the time, most are 98%+.

While that’s mostly fine, though, you want your site to be accessible 24/7/365.

Stuff happens, it will go down, but the less often that happens the better.

We also measured uptime using Pingdom to compare them, though to get a good read on this takes at least a year of monitoring (we didn’t want to wait that long to get this post out to you, so we just watched each for a few days as a starting point).

So we also took a look at each host’s uptime guarantee to see how you’ll be compensated if there is any downtime.

Important to note on those guarantees though – they don’t necessarily mean your site will absolutely, positively be online for that percentage of time.

There’s a lot of fine print about what does or doesn’t count (often hosts won’t consider uptime stats you report to them), and “guarantee” just means you get a discount on your bill when they fail to meet their guarantee.

Support

Beyond having a site that loads fast – or loads at all – support is really the #2 most important thing to consider when choosing a web host.

In the website building world, a million things can go wrong any minute.

Most minutes none of them do.

Some minutes, one or two of them do.

Sometimes those one or two mean your site’s real broken.

When that happens, you’ll want some expert help to get things back up and running asap.

As you learn more about building websites and doing the web hosting dance, you’ll learn how to fix a lot of things on your own.

But there will be times when a problem is beyond your knowledge or beyond your control (because the web hosting company doesn’t give you access to the thing that needs to be fixed).

For those times when you do need to call in some good old fashioned support, you’ll want them to respond quickly, courteously, and knowledgeably.

For our web hosting reviews, we took a look at each company’s knowledge base to see how much you could figure out through a quick search and read of a help article.

We also reached out to support with a few technical questions, aiming to go beyond the basics to get a sense of how tech-savvy they are and how quickly they’ll be able to respond when you need them.

Features

Once the essentials are covered with speed/uptime and support, we also take a look at the extra features, the nice to haves that make some hosts just a bit more awesome.

You’ll often get more of these when you buy higher-tier plans, for our web hosting reviews we mostly looked at what you get with the cheapest plan with some consideration of what extras you can get if you do pay more (either with a higher plan or as add ons).

Some of what we looked for here:

  • How many domains/sites you can have and if they include a free domain name
  • How many email accounts you can have
  • How much bandwidth/storage you get (and if there are any sneaky terms of service around them)
  • If website backups are included
  • If SSL (aka “https”) is included
  • How long their moneyback guarantee is
  • If they offer any extra security features beyond the basics
  • If they offer CDN/caching (makes your site load faster around the world)
  • Freebies like Google Adwords credits

We also took a look at each hosts “hosting management interface” – the portal through which you manage the different features and functions of your hosting.

Since you’ll be spending some time here setting things up and fixing things, the easier (and more fun) it is to use, the better.

Price

Most web hosting plans, especially when looking at the entry-level/cheapest ones, are pretty similarly priced – so we wouldn’t necessarily choose a host just based on price.

But, it’s definitely a factor, so we took a and gave each host a rating based on:

  • The cost of their cheapest plan for one year of service (we don’t recommend you get hosting for 3 years when starting out so we don’t count those prices even if there’s a better discount)
  • How much the cost increases after the discount period is over
  • Whether you have to pay extra for important things like backups, SSL, or domain name privacy (which keeps your contact info hidden so you don’t get bombarded by sales calls from companies that scrape WHOIS info).

The 6 best web hosting sites and companies

Bluehost

Best All-Around for Beginners

Bluehost

Bluehost

4.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Features: 4/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 4.5/5
  • checkmark Support: 5/5
  • checkmark Price: 5/5

Checklist Items

Domains: 6 (1 free) | Number of Sites: 1 | Email Accounts: 0 | Bandwidth: Unlimited | Storage: 50 GB | SSL: Free | Money-Back Guarantee: 30 Days | WordPress: One-Click Install and Hosting | Price for Cheapest Plan (One Year): $5.95/month

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Speed and uptime are solid
  • Both knowledge base and chat support rock
  • Best hosting management interface in the game

Cons

  • An uptime guarantee would be nice
  • No email included

Bottom Line

Solid speed, solid support, solid hosting management interface. The only reasons not to use Bluehost are if you want to have email included in your plan or you’re looking for the cheapest web hosting possible.

Speed/Uptime: 4.5/5

bluehost hosting speed uptime

With the second-fastest speed (663 ms) and 100% uptime in our early testing, Bluehost is looking pretty solid on this front.

A couple things to note, though:

  1. They have no Uptime guarantee. This isn’t great but we wouldn’t give them a red flag for it because most guarantees are either hard to get credit from and/or the amount of account credit you’ll get because a web hosting provider failed to meet their guaranteed isn’t very much (like cents back, maybe a dollar or two per occurrence).
  2. They specifically mention that, while bandwidth is unlimited, if you use an excessive amount they’ll give you a 48-hour notice to reduce your usage. Almost certainly not going to be an issue for you if you’re not using your hosting to store/share files (which you’re not allowed to do anyway) or something sketchy (find another host for your black market quilt trading site lol).

Support: 5/5

bluehost hosting support

As we were expecting (Bluehost has been at the top of the game for a while), their knowledge base is extensive, easy to search, and a lot of articles have helpful videos (yall know we love that)!

24/7 call and chat access to support people of course, when we reached out to see how they do our gal was super helpful – we asked how to update our WordPress database and she not only told us what to do, but offered to do it for us!

Features: 4/5

bluehost hosting management interface

Bluehost’s hosting management interface is definitely the slickest and most beginner-friendly in the game.

But it doesn’t compromise on functionality – everything you’ll want/need to do from DNS changes to database management can be done through it.

Biggest disappointment here was that email is not included.

You can buy Office 365 or G Suite email accounts, but we’d rather not pay for this service that’s pretty standard for hosting providers.

Extra features they offer:

  • Free
    • $100 Google/Microsoft Adwords credits
    • Resource protection – automatically isolates sites hogging resources on your shared server to save yours from slowing down
  • Paid
    • Sitelock Security ($1.99/month) extra protection monitoring, and fixing malware
    • Codeguard Daily Backups ($2.99/month)
    • SEO tools ($1.99/month)
    • Domain Privacy ($11.88/year)
    • G Suite ($6/month per email)
    • Office 365 ($4.99/month per email)
    • Blue Sky WordPress support ($29/month) – their experts provide fixes and guidance for building, probably better to get WordPress hosting and have access to people like this included.
    • Lots of additional extras in their marketplace

Price: 4/5

bluehost hosting pricing

While you’ll only get Bluehost’s best price of $3.95 when you sign up for 3 years, they’re right in the middle of the pack at $5.95 for your first year and the cost doesn’t get ridiculous after that.

  • Best Discount: $3.95, 36 months
  • One Year Discount: $5.95
  • Every Year After That: $7.99

HostGator

Fastest Web Hosting

Hostgator

Hostgator

4.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Features: 4/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 5/5
  • checkmark Support: 4.5/5
  • checkmark Price: 4/5

Checklist Items

Domains: 1 (free) | Number of Sites: 1 | Email Accounts: Unlimited | Bandwidth: Unlimited | Storage: Unlimited | SSL: Free | Money-Back Guarantee: 45 Days | WordPress: One-Click Install and Hosting | Price for Cheapest Plan (One Year): $5.95/month

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Fastest hosting we’ve tested
  • Unlimited storage, bandwidth, email accounts
  • Solid support and better than average money-back guarantee

Cons

  • Hosting management interface isn’t the most beginner-friendly

Bottom Line

If you want the fastest web hosting around without sacrificing uptime and reliability, HostGator’s got you. If you need the cheapest hosting or the most beginner-friendly experience, there are a couple of better options but we’d use HostGator any and every day (which we do!).

Speed & Uptime: 5/5

hostgator hosting speed uptime

Fastest speed we tested (403 ms), 100% uptime with a 99.9% guarantee, no hidden bandwidth restrictions.

HostGator for the win!

Support: 4.5/5

hostgator hosting support

24/7 phone, live chat, email – yep.

The knowledgebase is extensive and super helpful (including video explanations) – check.

Support is fast, technically savvy, and pretty helpful – affirmative.

The first answer we got from them when asking our WordPress database question was a bit sideways – ya girl mentioned “temporary URLs” which is part of what we’d need to do what we were asking but not a direct answer.

But, we got the impression that we’d get it sorted out if we kept asking questions, we just ended the chat because we knew what to do and her answer was on the right track.

Just a smidge of a point off for that bit of confusion.

Features: 4/5

hostgator hosting management interface

HostGator’s hosting management interface is sleek and modern, but simpler than other hosts.

Which means you’ll have to use cPanel to get more advanced things done. That’s fine, cPanel is an industry-standard, but other hosts have it all integrated which we’d prefer if we were beginners.

Other features worth noting:

  • Free
    • Site transfers
    • $100 Add credit
    • Weekly backups (only 20GB though)
    • Constant Contact Integration
    • Weebly and Gator Builder Integration
  • Paid
    • Sitelock monitoring ($1.67/month)
    • G Suite ($6/month per email)
    • Codeguard daily backups ($2/month)
    • SEO tools ($2.95/month)
    • Domain name privacy ($15/year)

Price: 4/5

hostgator hosting pricing

If we just looked at the pricing page, HostGator’s definitely the cheapest web hosting provider…

But we go deeper than that for you friends, because you shouldn’t have to get hosting for 3 years when you don’t know if you’ll want to stick with the first host you choose!

Initial one-year cost is in the middle with Bluehost, after that, you’ll pay a dollar more per month with HostGator.

  • Best Discount: $2.75, 36 months
  • One Year Discount: $5.95
  • Every Year After That: $8.95

SiteGround

Us: Want features? SiteGround: Yes

Siteground Logo

Siteground

3.5 out of 5

  • checkmark Features: 4/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 4/5
  • checkmark Support: 3.5/5
  • checkmark Price: 3/5

Checklist Items

Domains: Unlimited (0 free) | Number of Sites: 1 | Email Accounts: Unlimited | Bandwidth: Unlimited | Storage: 10 GB | SSL: Free | Money-Back Guarantee: 30 Days | WordPress: One-Click Install and Hosting | Price for Cheapest Plan (One Year): $3.95/month

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Most powerful yet easy to use hosting management interface
  • Awesome tutorials on how to use their services, do hosting stuff
  • Loads of free extras

Cons

  • Storage is low – probably fine but we like more breathing room
  • After the initial discount, they’re the most expensive hosting
  • Support helped but we want more

Bottom Line

SiteGround feels really premium – from the feel and functionality of their interface, to their loaded with extras plans, to their price. That last point, combined with support that’s not so impressive and good but not great speeds (at least without any extra technical work) leave us feeling like they’re a good option if you’re a more skilled website maker who can take full advantage of all they have to offer.

Speed & Uptime: 4/5

siteground hosting speed uptime

Speed’s solid but not the fastest (873 ms), uptime we solid but not the best (99.97%) – overall, good.

Nothing funky hidden in the TOS bandwidth-wise, you get “unlimited” as promised.

Uptime guarantee is 99.9% (at least at this point, looks like they owe us some credit!), with one of the better compensation plans:

  • If your uptime is 99.9% – 99.00%, you’ll get one month of free hosting.
  • For every 1% below 99.00, you’ll get another free month.

Since those months cost $11.95 (undiscounted), that’s actually meaningful money and we appreciate it.

Support: 3.5/5

siteground hosting support 1
siteground hosting support 2

Knowledgebase is well organized (one of the easiest to find answers in) and thorough, but their articles could be a bit more detailed and helpful.

That being said, they have some bomb ass dank ass tutorials (we’d know).

Naturally, 24/7 phone, chat, ticket support, though we were underwhelmed by our girl Diana, maybe it was just a stressful day.

We got connected with her fast but she was slow to respond and didn’t answer our question about WordPress databases directly at first.

Eventually, though, we got the right answer so we’d say good enough; maybe the way we asked our question was confusing.

Features: 4/5

siteground hosting management interface

That hosting management interface though…

Sleek, sexy, loaded with features, if we were a web app we’d put a ring on it.

Only thing keeping our pals SiteGround from a 5/5 here is the storage limit (one of the lowest we found), you can only have one site with their cheapest hosting plan, and a domain name isn’t included for free.

The long list of extras:

  • Free
    • Drag & Drop Builder
    • 4 Data centers, USA, Europe, Asia Pacific – loads faster, more reliable
    • CDN & Caching
    • $60 credit to https://codeable.io/, expert WordPress development
    • 20% off Elementor plugin – WordPress drag/drop page builder
    • 30% off WP forms – fancy
    • 15% off WeWork coworking space
    • Referral program to get free hosting when friends sign up
    • Daily backups (hell yeah!)
  • Paid
    • Site scanning ($19.80/year)
    • Domain name privacy ($12/year to start, $24 on renewal – way too expensive)
    • Domain name: $15.95 – expensive

Price: 3/5

siteground hosting pricing

The extra features are great but you’ll pay for them. We appreciate that they offer their lowest price even when you sign up for just one year.

But, with the non-discounted cost, we’d probably want to get it for the full 3 years we could – once we were damn sure SiteGround was the host for us.

  • Best Discount: $3.95, 12-36 months
  • One Year Discount: $3.95
  • Every Year After That: $11.95

1&1 IONOS

Cheapest Web Hosting

1&1 One Logo

1&1 Ionos

4 out of 5

  • checkmark Features: 4/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 3.5/5
  • checkmark Support: 3.5/5
  • checkmark Price: 5/5

Checklist Items

Domains: Unlimited (1 free) | Number of Sites: Unlimited | Email Accounts: 10 | Bandwidth: 6GB | Storage: 10 GB | SSL: Free | Money-Back Guarantee: 30 Days | WordPress: One-Click Install and Hosting | Price for Cheapest Plan (One Year): $4/month

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Cheapest web hosting (when you don’t count the discounts that you only get when you pay for 3-year plans at other hosts)
  • Free domain and domain name privacy!

Cons

  • Support wasn’t the best, was a hassle to get to the right person (though he was helpful af)
  • Bandwidth limit includes email and backend downloads/uploads (eg adding images to your site)

Bottom Line

The cheapest web hosting is what you’ll find with 1&1 IONOS and if that’s what you’re after, they’re your boys (and girls). In our (admittedly limited) testing, uptime and speed could be better but were okay, and at least in our case getting support was… an adventure. But once you figure out how to get to the right support person, they’re great, so don’t let that keep you from choosing this hosting provider!

Speed & Uptime: 3.5/5

1&1 IONOS hosting speed uptime

Third fastest speed (754 ms) is great, uptime was the lowest in our admittedly short testing period (99.81%), which cost them some points.

They also lost with us when it comes to bandwidth: they say “unlimited traffic” – meaning they won’t keep visitors from coming to your site if you get more than x amount/month.

Good, but no web host does that (because counting visitors is complicated plus that’d just be slimy).

Look through the fine print, though, and you’ll find that their general terms limit your bandwidth to 6GB a month.

Which would be fine for 99% of websites…

But it also includes your email accounts and any uploading/downloading of files to your website on your end (have a lot of photos on your site? You could eat that up).

We have to imagine that for their higher-tier plans that say they’re good for up to 50 sites wouldn’t have this limit.

Then again, their general TOS talks about fees for additional bandwidth, so maybe not.

The uptime guarantee is a solid figure, though, 99.99%.

You can submit your own proof of downtime (other hosts will only accept their own stats), though it’s naturally “at their discretion” so YMMV on this.

If they do admit to excess downtime, you get account credit for the amount of downtime below their guarantee, which is reasonable.

But for $4/month, if you have, say, an hour of downtime, you’ll be owed half a cent.

So basically, you’re getting cheap hosting, the uptime you get is the uptime you get.

Support: 3.5/5

1&1 IONOS hosting support 1
1&1 IONOS hosting support 2

The knowledgebase at 1&1 is extensive and articles are helpful enough, though it wasn’t easy to search through.

They do have community guides and forums which is a huge plus because sometimes it’s more helpful to talk to other people using the hosting service to get the best answers (they just know your pain that much more intimately).

1&1 also offers a “personal consultant” – one person to talk to for your support needs and for “personalized advice” which might be helpful, but we’d bet that means “advice on how to spend more money with us.”

24/7 live chat and phone for sure – also included scheduling a call back so you don’t have to wait if you want to talk on the phone because nobody got time for that.

For our testing, though, we’re just tryinta slide into those online chat DMs…

Worst experience we had though.

First, getting to a chat took a lot of clicks and they try to funnel you to a support person with the right skills/knowledge (for account stuff, security, WordPress, their different products, etc).

Which we get from a business standpoint, but other hosts do this without making us work as hard.

When we first got to a chat where we thought we’d be talking to the right person, it took a while to get a response – and there wasn’t any indication of how long we’d have to wait (other hosts show that).

After that wait, though, no joy.

Turns out, we’d clicked the wrong option and the support person we got didn’t know how to help and couldn’t connect us to someone who would (they told us to call or they could submit an email ticket – we appreciate the problem solving but weren’t trying to wait for emails or talk on the phone).

So back to the “which kind of person do you need” selection, took another guess, this one was right.

We got connected fast and the response was the most thorough we got to our WordPress database question – not only did they tell us what needed to be changed, but how to make that change.

So when you get the right person, support is awesome.

It might be a bit of an adventure to get to that point, though.

Features: 4/5

1&1 hosting management interface

1&1’s hosting manager is likable – not as slick as Bluehost’s, not as powerful as SiteGround’s, but very useable and better for beginners than cPanel.

Extras:

  • Free
    • Domain name privacy (every other host makes you pay, this is very much appreciated)
    • Website Checker (some suggestions for how to make your site more polished and SEO basics, kind of a way to get you to buy more services but a bit helpful).
    • Favicon Generator
    • Logo creator
    • Bing Ad Credit $100
    • DDoS protection
    • Multiple data centers
    • Daily backups of just your website files – sometimes this helps, with WordPress, you’ll need your database backed up too so limited use and you’ll have to manually restore files.
  • Paid
    • 100gb Cloud Storage ($1/month – cheaper than Dropbox/Google)
    • Sitelock security ($5/month)
    • Local Listing Tool ($10/month for the first year, $20 after that – automatically lists your local business in 25 directories, manage info in one place)
    • Managed WordPress ($3/month, 30-day free trial – Automatic updates and access to some premium themes and plugins)
    • rankingCoach SEO tools ($10/month, 30-day free trial –  step by step guides on how to improve your rankings)
    • CDN ($5/month, 30-day trial)
    • Codeguard daily backups ($2/month)

Price: 5/5

1&1 IONOS hosting pricing

Hey, it’s $4 per month all day, every day. Cheapest around if you don’t buy into the rock-bottom-but-you’ll-have-to-pay-for-3-years-to-get-it prices a couple other hosts offer.

  • Best Discount: $4
  • One Year Discount: $4
  • Every Year After That: $4

Inmotion Hosting

Solid Hosting + Great Support

InMotion Hosting Logo

InMotion Hosting

4 out of 5

  • checkmark Features: 4.5/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 3/5
  • checkmark Support: 5/5
  • checkmark Price: 4/5

Checklist Items

Domains: 8 (1 free) | Number of Sites: 2 | Email Accounts: Unlimited | Bandwidth: Unlimited | Storage: Unlimited | SSL: Free | Money-Back Guarantee: 90 Days | WordPress: One-Click Install and Hosting | Price for Cheapest Plan (One Year): $7.46/month

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • The most tech-savvy support we found
  • Very thorough knowledge base and helpful tutorials
  • The best money-back guarantee

Cons

  • Speed and uptime were not so great in our testing (we need to do more)
  • The interface looks old, isn’t the easiest to navigate

Bottom Line

If you can get past the outdated interface, Inmotion is a solid host. Speed/uptime wasn’t great in our test but we need to give that more time (our fault). Our hero David W. was eyepopingly good on the support front which goes a long way when it comes to hosts. If you want to go beyond “just having hosting” and learn how to fully use everything a good host has to offer to make awesome websites, we’d go with Inmotion.

Speed & Uptime: 3/5

inmotion hosting speed uptime

Inmotion was the slowest in our speed tests at 1,787 ms. In their defense, we need to run this for longer – they might have just had a bad couple of days.

And they’re still very much under the 3 second limit (re: people will leave before getting to your site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load).

Which also applies to their 99.90% uptime (second-lowest, needs more testing).

TOS particulars, they don’t offer any uptime guarantees unless you get a pro plan or higher (so, just not with their cheapest plan).

And bandwidth is unlimited, though they’ll meter you or charge you extra if you use a lot more than normal (which you almost certainly won’t).

Support: 5/5

inmotion hosting support 1
inmotion hosting support 2

Support is definitely top-notch with Inmotion – you’re not going to have a problem you can’t solve with their help!

The knowledge base looks outdated (like most of their site) and could be easier to find answers in, but their guides are super thorough and each article has a comments section – so you can ask specific questions and get specific answers which we like.

Support is 24/7 phone, live chat, email… yes of course but also US-based which makes the conversation just a bit more fluid.

When we reached out we got a lightning speed response and their support guy was the most tech-savvy one we encountered with any web hosting company.

He actually taught us about a WordPress command line tool that makes updating the database fast/easy/thorough.

Shoutout to our boy David W.!

Features: 4.5/5

inmotion hosting management interface

The hosting management interface is fine, has everything you need.

But it’s outdated looking and not set up to make things easy for beginners.

But with unlimited storage, bandwidth, emails, multiple sites and domain names, combined with the best money-back guarantee, we let it slide.

Extras you’ll find:

  • Free
    • Malware scanning, patching, and guaranteeing
    • Multiple Datacenters
    • $150 ad credit to Yahoo and bing
    • Free Yellow pages listing
    • Free Boldgrid website builder (proprietary but built on WordPress)
    • DDoS Protection
    • WordPress Install as you checkout – saves some time trying to figure that out afterward
  • Paid
    • Domain name privacy ($13/year)
    • Backups ($2/month for first 10gb, $1 for each additional 10GB)
    • Dedicated IP ($4/month) Some security benefit, not needed for most
    • Managed hosting (starts at $40/month) – expert help making some serious technical changes/upgrades – could be helpful for making your site faster/more secure
    • Professional Website Design ($99 for their QuickStart, depends on what you want after that) – if you have the cash might be worth the quick start, their designs didn’t impress us though so probably not worth it for a more expensive package

Price: 4/5

inmotion hosting pricing

They’re not the cheapest, they’re not the most expensive, the price is right.

And we appreciate that the price doesn’t jump a ton after the initial discount.

  • Best Discount: $6.39, 24 months
  • One Year Discount: $7.46
  • Every Year After That: $7.99

Hostwinds

An up and comer we’d use

Hostwinds Logo

Hostwinds

4 out of 5

  • checkmark Features: 3.5/5
  • checkmark Speed/Uptime: 4/5
  • checkmark Support: 4.5/5
  • checkmark Price: 4/5

Checklist Items

Domains: 1 (free) | Number of Sites: 1 | Email Accounts: Unlimited | Bandwidth: Unlimited | Storage: Unlimited | SSL: Free | Money-Back Guarantee: 30 Days (prorated) | WordPress: One-Click Install and Hosting | Price for Cheapest Plan (One Year): $3.29/month

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Chat support was awesome – lightning-fast and immediately helpful
  • If you only consider the initial discount for a one year plan, they’re the cheapest
  • Best uptime guarantee in the industry

Cons

  • Hosting management interface not easy to use as others
  • Knowledgebase needs more articles
  • No 100% money-back guarantee

Bottom Line

Hostwinds is one of the newest web hosting companies to the game and we for sure appreciate that they’re looking to find their edge in providing a better customer experience than the big boys. Their fundamentals are solid, though the knowledge base needs more content, their hosting interface could be easier to use, and they don’t offer a full refund guarantee. That being said, if you want to support the little guy, Hostwinds is a team that won’t let you down.

Speed & Uptime: 4/5

hostwinds hosting speed uptime

Speed was the second slowest at 1,272 ms, though uptime was a perfect 100%.

Which we’d expect since they have the best uptime guarantee in the industry – 99.999%.

Meaning they’re promising your site won’t be down for more than 25 seconds per month.

Damn.

Plus, they put their money where their mouth is – if you can prove to them your site was down beyond their guarantee, they’ll give you credit for the entire day that downtime occurred (not just the time your site was down).

Bandwidth-wise, nothing sneaky in their TOS.

They do say if you use a higher than normal amount (which, again, you probably won’t), they’ll ask you to upgrade and if you don’t they’ll suspend you.

But they made it clear they wouldn’t ever terminate your account for using too much bandwidth.

Which seems fair/right, we wonder if other hosts would terminate you.

We didn’t find any that said as much in their Terms, but if some do, that’s no bueno fo sho.

Support: 4.5/5

hostwinds support

Hostwinds’ knowledge base could be easier to search through and feels like it needs more guides and articles, but the ones they have are detailed and helpful.

That being said, their support was super easy to access (there’s a live chat tab on every page of their site) and blazing fast to both respond and provide a solution – they literally answered our question in the first response (others asked 1-2 follow up questions or we had to clarify something with them).

And yes, that chat, along with phone and ticket support is 24/7.

Features: 3.5/5

hostwinds hosting management interface

Their hosting interface looked good and was relatively easy to use, though we had a harder time finding the WordPress one click install than with other hosts.

And you have to use cPanel to do most of your hosting management work – fine, but not the best for beginners.

One of the biggest areas they lost points here was their moneyback guarantee.

It’s not all your money back, it’s prorated – you get the cost of your plan minus however many days you used it.

So basically it’s a paid trial.

At just 3.95/month for your first year, it’ll only cost you a coffee if you try them for a month then cancel; still, we’d like it all back please.

Hostwinds also doesn’t have many included extras or paid extras for that matter.

That being said, we feel like a lot of the paid extras most hosts offer are kind of useless, so we don’t so much mind that, but we know you might want easier access to some of those things (we can set up things like caching and CDN without our host’s help, but it’s easier if you have it).

Their extras:

  • Free
    • Website Transfers
    • Weebly Website Builder
    • 3 data centers (two US, one Europe)
  • Paid
    • Domain name privacy ($5/year – the cheapest of any host except 1&1)
    • Website monitoring ($24/year)
    • Daily Cloud Backups ($36/year)

Price: 4/5

hostwinds hosting pricing

Hostwinds has the cheapest one year plan price at just $3.29/month – which scores big points with us.

Especially since that’s the price they advertise on their site (see the screencap above)…

Because it’s actually even cheaper when you get a 3-year plan.

We love that they’re not trying to rope you in!

We don’t give them the “cheapest web hosting” honor, though, because the price goes up to a more normal rate after that discount (while 1&1 just holds steady at only 4 bucks).

  • Best Discount: $2.35, 36 months
  • One Year Discount: $3.29
  • Every Year After That: $8.99

Types of website hosting – explained!

types of web hosting servers

When it comes to choosing the right hosting plan for you, there are a ton of features and options that’ll get thrown at you.

No worries – we’ll cover what’s important as far as all of that goes below.

The first step to figuring out what moves you should make in the hosting game though is to understand the main types of hosting options.

These are:

  • Shared Hosting
  • Cloud Hosting
  • Virtual Private Server Hosting (VPS)
  • WordPress Hosting

All of these will act as a main hub for your website – storing all your website code and data and making it accessible to the world via the internets – each offers different levels of storage capacity, speed, control, and reliability.

Let’s jam on the what and why of each for a minute.

Shared Hosting

With shared web hosting, your site will be stored and accessed from a web server alongside a bunch of other sites that all share the server’s storage, CPU, and RAM resources.

In our housing analogy, this is like renting in an apartment complex – your website gets a room with a bunch of other people who all share hallways, power, water, etc.

This is by far the most popular setup (and the one we recommend for pro website beginners like you) because it’s absolutely the cheapest hosting you’ll find and it’s super easy to use.

Plans start around $5-10 a month, there’s almost no technical knowledge required to set up a site, and no maintenance (at least that you’ll have to do).

Though there are limitations on speed and storage capacity, for almost any site you’re looking to build this won’t be a problem when you’re getting started.

And if and when it does become a headache, you’ve got options – either upgrade your shared plan or migrate to another option.

Cloud Hosting

For what we’re talking about here, cloud hosting is basically a catchy marketing term.

There is a level of website game where IT guys at big companies make some super complex setups using things like Hadoop and Amazon Web Services…

But for our website game – making awesome, pro websites for ourselves and other companies that look awesome and help sell products and services – we’re not messing with that.

In that world, “cloud hosting” means the web hosting service we use (HostGator, Bluehost, etc) does that fancy work for us – then what we get basically looks and functions just like shared hosting.

There are some potential speed, performance, and security benefits to hosting that uses a cloud setup vs. some of the older ways of setting up shared hosting servers.

Not enough to worry about, though; if you find cloud hosting that’s basically as cheap as shared hosting and you really want to go for it, by all means.

Don’t spend hours trying to figure out if it’s that much better though.

Virtual Private Server Hosting (VPS)

If shared hosting is like living in an apartment complex, VPS hosting is like living in a duplex – your website will still share some resources with other people’s sites, but there’s a bit more separation.

It’s solid separation, too, as in you won’t be kept up by your neighbor Jerry blasting headbanging death metal at 2am.

Technically, this means your website is still on a server that’s shared by other sites, but it’s inside its own “virtual server” where you get a specific, dedicated amount of the server’s resources, almost completely isolated from everyone else.

This means there’s more backend customization you can do to manage how your site uses server resources, so you can have more complex code and handle higher traffic.

But it costs more (we’re talking $20-60 a month) and we guarantee that you’ll never need this if you’re building WordPress sites. It’s really for super custom sites for bigger companies that have complex web applications.

Dedicated Server Hosting

This kind of hosting lets you have your own server, no sharing involved; basically you’re buying a piece of land in the countryside.

A couple flavors exist.

Managed means you get a super savvy tech support team to do the extra setup and maintenance required, unmanaged means you’ve got to do this yourself or hire someone on your end. Someone’s got to water the garden, fix the broken pipes, and dig out that hole for the giant pool with a waterfall feature.

Long and short: it’s expensive as hell ($100+ a month) and is only necessary for the largest of the large websites (we’re talking online casino and Fortune 500 types).

WordPress Hosting

As the name might suggest, this is hosting specifically setup for WordPress websites.

Depending on the host, they might have you in a shared, VPS, or cloud setup on the backend.

What makes this different from those is WordPress hosting has servers optimized for WordPress specifically, they’ll likely include some specific plugins and maybe some premium themes, you’ll get tech support for WordPress (vs. general support that just helps with the hosting side in other plans), and they might manage keeping your plugins and such up to date for you.

Sounds great, right?

It is, but…

Shared hosting is fine, it’s what most WordPress site creators use.

And WordPress hosting will cost you more (Typically $10-20 a month) and they are probably restrictions on the plugins you can use (the hosts want to make sure they stay blazing fast).

Bottom line: start with shared unless you know for a fact you’re WordPress site is going to get a ton of traffic and you don’t want to mess with updates and fixing things that break; even then, you’ll be able to migrate your WordPress site to a WordPress hosting plan when you get to that point!

Best website hosting FAQ

Can I trust your reviews are honest?

Glad you asked!

We’ve worked hard to make our reviews as legit and honest as possible.

We’ve worked hard to make our reviews as legit and honest as possible.

As possible? So you did slant things!?

Nope, not as much as we can help.

The reality is we have a lot of experience with website hosting in making a ton of sites over the years.

So, like any human being, we have our opinions and preferences based on that experience.

But we knew going into this thing we needed to try to combat that as much as possible so we could deliver you the real, the helpful, the most objective info possible for you to make the best decision.

That’s why we worked in some objective measurements like speed tests using a trustworthy 3rd party tool (Pingdom).

For our Support rating, there was some instinct involved, but we asked the same questions of each host and included how fast they respond as part of our rating to try to ensure that was unbiased.

For features, we mostly used a checklist of things like Free SSL, Unlimited bandwidth/storage, etc – they got points for having those or not.

And for pricing we used some fancy spreadsheet work to rate them based on how much their plans cost before and after the initial discount, as well as any additional costs for essential things like domain names and domain name privacy.

In short: we worked hard to make our ratings as objective as possible.

Now if you’re a bit more savvy about how the online business game works (or just read our disclosure above), you’ll know we included affiliate links for most of the hosts – so if you purchase a plan through our link, we’ll get a bit of a commission.

This doesn’t cost you anything (in some cases, you’ll even get an extra discount for using our link).

And we did not change our ratings to make the hosts that pay more rank better.

We have our preferences in which hosts we like to use, some hosts pay us more, but we put that aside to make sure this definitive guide was the most helpful it could be for our most important customer: you, the reader.

If you have any questions about our website hosting reviews and process, feel free to contact us and we’ll happily share more details!

How much does web hosting cost?

For the shared plans we recommend, anywhere from $5-10 a month for shared, or $10-20 for WordPress.

After the initial discounts, you’re looking at about the same.

What is the difference between shared, cloud, VPS, dedicated, and WordPress hosting and which do I need?

Basically:

  • Shared: cheapest, lowest performance but still enough for most sites
  • Cloud: basically just shared, maybe a bit more performance
  • VPS: better performance than shared but costs more and requires more technical setup; not needed for most sites
  • Dedicated: the best performance, the most expensive and complicated setup; not needed for almost any site
  • WordPress hosting: optimized for WordPress sites, in general better performance, stability, and support but costs a bit more than shared

To start:

  • Go with WordPress hosting if you want the least amount of problems and are okay with paying a bit more
  • Go with shared if you want the cheapest website hosting and are okay with needing to put a bit more time into fixing the occasional technical issue.

What is the cheapest web hosting?

1&1 IONOS offers the cheap web hosting when you buy a package for a year – just $4 a month for their cheapest , forever (no pesky increases after the initial discount!

If you really want to go after it with up to a 36-month plan (which we don’t recommend in case you change your mind after you learn more about the hosting game, Hostwinds offers the absolute cheapest web hosting at the lowest price at just $2.35 a month.

How often do you have to pay for web hosting?

Web hosting can be purchased for as little as one month up to 36 months (that’s 3 years) at a time.

Paying for more will get you discounts (both when you first sign up and when you renew), though obviously you get more locked into using a particular host.

We recommend paying for a year upfront to get the best balance of discount and flexibility.

And you can always take advantage of a web hosting company’s money-back guarantee if you decide you don’t want to stick with them.

Should I get Windows or Linux hosting?

Don’t worry about this. The hosting provider will choose it for you for the plans we recommend and it only matters for really big, complicated websites and businesses.

Will my new host help me to transfer my data?

Pretty much any host will help you do this, some hosts do this for free.

If you’ve built your site on WordPress, though, you don’t even need them.

Just use the All-in-One WP Migration.

With that, all you have to do is install WordPress on your new host then the plugin will transfer everything over in just a few clicks!

What is cPanel?

cPanel is a “web hosting control panel” that most hosts use to let you manage the technical side of your website hosting.

For context:

  • Your host will probably offer some sort of account management portal, where you can buy domain names, change your contact info, update your hosting plan and billing info, etc.
  • cPanel is where you’ll be able to do things like add email accounts, connect domains to your websites, change files on your web server, etc.
  • WordPress’ Dashboard is where you’ll spend most of your time – that’s where all the changes and updates to your WordPress website happen.

Will hosting come with email?

Yep, pretty much every web hosting company includes email as part of your account, some might only let you have a limited number of accounts.

They’ll also likely offer you third party email services like Google G Suite or Microsoft Outlook.

BUT before you buy that, if you want to use your website’s domain to send and receive email in Gmail, we show you how to do that for free in our free professional email address post.

Is data center location important?

Yes and no.

Data centers are where web hosts set up the servers that hold your website and everyone else’s, usually if they have more than one they’ll have some overlap in case one data center goes down because of a serious power outage, hurricane, etc.

So there’s an uptime factor to that.

Also, the closer your website is to the person trying to get to it, the faster your site will load (in general), because the data being transferred doesn’t have to go as far.

However, CDNs (content distribution networks) are built to make that happen anyway – they load your website on servers around the world so your site loads faster… around the world.

It takes a bit of extra setup work, but you can get a CDN for your site for free through Cloudflare.

What is an uptime guarantee?

Uptime guarantees are promises hosting companies make to you about how much of the time your website will be live and accessible on the internet.

For example, if a web host has a 99% uptime guarantee, they’ll credit your account if they’re not up for that percentage of time in a given period.

But, these can be a bit tricky.

A 99% guarantee allows for over 7 hours of downtime a month, which can be a lot if you’re website’s hoppin with traffic.

And it’s up to your host to monitor and credit you honestly – they won’t accept reports you get from third-party tools as proof of downtime.

All that being said, we wouldn’t worry about this too much when getting started.

But if you really want to consider it, look at the terms of service to see how the host measures downtime (by month or by year) and how they’ll compensate you.

What is hosting bandwidth and storage?

Storage is how much data in the form of code, text, videos, and images you can have with your account, and bandwidth is how much data can be transferred between the server that holds your site and visitors to your page.

Some web hosting companies will put caps on these for their lower-level plans, but most are still more than enough to get started.

For context, at the time of publishing, this very site, with all our fancy graphics and custom code and images and thousands of visitors, uses the following:

  • Storage: 431.11 MB
  • Bandwidth: 3.17 GB

We also asked our friends over at Create and Go (which is a much older and bigger site) what they use:

  • Storage: 1.5 GB
  • Bandwidth: 184.84 GB