FTC Disclosure: Some of the links contained below are affiliate links. Yes, I may receive a small amount of compensation if you choose to sign up for some of the services recommended here. However, I only recommend services I am using now, or would use in the future because of their high quality and commitment to service. I don’t endorse anything I wouldn’t use personally. Believe me, I’m not getting rich from anything here. :-/ But it helps pay the server bills.
UPDATED Nov 2019!
Perhaps the single most important choice you can make on any WordPress site is where to host it. Pick the right host and you’ll be blissfully unaware of the issues that haunt most people’s lives. Pick the wrong one and you’ll spend huge amounts of time trying to fix all of the problems you’ll encounter.
How Do You Choose a Good Host?
With such an important decision at stake, how do you possibly get this right the first time? One way is through trial and error, but no one likes to suffer through poor decisions lightly. Another is to ask your friends and colleagues, but what if they don’t have any recommendations you haven’t already tried?
A better way is to pick a few hosts and ask them some very pointed questions about their service. Chris Lema, noted WP influencer, has a great article on the ten questions you should ask your hosting provider, which I’m copying here for you:
- Do you have a way for me to interact with humans (not just knowledge base articles) if I really get stuck?
- Do you have a way to help me if I need to migrate my existing site to you?
- Can you explain how you’re making sure my site is secure?
- How many people do you have in support? What happens if I have trouble at night?
- If my site grows in popularity, is it hard to change plans? Will you have to move my site?
- If my site gets hacked, do you have backups of my old (clean) site?
- Can I do eCommerce on this plan? What else do I have to buy?
- Do you have a way for me to do things on my own? Do you have a plan where I don’t have to?
- Are you running an old version of PHP or an old version of WordPress? Do you update regularly?
- Do you have a way to know if my site is running slow or has been hacked? Or do I have to find out myself?
These questions aren’t particularly technical and if they can’t answer them to your satisfaction, you probably won’t be happy with the service. Easy, right?
Which Hosts Should I Talk To?
The answers you receive to those questions, and how important each of those is to you, will tell you whether the host you pick is the right one. But who do you ask to start with? There are literally HUNDREDS of WordPress hosting companies out there…which ones do you bother spending time with?
Thankfully, there are some ways to whittle that down based on the number one thing that you’re looking for. Based on interactions with the users of the plugin for the past 10 years, some patterns have emerged. Typically people are driven by ONE of the following factors in a strong way, and I’ll tag them for future reference:
- Need for support (SUPPORT)
- Strongly price sensitive (PRICE)
- Require developer level features like scaling, source code integration, etc (DEV)
- Need to make hosting as easy as possible (EASE)
Which One Is Right For Me?
Based on these simple 4 traits, just find the one that matches your situation and personality the best, according to what is MOST important to you:
- Do you want good support, but are you also price-sensitive? (SUPPORT, PRICE) If that’s the case–GoDaddy’s managed hosting is probably a good fit for you. Don’t let the old antics of their former CEO scare you away. GoDaddy has done a lot to clean up their act and their support since then. They’ve staffed their support centers up, including calling a live human for help, and are getting much better reviews now. They’re a reasonable fit for the cost-conscious, support-driven site owner who wants to contact someone without spending a fortune to do so.
- Need developer features but can’t afford an expensive developer plan? (DEV, PRICE) WPEngine has the features but their pricing isn’t always the best for entry level sites and they used to be the only game in town for things like separate staging sites, SSL support, and GitHub integration. But not anymore. SiteGround has that at a low price that anyone can afford.
- Are you a non-techy type? (EASE) Do complicated interfaces for hosting control and terms like “DNS” scare the heck out of you? Look no further than Flywheel. They totally get “easy to use” and have understandable billing as well as a great interface to control your sites. If you can configure a WP site, but aren’t really a “developer”, then Flywheel may be a great fit.
- Are you a developer who needs every feature under the sun? (DEV) Pagely’s infrastructure is now using Amazon AWS, and that gives you access to unprecedented features (at a price, of course!) like automated backups, HHVM access, and real-time malware scans for the hackers ever lurking on your site. If scaling is your thing, then Pagely is for you.
- If you don’t fit into any of these categories in the extreme–maybe you need a bit of everything? (Balance of SUPPORT, PRICE, DEV) You want good support, reasonable infrastructure, advanced features and still not break the bank for a handful of sites–then WPEngine makes the most sense for you. They’ve been hosting our site since 2012 and we’re not planning on changing anytime soon. 🙂 If you need it all, then WPEngine is your best bet. You can even get 2 months for free by signing up for an annual plan.
A great way to think about it is summed up in this graphic:
What we DON’T Recommend
We’ve left off a number of sites on this list for a good reason–many of them offer sub-standard hosting packages, support or infrastructure (sometimes all three!). Their infrastructure or setup causes problems with our and many other plugins out there. They will tell you things like “such-and-such plugin is causing the problems on your site”, when in reality, it’s their throttled database connection, limited PHP thread memory or some other reduced property of their hosting holding you back.
Many of these hosting companies are owned by the same, large conglomerate company and switching between them only means you’re taking you car to a different door in the same lousy car dealer’s garage. If a hosting company isn’t recommended here, it’s because we don’t think they have your best interests in mind, even if they have a “great price” for you.
UPDATE Nov 2019: The most basic hosting services (read: the CHEAPEST) are now considered the most easily hackable. Don’t take my word for it–read the full report on the 5 most popular hosting platforms and their hacking vulnerabilities.
What about Shared hosting?
You should be aware that shared hosting is very cost effective and popular, but it isn’t a very good solution for sites that want a large-ish amount of data, or that have a fair amount of traffic. What’s large-ish? Depends, but if you’re trying to push into the 1000s of posts/pages or anything, really, that’s starting to get large. What’s Fair Amount of traffic? More than 5000 visitors/month.
The bottom line: Shared hosting is cheap, but lacks the resources you probably will need to run a production site with WordPress that gets reasonable traffic trying to serve a reasonable amount of content. In my experience, you get what you pay for with WordPress hosting. Shared hosting is not what we recommend for established, trafficked sites. You will see too many random problems (such as white screens, 500 errors, invalid data showing up on the screens, lower security and so on) that are easily fixed by upgrading the server.
Also, see my comments in the previous paragraph about shared hosting’s top 5 hosts hackability. If that doesn’t scare you, nothing will. 🙂
Can I Compare Hosts in Unbiased Reviews?
Yep! That’s definitely worth doing. Finding “unbiased” hosting reviews is really tough. We finally found a site that seems pretty balanced and unbiased, so you can evaluate the hosts for yourself and see what each hosting company’s “real” performance is like.
Read reviews for web hosting services here.