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Review Signal’s Best Web Hosting Companies in 2016

2016 Year in Review

I like to take this opportunity to look back at the year and see how Review Signal has changed. This past year we added ~36,000 new reviews. Added one new company: WebFaction. 49.6% of reviews were positive overall. 52.1% of unique reviews were positive. What is interesting about the difference is that people with negative things to say were more likely to send multiple negative messages, but as a whole more individual people said positive things than negative.

This year was also full of interesting articles that took advantage of our unique position in the web hosting review space. The WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks (2016) was the biggest hit as usual. It grew massively in size/scope and tested companies across multiple price tiers up to Enterprise WordPress Hosting.

I also wrote about the Dirty, Slimy Secrets of the Web Hosting Review Underworld. I also tracked some major changes with The Rise and Fall of A Small Orange and The Sinking of Site 5 which tracked Endurance International Group acquisitions and how their ratings fell post-acquisition. A Small Orange's fall from grace even caused the first ranking algorithm update on Review Signal's history.

Best Shared Hosting 2016 – SiteGround [Reviews] (74.2%)

Best Specialty Hosting 2016 – FlyWheel [Reviews] (83.7%)

Best Managed VPS Hosting 2016 – KnownHost [Reviews] (80.9%)

Best Unmanaged VPS Hosting 2016 – Digital Ocean [Reviews] (71.3%)

Best Support 2016 – SiteGround [Reviews]  (80.81%). KnownHost [Reviews], LiquidWeb [Reviews], WiredTree [Reviews] all tied for second at 80% (WiredTree was acquired by LiquidWeb in 2016).

A big congratulations goes out to all of this years winners.

Under $25/Month WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks (2016)

LoadStormLogo

Sponsored by LoadStorm. The easy and cost effective load testing tool for web and mobile applications.

The full company list, product list, methodology, and notes can be found here

This post focuses only on the results of the testing in the <$25/month price bracket for WordPress Hosting.

 

<$25/Month WordPress Hosting Products

review_signal_table_25_updated

 

<$25/Month WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks Results

1. Load Storm

Test 500-2000 Concurrent Users over 30 Minutes, 10 Minutes at Peak

Company Total Requests Total Errors Peak RPS Average RPS Peak Response Time(ms) Average Response Time(ms) Total Data Transferred (GB) Peak Throughput (MB/s) Average Throughput (MB/s)
A2 310069 203981 249.08 172.26 15138 549 4.639 8.853 2.577
BlueHost 181995 153234 147.47 101.11 16000 7634 1.066 3.677 0.592
DreamHost 295685 43 224.1 164.27 15063 339 16.06 13.5 8.922
FlyWheel 265618 81491 205.22 147.57 15101 1154 11.5 9.361 6.391
GoDaddy 311172 1363 238.68 172.87 10100 340 16.07 13.31 8.927
Hosting Agency (DE) 182424 117939 132.65 101.35 15991 6743 3.823 10.53 2.124
IWW 272657 84 217.92 151.48 10096 266 14.93 13.77 8.293
LightningBase 314439 5 238.68 174.69 8989 255 16.24 13.24 9.023
Media Temple 327662 1466 258.45 182.03 10628 381 12.55 10.54 6.972
Pressed 289318 61 214.05 160.73 15029 266 16.25 13.01 9.03
SiteGround 301722 1 230.45 167.62 9374 447 15.9 13.76 8.833
TrafficPlanetHosting 289335 476 217.63 160.74 15216 570 16.15 14.08 8.974
WP Land 293166 11596 228.4 162.87 15608 644 15.47 13.3 8.594

Discussion of Load Storm Test Results

The companies that clearly didn't struggle at all with LoadStorm were DreamHost [Reviews], Incendia Web Works (IWW), LightningBase, Pressed, SiteGround [Reviews]. GoDaddy [Reviews], MediaTemple [Reviews] and Traffic Planet Hosting had minor spikes at the start, but they seem nearly inconsequential in the grand scheme of the test.

WP.land seemed to have some security measures which struggled with wp-login being hit so frequently.

A2 Hosting [Reviews], BlueHost [Reviews], FlyWheel [Reviews] and Hosting Agency did not do well on this test. FlyWheel explicitly stated this was too much load for that size plan and recommended upgrading if this was the expected load.

2. Blitz.io

Test 1-1000 Concurrent Users over 60 seconds

Blitz Test Quick Results Table

Company Hits Errors Timeouts Average Hits/Second Average Response Time Fastest Response Slowest Response
A2 590 27255 390 10 92 55 167
BlueHost 23340 71 274 389 214 155 604
DreamHost 29337 0 1 489 4 3 7
FlyWheel 28530 0 0 476 28 21 146
GoDaddy 15222 11093 28 254 196 190 229
Hosting Agency (DE) 662 20862 3649 11 630 400 1556
IWW 28786 9 0 480 23 21 24
LightningBase 27488 0 0 458 71 71 72
Media Temple 15255 11260 5 254 200 188 318
Pressed 26228 0 0 437 80 5 389
SiteGround 26055 1 21 434 100 72 346
TrafficPlanetHosting 1018 8344 9718 17 266 102 843
WP Land 28344 0 0 472 39 38 39

Discussion of Blitz Test 1 Results

This test is just testing whether the company is caching the front page and how well whatever caching system they have setup is performing (generally this hits something like Varnish or Nginx).

Who performed without any major issues?

DreamHost, IWW, LightningBase, SiteGround, WP Land all handled the test without any issues.

Who had some minor issues?

BlueHost had a couple spikes during the test which caused some errors and timeouts, but they weren't substantial.

FlyWheel had a spike at the very end of the test which caused a large increase in response times.

Pressed started to have a ramp up in response times but it never errored or timed out during the test.

Who had some major issues?

GoDaddy, MediaTemple and TrafficPlanetHosting seemed to pretty clearly hit security measures which couldn't be worked around. The response times were relatively stable, but errors shot up which is symptomatic of a security measure kicking in rather than the server being taxed. It's hard to know how they would have performed sans security measures.

A2 and Hosting Agency did not take kindly to the Blitz test and crashed almost immediately under load.

3. Uptime Monitoring

Both uptime monitoring solutions were third party providers that offer free services. UptimeRobot was paid for and monitoring on a 1 minute interval. All the companies were monitored over approximately two months (May-June 2016).

Uptime Robot & StatusCake

Company StatusCake UptimeRobot
A2 99.92 99.91
BlueHost 30.22 18.06
DreamHost 99.97 99.97
FlyWheel 99.96 99.98
GoDaddy 99.96 99.98
Hosting Agency (DE) - 100
IWW 99.73 99.88
LightningBase 99.99 100
Media Temple 99.96 99.95
Pressed 100 99.87
SiteGround 99.97 99.98
TrafficPlanetHosting 99.98 99.98
WP Land 99.92 100

BlueHost screwed up and cancelled this account mid-testing causing the uptime to look horrific. Their other two plans which were not cancelled had measurements of 99.98, 99.98, 100 and 99.99 uptime. I'm upset that it happened and there was a struggle to restore the account and have to take credit away for this type of screw up. But, they were able to keep the other servers up with near perfect uptime which I think should be stated here as well.

Hosting Agency for some reason couldn't be monitored by StatusCake (http/2 issue they still haven't fixed for nearly 9 months, which UptimeRobot fixed within 24 hours when I notified them). But they had 100% on UptimeRobot, so it looks good.

IWW had a bunch of short outages and one longer one (2hr 33m) which brought it's uptime down.

Pressed had a 1hr 51m downtime (502 error) recorded by UptimeRobot but StatusCake never picked it up. I'm not sure what to make of that, it might be something wrong with UptimeRobot's servers connecting properly since StatusCake never picked it up over an interval that long.

Everyone else had above 99.9% uptime.

4. WebPageTest.org

Every test was run with the settings: Chrome Browser, 9 Runs, native connection (no traffic shaping), first view only.

Company WPT Dulles WPT Denver WPT LA WPT London WPT Frankfurt WPT South Africa
A2 0.819 0.638 1.109 1.181 1.687 5.054
BlueHost 0.902 0.521 0.878 1.532 1.874 3.483
DreamHost 0.769 0.777 1.444 1.107 1.64 4.33
FlyWheel 0.74 0.722 1.077 1.082 1.649 5.241
GoDaddy 0.939 0.728 0.834 1.376 1.992 6.909
Hosting Agency (DE) 1.299 1.258 2.17 0.985 1.55 4.905
IWW 0.544 0.658 0.864 0.929 1.416 4.105
LightningBase 0.62 0.598 1.078 0.95 1.471 5.764
Media Temple 0.86 0.667 0.811 1.313 1.945 4.645
Pressed 0.773 0.902 1.276 1.176 1.691 4.845
SiteGround 0.741 0.64 1.048 1.06 1.721 4.94
TrafficPlanetHosting 0.793 0.562 1.26 1.212 1.723 3.522
WP Land 0.719 0.689 1.154 1.099 1.709 4.8

 

Company WPT Singapore WPT Shanghai WPT Japan WPT Sydney WPT Brazil
A2 2.244 22.287 1.974 2.003 1.895
BlueHost 2.255 22.728 1.809 1.467 2.274
DreamHost 1.93 22.186 2.028 1.954 1.747
FlyWheel 1.765 12.549 1.845 1.816 1.758
GoDaddy 2.173 22.373 1.826 1.959 2.103
Hosting Agency (DE) 2.311 22.406 2.651 2.772 2.596
IWW 1.98 22.547 1.615 1.96 1.535
LightningBase 1.999 19.731 1.708 1.913 1.661
Media Temple 2.113 22.141 1.802 1.959 2.135
Pressed 2.233 23.691 1.997 2.037 1.894
SiteGround 2.131 22.718 1.843 2.079 1.788
TrafficPlanetHosting 2.081 22.74 1.872 1.595 1.816
WP Land 2.25 22.305 1.852 1.959 1.752

What I learned was getting traffic into China is terrible. Nobody really did well on the Shanghai location. South Africa is also really slow. Most servers were US based but were delivering content to most corners of the world in about 2 seconds or less which is impressive. Hosting Agency based in Germany was a bit disappointing. Very slow relatively speaking to the US. But it wasn't even the fastest to London or Frankfurt. LightningBase and IWW were able to beat the German company in the US by a large margin and to Europe which reinforces that geographic location isn't everything in terms of speed.

I wish I could compare averages against last year except they removed one of the testing locations (Miami) and I did a global test instead because that was something people wanted to see.

5. WPPerformanceTester

Company PHP Bench [Seconds] (lower=faster) WP Bench [Queries Per Second](higher=faster)
A2 12.626 570.78
BlueHost 13.089 1083.42
DreamHost 17.104 446.23
FlyWheel 11.761 387.3
GoDaddy 13.804 278.47
Hosting Agency (DE) 6.501 45.28
IWW 7.637 1869.16
LightningBase 10 1315.79
Media Temple 12.241 339.79
Pressed 11.036 217.2
SiteGround 11.497 733.14
TrafficPlanetHosting 8.666 918.27
WP Land 14.485 684.93

What was enormously interesting about WPPerformanceTester results this year was the much larger spread and faster results. Last year, almost everyone was around 10-14 seconds for PHP Bench with the outlier of PressLabs doing 8.9 and DreamHost at 27. DreamHost again has the dubious honor of the slowest PHP Bench but it improved by a whopping 10 seconds down to 17. The fastest was Hosting Agency with 6.5, more than a full 2 seconds faster than last year's fastest speed. IWW, TrafficPlanetHosting also managed sub 10 second speeds.

Last year's fastest WP Bench was 889 queries per second. That was blown away by this years testing with IWW leading the group at more than double the speed (1869). BlueHost, LightningBase and TrafficPlanetHosting all managed to be faster than last year's fastest benchmark as well. Unfortunately, Hosting Agency's incredibly fast PHP bench is somewhat cancelled out by their slowest WP Bench score, which is slower than last year's slowest. It should be noted that transaction speed isn't always a great measured on distributed/clustered/cloud systems that may be running databases on different machines, but at the entry level that's less of an issue. Generally the incredibly fast scores you see are local databases with no network latency overhead.

Conclusion

It is nice to get back to a real entry level analysis with a much more level playing field. Having 13 different companies available to choose from in the <$25/month range is fantastic. Despite the change in this years format, the lower end plans still outperformed the fastest competitors from last year's tests which had plans up to ~$300/month.

Despite the hard price cap in this bracket of testing, there were still some companies that handled all the tests without any serious issue. Many more did very well but ran into minor issues.

The amount of companies jumping into the space is a fantastic win for consumers. In this tier we saw A2, Pressed, WP Land, Hosting Agency, IWW and Traffic Planet Hosting all enter for the first time. They target a variety of different niches within the space and overall it's a win for us, the consumer to have more good choices and options. From a performance standpoint, you can still get amazing performance value for the money even at the lowest tier.

Without further ado, I will tell you who had the best performance, who deserved an honorable mention and then analyze each host individually. I still don't believe in ranking in any particular order, only grouping companies by how well they performed.

Top Tier WordPress Hosting Performance

review_signal_2016_trophy_25

DreamHost [Reviews], LightningBase, and  SiteGround [Reviews],

All three of these companies went through the full testing without any meaningful issues.

Honorable Mentions

Pressed had an odd uptime issue but also showed some signs of server stress during the blitz test. For a brand new company they performed admirably, but I'm not quite comfortable awarding them the top tier status quite yet when you compare their results against the three top tier companies, but they put on a very good showing.

WP.land did well in every test except LoadStorm where it had a roughly 4% error rate. It looked like a security issue with wp-login which isn't uncommon. But there were also some spikes/delays as well. It could just be security acting up, but again, a minor issue that kept it out of the top tier, but it was worthy of an honorable mention from yet another new comer to this year's testing.

GoDaddy [Reviews]/MediaTemple [Reviews], I combine this one because it's running on the same tech and the results look very similar and experienced the same security issues. You can pretty clearly see when the security measures kick in on Blitz and I wasn't able to work with their tech team to come up with a way to responsibly bypass their security measures. LoadStorm had a spike at the start with wp-login issues but resolved itself out quickly and had a flat response time graph. It's possible their tech is just as good as the top tier hosts, but I wasn't able to accurately measure it because of security measures but it looks very good and at least deserves the honorable mention.

Traffic Planet Hosting is another new entrant and had similar issues to GoDaddy/MediaTemple. Security issues caused some problems on the Blitz test, but it did start to show some load too. Not perfect, but it did well on LoadStorm as well.  (no honorable mention?)

Individual Host Analysis

A2 Hosting [Reviews]

A2 Hosting was a new entrant to this test and as much as I love the competition in the space, A2 fell short. Other than their uptime monitoring which was good, they struggled in all the load testing experiments.

BlueHost [Reviews]

BlueHost specifically messed up with my account in this test and the uptime was terrible because of it. That alone ruined the uptime test, although as I stated in the section, the other servers all maintained excellent uptime which were on different accounts. They did ok in the blitz test, but not in the LoadStorm test. They also surprisingly managed the fastest individual WebPageTest score of any host in this price range. Compared to last year I don't see any huge signs of improvement with regards to performance.

DreamHost [Reviews]

Last year DreamHost's DreamPress product almost made the top tier except for some major downtime issues. This year, they had no such downtime issues and the performance remained top notch. DreamHost earned the top tier status for the <$25/month price bracket. It appears to be an excellent product priced very competitively.

FlyWheel [Reviews]

FlyWheel only entered one product this year and it was less powerful than last year's. It struggled a bit more on the LoadStorm test but the Blitz was perfect (although for this price tier, it was a weaker test than last year's test). They explicitly stated for LoadStorm that the plan was inappropriate for that level of traffic. They can probably handle bigger sites, but if we're comparing dollars to performance, they fell short in this price bracket on that metric. But they are still rated as the most well liked company that we track at Review Signal, so they are clearly doing something right in terms of product and customer service.

GoDaddy [Reviews]

GoDaddy had a stalwart performance marred by what appeared to be security measures. They very well could have a top notch product but we couldn't work out a responsible way to bypass the security measures for the Blitz load test. LoadStorm looked pretty good, one small spike to start and steady up to 2000 users. GoDaddy earned an honorable mention status because the product didn't seem to encounter any non-artificial problems.

Incendia Web Works

IWW did a great job in both load tests. The only concern was uptime, where IWW had 99.73% and 99.88% as recorded by each service. The performance component is definitely there, but a little more consistency and we have another serious competitor in the space. The only reason they didn't earn honorable mention while Pressed did is that there were conflicting uptime reports for Pressed where one showed 100% and the other recorded sub 99.9% uptime. Two independent services showed IWW below 99.9%, so there isn't much doubt about it in my mind. Like DreamHost last year, they put on a great performance showing and I hope next year the servers are a bit more stable and I can award top tier status.

LightningBase

LightningBase continues to impress. The last two years they've put on consistently near perfect tests. Their Blitz result was perfect and their LoadStorm had only 5 errors out of 314439 requests. Combined with 100/99.99% uptime monitors, LightningBase is unquestionably in the top tier for the <$25/month WordPress hosting bracket.

MediaTemple [Reviews]

MediaTemple's results basically mirrored GoDaddy's results. It would be even hard to tell the graphs apart if you removed the names. The MediaTemple/GoDaddy platform appears to be very solid but we couldn't responsibly get by some security measures, so I couldn't award it top tier status, but MT earned an honorable mention.

Pressed

Pressed earned itself an honorable mention. It had a weird uptime issue but more importantly it started to show some signs of load during the Blitz test where I would expect a flat response time from a static cache test like Blitz. It's a very new product and I'm sure we'll continue to see tremendous improvements as time goes on, a very good performance from possibly the newest company in this year's testing.

Hosting Agency

Hosting Agency performed as expected, it appears to have no special WordPress optimizations. If you were to install a basic lamp stack, this is the performance I expect out of the box. They had perfect uptime and oddly found themselves on both ends of the spectrum on my WPPerformanceTester. They weren't faster to England or Germany on WebPageTest, which I suspect is because there was no special caching technologies to accelerate delivery of pages despite being geographically closer. And it just collapsed during the load tests, especially Blitz which is essentially a static cache test (where they have none). Another important note is that their entire system is in German only.

SiteGround [Reviews]

SiteGround got even better this year. They jumped up from honorable mention to top tier status. Their Blitz and LoadStorm tests both improved while everything else remained at a high level. An all around fantastic performance which deserved top tier status.

Traffic Planet Hosting

Another new comer to this years testing. TPH put on a good show, there seemed to be some security measures which ruined the Blitz testing, but the LoadStorm test looked very solid. They earned an honorable mention because the only issue seemed artificial. I'm less confident about the quality of the product than GoDaddy/MediaTemple, but it still seemed to warrant recognition.

WP.land

WPLand was the final new entrant and they put on a fantastic showing. Everything went near perfect except the LoadStorm test which seemed to have an issue with wp-login triggering some security measures. But the response rate was pretty stable and quick despite the ramp up to 2000 users. They also had a perfect blitz test with no errors and a 1ms spread in fastest to slowest response times. WP Land earned honorable mention status because overall it was a very good performance with a small issue that might be security related.

 

WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks (2016)

LoadStormLogo

Sponsored by LoadStorm. The easy and cost effective load testing tool for web and mobile applications.

This is the fourth round of managed WordPress web hosting performance testing. You can see the original, 2014 version , and 2015 version.

Companies Tested

A2 Hosting [Reviews]
BlueHost [Reviews]
CloudWays [Reviews]
Conetix
DreamHost [Reviews]
FlyWheel [Reviews]
GoDaddy [Reviews]
Incendia Web Works
Kinsta
LightningBase
LiquidWeb [Reviews]
MediaTemple [Reviews]
Pagely [Reviews]
Pantheon [Reviews]
Pressable (Formerly ZippyKid)
Pressed.net
Pressidium
Pressjitsu
PressLabs
Hosting Agency (German)
SiteGround [Reviews]
Traffic Planet Hosting
WordPress.com VIP
WPEngine [Reviews]
WP.land
WPOven.com

Companies that didn't participate this round but did on previous rounds: WebHostingBuzzWPProntoNexcessA Small Orange [Reviews] and  WebSynthesis [Reviews].

Every plan was donated by the company for testing purposes with the strict stipulation that it would be the same as if any normal user signed up. There is a notes section at the bottom that details the minutiae of changes made to plans at the end of this post. Nearly every single company had security issues that I had to get around, so they worked to make sure my testing went through properly. Load testing often looks like an attack and it's the only way I can do these tests.

The Products

This year is a bit different than years past where every company and plan competed against one another. When I started the price gap was from $5/month to $29/month. Last year the gap was $5.95 to $299. I was only testing entry level plans but the market has dramatically changed since I first got started. Today, there is demand at many different price points and lots of companies have gone upscale with WordPress.com VIP at the top of the price bracket starting at $5,000/month. The only logical way to break things up was by price brackets. So below you will see the brackets and which companies participated. Specific details will be included on each bracket's write up.

 

<$25/m $25-50/m $51-100/m $101-200/m $201-500/m $500+/m
A2 Hosting A2 Hosting LiquidWeb A2 Hosting Kinsta Kinsta
Bluehost Conetix Bluehost Bluehost Media Temple Pagely
DreamHost LLC Lightning Base Cloudways (AWS ) Conetix Pagley Pantheon
Flywheel Pantheon Cloudways (Google) Kinsta Pantheon Pressable
GoDaddy Pressable Kinsta Liquid Web Pressable Pressidium
Incendia Web Works Pressjitsu Lightning Base Pressable Pressidium WordPress.com VIP
Lightning Base SiteGround Media Temple Pressidium Presslabs WP Engine
Media Temple WP Engine Pagely Pressjitsu SiteGround
Pressed WP.land Pantheon
Hosting Agency.de Cloudways (DigitalOcean) Pressable
SiteGround Cloudways (Vultr) Pressidium
Traffic Planet Hosting WPOven SiteGround
WP.land

 

Methodology

The question I tried to answer is how well do these WordPress hosting services perform? I tested each company on two distinct measures of performance: peak performance and consistency. I've also included a compute and database benchmark based on a WordPress plugin.

All tests were performed on an identical WordPress dummy website with the same plugins except in cases where hosts added extra plugins. Each site was monitored for approximately two months for consistency.

1. LoadStorm

LoadStorm was kind enough to give me resources to perform load testing on their platform and multiple staff members were involved in designing and testing these WordPress hosts. I created identical scripts for each host to load a site, login to the site and browse the site. Logged in users were designed to break some of the caching and better simulate real user load. The amount of users varies by cost.

2. Blitz.io

I used Blitz again to compare against previous results. This tests the static caching of the homepage. I increased the number of users based on monthly cost this time.

3. Uptime (UptimeRobot and StatusCake)

Consistency matters. I wanted to see how well these companies performed over a longer period of time. I used two separate uptime monitoring services over the course of a month to test consistency.

4. WebPageTest.org

WebPageTest with 9 runs, first view only, native connection. I tested from Dulles, Denver, Los Angeles, London, Frankfurt, South Africa, Singapore, Shanghai, Japan, Sydney, Brazil.

5. WPPerformanceTester (free plugin on WordPress.org)

I created a WordPress plugin to benchmark CPU, MySql and WordPress DB performance. The CPU/MySql benchmarks are testing the compute power. The WordPress component tests actually calling $wpdb and executing insert, select, update and delete queries.

 

Notes - Changes made to Hosting Plans

A2 - VPS Servers can't install WordPress out of the box without extra payment for Softaculous. Disabled recaptcha.

Conetix - disabled WordFence and Stream plugins.

SiteGround - fully enable SuperCacher plugin

GoDaddy - 24 database connection limit increased if you notify them of heavy load

CloudWays - disabled WordFence

LiquidWeb and HostDime no longer providing Shared Hosting

I've updated the site today to reflect that LiquidWeb and HostDime no longer provide shared hosting.

It leaves quite a large gap between SiteGround (72%) and pretty much everyone else still in the shared hosting space (<60%).

I do wonder if this is a bellwether for shared hosting becoming a thing of the past. There are still millions of people on it and in all likelihood will continue to be. But we've seen the rise of all sorts of specialty hosting which is likely eating up a lot of the market. The rise of developer oriented providers like Amazon, Azure, Digital Ocean have opened up the floodgates for building services on top of them. We've seen numerous companies built on top of these companies and targeting niches, especially WordPress like FlyWheel, Pagely. We've even seen configurable providers like CloudWays which lets you select the cloud provider of your choice and install and manage your websites on them.

These new hosting providers are charging more and giving different experiences to users. Developers have flocked to them and are building the next generation of web hosting services. High quality companies seem to be moving up market, charging more and providing more where I'm guessing the margins are substantially better than in the shared hosting space unless you're trying to upsell everything.

It will be interesting to to follow, will we continue to see more consolidation ala EIG and GoDaddy? Is there room for another great shared hosting provider that grows very large? Or will shared hosting slowly fade away as superior technologies (VPS) and specialized companies eat away at it providing the specific services people really want. We've also seen non-webhosts like SquareSpace, Wix and Weebly gain large market shares. On the BuiltWith estimates ranging from 880,000-1.6m websites for each of them.

The one trend I am not a fan of is that there are fewer and fewer really good choices in the shared hosting space that are of significant scale.

WordPress.org Hosting Recommendations Listing Criteria

UPDATE (5/13/2016 7:05 PM): Official comment from Matt Mullenweg was posted. Quoted below, click or scroll to the comment section to see the original.

“I would like to see some transparency in the process”

As stated on the page, the listing is completely arbitrary. The process was: There was a survey, four applicants were chosen, and the page was updated. That might repeat later in the year, or the process might change.

“how criteria are weighted”

There is no criteria or weighting. It ultimately is one person’s opinion. Information that is important is reflected in the questions asked in the survey, but that is not everything that is taken into account. (I have looked at this site in the past, for example.)

“who is making the decisions”

I am. James helped in sorting through the many submissions that came in, doing additional research, and digging on finalists, but ultimately the decision was mine. You can and should blame me fully for any issues you have with it. I appreciate James’ help in this go-round, but he will not be involved at all with any future updates. (So, please leave him alone.)

“how much money is involved”

There was no money involved. Obviously being listed on the page is hugely valuable and impacts the listed (or unlisted) businesses a great deal. This is why I take full responsibility for the listing, now and in the future — I have been fortunate to be extraordinarily successful and no financial or business consideration any of the applicants could offer matters to me. A host could offer $100,000,000 to be listed on the page for 1 day, and I would say no.

-Matt Mullenweg


Yesterday, I posted WordPress.org Updates Hosting Recommendations, Nobody Knows Selection Criteria. Which naturally meant I was going to find out as much as I could about the process, because it's a big deal and my mission here at Review Signal is honest and transparent web hosting reviews.

I confirmed with multiple sources that the newly listed companies didn't pay any money to get listed. Everyone seems to have filled out the form and then heard nothing back until the updated page was published yesterday. Both the winners (BlueHost [Reviews], DreamHost [Reviews], FlyWheel [Reviews], SiteGround [Reviews]) and losers (everyone else) seemed to agree on this process based on everyone I talked to.

Great. The application process seems fair.

But the selection process is still a black box, with help from people who follow WordPress more closely than myself, I found James Huff (macmanx) a 12 year volunteer and 5 year employee at Automattic who was directly involved with the new WP.org hosting recommendations.

James_huff1

I didn't hide who I was or my interest. The most concerning part of this exchange was that 'Absolutely no money changed hands, unless you consider sponsorship of WordCamps as monetary with regards to the "contributions to WordPress.org."'

No money changed hands except a lot of sponsorship dollars to the organization. Guess who the top global gold community sponsors are? BlueHost (and JetPack/WooCommerce, both owned by Automattic). Somehow BlueHost are also a Silver sponsor too, along with GoDaddy. BlueHost is pouring a lot of money into WordCamps/WordPress.org Foundation.

I'm sorry, but I do consider that money changing hands. They are giving a large sum of money - it's material enough to mention in their SEC filings.

James_huff2

We're still going to have to agree to disagree about what money changing hands means. But he says it was fair. But fair is pretty meaningless when we don't really have any insight into what standard of fairness is the goal. How is each criteria being weighed and evaluated. But this is the list of hosts that they can confidently tell everyone are good.

I'm not sold.

James_huff3

Historical perception seems to be the proxy for what marketers might call Net Promoter Score (NPS). How much do consumers like/recommend something. That's essentially what I measure here at Review Signal and my data has been incredibly close to what company's internal data shows (LiquidWeb NPS Scores vs LiquidWeb Review Signal Rating).

It is arguably the most important factor of recommendations and for service businesses, it's about the best metric for all encompassing quality available.

But it's only part of the criteria and that's fair. But should there be some minimum threshold? Can a company score a zero in quality and high in everything else be worthy of a listing? BlueHost's rating is 41%. That means roughly 6/10 people don't recommend it or have anything good to say about them.

There are WordCamp sponsors that didn't make the cut. Of the global community sponsors 2/3 hosting companies did though, BlueHost and DreamHost, while one didn't, GoDaddy. But the largest sponsor made it and is at the top and it's still BlueHost.

But moving on, James mentioned Automattic has no play in the process, but he does wear multiple hats. Which means he is aware of the potential perception of conflict of interest.

James_huff4

Finally, a mention of Matt. Important again when thinking about the context for potential conflicts of interest. I outline what would happen in a dream world and what's realistic. I think honest disclosure and basic transparency is perfectly realistic. It's ok to make money, just be clear about where it's coming from. A standard I try to uphold here at Review Signal, see how we make money and read the entire process for how our rankings are calculated. See? It's not hard and I still make money giving the best information available.

James_huff5

AWP comments

That is the comment thread I referenced. Not a single person said anything positive about BlueHost and the assumption is they just paid for it. BlueHost being listed ruins the credibility of the recommendations when there is no transparency about what criteria was being used.

James_huff6

Moving on, the survey itself has issues which I brought up before. It's asking for sensitive company information and being handled by employees of a company that owns two competitors in the space (WP.com VIP, Pressable), took $15 million in investment from another (BlueHost), and is an investor in a fourth competitor (WP Engine).

That seems like a huge potential conflict of interest and I know it dissuaded at least one company from even applying.

James_huff7

james huff 3 tweets

It didn't end on the nicest note, I don't think James took my criticisms well. From his original messages, I think he knows and understands the perception of conflicts of interest but admitting them in this context puts him in a very awkward position that I don't envy. He wears multiple hats and surely wants to wear them all fairly. I would say admitting that those multiple hats has the potential for conflicts of interest isn't a weakness of character, it's an admission of humanity. I'm sure James is a great guy and has done a lot of good things for the community. But I think people who can be perceived with a strong potential for conflict of interest, which anyone connected to Automattic in this situation would have, shouldn't be managing this particular process.

I truly don't have any ill will towards James personally or Automattic. Even BlueHost/EIG, I've been more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and continue to hope that they will be better (ASO did break my heart a bit, I thought they were turning EIG around). My data continues to show them being mediocre and a seeming touch of death in terms of quality (their strategy does seem to be cost cutting and economies of scale). But I don't fault them for their behavior, I expect it, it's well published in their SEC filings.

Conclusion

I still think WordPress.org can do better with its hosting recommendations and I'm not going to stop advocating for them until they are better. I would like to see some transparency in the process, how criteria are weighted, who is making the decisions and how much money is involved. I think the companies that applied would appreciate feedback about why they weren't selected, what makes them different and fall short of the companies that do make the cut. Or just call them Ads / Sponsors. Don't say they are the best and brightest and endorse them. Say, we took money and this guy paid us the most. At least we meet the minimum threshold of honesty and transparency.

 

References

For posterity, the logs in their entirety are available below. It's long, so I tried to cut down some stuff to get to the most important bits. But I don't want to hide anything.

Direct Message Archive macmanx Making WordPress Slack Direct Message Archive macmanx Making WordPress Slack2

WordPress.org Updates Hosting Recommendations, Nobody Knows Selection Criteria

I've railed about Drupal and WordPress Have Sold Us Out in terms of hosting recommendations before. We've been waiting a long time (around a year now?) for WordPress.org to do it's revamp of its hosting recommendation page.

The Winners

BlueHost, DreamHost, FlyWheel, SiteGround

I'm not shocked at all to see BlueHost somehow still manages to be at the very top (albeit the list is alphabetical). They've continuously survived being listed, I guess that's what a million dollars will do.

Where is the transparency?

They requested hosts submit a ridiculous amount of personal information. You can see the full survey below:

2016 WordPress Hosting Survey - WordPressorg

It asks some deeply private questions like number of employees, how many 30 day active paying customers you have, and how many net paying customers are you gaining or losing each month?

Mind you, as far as anyone can tell, Matt has complete control over who shows up, and Automattic bought the majority stake in a company competing in the WordPress hosting space, Pressable. They also run WordPress.com VIP. They are also an investor in WPEngine. So some of the most secretive numbers a company competing in this space might have are being disclosed potentially to multiple of their biggest competitors through a process with no transparency or even a person named to be responsible for it.

That alone is worrisome for the process, it should definitely be run independent of Matt.

Everything else needs to be explained too. Who is responsible for this revamp? What were the selection criteria? How often will it be updated? Will existing companies be continuously re-evaluated?

wordpress_org_listing

It's not clear who 'we' is. They say listing is arbitrary but then add criteria. I'm not sure they understanding what arbitrary means. Or maybe they simply ignore the criteria they mention. Maybe it's just a terrible joke? Just like the process (or lack thereof) that seems to be in place.

A lot of it is pretty subjective. design, tone, ease of WP auto-install, historical perception? BlueHost is still listed, which is has consistently been pretty poorly reviewed (along with just about all EIG brands) and continues a downward trend.

BlueHost_review_signal_rating_apr_2016

Furthermore, it's the same criteria that's been written since at least 2010.

So maybe saying it's arbitrary gives them as escape to list whomever they want, especially considering the financial considerations involved.

Newly Listed Companies

I tried to find some explanation for how the three new companies were selected, but there really isn't much to go on. DreamHost is a Silver Community Sponsor for WordCamp, but so is GoDaddy who did not make the cut.

FlyWheel only does WordPress, but DreamHost and SiteGround do a lot more.

DreamHost has a ton of forum threads on WordPress.org, SiteGround has only a few over 10 years. FlyWheel has one total.

I talked to someone at one of the newly listed hosted companies and they confirmed that the form was filled out and that was it. Also, there was no financial consideration involved with the listing.

Which is very nice to hear, but doesn't really inspire confidence in the recommendations.

I've aired my concern with BlueHost multiple times.

But what about the new companies and their ratings?

DreamHost has a 59% rating on Review Signal, which is ok, given the upper end of the shared hosting spectrum is SiteGround at 71%. FlyWheel, the specialized hosting company has the highest rating of any company at a whopping 85%.

So the new companies are all far better than BlueHost (41%). But there are other very highly rated companies that didn't make the cut. For example, WP Engine (72%) is probably the biggest  name not listed based on size, brand in the WP community and rating at Review Signal.

Conclusion

I'm glad there are some much better companies than Blue Host listed and at least one of them got there without paying for the privilege. There is still language about some donating a portion of the fee back, which makes you think it's still at least BlueHost.

I'm still unhappy with the lack of transparency of the entire process. The most influential place for people entering the WordPress community is recommending one very mediocre hosting company who has historically paid large sums to be listed and has a deep financial relationship with the person ultimately responsible for the recommendations. The revamp didn't change that.

I am disappointed and I don't expect to hear anything from WordPress.org/Matt clarifying the hosting page, again.

 

UPDATES

(5/13/2016)

There was a little discussion in the WordPress slack. macmanx is James Huff, an Automattic employee. Seems they wanted only 1 managed WordPress host. Other details include around 100 applications. And even in the WordPress slack, the first comment doubts that these are really the best (well, one which almost everyone assumes to be BlueHost).

james_huff_3_outta_4 James_Huff_hosting_recommendations

Review Signal’s Best Web Hosting Companies in 2015

Another year, another mountain of data added to the largest web hosting review site. This year we added over 49,000 new reviews (a slight increase from the 45,000 last year). We added two new companies in Arvixe and Site5, both of which are now owned by EIG. We published our first WordPress Plugin WPPerformanceTester. WPPerformanceTester was built for our WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks which we performed yet again with our largest batch of companies ever. We even got some outside validation from LiquidWeb which published its internal NPS benchmarks which matched very closely to their Review Signal Rating.

But the year ended on a somewhat sour note with The Rise and Fall of A Small Orange. It tells the story of ASO and how they've played such a huge role on this site. Including winning at least one of these awards every year since inception. But not anymore. So without further ado...

Best Shared Web Host: LiquidWeb [Reviews]

2015-best-shared-hosting-liquidweb

 

Best Web Hosting Support: SiteGround [Reviews]

2015-best-hosting-support-siteground

 

Best Specialty Web Hosting: FlyWheel [Reviews]

2014-best-specialty-flywheel

Best Unmanaged VPS: Digital Ocean [Reviews]

2014-best-unmanaged-vps-digitalocean

Best Managed VPS: LiquidWeb [Reviews]

2015-best-managed-vps-liquidweb

 

For the second year in a row FlyWheel [Reviews] has set the bar in terms of how high a company's rating can be. They won the best specialty web hosting award with their managed WordPress hosting.

For the first time ever someone besides A Small Orange [Reviews] has won the best shared web hosting. A huge congratulations to LiquidWeb [Reviews]! They also managed to pickup the Best Managed VPS hosting award.

Digital Ocean [Reviews] continues its massive growth and popularity, they have won the Best Unmanaged VPS provider for the third year in a row.

Finally, SiteGround [Reviews] returned to our awards and won Best Web Hosting Support, an honor they last received in 2013.

The Best Web Hosting Companies in 2014

It's always interesting to look back at a year and analyze what happened. 2014 was the second full year of operation for Review Signal. Four new companies were published on Review Signal: Azure, FlyWheel, Pagely, WebSynthesis. We added roughly 45,000 new reviews (oddly enough about half as many as last year). We ran two massive performance testing reviews of managed WordPress hosting companies (1, 2).

So I finally got around to slicing and dicing the data exclusively looking at data collected in 2014 and here are the awards:

 

Best Shared Web Host: A Small Orange [Reviews]

2014-best-shared-asmallorange

Best Web Hosting Support: FlyWheel [Reviews]

2014-best-support-flywheel

Best Specialty Web Hosting: FlyWheel [Reviews]

2014-best-specialty-flywheel

Best Unmanaged VPS: Digital Ocean [Reviews]

2014-best-unmanaged-vps-digitalocean

Best Managed VPS: KnownHost [Reviews]

2014-best-managed-vps-knownhost

New comer FlyWheel [Reviews] has set the bar in terms of how high a company can fly (I'm sorry!). When I introduced FlyWheel they had the absolute highest numbers I've ever seen and continue to be in a tier of their own. They do WordPress hosting and that is it, so maybe there is some advantage to specialization. They took the best specialty hosting and support awards this year.

For the third consecutive year in a row, A Small Orange [Reviews] has the best shared web hosting.

Digital Ocean [Reviews] has become the fourth largest web hosting company in under two years according to netcraft. It's easy to understand why when they take home the best unmanaged VPS provider for a second year in a row.

Finally, a new-comer into our awards list, Known Host [Reviews] managed to take the Best Managed VPS award this year beating out last year's winner, A Small Orange.

 

Black Friday – Cyber Monday Web Hosting Deals

These are all the deals from companies we track here at Review Signal that are having Black Friday - Cyber Monday specials.

When? Deals
A Small Orange [Reviews Midnight Friday to 11:59pm Monday All Shared & Business Hosting plans: 75% off any billing cycle. (Coupon code: GIVETHANKS)
All Cloud plans: More resources and free addons! 2x HD & RAM, FREE VIP Boost Addon, FREE Softaculous Addon (No code needed)
Semi-Dedicated Hosting Plans - 25% off any billing cycle. (Coupon code: SEMI14)
Use Code DEDITHX for 45% off Starter Servers (Dedicated Annual Plan)
Use code STANDARDTHX for 47% off Standard Servers (Dedicated Annual Plan)
Use code PROTHX for 49% off Professional Servers (Dedicated Annual Plan)
Use code ULTIMATETHX for 42% off Ultimate Servers (Dedicated Annual Plan)
BlueHost [Reviews] Friday 12:01am EST to Sunday 11:59pm Pricing as low as $3.49
Monday 12:01am EST to 11:59PM Pricing as low as $2.95
FlyWheel [Reviews] Midnight Friday to 11:59pm Monday 50% off annual hosting plans
Host Gator [Reviews] 12am CST to 1am CST 75% off
1am CST-11:59pm Monday 55% off
Randomly 75% off for 1 hour 9 times from Black Friday-Cyber Monday
Kinsta Friday 0:00 GMT to Monday 23:59 PST 50% off first month
3 months free with annual plan
SiteGround [Reviews] Friday through Monday Up to 70% off
WPEngine [Reviews] Ends 12/2/14 4 months free with annual plan with coupon code 'CyberHosting14'

 

Did I miss any? Leave a comment below.

Introducing Pagely and FlyWheel

I am happy to announce two new hosts on Review Signal today.

One of them was a long time in coming, Pagely. The original managed WordPress hosting company. In my original managed WordPress hosting performance benchmarks, Pagely came out at the top - having no trouble with any of the tests I threw at their services.

Pagely_october_2014

 

It's a bit disappointing to see that their reviews don't quite match their performance. From what I can tell, it looks like they've struggled with some major outages in the past. However, there is an upward trend in opinions about them. Their performance is top notch, it would be great to see the rest of the service catch up.

Our second addition to Review Signal is FlyWheel which has an astounding 95% Overall Rating. FlyWheel is another managed WordPress hosting service built on top of Digital Ocean. I don't think I've ever seen a company have such positive reviews. It's a struggle to find anyone saying something negative about them. It's wonderful see such positive reviews for a new company.

Flywheel_october_2014

I hope they can keep it up, but my past experience says all the companies which start out so remarkably strong generally tend to come down to more 'normal' levels in the 70%ish range. Their competitors WPEngine (82% -> 73%) and WebSynthesis (83% -> 76%) both did. Also the company they were built on top of, Digital Ocean, went from 81% to 76%. Great service seems like the hardest problem to scale for a web hosting company. I hope FlyWheel can break the rules and continue it's streak of excellence.