Skytopia > Projects > Technology/science articles > Finding the best web site hosts using Google

Finding The Best Web Site Hosts The Googalistic Way

Created and researched by Daniel White
(article first published in 2005, last updated 18/05/2012)
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Contents:

  • Summary
  • Overview
  • Research details
  • Table hosting details
  • Grand Table of Hosts
  • Final conclusions
  • Further details
  • External links


  • Key Google searches:
    Negative
    N1 = "hate host x"
    N2 = "host x sucks"
    N3 = "host x sux"
    N4 = "avoid host x"
    N5 = "problems with host x"
    Positive
    P1 = "love host x"
    P2 = "host x rocks"
    P3 = "host x is great"
    P4 = "host x is * great"
    P5 = "recommend host x"
    Summary
    Since comparing all of the hosts back in 2005, a lot has changed, so this update was well needed. In a nutshell, I have found that probably the 'best' web host for most people would be ICDsoft (shared hosting). And for virtual or dedicated hosting, I would recommend Liquidweb. I have spent months of grueling research to find that out, so for those who want to see how I came to these conclusions, read on...

    Overview
    This article should inform those looking to buy a quality hosting provider for their forthcoming site. How would one decide between the plethora of hosts though? If you wanted to avoid a degree of risk, you might have researched the various web hosting service review sites on the internet (and maybe come unstuck). More likely though, you would probably look on message boards, forums, and ask friends for their opinion. This site takes that concept to its logical conclusion. We've scavenged the whole web using Google, and searched for various positive and negative phrases such as "I love host x" or "host x sucks". This way, we can find a rough consensus towards a particular host if there's enough data available.

    We first reviewed the hosts on this page back in 2005 (you can see the archive here). At the time, Dreamhost was ranked highest, and for the curious, it brought a commission of one affiliate sale per month on average. Then in late 2006, we reviewed most of the good ones again, and this time, the relatively rare host www.asmallorange.com came top (unlucky for me actually, as they had no affiliate scheme). This latest update has seen asmallorange.com knocked off its perch. For the full history of this page, see the boxout to the below/right.

    History of this page:
    Initial page created: 14/10/2005
  • Update 1: 22/12/2005 (63 hosts). Added term: 'problems with hostx', and updated top 10's search terms + specs.
  • Update 2: 08/08/2006 (62 hosts). Updated top 20 results, and included old statistics for comparison. Removed Directnic.com entry, thanks to the keyword confusion over whether people were praising Directnic due to their hosting, or their registrar services. Also altered ranking formula so that there's less penalization against less known hosts (always weigh the risk yourself though). Turned "i hate hostx" and "i love hostx" into just "hate hostx" and "love hostx" to obtain more Google results.
  • Update 3: 02/01/2009 (57 hosts). Updated top 20 results, (still included old statistics for comparison). Removed high cost per gigabyte / mega-expensive hosts (Datapipe, Rackspace, 34sp, Maxasp), and intermedia.net (name confusion over other brands). Resulting top two hosts have affiliate schemes, so for full disclosure I have joined those.
  • Update 4: 27/01/2009 (60 hosts). A mini update this time. Added 3 new hosts - hostpapa.com, fluidhosting.com, and the unusually good icdsoft.com which (yay for me!) has an affiliate scheme also.
  • Update 5: 11/02/2009 (60 hosts). Sifted through top 6 results to properly filter out affiliate scheme links, and also to take account of duplicate names (e.g. "liquidweb" = "liquid web", or "asmallorange" = "a small orange"). Thus most of those scores have dropped slightly (about 2-3% on average), but the placements are exactly the same as Update 4, except asmallorange has moved from 5th to 3rd, and hostmysite has dropped from 6th to 7th.
  • Back to how it all works. As mentioned earlier, using Google, we look to see how many websites report that they 'hate' or 'love' host x. Naturally, the question will arise; how can one be sure the results containing glowing praise about a host are genuine and accurate? Of course, the conclusions can never be perfect due to lack of data, word/service ambiguity, bias, and plain advertising. But it turns out that the majority of comments are written on personal sites, forums and message boards. Under such circumstances, posts are more often genuine than not, and for the forums at least, moderators are likely to detect if a recommendation is spam or not.

    Research details
    As before, most of the placings have remained fairly consistent. You can always verify the results for yourself - in the main table further down the page, you'll see the exact number of searches made in Google for a particular search term. Naturally, the relatively small sample sizes for each search will cause the real result to veer off slightly, but we have factored risk into the overall score as well.

    It wasn't easy. I had to filter out Google duplicates using custom made software, and look for spam and advertising among the results. For the top 5-10 hosts, each link was checked by hand to see if it was a genuine post from a real customer without any affiliate motive (I'm sure many would recommend their host regardless, but we choose to be on the safe side, especially as it would be unfair to hosts without an affiliate scheme in place). For full details on my approach towards filtering and phrase selection, see towards the end of the page.

    Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to include every hosting site out there, simply due to the fact that there are not enough users to comment on them. Rarer hosts such as Hostican.com, Successfulhosting.com and Parcom.net seem as though they could be pretty good, but they simply aren't popular enough to be included.

    If you're getting impatient, at this point you may just want to jump to the main table further below. Otherwise keep reading on.

    Table hosting details
    The gigantic table below sorts web hosts by how good or bad they supposedly are. (Try this older link if you want to roughly see the hosts sorted by popularity). You'll find that some high ranking hosts may not have the specs you require (like if you want more than 20 MB of disk space, or higher than 1 GB of bandwidth per month). Equally, many of the cheap or free hosts are lowly ranked due to the obvious limitations (forced adverts, lack of space/bandwidth and limited filetypes and features), but since they're free, they're worth considering (especially if you're a beginner to site creation and want to test the waters). If you're going that route, Bravenet, Doteasy, Micfo and Directnic (relatively unheard of names) seem to be the best here. Angelfire is the worst, with Tripod following closely behind :-) Four hosts we left out the table include Datapipe, Rackspace, 34sp, and Maxasp. These seem decent hosts, but the cost/gigabyte ratio for bandwidth and disk space is very high (however, you may get extensive support and other features).

    The score
    At its most basic level, the score is the number of positive comments divided by the number of negative comments. But greater weighting is given to hosts with many members, thus increasing the 'reliability' of the given score. In other words, hosts with a normally good mark, but who don't have a large internet presence will be marked down (due to the margin of error factor risk, and the fact that they won't be as established, making them more of a risk again). And for the same reason, an apparently poor, but minor host's score will increase towards the 'center' of the list if their score was normally low.

    For the curious, the following formulae were used:

    reliability = (popularityOfHost/30) / (1 + popularityOfHost/30)
    ratio = (p1+p2+p3+p4+p5/2+1) / (n1+n2+n3+n4+n5/2+1)
    weightedRatio = ratio ^ reliability
    SCORE = weightedRatio / (1 + weightedRatio) * 100
    With that out the way, we can continue with a description of the table elements. First off, you'll see numbers in 'faded' in most columns, as well as normal/black. The faded numbers indicate the results from two years back (near 2007) so you can compare. The numbers under the Negative/Positive web comments are fairly self explanatory: The bold black numbers reflect the filtered amount of hits for that term. The number in the brackets reflects the unfiltered amount (which may be lower than expected for some hosts, since I ran the results twice for certain hosts like "liquidweb", which could also be called "liquid web" - with the space).

    Key Google searches: The phrases and colours below correspond with the numbers in the main table. Basically, the numbers represent the number of times a phrase appeared in Google. The number in brackets is the total number of results before filtering.
    Negative
    N1 = "hate hostx"
    N2 = "hostx sucks"
    N3 = "hostx sux"
    N4 = "avoid hostx"
    N5 = "problems with hostx"
    Positive
    P1 = "love hostx"
    P2 = "hostx rocks"
    P3 = "hostx is great"
    P4 = "hostx is * great"
    P5 = "recommend hostx"
    Next onto the basic specs. I only have room to give a very rough indication of the type of web hosting plan you'll get. If you wish, you can investigate the site in question to find out if extras include PHP, CGI/perl, MySQL, ASP, ASP.NET, number of email accounts, email POP / SMTP Access, Windows and Linux/Unix hosting, FTP access, number of domains hosted, access to raw logs, free domain registration/transfer, and other special discounts. I'll leave that up to you as there's no way I'm including all that data in the table :) If you see '^^ GB' or '^^ MB', that means there's supposedly no limit to the disk space and bandwidth (unmetered), but in reality, there will always be. Always read the terms & conditions and smallprint from each website for the full story (look at the harsh TOS limitations on Hostultra's free web hosting for example!). Finally, most web site hosting services are based on low cost 'shared hosting', but if you see MBhd or MBvps instead of MB in the table below, that means it's a dedicated server or virtual private server (and is therefore going to be much more expensive!).





    View table seperately

    Conclusions

    Most popular hosts (not best!)
    1: Geocities2069
    2: Tripod1122
    3: Angelfire966
    4: Freewebs705
    5: Dreamhost 493
    6: Bravenet489
    7: Brinkster354
    8: 1and1186
    9: Powweb174
    10: Netfirms169
    11: Interland152
    12: Lunarpages136
    13: ipowerweb129
    14: Bluehost124
    15: Hostrocket121
    Any of the top 10 hosts are a good pick. Unusual how far off the top spot (icdhost.com) is from the rest though - I've no idea how they do it, but the Google results seem genuine. Interesting that their money back guarantee is a cut above the rest too (100 days vs the usual 30).

    Liquidweb.com also seems to be amongst the best if you need a VPS or dedicated server. The others may be worth considering too - if you don't need a relatively big site with lots of visitors, then asmallorange may be worth a shot.

    As already explained, the opinions and comments all over the internet reflect the data in the table. Type in "recommend icdsoft" into Google, and you'll see results from blogs, personal sites, reviews, and forums. You'll find the majority of these links are genuine. As said earlier, for the top 6 hosts, all 'affiliate' type links (approximately one third of the total for many hosts, including ICDsoft) were not counted.

    Sites further down the table are plagued by the usual problems - either lack of disk space, bandwidth, or customer service issues such as site downtime, missing email, download/upload speed, and cost.

    Still unsure about what host to choose? Time for a few final stats:

    HostPagerank Money back guarantee Established since
    icdsoft.com 6 100 days March 2000
    liquidweb.com 6 30 days Feb 1998
    asmallorange.com 6 30 days 15-Jan-2004
    westhost.com 5 30 days Dec 1998
    discountasp.net 6 30 days Feb 2003
    alentus.com 6 30 days June 2001
    hostmysite.com 6 30 days ?





    More details on the process of filtering and selecting phrases

  • Phrase selection: - The phrases selected were chosen according to how many applicable results were thrown up by Google. This increases the reliability of the results. Example: "avoid host x" appears more often than "host x is a load of rubbish". More phrases in the future are planned.

  • Intial filtering of hosts: - Hundreds of hosts were initially checked to see if they appeared in Alexa's top 150,000 web sites. Around half of these made the 'short list' of the initial 63 (of which 57 are presented above). The other half were excluded because they were not popular enough according to Google.

  • Google's overestimate of results: - Apart from duplication and nested entry removal as mentioned below, one thing to bear in mind is that Google will often overestimate the number of results for a search (e.g. "Results 101 - 104 of 104 for "recommend liquidweb" "). Only when you go to page 2/3/4 etc. will you see that the number is actually usually lower (103 results in this case).

  • Duplication: At the time, "fortunecity is * great" was a good example of duplicates from Google. Out of the 180 listed, only 10 aren't dupes! I specially developed software to remove all of these duplicates.

  • Google's nested entries: - Single nested entries are counted (provided they are not duplicates), but "More results from..." results are not. This is another measure to help make sure that results aren't flooded by sometimes false entries, or over enthusastic posters.

  • Cash incentives: - It was much easier filtering out negative comments from the results than positive. The reason for this is because people may recommend a host for commission/affiliate purposes rather than because they genuinely think the host provider in question is particularly good. Host reviewing sites will tend to do this a lot, and it's easy to see how bias can creep in - thus losing the objectivity of the results. For the top hosts, we sifted through every result to see whether people were promoting a host for monetary purposes (affiliate link), and exlcuded these from the total.

  • Fake reviews - Many are legitimate of course, but we excluded official/customer reviews from host rating/review sites just in case.

  • Google's unpredictibility: - Problems arose when the EXACT same search resulted in far fewer results sometimes than other times. For example, a search for "tripod is great" can reveal either "1 - 87 of about 188" ...or... "1 - 100 of about 577", depending on what mood Google is in (or more technically, what data center Google fetches the search results from). Because of this, I always double and triple checked the results at various times, and used the larger number of results as the final data collection for my analysis. You'll see I've marked the 'total results' next to each rating in the table so you can verify them for yourself.

  • Sarcasm: - Supposedly positive comments can actually be sarcastic towards that host provider. I tend to find this the case particularly with the free hosts ;-) Example: "gotta love Geocities".

  • Name ambiguity: - Special care had to be taken for hosts with names such as 'Tripod', as the same word can be used to represent something to rest a camcorder on, the name of a rock group, and is also the name of a comedy group! In such cases, hosts were manually checked (tedious to say the least), or in some cases removed altogether.

  • Split host names: - Liquidweb is often quoted as "liquid web" (with the space in the middle). Likewise, "asmallorange" could be "a small orange". We make sure to include both types in the results, at least for the top 5-20 listed.

  • Service ambiguity: - Certain sites such as godaddy.com, directnic.com, yahoo.com, and pair.com were excluded from the results because they offer other services (such as domain registration or email) on top of web hosting.

  • Indirect spamming: - As of the time of writing, if you do a search for "hostgator sucks", you'll see that towards the end of the results, there were plenty of spam entries made by domains such as blah-this-site-blah.com which were obviously nonsensical, and hence not counted.


    External links:
  • Choosing a web host to build your website - Following on from this article, we detail what features you'll want from a host, and discuss whether you should go for a free or paid host.
  • Condensed and more 'commercial' version of this page (effectively saying the same thing).
  • Web hostings dirty laundry - An interesting read. Not all host review sites are as genuine as this story from the Dreamhost blog dramatically demonstrates.
  • WHreviews - Definitely one of the more transparent host review sites out there. Ranking of hosts is attained by research from customer reviews.
  • Web Host Magazine.com - One of the most comprehensive host information resources out there, and what appears to be one of the most reliable from what I can see. Also read their section on host finding
  • Webhostgear - Site covers a broad selection of material including tools, tutorials, product news and information for hosting companies.
  • WebHostingLab - One of the few sites that really puts the hosts through their paces. He goes out of his way to sign up for each host and records the results (here's an example).
  • Webhostreviewrevolution - One of the few sites that reviews the host review sites! I hope to see more reviews from here in the future.
  • The evils of Overselling. But for balance, then read the reason why 'overselling' can invariably be a good thing from the Dreamhost blog. Here's a more neutral stance.
  • Web Hosting Unleashed - An extensive collection of many hosts, with somewhat of a correlation with the results I've collated.
  • Web Host Magazine.com - How to Find Your First Web Host (For Beginners)
  • Free Web Space - One of the oldest and best. Customer reviews and rankings of many free hosts. Also see Free-webhosts.com for a similar theme.
  • 2createawebsite.com - Lists disadvantages of free web hosts.
  • HostLibrary.com - Host interviews, news, and user submitted articles / tutorials.
  • Resellerguide.com - Information for those who are looking to start their own web host, by using reselling (effectively no hardware needed, as it is supplied externally).



    All pictures, data and text on this page are copyright 2005 onwards Daniel White.
    If you wish to duplicate any of the information from this page, you must contact me for permission.