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In all the noise on the web around web hosting and web hosting reviews, something that often gets overlooked is the quality of support that web hosting companies offer.
That’s probably why web hosting review websites (that have a dubious reputation) get so much traffic – curiosity!
While there is understandably a lot of focus on the fastest WordPress hosting now, there is not that much discussion about how good the support is for X or Y hosting companies.
So I decided to fix that with an anonymous survey of the 16 biggest names in WordPress hosting.
Why only WordPress hosting, you might wonder?
Well, simply because general web hosting would need to cover hundreds of companies.
Support may not be as sexy a topic as speed but when you run into technical issues with your website, quality support really matters.
Plus, customer support isn’t that easy so I respect any hosting company that can maintain good customer support over a long period of time, more on that later.
What Will I Learn?
- How Was The Experiment Conducted?
- #1: Who Owns The Hosting Company?
- #2: How Quickly Do They Respond?
- #3: Do They Remove Malware For Free?
- #4: Do They Offer Free Site Migrations?
- #5: Do They Optimize For Core Web Vitals?
- #6: Do They Offer Help With Simple Tasks?
- #7: Cost Per Website
- #8: Do They Offer Free Email Hosting?
- #9: Do They Offer Phone Support?
- #10: What Does TrustPilot Say?
How Was The Experiment Conducted?
Without becoming an actual customer, I anonymously approached each company’s customer support on live chat and asked a bunch of (pre-sale) questions.
I pretended to be a “non-techie” potential customer who might need support help if I became their customer and I wanted 10 websites moved over from another host.
This is what I wanted to know:
- Average time to first response on live chat
- Was malware removal offered?
- How much do site migrations costs & how long do they take?
- Would they optimize my site for speed?
- Were they willing to create specific redirects for me?
- Were they willing to place hotlinking protection on images for me?
- How much does it cost to host each site?
- Was email hosting included with their hosting?
- Did they offer phone support?
NOTE: Videos and screenshots of live chat conversations are included below, but feel free to test yourself to verify it’s current:
I also looked at:
- How many Trustpilot.com reviews they had accumulated?
- What their Trustpilot score was, at the time of testing?
- What percentage of negative reviews they responded to on Trustpilot
- How quickly they answered negative reviews
The 16 companies (all based on their Managed WordPress Hosting service, not generic Web hosting) tested were:
NOTE #1: I wanted to include Pagely, Dreamhost and Hostinger in this test but they did not seem to offer live chat to non-customers, a mistake I believe.
NOTE #2: Liquid Web and Nexcess share the same chat system and agents.
Their support confirmed (in the chat with Nexcess) that they also share the same resources, so everything that we gathered as information from Liquid Web is also applied to Nexcess.
#1: Who Owns The Hosting Company?
Web hosting is a big business, a multi-billion dollar industry.
Like any big industry, there are a few ‘whale’ corporations and some independent players.
The problem with big players in a big industry is that they often care more about cost-cutting and their share price than customer experience.
This can also be the case when a whale acquires a smaller independent host who previously delivered high-quality support.
In web hosting, there are two main whales:
A private equity firm that owns several tech-related companies:
Previously called Endurance International Group (EIG):
On top of that, Automattic, the owners of WordPress, also own Pressable who we also tested in this post.
I say all this because you should ALWAYS know:
- Which parent company you are dealing with.
- The potential impact on support quality when one of these whales gobbles up an independent host.
If you do some searching in Google for problems with EIG owned hosts you’ll see it for yourself.
Based on past experience, anyone that is still independent!
#2: How Quickly Do They Respond?
You know by now that I am fanatical about website speed and its impact on sales conversions.
In the same way, I regard how quickly a web host responds to support inquiries as a measure of their overall quality.
As phone support is a dying thing in web hosting and most companies now use live chat as their main support channel, I wanted to see:
- How quickly they responded
- The quality of that conversation
Here is how the tested companies performed, average of 3 chats with a real person, not a chatbot (surprisingly good results here):
1st WPX, 2nd Siteground, 3rd Hostgator, though most times were respectable and I would be happy waiting for a minute to get a response from a real person.
#3: Do They Remove Malware For Free?
Malware is a big problem these days and even up-to-date WP plugins can be vulnerable if the flaw hasn’t yet been discovered or fixed by the developers.
While most hosts will detect malware for you, very few will actually remove it for you.
Well, because it’s an added labour cost for them – and most expect you to use a 3rd party service like Sucuri, where plans start at $200 per year per website!
That can add huge costs to your hosting, especially if you have more than one site needing protection.
If a host does provide malware removal for free, that is a huge value add when you need it most:
Kinsta, WPX, WP Engine, Namecheap, Liquid Web, Nexcess and Flywheel offer free malware removal while at GreenGeeks only the first cleanup is free.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have GoDaddy which wants $300 a year per site for unlimited cleanups. Crazy, right?
#4: Do They Offer Free Site Migrations?
Moving a WordPress site from one host to another can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing, especially if it’s a bigger, more complex site.
Some hosts will take full control of this, while others offer a free migration plugin so you can do it yourself.
So you need to choose the service that best aligns with:
- Your level of expertise
- Your threshold for risk
Here is how our test group answered the migration question:
Kinsta, Siteground, WPX, and GoDaddy offer free migrations within a reasonable amount of time. I was surprised to see Bluehost charging $298 for the migrations of 10 Websites!
#5: Do They Optimize For Core Web Vitals?
As I wrote earlier, site speed is critical now.
In recent years, Google has been getting louder about site speed and claims that it is a ranking factor:
Google says that its Core Web Vitals tool is their gauge for site speed so I wanted to know if our 16 tested WP hosts would help a non-tech customer with that.
Here’s how that went:
WPX does offer one free manual site speed optimizations for Core Web Vitals while Flywheel and Pressable will give you some help if needed.
#6: Do They Offer Help With Simple Tasks?
To test each hosts technical support response, I asked them to help me setup some image hotlinking protection along with some simple redirects.
Here is what they told me on live chat:
Most companies did OK here but Elementor wouldn’t offer any help here whereas most others managed to do at least one of those tasks.
#7: Cost Per Website
This was a tricky one because the competitive nature of web hosting and the challenges of delivering high-quality support don’t go together easily.
Also, what appears like an “attractive price” is often only on a very long, multi-year subscription.
Hostgator’s $2.75 per month price changes to $10.95 monthly if you only go for 1 month, to test out the service.
Same for Bluehost, which went from $2.95 to $9.95.
So be aware!
At the more expensive end of our group, you can be getting a VPS with dedicated resources whereas the cheaper end is where shared hosting services are offered.
VPSs versus shared hosting is a whole other topic for a separate discussion.
Price alone is not necessarily a fair comparison here but I wanted to see how more expensive services did in terms of support quality, not just hardware.
You should also beware of any “unlimited” or “unmetered” offers as these accounts (like Bluehost and SiteGround) can be automatically shut down if you accidentally go over their normal website use limits.
Always check their TOS on those unlimited deals.
Here is how our test group compared on price, per site slot, monthly only, base plan, without any special discounts (correct at time of writing):
Under $10 per site slot is great value in my view if the host delivers so Namecheap, WPX, Elementor hosting & BlueHost are the winners here.
#8: Do They Offer Free Email Hosting?
If you are a heavy email user, you should probably be using a separate email service such as Google Workspace.
But if you’re a light user, a hosting accounts email is OK and can help you save a little money.
Here is how our test group went:
Whether you care about email or phone support with your hosting is up to your own case and needs so I won’t declare any winners in this section.
#9: Do They Offer Phone Support?
For some people live chat and email support isn’t enough.
So I wanted to see which of the hosts offered dedicated phone support if there are any problems:
A2, Bluehost, GoDaddy, GreenGeeks, Hostgator, Liquid Web, SiteGround and WP Engine do all offer phone support whereas Flywheel only offered it on higher plans.
Strangely, Servebolt only offered phone support between 8 am and 10 pm, in their time zone I assume.
#10: What Does TrustPilot Say?
Trustpilot is the biggest customer review platform in the world, by a very big margin.
Some companies don’t care about their Trustpilot ratings or negative reviews and their focus is elsewhere, that’s why they have low review or interaction counts here.
There were some surprises though, such as:
- 2 of our 16 test companies tied for equal 1st highest Trustscore with 4.9: WPX (2,410 reviews), Pressable (137 reviews)
- WP Engine, Serverbolt and Flywheel don’t bother ever replying to negative reviews
- Of the companies replying to negative reviews within 24 hours on Trustpilot, WPX had replied to 100% of those, Hostgator 100%, Bluehost 97%, Nexcess 95% and Namecheap 87%.
Sorted by most-to-least Trustpilot.com reviews:
Note: The number of reviews are last updated on September 8th 2022.
Purely based on the highest Trustscore, WPX comes out on top with 4.9 out of 5 from 2000+ reviews.
Siteground, Namecheap and GoDaddy have averaged over 4 out of 5 from more than 10k Trustpilot reviews which is surprising!
Wrapping It Up
This test surprised me quite a lot.
Even though I expected mediocrity from the big legacy players, they actually performed very well!
Overall though it seems like WPX are raising the bar on customer service with their:
- Free malware removal
- Speed optimizations
- Heavy focus on customer experience
And who can ignore public feedback like this:
So with that said:
I think the best overall web hosting support trophy goes to WPX–
Not only do they offer great support but they also did very well during my fastest Wordpress hosting case study!
An honourable mention also goes to Kinsta who ran WPX close across several categories here as they have done in previous test, but not on price (which they just increased).
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
What are your thoughts?