UPDATE : SLR Lounge has grown by over 400% over the past year. We have come from 40k monthly visitors and just over 100k page views, to now nearly 200,000 monthly visitors pulling up well over 600,000 page views per month here in November 2012! As many of you know, we are currently hosted with GoDaddy, but it is now fast approaching the time where we need to move over to a more robust solution. Most likely a dedicated server or a shared dedicated server. Many of you have been talking about who’s the best web host when it comes to shared hosting solutions, so we thought we would remind you all of this in-depth comparison that we did a while back. Read more below!

What is the Best Hosting Services for Photographers, Videographers and Creative Professionals?
We often get asked the question, “I want to start a photography website, but which hosting company and what hosting service is best for a photography website?” Back in January of 2010 we answered this question with a review of Go Daddy, Bluehost and BluDomain with a final conclusion that Bluehost was the clear winner.

However, technology changes rapidly, and web hosting is no exception. Since that time, Go Daddy has added a whole new host of features to compete with the increasingly competitive hosting market. Companies like FatCow, iPage and JustHost have climbed there way into the top 10 shared hosting companies. So, given the completely new hosting landscape, we thought it was time for an update to our previous review.

Just like everything at SLR Lounge, this time it was only proper to make sure we did it bigger and better =)

An Early Review Conclusion for the Impatient

For those of you that lack the desire or patience to read through this entire article, here is a brief summary of our review conclusion. Is there a clear winner when it comes to the best hosting company? Absolutely yes! Now, this may come as a shocker to you, especially considering the previous opinion we rendered on this company, however, it is deserving.

As of July 2011, the best web hosting company for photographers is Go Daddy. Since our last review, Go Daddy has implemented 4th generation server hardware and the game has changed completely. Now, Go Daddy boasts the highest “actual” disk space and bandwidth allotment. In addition, for those of you photographers who shoot boudoir, nudes, pinups, etc, Go Daddy is one of only 2 of our top 5 companies that actually allow you to post artistic nudes that actually show body parts. FatCow, Bluehost and JustHost consider any nude photograph showing body parts as “pornography” and can result in site suspension.

In addition, Go Daddy is the only host that offers upgrade flexibility in being able to move from shared hosting, to virtual dedicated hosting, and even eventually to dedicated hosting as your site grows. None of the other hosting companies offer any upgrade flexibility, as they only offer a basic shared hosting service.

Oh, and just so you know. We stand behind our recommendation. SLR Lounge, a complex site with currently over 60,000 unique monthly visitors (as of July 2011) and hundreds of thousands of page views, exceeded our “normal usage” allotments and was kicked off of JustHost and Bluehost, we were told the site was unable to be hosted with FatCow and iPage, and were being charged $120 in fees and overages per month from Media Temple due to site traffic. We transferred the site to Go Daddy, who is currently hosting the site on a the Ultimate Linux shared hosting package for under $11 a month, and the site is running flawlessly. UPDATE: We currently have nearly 200,000 monthly visitors and over 600,000 monthly page views. At this point, we are running into limitations with GoDaddy hosting.

Now, I would highly recommend that you read the rest of this article. There is not only a lot of important information that you need to know about web hosting companies and their marketing tactics, it should also prove to be quite a fascinating read overall.

Host Selection and Review Procedures

While there are thousands of hosting companies out there, we wanted to narrow down our web hosting review to the top 5 companies. We have selected Go Daddy, iPage, FatCow, Bluehost and JustHost as our top 5 web hosting companies for this review for the simple reason that they all offer great products at reasonable prices. In fact, while there is a clear winner, you really can’t go wrong with any of these companies as they all offer a shared hosting product that is well worth the monthly fee.

We based our selection off of choosing the largest companies with the most consistent overall track records. We looked at company size, hosting platforms, hundreds of customer reviews for each company as well as worked off of our own experience with each of these companies (and believe me when I say we have had many an experience with each of these companies).

We obtained information for our review by researching online customer reviews, using our own experience, as well as calling and discussing the nitty gritty with each hosting company’s technical support staff. Interestingly enough. with the exception of Go Daddy and iPage, none of the other companies would give us straight forward answers when they knew who we were and that we were doing a review article. So, to obtain our information, we called each company multiple times from different numbers with different “hosting scenarios” in order to collect our data.

The following table should help you navigate this long article. Use the following table as a summary; and also click on the numbers in the first column for more information on each topic.

# (click) Area of Comparison Go Daddy iPage FatCow Bluehost JustHost
1 Artistic Nudes Allowed Yes Yes No No No
2 Renewal Price (12 month pay period) $7.19 $6.95 $4.67 $6.95 $4.95
3 Bandwidth Unlimited* Unlimited* Unlimited* Unlimited* Unlimited*
3 Shared Hosting Server Load Excellent Average Average Average Average
4 Disk Space (Advertised) 150GB Unlimited* Unlimited* Unlimited* Unlimited*
4 Disk Space (Normal Usage) 150GB 25GB 25GB Unlimited* Unlimited*
4 File Number Limit (Normal Usage) 500,000 Unlimited* Unlimited* 200,000 200,000
5 Upgrade Flexibility Yes No No No No
6 # of SQL Databases 25 Unlimited* Unlimited* 100 100
7 Complimentary Backup / Restoration Yes No Yes Yes Yes
8 Refund Policy Prorated Full Prorated Prorated Prorated
9 Free Domain Name Included No Yes Yes Yes Yes
10 Green Powered No Yes Yes No No
11 Google Credits $100.00 $75.00 $50.00 $75.00 $50.00
11 Bing/Yahoo Credits $50.00 $25.00 $25.00 $25.00
11 Facebook Credits $50.00 $50.00 $50.00

Our 5 (or Rather 3) Favorite Hosting Services

The first interesting note that we found out after selecting our 5 companies, was that we were actually only comparing 3 hosting services. iPage and FatCow along with Bluehost and JustHost are actually the same hosting service just sold under different companies.

iPage and FatCow are two different companies and management teams, but they are both owned by the same parent company EIG (Endurance International Group). While there are small differences in pricing, refund policies, credits, etc, overall by purchasing from either iPage or FatCow you are essentially getting the exact same service. Along those same lines Bluehost and JustHost are also the exact same service. In fact, JustHost is simply an affilaite of Bluehost who acts as a reseller of Bluehost products and there are essentially no differences between their hosting products.

Alright, so our comparison of 5 hosting companies is really now only a comparison between 3 hosting services. However, do note that while they are selling the same service, there are some minor differences (i.e. refunds, backup, allowed images, and credits) as each company is run by a different management team. So be sure to read on, as well as compare the differences in the chart above to help you make the perfect decision.

Similarities Between Our Favorite Shared Hosting Solutions

There are many areas where all of our favorite hosting companies are the same, or are effectively the same, so we didn’t include these areas on the table above to keep it clutter free. So let’s briefly go over the similarities below:

24/7 365 North American Customer Support – Each company offers North American based customer support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. So, if one company is trying to sell you on the fact that they offer this feature, just know that so do all of the others. Keep in mind that if your issue needs to be escalated beyond regular tech support at odd hours, most likely you will still have to wait until regular business hours for resolutions.

Simple Interface and Control Panels – While the control panel software may differ from company to company, they all provide a very intuitive back end website management system. Every company offers simple automated installations of popular software, including the photography blog staple, WordPress.

File Storage Not Allowed – With cloud storage solutions being quite pricey, getting a shared hosting service with “unlimited” disk space sounds like a wonderfully cheap way of creating your own little cloud computing server. However, regardless of what company you are using, shared hosting services MAY NOT be used as online file storage. Every company’s ToU specifically states that all files on the website must actually be used in the website. We got in trouble with Bluehost for simply uploading image files for clients to download, yeah, kinda crazy.

Unlimited POP Mailboxes – All of the compared hosting services offer unlimited POP Mailboxes with the exception of Go Daddy which states they allow 500. Why you would need more than 500 is beyond me, so we will say they are effectively all the same in this regard.

Unlimited Domains Allowed – All of our favorite hosting companies offer unlimited domain hosting. This means that you can have several websites share the same hosting plan. Just keep in mind that while you can have as many domains hosted on the same account, they are all using the same shared resources. So as each website gets more popular, they will each drain resources until you need to break them off and place them on their own individual shared hosting account.

No Contracts Required – While each company will provide you with discounts based on your purchase length, none of these companies will lock you into a contract. Meaning you can cancel at anytime without incurring any fees.

1. Disallowed “Pornographic” Content

There is a major issue here for photographers, videographers and other creative professionals when it comes to the subject of what is considered “pornographic” content. Each of the company’s Terms of Use (ToU) states that showing or hosting pornographic material will result in suspension and termination if corrective measures to remove the images are not taken. But, to figure out exactly what each company considered “porn” we had to call and speak with them directly.

iPage and Go Daddy will permit you to display full nude images as long as the images do not show “penetration” (yes they said that on the phone). FatCow, Bluehost and JustHost only allow the display and hosting of implied nudes, meaning the display of any sexual organs is considered “pornography” and is in violation of their ToUs.

So, what does this mean to photographers? If you shoot fashion, boudoir, pin-ups or other images that show nudity and you wish to display those images on your site, then you will be in violation of the ToU with FatCow, Bluehost and JustHost resulting in site suspension and possibly site termination. FatCow, Bluehost and JustHost will allow subjects in swim suits or lingerie, however no private body parts may be visible. So, if your work constitutes any type of nude photography, you will want to host with either iPage or Go Daddy.

2. Initial Sign Up & Renewal Price (Based on a 12 month purchase cycle)

Hosting companies don’t make it obvious when it comes to how much you will be paying to renew your hosting service after the initial sign up period. What you can expect is after your introductory rate expires, pretty much every company will be charging around the same amount for your monthly hosting fees, which is $8.95 when renewed on a 12 month renewal cycle. In this regard, Go Daddy, the largest of our top 5 hosting companies (and undisputedely the most openly hated) is the only hosting service charging $7.99 a month rather than the standard $8.95 monthly rate.

It is safe to expect that over time these rates will adjust for inflation and increased costs. So, if you know you will be running your website for a long time, it is always a good idea to purchase your hosting service for the longest possible duration. Most hosting companies will give you deep discounts (15 – 30% off) for 24 or 36 month hosting purchases. Every company will give you a prorated refund if you decide to cancel, and this will ensure that you lock in a low monthly rate for the longest period possible. So, if the initial upfront cost is not an issue, there really is no reason to not purchase the longest possible duration of hosting.

What Exactly is Shared Hosting?

Before getting into comparing each and every feature, let’s first take a moment to discuss what exactly is shared hosting. Shared hosting means that you are sharing a single server with a limited amount of resources with other hosting clients. This means that resources are shared across each account, and then across each website. So, for example let’s say that there are 5 hosting accounts on a single server (more often then not there are far more than just 5), and let’s say that each account owns 5 websites. Well, that means that each hosting account would be given allotted 20% of the servers resources. Then, within each hosting account, each website would be allotted 1/5 or the required amount of resources for each site.

Because a shared hosting environment is using a limited amount of resources across a broad set of websites, resources must be constantly monitored to ensure that no single account or website is over- utilizing the servers resources. This gives rise to the term “Normal Usage” which is a term that is used in every web hosting company’s Terms of Use Agreement.

What exactly is “Unlimited” based on “Normal Usage”?

Every hosting company stating “unlimited” anything shouldn’t be taken for face value. Unlimited bandwidth, disk space, etc can’t actually be unlimited since this would present issues when certain sites over-utilize a server, thus drawing resources from other customer’s websites. So, hosting companies created the term “Normal Usage.”

“Normal Usage” basically states that the average or “Normal” person with the “Normal” website would typically not exceed a certain amount of system resources. Therefore, if the hosting company is offering an amount that is more than what the “Normal” person would typically use, then they are able to say “unlimited” when it comes to marketing their service. Some companies will restrict you on the overall file count, while others will restrict you on disk space.

So, if your website grows quickly and exceeds the amount of resources required for the “Normal” website, then you will receive notification that you are in violation of the your hosting company’s ToU. At that point, you must either take steps to reduce resource usage and get back in compliance, or transfer to another hosting company. So, what amount of Bandwidth and Disk Space is considered “Normal,” well as we mentioned, every company is different. We will be discussing each company’s ACTUAL bandwidth and disk space allowances below.

3. Actual Bandwidth Based on “Normal Usage”

After hours and hours of reading each hosting company’s fine print, I was unable to track down any solid information regarding what exactly constituted “Normal Usage” in regards to Bandwidth. So, I turned to the phone. There were only 2 companies that were willing to disclose any information on this subject, JustHost and Go Daddy, so kudos to them first of all for standing behind their product.

JustHost (which is Bluehost‘s service) stated that pretty much regardless of the hosting service you are using, all shared hosting is going to run into limitations at around the same point. This point is around 2,000 users or around 6,000 to 10,000 daily hits.These numbers will of course be heavily dependent on site complexity, but from our research and personal experience these amounts are actually quite accurate across the board (with the exception of Go Daddy which is discussed below).

Go Daddy‘s bandwidth “Normal Usage” was based upon the maximum number of concurrent users (users utilizing the site simultaneously). They were even good enough to provide exact numbers, which are as follows:

4th Generation Linux Based Hosting (recommended)

Economy – 150 Concurrent Users

Deluxe – 300 Concurrent Users

Ultimate – 600 Concurrent Users

4th Generation Windows Based Hosting

Economy – 150 Concurrent Users

Deluxe – 300 Concurrent Users

Ultimate – 450 Concurrent Users

EXAMPLE – While these numbers sound lower than 2,000 daily users, they are most definitely not. To help you put these numbers into perspective, let’s talk about SLR Lounge’s hosting history. When SLR Lounge (a very complex site) hit around 400 daily unique users we began seeing the site slow down and crash, at that time we were using Go Daddy‘s 2nd or 3rd Generation Linux Economy Hosting (Go Daddy‘s cheapest hosting service). At that time, we were relatively new to the web scene, so we didn’t realize that upgrading to a higher shared hosting package would actually increase the concurrent user load. So, instead we switched to Bluehost. This worked quite well for about 6 months until we reached around 900 daily users when we again experienced the same issues. Since Bluehost doesn’t offer any non-shared solutions we transferred the site again, this time to Media Temple.

Media Temple was a strong hosting company, however their rates were quite expensive and we were being charged the standard $20 a month + nearly $75 – $100 in overages each month because of how quickly SLR Lounge was growing. At that point I chatted with my friend Lee Morris, one of the co-founders of FStoppers.com, a site with well over 100,000 monthly users. Lee told me that the site was doing just fine with Go Daddy 4th Generation Ultimate Linux service which was only $15 a month. I was dumbfounded to be honest. Our experience on their prior generation hosting wasn’t that good, but we took his word for it and switched back. Now, a few months later well over 2,000 users a day with our complex site, Go Daddy is running fabulously.

It is also nice to know that once SLR Lounge is too large for our current hosting plan, Go Daddy offers the flexibility of upgrading to virtual dedicated and dedicated server hosting.

4. Actual Disk Space Based on “Normal Usage”

Every company, with the exception of Go Daddy, provides “unlimited” disk space with your shared hosting account. As mentioned, disk space may not be used as file storage so “unlimited” isn’t really unlimited. However, beyond that, iPage, FatCow, Bluehost and JustHost were all unwilling to actually state on the phone what the upper limit was on the disk space usage based on “Normal Usage.” Every one of them did, however, acknowledge there was an actual limit. We were able to coax the limit out of each company when we once again discussed our “hosting scenerio” of needing to transfer a site that was approximately 25GB in size over to their hosting service.

When we discussed what we wanted to transfer, iPage and FatCow representatives stated that they allow an unlimited number of files, but limit their customers to 25GB worth of disk space usage. Bluehost and JustHost were the opposite allowing their customers to use as much disk space as needed, but limited the total file count to 200,000 files.

This information was consistent with our own experience, as well as in reading online reviews. We seemed to be seeing people run into issues at around 25GB+ of space when they would start receiving ToU violation emails. At that point, customers are asked to delete and trim down the files, or transfer to another hosting company.

Now, the 150GB disk space that Go Daddy is offering seems much more palatable since that is an actual solid number that they are liable to have to stick to. In addition, the file number limit with Go Daddy is 500,000 files.So, once again, Kudos to Go Daddy in regards to disk space.

5. Upgrade and Scalability

Unfortunately, the only company that offers any scalability with their solutions is Go Daddy. All of the other hosting companies strictly offer basic shared hosting. This means that once your website grows outside of the boundaries of shared hosting, which is around 2,000+ users a day for the average website, then you will need to look to transferring your website to another company.

I haven’t yet seen the upper limit of Go Daddy‘s Ultimate Linux plan. However, it is still working fabulously with over 2,000 daily users on SLR Lounge and around 5,000 daily users on FStoppers. But, once we do hit the upper end of the our hosting plan’s limitations, then we can move to Go Daddy dedicated virtual hosting, and then even further onto dedicated hosting.

6. My SQL Databases

iPage, FatCow and JustHost state to offer “unlimited” My SQL Databases. None of them had additional information on “Normal Usage” in this regard. The compared Go Daddy account only offered 25 databases, but have stated no restrictions in regards to maximum database size. Bluehost, while stating you can have up to 1000 My SQL Databases, also limit your account to 3GB worth of total database space. This was by far the most limiting of all of our favorite hosting companies.

EXAMPLE – To give you an idea, a typical WordPress based blog would use one database.

Go Daddy‘s 25 Database limit is also a little restricting, however, since a typical blog or database driven site only uses 1 database, as long as you are running 25 or fewer websites on your hosting account (which I assume most of you will be) then you will have no problems. The bottom line is that if you are running 20 – 25 websites, most likely you will run into bandwidth and resource issues prior to running out of databases. But, either way, this feature can also be upgraded to unlimited databases by stepping up to the Ultimate 4GH plan.

7. Complimentary Site Backup and Restoration

With the exception of iPage, all of the other hosting companies offered some form of complimentary backup and restoration if needed. Interestingly, even though iPage and FatCow are essentially the same service, one offers this service while the other doesn’t, an example again of minor differences in management. Site backup and restoration is vital in the event that your website is hacked, accidental file deletion, etc.

However, while 4 of the 5 companies offer a complimentary backup and restoration, their backup services are not guaranteed and are limited to backing up 1 – 2 times per month. Meaning, if you are making frequent changes and your site goes down, you could be losing up to 1-2 weeks worth of work on your website if you aren’t maintaining your own backups or paying for a backup service. All 5 companies do offer advanced backup services which guarantee backup of your site anywhere from daily to weekly for around $13 – $20 per year which is something we highly recommend.

8. Refund Policy

Most of the refund policies are substantially the same. Every single company will give you a prorated refund based upon how much time has elapsed on your purchase term. In addition, none of the 5 companies have contracts or cancellation fees. So, if you purchased 36 months of hosting and decide to cancel your website after only 3 months of use, you will be refunded for the 33 unused months.

The one exception to this is iPage who offers an “anytime moneyback guarantee” where you can get a full refund if you are unsatisfied at anytime. It is good to note that domain name registration fees cannot be refunded since those fees are given to the domain name registrars.

9. Free Domain Name

The only company to not offer free domain name registration with a new sign up is Go Daddy. Negative points to Go Daddy in that regard, as it will cost you a bit more to register a new domain name. But, this is a price that many people will be willing to pay for the additional performance.

10. Green Powered

If you are an environmentalist, then you will be happy to know that iPage and FatCow hosting servers run completely off of wind generated green power. The other companies are still using traditional power.

11. Google, Bing, Yahoo and Facebook Credits

Regarding credits, Go Daddy stands out with $200 in total of credits compared to $75 – $150 from the other companies. Now, is this a big deal? Not really. These credits are useful, but more often then not they just go unused. You will also want to make sure the credits can be put to the use you desire before making a decision and realizing that your credits can’t be applied to the service you desire. While this definitely isn’t a major factor, if you are deciding between two of the companies, this may tip you in one direction or the other.

Customer Service Quality

Customer service quality is a difficult topic to cover. Why? Because every person is going to have a completely different experience based on their specific issue. Regarding basic service and tech support, most of the companies are pretty much about the same. You can expect to have slightly longer wait times with Go Daddy simply because they are a much larger company. However, all of the other companies are very responsive, and offer 24/7 customer service and tech support 365 days a year. This means that for simpler issues, guidance, basic tech support, you should be able to get your answers immediately.

Regarding more complex tech support, we have had great experiences and bad experiences with just about every company. From multiple line transfers and hold times with Go Daddy to site suspension without notice from Bluehost. However, in general our experiences have been satisfactory with all of these companies, hence they are all a part of our 5 favorites.

It is worth noting that Go Daddy gets a lot more negative PR than is deserved simply because they are the largest and most commercial. Despite the several thousand ratings we compiled to create this report, overall our experiences have been pretty much the same across the board. Which to be honest is expected since these are what we consider the best companies in the web hosting field.

Final Conclusion

While all of the companies we selected for this review have an excellent overall product, the clear winner is Go Daddy. For those of you who would rather host with a smaller company offering a relatively more “intimate” experience, either iPage/FatCow or Bluehost/JustHost are great solutions as well. However you will want to base your decision off of the types of files and storage requirements needed for your site. If you need unlimited space, and don’t have that many files then Bluehost/JustHost are going to be your best choice as you are allowed unlimited space as long as you are under your 200,000 file limit. If you have a site with hundreds of thousands of small files, but overall is far less than 25GB of space, then iPage/FatCow are going to be the better option.

We hope you have found this article as insightful and interesting as we did creating it. Please help SLR Lounge by sharing this article with your friends, as well as posting your feedback below.