Choosing the right host for your WordPress site is not an easy task. There are many factors to take into consideration, and it can be really confusing. I want to help simplify the process and walk you through all of the different options available so that you can make a more informed decision about your WordPress hosting needs.
First, note that there are several types of hosting that WordPress does well on. Typically it's Linux (an open source operating system), though it can run on Windows, I find it to be a bit of a pain to keep WordPress running well on Windows servers.
Let's review the types of WordPress web hosting out there:
Shared website hosting
Shared hosting is the simplest and least expensive, but it comes with tradeoffs. Your site will share resources like disk space, bandwidth and memory with (sometimes, hundreds of) other sites on that one server.
In other words, it's like sharing your computer with dozens or hundreds of other people at the same time: Inevitably it'll get very slow, and you have fewer resources to do anything.
I've seen some shared hosting that hosted torrents (sometimes illegal file sharing) and pornography sites, which ran the risk of others getting pinged as unsafe.
You can easily see how many other sites are hosted on your site with services like Domain Tool's Reverse IP Lookup.
On the up side, if you're just testing an idea, shared hosting can be a quick way to get a site up, often with one-click WordPress installation. I tend to recommend this sparingly, especially if your website is vital to your business.
Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting
I used VPS most often as I find it easy to spin up new sites quickly, and I find they're more nimble and quicker without major cost. VPS hosting is a virtualized hosting solution that is a bit more flexible than shared hosting because VPS provides the ability to run multiple isolated servers on a single physical machine.
VPS can also be less expensive, depending on which host you use and how much power/resources your site requires. It's perfect for folks who have limited budgets or want more control over their server. You can even choose a particular distribution or version of Linux if you want, and it's still cheaper than going with dedicated hosting.
Dedicated Server hosting
If your site is getting more serious traffic – 25,000 up through millions of hits per month – then a Dedicated Server might be the best solution for you. Dedicated servers provide the power and storage of a full machine all for you, so your site can run as fast as possible.
Most often these are used by businesses who have high traffic sites who want to minimize latency in their hosting environment. In a network, latency measures the time it takes for some data to get to its destination across the network. So, the lower latency, the better.
Dedicated Servers also provide more flexibility. Typically, dedicated hosting providers will give you full root access to the machine(s), which gives you complete control over your hosting environment. This is ideal if you're a developer who's very hands-on, and wants to control the whole environment.
Managed WordPress hosting
This is becoming more popular all the time as folks are moving away from shared solutions and wanting better performance while keeping costs down, and don't want to manage their own servers.
Managed WordPress hosting is exactly what it sounds like: Much of the server and site controls are handled by the host, so you have less controls to play with; on the flip side, they do handle issues like speed, security and backups, so there's less to worry about.
These tend to be a bit more expensive than shared solutions; however, they're optimized for WordPress, so you don't have to worry about security or performance issues.
There are several companies that offer Managed WordPress Hosting, but I'd stick with one of these top-rated providers:
What sort of WordPress hosting do I need?
You will need to consider factors such as:
How much traffic do you get on your website?
If you get less than 25,000 views to your site per month, you should consider managed WordPress hosting or a VPS. Each host has different levels of service and add-ons they provide, so compare carefully with your other considerations, such as:
What kind of support does your host provide?
Do they offer 24-hour customer service, or just email and phone support during business hours? I personally prefer to chat with customer service vs. phone calls, and email can sometimes take forever.
How fast is your website loading?
Test out your site with a service like GTMetrix. Though there are many factors that go into how slow a site is, cheap, slow shared hosting can certainly be fixed.
What kind of WordPress hosting features does this company offer?
Are they on the cutting-edge and always improving their platform, or do they just care about getting you signed up and earning money off of you? In the past I've checked out tiny local providers who didn't actually provide any server security, and they shrugged it off when I inquired about it.
Now, security is huge for WordPress sites and should be a major consideration, as it is for the hosts I've mentioned in this piece.
Also consider if they offer:
- Website backups (a must, in my opinion, though not a dealbreaker),
- Free SSL certificates (Godaddy does not offer this, and it's a major detractor for me),
- Free CDNs (Content Delivery Networks, which offload your images to make your site load quicker; CloudFlare is a common one),
- Free site migrations (again, not a dealbreaker, but a nice-to-have),
- Staging sites (so you can test updates and changes to your site before taking them live),
- Dedicated or priority support,
- A money-back guarantee, and how long is it for?
Some hosting companies offer only a 30-day money-back period, which means that if your website isn't quickly loading or has downtime after this time span you won't get your money back. But it can be a great testing ground. Others have great guarantees such as SiteGround's 45 day risk-free trial with full money-back guarantee.
Personally, I've used WPEngine, Dreamhost, Siteground and WPX Hosting for years, and find them all to be above-board and reliable.
But what about email?
Email accounts are often provided with many shared hosts, and I've a couple clients who won't use anything else.
However, I'd advise against this and use a separately-hosted solution like Google Mail. Separately hosted email has several advantages:
- Most, like Google, have superior spam controls. Often host-based email has manual spam controls, and I never found them to be adequate to keep out most spammers while keeping your good emails;
- It's not that easy to move years of backlogs of emails off a server; it's definitely doable, but it can be a huge pain and costly. I'm a fan of BitTitan, which is pretty darn comprehensive on the various mail systems.
- Some hosts are more focused on their website hosting and their email support is terrible.
- Check out the hosting company's reputation.
- This is a highly individualized thing, you will get a dozen answers from a dozen developers.
Why don't you recommend Bluehost, HostGator, GoDaddy…?
It's an open secret that many of these once-great hosting companies were purchased by EIG Hosting, who then came in and made many questionable changes. According to this great treatise on EIG, "some customers have noticed a significant reduction in the level of customer/technical support following the purchase of a hosting company by EIG."
Also of note: "Since the purchase of HostGator, some customers have become frustrated with the quality of service. Some have noticed a delay in response time when submitting tickets. Also with accounts being moved from SoftLayer to the EIG data center in Provo, UT there has been an increase in customer complaints."
So while there were some great hosting companies out there, I don't find them as compelling as they used to be. I've had terrible experiences with BlueHost and HostGator support, trying to fix issues that I'd normally be able to do easily on any other service without ever contacting support.
And as for Godaddy, I've had long waits on their customer service, again, for issues that would be easily solved on my own. And, I have found a lot of their products have less useful features than hoped for, for the price.
I also have clients who were on old Godaddy products who were not grandfathered in to updated product packages, and must upgrade to much more expensive products just to upgrade their PHP (the software that WordPress is based upon and needs to function). In short, it's a huge pain.
I still keep my domains with Godaddy because it's as good a solution as any these days, and I'm also part of an advisory panel that will hopefully guide future products. So, I'm hopeful they'll change, as it's an easy go-to for a lot of folks.
This doesn't mean that there aren't fabulous hosts out there, who will help your site run smoothly and with minimal fuss.
Hosting is an integral part of your website's health and well-being, and picking a great host will save you headaches down the line, so choose wisely!
Note: Some links are affiliate links; I may receive some compensation if you purchase from these providers.
Designer + WordPress developer for 20+ years. Love design, travel, good food and the Iowa Hawkeyes.