You made it across the finish line. After weeks (maybe months) of project meetings and design reviews, the slog of gathering content, all that time thinking about button colors and menu styles, and picking out a domain name – your shiny new WordPress website is done and ready to be published. If you haven’t figured it out during the initial phase of the project, now is also the time to figure out where your website is going to live – namely, diving into the process of choosing the right hosting company and plan for your WordPress website. And let’s face it, after having spent valuable time and hard-earned dollars on the design and development of your website, the last thing you want to do is burn more time trying to wade through the vast sea of information out there telling you what company you really need to go with for web hosting, and what whiz-bang plan will truly serve your needs.
Pro tip: most of the articles out there you stumble across will be written by affiliates of individual hosting companies who write “reviews” or “best of” articles for mainly one purpose – to get you to click on their affiliate links so they get a kickback when you sign up for a plan.
Now, not all of this kind of information is being served up with a wink and a nudge. In fact, many authors will cop to the fact that they are reviewing products and services for companies they have affiliate deals with. Points for honesty, truly, but it still leaves you with the feeling that you’re not really getting an objective assessment of what’s out there. And besides, there are a lot of technical concepts and jargon surrounding web hosting which most people don’t have the time or the inclination to untangle.
So, now what?
You’ve got a WordPress site that you’re hoping will elevate your company’s national profile, bring in qualified leads, and turn those leads into customers. Or, maybe you’re launching an e-commerce website that will act as the sole source of direct revenue for your entire operation. Or perhaps you’ve just got a simple, elegant brochure site which will be part of a marketing and SEO strategy to bring in more local business. In all of these different scenarios, your website plays an important role, and each site in the examples above will likely require something different as far as web hosting.
To start with, let’s talk a little bit about what web hosting is without all the technical jargon, what it takes to host a WordPress website, and what services hosting companies provide to make it all happen.
What is Web Hosting?
At its most basic, a web host does one thing. It puts everything that comprises a website on a server that listens for requests to see pages from that website. Those requests are sent when you’re sitting at your computer or on a mobile device, you open up a web browser app (like Chrome, Safari or Internet Explorer), type in a web address, and hit ‘enter’. The web server receives your request and sends back whatever you’re asking to see on a given website. That’s it. Pretty simple.
In actuality, there’s way more going on under the hood when you’re browsing web pages. But that techie stuff isn’t important if you only need to know enough to make an informed decision when it comes time to purchase a hosting plan for your WordPress website. All you really need to know are a few things about some common service offerings. So, in the interest of keeping things simple and focusing on the essentials, let’s look at three of the most popular kinds of hosting plans.
Shared hosting is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The files and data that make up your website are put on a server, along with other customer websites, and you all share the resources that are offered by that server. The main advantage of choosing this type of plan is cost. Server hardware is relatively cheap these days and, if a hosting company can put a lot of paying customers on one server, they can charge less and make plenty of money on volume. If you have a small site that doesn’t require a lot of computing power and doesn’t get a lot of visitors, this can be a great choice. Shared hosting plans at the economy level can cost as little as $5 or $6 per month. Sometimes less!
However, we live in a universe where there really are no free lunches, so there are some downsides to shared web hosting plans (especially for WordPress sites – more on that in a minute). The main problem is that it’s…well, shared. This generally means two things. First, if there are too many websites on a single server, either because the hosting company is trying to maximize profits, or just isn’t being careful, the load on that server will be too much to handle. Your website (and everyone else’s) may load slowly, or only partially load pages, or possibly it won’t load at all. This obviously will have an impact on people’s ability to visit your site, and from an SEO perspective, Google doesn’t look kindly on slow websites – it will impact search rankings for sure.
The second problem with shared hosting is that, even if the server has a reasonable number of websites on it, one or two bad actors can ruin things for everyone. In other words, if a website starts to have technical issues like a memory leak or runaway computing processes that start eating up all the available resources, the rest of the websites on that server will also suffer until the issues are resolved. This is especially important for WordPress websites, and other content management systems (CMS). There are a lot of moving parts to a WordPress site and, even when things are working perfectly, there is a minimum level of web hosting horsepower required to run it properly. Shared hosting, especially at the economy level, often doesn’t provide the computing power needed to accomplish this, even when the websites in question don’t receive a lot of traffic.
The good news is that hosting companies usually offer several levels of shared hosting plans. If you opt for something higher-end instead of an economy plan, your website will still be on a server with other customer websites, but you’ll be allotted a larger slice of the pie as far as server resources go. Your site is still exposed to all the issues that come along with a shared server, but you’ll at least be starting off on a more powerful plan.
Ultimately, shared plans can be an economical place to start given the right circumstances. And if you find your site needs more power, you can usually upgrade with a few clicks on your hosting company’s website.
Virtual Private Servers (VPS)
The next level up in the hosting plan food chain is the Virtual Private Server. This is similar to a shared plan in that your website will be hosted on a server with many other customers. The important difference is that, instead of all websites sharing a single pool of server resources, each website is assigned to a VPS, or Virtual Private Server. This is a fancy way of saying that your website is operating in its own little fenced-in area. Your website will have a dedicated pool of resources and any issues going on with other websites on that same server won’t impact you or anyone else. These plans usually scale depending on how much disk space, memory and processing power you want to purchase and it can be a very good solution for WordPress sites with moderate to heavy traffic, or sites running ecommerce, or other services that require faster, more consistent performance.
VPS plans usually run anywhere from $40 to well over $100 per month. The next step above a VPS would be to actually purchase and maintain a private server dedicated to hosting your website. This is a major step that comes with a high monthly price tag and some knowledge regarding what it takes to maintain the infrastructure. The hows and whys of choosing a dedicated server is beyond the scope of this post, but the vast majority of most business needs can be easily filled with a VPS plan–and the bonus is that maintaining the server infrastructure is off your plate.
Managed WordPress Hosting
WordPress is a popular platform for building websites which, by the way, qualifies as perhaps the biggest understatement of the year. Depending on the source, estimates on the number of websites worldwide that are currently running on WordPress fall anywhere between 25 – 30%. And over 14% of the world’s largest websites also run on WordPress. Enthusiasm for the platform is only growing, seeing overall market share go from around 13% to over 27% in the past 5 years.
Those are impressive numbers. So it comes as no surprise that in the past few years, hosting companies have started offering a new kind hosting plan that’s specifically tuned to cater to the requirements of WordPress websites: Managed WordPress. And, starting at around $20 per month, Managed WordPress has many advantages for anyone running a WordPress website, especially in the small to medium-size business world. We can really dive into the more technical aspects of why a Managed WordPress plan is so great but, again, we’ll focus on a few key things this service usually provides to help streamline your decision-making process:
Even at the less expensive end of the spectrum, Managed WordPress usually outperforms a plain old shared hosting plan because, as we touched on earlier, WordPress has some specific needs when it comes to server configuration and power. The backend of Managed WordPress is specifically built and tuned only for WordPress websites so, even on a budget plan, you’re getting the maximum performance for your dollar.
Like shared hosting and VPS plans, your Managed WordPress platform can grow as your business needs grow. If you need more horsepower because your WordPress website is seeing more traffic, or you started hosting some kind of app or service that requires extra processing power, upgrades can usually be configured with the click of a button.
Hassle-free WordPress maintenance, backups, and security
As a WordPress web developer, this one’s a biggie for me. WordPress is a technological wonder. It can do, and be, so many different things. One of the costs of having all that power and flexibility is that the system needs constant updates to its core software, as well as to themes, plugins and any other third-party products being used in conjunction with the main WordPress platform. And, as with all things data-related, security and disaster recovery are also extremely important considerations.
Managed WordPress makes all of these tasks easy by offering automated software updates, website backups and security scans that are built into the hosting plans. This can save a lot of time, heartache, and money for your business and the developers you commonly reach out to for regular maintenance, security patching and backups.
If you’re not sure whether your WordPress site gets this kind of maintenance, or if you’ve been skipping out on it to save a few bucks, stop reading right now and get started on that! One major problem with your website can cost more than an entire year’s worth of maintenance fees, not to mention the lost opportunities during prolonged site outages (FYI – Huckleberry Branding offers some pretty nice maintenance plans that you can check out here).
Regardless of whether you decide to perform WordPress website maintenance yourself, or hire an outside service, please make sure software updates, security, and backups are happening consistently on your site.
This is All Great, but Which Hosting Companies are the Best?
Now that you’re armed with a basic, but fairly comprehensive, overview on what’s out there as far as WordPress web hosting plan options, here is a 100% affiliate-free list of links to a handful of hosting companies that I have had experience with through client work. I don’t get any kickbacks if you click on these links, and I am not affiliated with these hosting companies in any way. Additionally, your experience with any of these companies could turn out to be quite different than mine, but all companies included here are ones that I have found to be easy to work with, and have delivered what I expected (or better!) relative to the price of the plans I worked with.
GoDaddy has come a long way. They’re the 800 pound gorilla in the web hosting ecosystem and, in the past, I felt like they paid more attention to marketing in order to drive a high volume of business than they did providing quality hosting and good customer support. That has really changed over the past few years and they now offer a wide range of hosting options at all price points, including all the plan types discussed above. They have recently rolled out Managed WordPress hosting, again, with several price levels. I’ve worked with a WordPress website hosted on GoDaddy’s economy-level Managed WordPress plan and, while the site wasn’t the fastest I’ve ever seen, it was adequate for my client’s needs. Additionally, the development tools and services offered with the plan, as well as the technical support, are very good. Their shared hosting and Managed WordPress plans start around $6 – $8 per month, but they run a lot of deals, so depending on what you’re looking for, it can be had for less.
SiteGround has a solid reputation for providing WordPress-centric hosting. Websites I’ve worked with hosted by this company have always performed well. They also provide a nice suite of tools and services for WordPress administrators that make it easy to maintain existing websites and deploy new ones. One complaint I have about SiteGround is that the admin dashboard and the customer areas on the company website aren’t as intuitive and easy to navigate as some other hosting companies’ offerings. At the time this blog post was written, SiteGround plans start around $5 per month through a promotional event. They’re normally around $8 and up.
For me, this is the gold standard of WordPress web hosting. They offer rock solid support and will go above and beyond to fix your problems and answer your technical questions, and they have bulletproof infrastructure offering great tools and services to support WordPress site administration and development. In fact, one of the things I love about WPEngine is the simplicity of their tooling and hosting dashboard: they give you exactly what you need and nothing more. Everything is easy to find, easy to use, and always works. Likewise, they only have a few plans, which start at $35 per month, but that’s all you’ll need. Period.
As their name implies, they’re cheap. But I have been using this company to host my personal website for almost 5 years now and, I have to say, if you’re on a budget, this company can’t be beat as far as price and the quality of the service and support they provide. I have only used their basic shared hosting plan, but have never had a problem with it. When I’ve needed to call their support line, it has always been easy to get in touch with a friendly, knowledgeable technician who was able to solve my problems. They have a Managed WordPress solution, as well as higher tiers of shared hosting, which I have never used. My guess is that, based on the good experiences I’ve had using their cheapest plan, the quality is the same or better for their more expensive offerings. Their basic shared plans start at $2.88 per month at the time of this writing, and their Managed WordPress hosting plans start at $3.88 per month.
Wrapping Things Up…
So, there you have it. The basic knowledge you need to go forth and purchase a web hosting plan for your WordPress site on your own, or have a productive conversation with your web developer about your hosting options without feeling like your lost at sea. Just remember, you get what you pay for so, as long as you have a realistic idea of what your needs are today, and a game plan for your website’s future, something as intimidating as choosing a hosting plan for your WordPress site can be a piece of cake.