Where you host your WordPress site can be the difference between your site running smoothly, and an endless string of technical headaches.
It's an important decision!
But with so many to choose from (and some really slick marketing), how do you know which host is best for you?
Let's cut through the marketing hype and arm you with the information you need to make an informed decision...
Why Your Hosting Choice Matters
Building your site on the wrong host is like building your house on unstable soil - things look fine initially, but eventually the cracks start appearing.
In website terms, these cracks can range from intermittent technical glitches to the inability to implement new content or capabilities on your site.
(Really, who needs these sort of headaches when you're trying to run a business?)
It's important to understand that not every website host in the market is created equal.
Let's be honest - creating and managing a website hosting platform is technically challenging.
I won't bore you with the details, but there's a lot going on behind the scenes to make sure your content shows up on a visitor's browser when they request it. It requires real technical expertise, and some serious investment in infrastructure, to keep it all working properly.
The problem for us as consumers is that some companies are far better at marketing than they are at managing the technical complexities (I'm looking at you GoDaddy!).
So, if you want to know how to see through the marketing and understand how to find the best hosting platform for your business, then read on...
Types of Hosting
Before you can select the right website host (and plan) for your website, you need to understand the different types of hosting available.
With shared hosting, each physical server (think PC) is used to serve many websites. All of the files for each website reside on the one box (even if it is a "virtual" box on Google Cloud), and the memory and processing power of that box has to be shared between the sites.
It' like running multiple programs on your own computer. As long as you don't run too many, and each of them behaves nicely, then everything works fine. But if you have too many programs open, or one starts chewing up the processing power or memory, then all of them grind to a halt.
The same goes for all the websites on a shared server.
When looking at shared hosting you should ensure:
You may need to contact the host's online support to get this information, as it's generally not listed on their site.
Another way to find out how hard a potential host is working their servers (if you know a site that's hosted with them) is to visit https://viewdns.info/reverseip/.
Here's a screenshot of the results for our site (hosted with SiteGround), as of June 2022:
And here's the results for a site I know to be hosted on BlueHost:
Which do you think has more chance of experiencing performance issues?
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
This type of hosting still has many websites on the one box, but you get a dedicated portion of the processing power and memory (that no other sites can steal from you).
In essence, you get your own dedicated server, but with a lot less processing power and memory than a full server. The amount of memory and processing power you get depends on the plan you choose, which depends on how much you want to pay.
The up side is that other sites on the same server won't slow your site down like they can on shared hosting.
On the down side, there's no additional capacity for your site to draw on if you suddenly get a spike in traffic - so think carefully if you are planning product launches, guest posting, etc.
With this type of hosting, you're given sole use of a physical server - all of the processing power and memory are yours to use as you want.
Normally, the host will take care of connecting the box to the internet, and any hardware maintenance, but you are responsible for everything else - including configuring the operating system and the web server.
So unless you have your own technical support department, or you're a technical guru with a masochistic bent, this type of hosting is probably not for you.
Note that this type of hosting plan is becoming less common - partly because most hosts no longer maintain their own hardware (most now use either Google Cloud or AWS for the physical servers), and partly because there is no real benefit to it any more.
Managed WordPress Hosting
Managed WordPress hosting has become very popular, especially over the last few years, and with good reason.
It's like having a high-powered dedicated server, but with all the technical details managed for you.
The configuration of the servers, and sometimes even the WordPress installation itself, is tuned and managed by the host. Good managed hosts will even look after security, backups and updates for you.
The down side (in addition to the cost) is that you will often be limited in what themes and plugins you can use on your site. These limitations make sense in concept - the host needs to ensure that what you add will not affect the integrity or performance of the platform. But they can be a pain when what you want to use falls outside the guidelines (which aren't always up to date).
The concept of "Cloud Hosting" was originally introduced nearly a decade ago. The promise was that your site wouldn't just exist on one physical server, but be copied to multiple servers around the world. When someone requested a page on your site, the closest server would deliver that page.
It was originally promoted as being faster (because the data doesn't have to travel as far). Sometimes it was also promoted as being more scalable, meaning that "idle" resources from other servers could quickly be allocated to your site if you experienced a spike in traffic.
These days, when most of the major hosts actually use cloud infrastructure (normally from Google or Amazon) rather than having their own physical data centres, the term is almost redundant.
Many hosts still offer a "Cloud Hosting" plan, but most of them are just the cloud version of a "dedicated" hosting plan.
So, Which Should I Use?
For most websites, a good quality shared hosting plan will be ample when starting out and growing your business.
Once your traffic levels start to outgrow shared hosting (100,000+ visitors a month), then you can look at moving up to either a managed WordPress host or a cloud/dedicated plan.
How To Choose A Host
First, let's address how not to choose a host:
Even reviews and comparison sites can be skewed, so be careful there too.
Always make sure you do your own due diligence. The following sections list the factors you should consider (in rough priority order) ...
How quickly your site loads has a major impact, both on a visitor's perception and on the rank Google gives your site in the search results.
Therefore, you need a host that takes page load speed seriously.
Look for things like:
Unfortunately, hackers are a fact of life on the internet - they will try to break into your site at some point.
And I can tell you from experience (having cleaned sites for many clients), it's a real pain if they do get in!
There's a lot you can do to block the hackers, but a good host can make securing your site so much easier, including:
Even with the best hosting, it's likely you'll experience problems with your site at some point - and that's not the time you want to find out your host is a pain to deal with!
Always contact support when you are evaluating a host to see how they perform. How easy is it to contact support? How long do they take to respond? Are they able to resolve your query on the first contact? Can you even understand their response?
Also, most hosts don't really understand the technical configuration required for optimal WordPress operation, much less how to implement it.
Worse still, many hosts will simply blame issues on WordPress and leave you to find a solution elsewhere.
Make sure your host understands WordPress, and is prepared to support any issues that you might have with your site (and no, offering a 1-click WordPress installer does not constitute supporting WordPress).
If you have anything for sale on your site (and if you're in business, you should), the last thing you want is for your site to disappear for days at a time, especially due to hosting issues (yes, this has happened to some hosts we know).
Unfortunately, no host can promise your site will be 100% available - web servers are computers after all, and they will crash from time to time. However, a good host will offer a 99.9% or better uptime guarantee.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you would have heard a lot about GDPR, which landed in 2018.
At its core, GDPR is a regulation that requires businesses to protect the personal data and privacy of EU citizens. This applies to all businesses, whether they're based in the EU or not - so if you have any EU customers, it applies to you.
Part of the regulation states that it's your responsibility to ensure any 3rd party services you use to collect or transmit personal data must also be GDPR compliant.
Bottom line - make sure the host you choose is GDPR compliant.
While you're at it, make sure they take privacy protection seriously in general.
Hosting Control Panel
Apart form the initial setup of your site, your hosting control panel is also useful when you want to manipulate the files on your site, manage email addresses, and a number of other admin tasks.
Given you (or your tech support person) will be spending a bit of time here, it pays to make sure it's easy to use.
For many years the de facto standard has been cPanel. It's functional, but not pretty.
On the upside, cPanel gives you access to all of the functions needed to support your site, and just about any tech support person knows how to use it.
Lately hosts have started creating their own control panels. Some have done a great job, and other just ended up making things harder to manage.
See if you can get a demo of the host's control panel before you commit. That way you will know if you're going to be able to work with it easily or not.
Bandwidth, Storage & Processing Limits
These days, most reputable hosts offer more than enough storage space and monthly bandwidth to run a moderately popular site - although you should avoid anything with less than 5GB of storage (you'd be surprised how quickly all of those images add up).
However, don't be taken in by hosts offering "unlimited" storage and/or bandwidth either.
"Unlimited" accounts generally have restrictions on the amount of processing power you can use before the account is restricted (or worse, suspended). These restrictions can be hard to find (usually buried in the fine print or "fair use" policy) and even harder to understand.
I've seen sites on some well known hosting providers shut down for violating the processing restrictions, even though traffic to the site was not particularly high. Once suspended, it can take days to resolve and get these sites back online 🙁
Sometimes it's better just to know what the limitations are upfront.
When it comes to hosting companies, size does matter.
Hosting is a low margin business. To stay in business, hosting companies need either to host a lot of sites, or cut costs (which generally leads to problems for you).
Boutique hosting companies may promise more personal service, but unless their prices are significantly higher, they're not going to be around for long.
Support For Multiple Sites
Some hosts and/or plans may only allow you to have one website on the account.
Whilst this isn't necessarily a deal breaker (you can always have more than one hosting account if necessary), you should be aware of any such limitations, and factor them into your overall decision.
Take good note of how far down the list I've placed cost.
And I've placed it this far down the list for a very good reason!
Choosing a host based on price will pretty well guarantee you problems down track - quality has to be sacrificed in order for a hosting company to keep costs down and still make a profit.
Remember, hosting is the foundation you're building your online business on. Isn't it worth spending a bit to get it right?
Besides, $20 - $30 per month isn't a lot to spend if you're serious about growing your business.
The only reason this one is listed here is because I still hear people advising that you should choose a host with servers in the same country as your audience.
It's time to bust this myth once and for all!
Whilst this may have been good advice 15-20 years ago, it's certainly not relevant today.
No, there is no noticeable impact on page load speed if your site is hosted overseas - at least not with a good host anyway. Especially with today's cloud hosting technologies distributing copies of your site to servers around the world anyway.
Besides, unless you're a local business, you should be targeting a global audience anyway. Then what country do you choose to host in?
And no, as far as I can tell, Google doesn't care what country your site is hosted in when determining where to rank you in the search results.
After more than 8 years, we're still using and recommending SiteGround.
SiteGround are super serious about the speed and security of your site. Their servers are specifically tuned to support WordPress, and they're constantly scanning for, and patching, vulnerabilities.
And not only do they have great general support, they're only too happy to help out with WordPress issues as well (and they really understand WordPress).
With SiteGround, you get most of the benefits of managed WordPress hosting, but without the high cost or restrictions on what you can install on your site.
Personally, I run on the GoGeek plan (mainly because I manage a number of sites), but if you only have a couple of sites then the GrowBig plan will probably be enough (you can always upgrade later).
If your site is currently on a host that you're not happy with (or you just realised doesn't measure up based on the selection criteria above), don't be afraid. SiteGround have an automated migrator plugin, and can even migrate your site over for free when you sign up for a GrowBig or GoGeek plan (or for a small fee if you select the StartUp plan).
Worst case, reach out to me and I can help you get your site moved over without any hassles.
Remember: your website is the online shop front for your business - it's vital that you build it on solid hosting.