Note from author: This blog post is written as a companion article to my previous write-up regarding website hosting basics.
TL;DR: I am currently hosting two WordPress websites with HostKoala and I am really happy with their services. I haven’t been with them for too long so I hesitate to promote them just yet, but they have kept their word to provide cheap and highly reliable web hosting without corner cutting or compromise, and I cannot commend them enough for staying true to their promise thus far.
Table of contents.
Ever since my massive bill shock with SiteGround, I have developed
a fetish for an obsession with cheap hosting. It became my personal mission to prove that cheap and reliable website hosts DO exist. I want to find hosts that can keep my websites online for equal or even less than SiteGround’s deceptive introductory pricing.
LOL, gotta love bottom feeders complaining … when they’re literally trying to get the cheapest hosting possible and pay for nothingtwhiting9275, Jul 2022
Ouch. Dude just stabbed me straight through my heart.
It hurts to admit, but yes, I am a “bottom feeder” when it comes to hosting.
But it simply makes NO sense to pay several hundred dollars per year… when I only run like two WordPress websites, tops. My sites barely even get any traffic!
After all, companies like GitHub and Netlify can host static HTML websites with low traffic for FREE. And with no strings attached! So there is NO reason why I can’t get a similar level of service when I am willing to pitch in a few extra bucks every month.
My criteria for good budget hosting.
Note from author: Now that I think about it. If a budget host can meet all the criteria listed below, a premium host (i.e. “managed” hosting) should be able to tick all the same boxes as well. So this list of criteria can be extended towards all types of hosting – as long as they operate in a similar manner that is comparable to shared hosting.
Criteria 1: Affordable without yearly commitments.
These days, most hosting providers like to offer massive, first-time-only sign-up discounts to lure in new customers. When it is time to renew your subscription, they jack their monthly rates up to five times the starting price or even more.
They force you to pay anywhere between 1 to 4 years in advance for renewal discounts, which essentially locks you in for the long term.
But after a painful experience with both my first and second website hosts, I am decidedly sick of prepaying years in advance. Bulk payment discounts for yearly plans should be an added bonus, NOT a necessity to make the plans worthwhile.
I would even venture to use this as a litmus test for the overall quality of the host.
If a host offers huge yearly renewal discounts compared against their monthly renewal pricing, they are probably a bad host. The worst website hosts will only offer yearly renewals and even longer payment terms with no monthly options.
Why is that?
Because they have no confidence that users will stick around for long. A bad host lures people into locking in a multi-year plan using massive renewal discounts. But when issues arise, the host would refuse to provide refunds beyond 30 to 60 days.
A good host does not need to worry about customer retention. They instead offer yearly renewal discounts as a small bonus to reward loyal customers for staying.
In my opinion, good budget hosting should be affordable even when paid month-by-month. Preferably for less than $8 USD a month (equivalent to $96 or less per year).
Criteria 2: All essentials included with no nickel-and-diming.
I want to have all my web hosting essentials included and accounted for by the subscription pricing. This includes standard things like:
- A full-featured hosting control panel.
- Free SSL certificates and certificate management.
- Custom nameservers and DNS record management.
- Daily automatic backups retained for at least 14 days.
- Free email accounts and email forwarding capabilities.
- Self-help documentation and good customer support.
- A browser-based file manager and database access.
- 1-click WordPress installation and staging websites.
- Website hosting for more than one domain.*
- Free website migrations.*
*These features do not necessarily have to be included for free, but they are always nice to have. I am quite happy to pay a bit more for them if need be.
Criteria 3: Transparent & reliable with no stringent limits.
I want my websites to stay online for as long as possible, so a good host needs to have stable servers with long uptimes. To keep themselves accountable, the host should maintain a tracker with real daily uptime data for the past 60 days at the very least.
A good host should also provide clear and reasonable hosting plan limits. There should be NO stringent restrictions (e.g. CPU seconds, max execution time, or inode count) that are obfuscated from the user, resulting in a bunch of inexplicable errors. All metrics must be displayed clearly to help users track their own usage.
Websites should not be disabled the moment there is a spike in traffic. They should only be throttled when you reach a reasonable daily or monthly quota.
Customer support should be responsive and available throughout most hours of the day, even during weekends and holidays. And when something does go wrong, the host should always communicate clearly and ahead of time whenever possible.
And of course, the website host should not make unauthorized changes to my website without my explicit permission. Unfortunately, a number of premium website hosts (e.g. “managed” WordPress hosting) endorse this practice, e.g. WPEngine has a list of disallowed plugins which they will forcibly remove.
Criteria 4: Legitimate & reputable in the community.
A good host should have a good reputation amongst the general website hosting and website building community. People should be actively recommending a good host. Bonus points if the host participates in discussions and contributes to public forums and other social media sites beyond their own walled garden.
However, not every review or recommendation is legitimate. In fact, the majority of reviews you can find on hosting companies are biased, incentivized, or outright faked. The web hosting industry has become a cesspool of misinformation due to the collusion between morally corrupt businesses and greedy marketers.
Budget hosts I have looked into.
The following is a list of cheap hosting companies I have researched or used myself, listed in chronological order:
- Rootpal – ABANDONED after staying with them for about a year.
- Hostinger – RESEARCHED and decided to avoid.
- HostKoala – currently hosting all my WordPress websites with them.
- DreamHost – RESEARCHED and decided to avoid.
Unfortunately, the only two WordPress websites I run have very little to no traffic. So my experience with these hosts (if any) may not be a good reflection of how their service performs with a high-traffic website.
DREAMHOST.COM – NOT A GOOD HOST.
My nonexistent history with DreamHost.
I have never used DreamHost’s services, so what I have to say about them are based on my own research, as well as user complaints on public forums.
They appear to provide their own proprietary control panel, which is simply called the DreamHost control panel.
As of Oct 2022, DreamHost’s cheapest WordPress hosting plan renews at $7.99 USD per month, discounted to $6.99 per month if you prepay for a year, and $5.99 per month if you prepay for 3 years.
The problem with their cheapest plan is that email accounts will cost a monthly extra, which fails to meet my budget hosting criteria for no nickel-and-diming.
DreamHost’s shared hosting plans come with a 97 day money back guarantee (screenshot taken 14 Oct 2022), but with strings attached: no refunds for Terms of Service or Spam Policy violations.
Also, when you sign up for a yearly plan, you may qualify for a free domain name. However, I strongly recommend NOT taking up such offers.
DreamHost is based in North America (the United States) and began hosting websites in 1997.
Why you should stay away from DreamHost.
DreamHost is another one of those budget hosts that appear frequently in every list that ranks affordable website hosting companies. And to be fair, their pricing structure actually passes my litmus test for a good host.
After doing some research, however, I concluded that DreamHost is NOT a reliable website host. Because they have an uptime guarantee, but NO uptime tracking.
DreamHost claims to provide a 100% uptime guarantee (screenshot taken 14 Oct 2022), promising that they “will put $$$ back in your pocket if your site goes down”. However, their System Status page fail to provide you with any concrete uptime information. It only tells you whether their systems are currently operational.
In contrast, ALL other budget hosts listed here provides daily uptime tracking. And they all display their historical uptime percentage for AT LEAST the past 90 days.
When you dig into DreamHost’s Terms of Service (screenshot taken 14 Oct 2022), you find that DreamHost doesn’t actually put money back in your pocket. You will only receive “DreamHost credit” equal to 1 day of service for each 1 hour of service interruption (or part thereof). What’s more, their assessment of downtime begins ONLY when you open a support ticket. And the uptime guarantee doesn’t cover for scheduled maintenance.
In other words, their 100% uptime guarantee is just an empty marketing ploy that means absolutely nothing. Since they only compensate you with virtual credits, they lose nothing for breaking their promise. They are literally offering to make up for bad service by giving you more bad service. If you do not check on your websites constantly, they get away with downtimes scot-free.
When you look around on public forums, you will find no shortage of complaints about slow connection speeds, extended downtimes, data corruption, etc.
I recently designed a WordPress site locally, … . I then migrated it to DreamHost for client approval and tweaks. It was dreadfully slow even after I dialed-in the caching, optimized the images, etc. Once the design was done, I migrated the site to my client’s host on WPEngine. The speed was great.
… I’m already doing too much server maintenance at DreamHost (their servers OFTEN need rebooting).TazGoldstein, Feb 2021
… all of my databases at DreamHost experienced brutal UTF-8 corruption, across all tables, all fields, all databases, all domains. … Virtually every single page has been rendered unusable. PERMANENT DATA LOSS.
They have offered me nothing in return for this. Only an apology.holdoffhunger, Nov 2021
I am experiencing my first shitty aspect of Dreamhost … They have failed to protect and renew my main site and I have lost the domain name.
… I will also add that over the years I have had several outages with my sites that were not alerted to me and I only found out through customers.perfik09, Nov 2021
I currently have a Shared Unlimited account at Dreamhost and everything about it is slow. … Even accessing their control panel is slow.nmiBiz, Feb 2022
Dreamhost down the tubes, so now what?
… monitoring alerted my sites were unreachable yesterday.
Submitted ticket, … Their response? “Oh, we banned your IP because it was naughty.” I, of course asked why and they responded, “Oh we lost our banning logs and don’t know. Sorry.”
They’ve really been going down in support quality and various services the last year or two. Only time I needed support is when they screw up their own stuff …kai_ekael, Mar 2022
… DreamHost unlimited plan is not only not unlimited … , but as of this year … they have protocols to automatically enroll customers in VPN service if SQL databases are too large. … just in the last couple months I noticed I was billed for $25 for a VPN I never ordered, and after contacting customer service, I realized what had happened, and they refused to reverse the charge.jkhanlar, Jul 2022
My WordPress page, hosted on Dreamhost shared, has been down for 30+ hours now.
Host with Dreamhost at your own risk.jspittman, Jul 2022
Same here. No updates to customers. Last update over 1 day ago
I moved to them about a month ago because I thought they where ok. What a mistake 🙁dolphinituk, Jul 2022
Update. My site is still down (3 days now). No updates on when its going to be fixed. Got a stock answer on 2nd support ticket (not answering any of my questions). Will be moving from them ASAP and be expecting a refunddolphinituk, Jul 2022
I really liked Dreamhost but I’ve had a site that’s been down with them for almost two weeks due to ‘connectivity issues’. There are a few of us in this same position and support ranges from helpful and sympathetic but can’t do much, to completely pretending there’s no problem and it’s actually totally normal.Chensta10, Aug 2022
Same here, 4 websites went down for days. Now their DreamPress server has issues. What a mess. We’re going to switch.rjsnk, Aug 2022
The funny thing is, if you look up DreamHost on Trustpilot, they have over 3000+ reviews and an average score of 4.7 out of 5 stars (as of Oct 2022).
This is very typical of hosting companies that funnel positive reviews through their own customer support. These reviews are generally left by new customers who spent very little time with the service, and they don’t actually have anything useful to say about the actual value and performance of DreamHost.
Out of all my criteria for a good budget host, DreamHost passes only the first. But no matter how low their prices may be, there is no point in paying for bad service and pointless uptime guarantees. Use DreamHost at your own risk.
HOSTINGER.COM – NOT A GOOD HOST.
My nonexistent history with Hostinger.
I have never used Hostinger’s services, so what I have to say about them are based on recounts from other users. The biggest consensus surrounding Hostinger is that NOTHING about them can ever be trusted. More on that later.
They appear to provide several different hosting control panels, including cPanel, CyberPanel, and their own proprietary hPanel.
As of Oct 2022, Hostinger’s cheapest WordPress hosting plan renews at $9.99 USD per month, discounted to $5.99 per month if you prepay for 12 months, and further down to $3.99 per month if you prepay for 48 months.
There are two things I very much dislike about their cheapest plan:
- They force you to pay on a yearly basis to actually make the plan worthwhile.
- They do not offer daily server backups and website staging.
Hostinger likes to market themselves as a budget website host. But since they failed at least two of my criterions, I do not consider them worthy of such a title.
Why you should stay away from Hostinger.
Hostinger caught my attention because they are nigh omnipresent. They have a place in almost every list that ranks cheap or affordable website hosting.
Whether they truly deserve their spot, however, is up for debate.
Hostinger may have cheap introductory pricing, but their monthly renewal prices are actually rather expensive. In reality, Hostinger forces their users to pay up to several years in advance to make their renewals worthwhile.
Based on my litmus test, this classifies Hostinger as a bad host.
Further research led me to two articles written by ReviewSignal, who accused Hostinger of astroturfing and review fraud. The author detailed how Hostinger employees posed as customers to leave fraudulent 5-star reviews on Truspilot. They were also caught trying to manipulate community votes for their favourite host. Hostinger’s customer success manager even asked to purchase sponsored content on ReviewSignal to promote their own reviews!
Edit 14 Oct 2022: After publishing this article, it came to my attention that Hostinger has left a gaping loophole in their Service Uptime Guarantee.
Credit for this information goes to Tom Dupuis.
Hostinger’s Hosting Agreement states that their 99.9% Service Uptime Guarantee (screenshot taken 14 Oct 2022) does not apply to service interruptions caused by “periodic scheduled maintenance or repairs we may undertake from time to time”.
However, if you look at the incident history on their service status page, it is filled to the brim with maintenance and repairs. Their monthly average is around one incident per day, and sometimes they average more than two incidents per day (screenshot taken on 14 Oct 2022), e.g. 73 in May 2022.
In other words, Hostinger is masquerading some, if not all, of their downtimes as “maintenance and repairs”. They are abusing loopholes and refusing to take full responsibility for failing to meet their 99.9% uptime guarantee.
If you have been keeping track, Hostinger has failed to meet any of my criteria for good budget hosting. And the warning signs cannot get any clearer than this.
Hostinger is NOT a company you should ever trust.
HOSTKOALA.COM – currently under review.
My history with HostKoala.
I joined HostKoala on 24 Aug 2022 and I currently host two low-traffic WordPress websites on their Singapore servers. Since I have only been with HostKoala for less than 4 months, my experience may not be indicative of their actual fit for purpose.
HostKoala offers two hosting control panels: cPanel and Direct Admin.
As of Oct 2022, their cheapest hosting plan renews at $3.50 USD every 6 months, discounted to $5 if you pay for a year, and $14 if you pay for 3 years.
The only catch with the cheapest plan is that you have to use Direct Admin as your hosting control panel. Their cPanel plans are a little more expensive, though it is still incredibly affordable at $2.60 USD per month or $24 USD per year.
Another thing to note is that they only accept payments through PayPal.
HostKoala is based in Southeast Asia (Malaysia) and began hosting websites globally in 2017.
My experience with HostKoala.
HostKoala is unbelievably cheap. At $5 per year, no other host even comes close.
I first learned about HostKoala on Reddit. When I saw their pricing, I thought I was delusional. Either that or people are promoting some new type of hosting scam.
But I jumped on their offer anyway because I was desperate for a new host.
My previous host Rootpal had gotten hacked back then, and I needed to restore my websites ASAP. HostKoala promised to host my websites for cheap, and I thought “What the heck.” $10 per year for two websites is just chump change. At that point, anything would be better than the irresponsive mess Rootpal had devolved into.
Since moving to HostKoala on 24 Aug 2022, I have been working on my websites on a daily basis. And I never noticed any connection issues or service interruptions.
It surprised me enough to go do some digging on Reddit, and I managed to find a few explanations on why HostKoala is so incredibly reliable for cheap.
Host Koala does not spend millions on marketing. They rely solely on word of mouth.
Host Koala does not employ a round the clock staff to handle support 24/7. They instead offer a 24 hour resolution time.
Both of these things save a ton of money, which rather than overcharge you and put it in their pocket, they pass the savings on to you. Not everyone in the world is a greedy capitalist.alento_group, Jun 2022
The few main reasons why Host Koala is cheap :
- It’s independently owned, no shareholders to constantly show larger profits every year
- Most of the staff are from third world countries, which means wages are a lot lower, but it’s not that bad since cost of living is far lower than first world countries
- No advertising/marketing overhead. We don’t advertise much except in some forums and by word of mouth
- Small specialised team. Since we mostly dabble in shared hosting, our team are able to handle 99% of the issues with shared hosting extremely quickly and efficiently.
For point 2, to be honest, we don’t have a fixed wage, rather we share the profits together. While we don’t earn much, it is sufficient enough to live well in our third world country.hostkoala, Jun 2022
The funny thing about true budget hosts like HostKoala is that they will NEVER be recommended by those so-called hosting review sites, or top 10 lists for hosting.
Don’t believe me?
Try searching for HostKoala on WPBeginner, WebsitePlanet, or WebsiteSetup. You can even try tech news sites, marketing blogs, Q&A forums, or video review sites like TechRadar, PCMag, Forbes, NeilPatel, Medium, Quora, and even YouTube.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
I guarantee you will find NOTHING about HostKoala in their recommendations. Some of the more thorough ones might have an article that mentions HostKoala, but that’s pretty much it. They will NEVER actively recommend HostKoala.
Why? Because HostKoala does not have an affiliate marketing program.
These publishers might lose out on their precious commissions by recommending HostKoala, so they simply won’t recommend it. It’s a stark testament to how profiteering the hosting review industry has become.
HostKoala has exceeded my every expectation thus far. And I am hopeful they will continue to work well into the foreseeable future.
ROOTPAL.COM – AN OUTRIGHT SCAM.
STAY AWAY from Rootpal AT ALL COSTS.
Their services are unstable and customer support is non-existent.
My history with Rootpal.
I joined Rootpal on 15 May 2021 and stayed with them for 1 year and 3 months.
Rootpal has eventually devolved into an incompetent hosting company with practically no customer support. The only two things you can always expect from them are constant issues and a disturbing lack of communication.
Their WordPress plans run on the Plesk hosting control panel.
As of Oct 2022, Rootpal’s cheapest WordPress plan renews at $4 USD per month with unlimited bandwidth. You get two months free if you pay annually ($40).
Rootpal is based in North America (the United States) and appears to have been founded in 2019. Their historical uptime logs only go as far back as Apr 2021.
My experience with Rootpal.
I discovered Rootpal because I was planning to leave SiteGround, and Rootpal just happened to be offering a lifetime deal (LTD) on AppSumo. I ended up paying them a total of $300 USD for lifetime hosting in May 2021.
But I didn’t actually expect Rootpal to keep my websites online forever.
My math was simple: $300 was equivalent to about 2 years’ worth of hosting with SiteGround. I reasoned that Rootpal should be able to keep my websites online for the next 2 years, and anything past that would just be a nice bonus.
After about a year with Rootpal, however, I started encountering unstable server response times and connection issues. It was probably because my websites were hosted on their Singapore servers, which had to be shut down due to “many issues”.
However, I was forced to abandon Rootpal due to a different problem: they got hacked in Aug 2022. Their servers were wiped clean and it took them almost a month to get everything back to normal. They restored their servers with backups that were several months old, and they failed to recover any of my websites.
After their servers were restored, it took THREE additional support tickets (screenshot taken 12 Oct 2022) across another month to get my Rootpal account working again.
It turns out, Rootpal had shut down their Singapore servers during the restoration. And my hosting account was somehow moved to an EU server. I had to ask TWICE to get my hosting account moved to the next closest server to me in US West, and ONCE more to restore my access to their hosting control panel because of some expired license key. It certainly did nothing to restore my confidence in Rootpal.
Since I have a lifetime hosting plan with them, I might revisit Rootpal in the future. Perhaps they have learned their lesson and will do better the second time around.
For now, I am more than happy to stick with HostKoala.
This has made it impossible for me to log in and access their Plesk backend. It also made their customer support inaccessible. After 3 days of inaction and zero communication, I no longer consider Rootpal to be a viable or valid host.
Their claim to provide “a unique and unmatched hosting experience, delivering 99.99% uptime & 24/7 support with the most helpful team in hosting” is nothing but an outright lie. NEVER trust this hosting company with your website.
Michael’s real name appears to be Zachary Michael Matar, who is currently in jail for a cryptocurrency scam, and is thus unable to provide a response. Existing Rootpal users are urged to download a backup of their data, because Rootpal servers will likely start shutting down once their payment lapses.
I have taken the liberty to capture a screenshot of the aforementioned Facebook post comment. Scam or not, it looks like Rootpal may have been operated by an actual con artist.