Choosing the best hosting company for your WordPress site can be a confusing and anxiety-ridden. Hosting is highly technical, completely foreign to most people, and yet your entire site depends on it. Fun!
So, what is hosting? It’s the physical computer where your website resides. It’s the servers that deliver your files to your site visitors. Basically, you can’t have a website without a host.
Hosting is often the very first step in setting up your site. After all, you need someplace to put your website’s “stuff.”
It’s also one of the primary factors in determining how fast your site operates and whether or not your site will suffer downtime. Simply put, a good host equals a speedy site.
While hosting is a huge aspect of setting up a site, most people don’t want to think about it. Why? Because it’s highly technical and most of us don’t get it. PHP Load times? suPHP? Apache? Huh? Techies may love this stuff, but the rest of us are quickly lost.
But don’t worry. We can help. We’ll start with the basics and move through the technical lingo with easy-to-understand translations for those of us who don’t speak “server.” We’ll also walk through many of the major considerations when looking for a host to help you figure out exactly what you need. It doesn’t have to be scary. We promise.
Understanding Your Needs
Know thyself. It’s a good rule in life and it’s a good first step in picking a web host. But before you start evaluating different hosting options, you need to understand your needs.
Answer these basic questions about your current (and future) needs. You may not have answers for everything, but gathering this information ahead of time will make the hosting selection process easier.
- If your site goes down, do you lose visitors or do you lose income? Consider the ramifications of potential site downtime. How much is a little extra piece of mind worth to you? Your answer should influence your level of hosting investment.
- What’s your site’s traffic level? Evaluate your site’s current level of traffic and make a realistic projection for future travel levels.
- What’s your “need for speed”? Is a slow site going to be a minor inconvenience or a major problem?
- How much storage does your site require? Think about your site’s “stuff.” If your site contains a significant amount of media-rich content like photos and videos, storage space is an important consideration.
- Do you have specific needs? Do you have several different sites that need hosting? Lots of URL redirects? Do you have e-commerce needs? Do you want email? All of these specific needs impact hosting choices.
- How much control do you need? Will you be testing different configurations or making advanced installations? Or are you a more average user?
- What’s your preferred way of getting help? Sure, there are plenty of options (phone, email, ticketed support systems, online forums, etc.) — but what support avenues do you prefer?
Types of Hosting
All hosting isn’t the same. Here’s a basic overview of the different types.
Typical pricing: $4-15/month
The most common (and cheapest) form of hosting is shared hosting. Most people start with shared hosting and it’s perfectly fine for most websites.
Shared hosting is exactly what it sounds like — many different sites sharing one single server. Each customer gets their own little slice of the server, but within certain limits (we’ll discuss this more later).
The bonus? All that sharing means cheap prices. The bummer? Sometimes sharing one server degenerates into a sort of “pushing and shoving.” It happens with kids and it can happen with websites, too. If one site on a shared server gets a ton of traffic, it can slow down the other sites.
Sometimes hosts will even oversell their servers and pack in too many sites, slowing everybody down. Server overloading shouldn’t be a problem
with a good host, but it’s the main problem with shared hosting.
Virtual Private Server
Typical pricing: $15-150/month
The next step up from shared hosting is a virtual private server (VPS). This type of hosting uses software to run several sites on the same server, as if they were dedicated servers. You’re still technically on a shared server, but software is in place to offer the feel of a dedicated server. VPS hosting costs more, but it’s usually faster, more secure and highly customizable. You’re also less prone to slowdowns due to other sites. A virtual private server is a great step up for growing sites.
Typical pricing: $100-250/month
Welcome to the “big boys.” Dedicated hosting gives a site its very own server, so no more sharing with anybody else. This means faster speeds, a more secure site, no impact from other sites, more customization options—all at a much higher price tag.
With dedicated hosting, you can have a managed or unmanaged dedicated host, depending on your needs. Managed hosts provide technical staff to help you manage the server, perform upgrades and more. Unmanaged hosts let you perform upgrades or work on your own.
Cloud hosting is a fairly new method of hosting and means your site isn’t tied to a single server, but copied to multiple servers in multiple locations. This minimizes potential downtime and your site can always be available “in the cloud.” Cloud hosting is a bit more complex to set up, so it can be more expensive — but it’s ideal for sites that can’t tolerate downtime.
What type of hosting do I need?
Let’s make it simple: You’ll probably want shared hosting. Shared hosting fits the needs of most sites and that’s what most of our advice will cover.
Why might you need something more than shared hosting? Here are a few reasons:
- High Traffic – If your site is getting tons of traffic — and we really mean tons (like 250,000+ visits per month), you should consider a hosting option more equipped to handle the traffic.
- Zero Downtime – If even a minute or two of downtime at 2am once a year is a problem for your company, you probably need to upgrade to another form of hosting. But most sites won’t notice that kind of minimal downtime and most shared hosts do offer 99%uptime.
- Custom Features – If you need customized features or have specific special needs, shared hosting might not be for you. Again, consider upgrading to another form of hosting.
WordPress Requirements & Recommendations
WordPress.org offers a set of minimal hosting requirements and recommendations, but here are a few additional things your host should offer if you want the best experience.
Apache on Linux
A server running the Linux operating system with Apache software is the most common setup and offers the least trouble.
Most of all: avoid a Windows server. They are less reliable, more expensive, more finicky and offer fewer popular features. Unless you need some special setup, go for Apache on Linux.
WordPress and some plugins (like BackupBuddy) run scripts (bits of code) in the background. This makes sites run more smoothly and reduces wait time. They’re called loopbacks because the server is connecting or looping back to itself to run something else.
HTTP Loopbacks are a must-have. The good news is most hosts
offer HTTP Loopbacks. The bad news is most hosts’ sales or technical support may not be familiar with HTTP Loopbacks if you ask them, so they’ll often give a vague or even incorrect answer. The folks who actually work the servers know these specifics, but they’re not usually answering the phones.
Command Line ZIP
Servers can run all sorts of programs, just like your computer. The command line is a simple way to run those programs in Linux. ZIP is a program that compresses files, creating .zip files (for example, most WordPress themes and plugins come as .zip files). Some plugins, including BackupBuddy, require command line ZIP. Sometimes a host will turn this off by default, but they’ll be willing to turn it on if you ask.
Hosts will offer a whole set of numbers when bragging about speed and memory. It can be bewildering, especially when hosts start boasting about unlimited memory, storage, etc. (just remember that nothing is unlimited — read the fine print).
Here are some specific numbers to consider:
Storage space is the amount of available hard drive space on the server for storing your site’s files (like images, HTML files, PHP files, etc.). The amount of storage space you need depends on type of site you have: a simple site with a few pages could easily get by with less than 5 MB, but a more realistic minimum number might be 150 MB. If you have lots of files, you might want more storage space. If you upload a ton of photos (especially if you upload originals and don’t resize them first), you may easily run out of storage space.
Most hosts offer plenty of space and it’s not a big concern. Many hosts are also now offering unlimited hosting — but don’t be misled. There are always limits to “unlimited.” Just make sure the number is one that works for your site.
Also called bandwidth, Data transfer is the amount of data your site is serving up to visitors. Unless you’re hosting many of your own large video files (you’re not using YouTube or some other service for embedding), this usually isn’t a problem. Many hosts are now offering enormous amounts of data transfer, so it’s usually not an issue. In general, 20 GB per month is a good baseline number for data transfer. But make sure you know the costs for exceeding your bandwidth. You should also know what happens with a traffic surge — will they take your site down or will they just bill you? Either one could be scary, so know what you’re getting into. You don’t want to be surprised by the cost of a sudden surge in traffic. Traffic surges can happen at any time and be provoked by the oddest combination of current events and search engine results.
Maximum PHP Runtime
PHP scripts have a limited amount of time to run on servers. Hosts don’t want scripts running for hours and slowing things
down, so they cap the process with a maximum PHP runtime. Once a script hits this limit, the server will kill it. And that’s bad. Sometimes a host will allow specific scripts to exceed the maximum runtime, but they’ll still put a cap on it.
Thirty seconds should be the bare minimum PHP runtime cap. Some hosts will try to use twenty or even fifteen seconds, but this is way too low. Look for at least thirty seconds.
PHP memory is the amount of memory (RAM) a script is allowed to use at once. This number can vary depending on your host from as low as 16 MB to as high as 1024 MB. A number around 256 MB is generally a good amount, but more is always better.
Basic Feature Considerations
Aside from basic server requirements, here are a few more basic feature considerations when evaluating hosts.
It’s 2am and your site just crashed. What are you going to do? Most of the time customer service isn’t something you worry
about. But right now, it’s everything. And unlimited web space is worthless if you have problems and can’t get help.
Problems should come up very rarely, but when they do (and they probably will), you need to know you have solid support. Your host should offer 24/7 customer service that’s prompt, helpful and in the format that works best for you.
- Prompt: The best customer service should respond instantly. Depending on the severity of your issue, a wait time of around a few hours for a response should be reasonable, but you certainly don’t want to wait 24 hours for a response. That’s bad.
- Helpful: Customer service should actually resolve your issue. It’s no good if they’re evasive, give bad information or flat-out don’t care.
- Your preferred format: How do you want to get help? Some companies offer ticket-based web support and others offer full-blown phone support. Know what type of support your host offers and what works best for you.
You’re paying money to host your site and you should have a reasonable amount of control over it, right? Makes sense. But not all hosts will offer you the same level of control. Since you may have shared hosting and not a dedicated server, you may not be able to control everything. But a good host will give you the necessary access to do what you need to do. Most hosts offer a control panel that includes a lot of backend functionality — more control than you probably need. But you want to have that kind of control. You never know when you’ll need it.
The most common control panel is cpanel and frankly, it’s the best. Since cpanel is so popular, you’ll find loads of tutorials and how-to information, even if your host doesn’t provide this information directly. Because of cpanel’s popularity, you probably won’t have to relearn a new system if you ever switch hosts.
Another common control panel is plesk, but it’s known to have problems, so avoid it if you can. Also, avoid hosts with a custom control panel. These custom control panels are often lacking features, buggy and hard to use.
Like customer service, we don’t usually think about security until something bad happens. And when it does, you’ll appreciate good security. You’ll find that most hosts don’t talk about security. It’s not so secure if you tell everyone what you’re doing. But one good sign is if a host brags about their security — they have something to live up to, so check out reviews to see what others have said about their security.
In addition to reviews, what are some other ways to know if a host is secure? Look for network firewalls, access lists, intrusion prevention systems and server firewalls. Basically, you want to see multiple layers of security protecting your site. Also, make sure they’re updating server patches in a timely manner.
Not Overloading Resources
One of the biggest problems you could encounter in the hosting world is overloaded servers. Many hosts try to cram too many sites on a shared server to maximize profits. Overloaded servers make sites slow or unavailable due to other sites on the same server hogging resources and bandwidth.
Unfortunately, there’s really no way to check if your host is overloading resources. Check out the speed of other sites using the host or even check out the host’s own site to see how fast it’s running. The best you can really do is ask around, read some reviews and get a general feel for the resource quality they offer.
Check to see if your host offers FTP access. FTP access is one of the easiest ways to connect to your site and upload files (you’ll just need a separate FTP program). If you want to install WordPress yourself, you’re going to want FTP access.
If a host doesn’t offer FTP access, they will allow you to transfer files through a web interface. This method still works, but it’s often not as quick and easy as FTP access.
Everybody hopes the tiny site they’re launching today won’t be so tiny in the future. But if that dream becomes a reality, can your hosting make it work?
Check out what kind of upgrade options your host offers. You don’t want to pay for more than you need right now, but one
day you might need to upgrade. Growing pains are bad enough without having to switch hosts.
Just be wary of hosts offering unlimited everything. Just because your data transfer is “unlimited” doesn’t mean you won’t need to upgrade. Read the fine print.
You probably already have an email address, but if you’re setting up your business website, you’ll probably want to use your business email. Most hosts do offer email, but confirm this to make sure they offer the email features you need. You use your email daily, so you’ll want to make sure it works well. Here are a few examples of email features a host should offer:
- Catch-all email accounts: Allows any email sent to your domain to be rerouted to you
- Autoresponders: Automatically sends a reply when someone emails you
- Mail forwarding: Forwards your email to an existing account(especially helpful if you already have an email address and don’t want to check multiple accounts)
- Accessibility: How can you access your email? Ideally you want IMAP and/or POP3 access (allows you to check your email through Outlook or another email program), as well as a web-based solution
Finally, the Top 6 Things To Look For in a Host
- Company standing: How long has the hosting company been in the hosting business?
- Customer service: Is it 24/7 live U.S. support? Are the techs just answering the phones or actually fixing the issues presented?
- Location: Is the server central to your core visitor group?
- Reliability: Do they have a good reputation for uptime, latency, performance?
- Smoke and mirrors: Do they have a world class homepage that makes them look like a huge company but are hosting your sites on a server in a garage somewhere?
- Pricing: What’s the actual cost? Is the cost on the homepage much less than the actual cost?
Our WordPress Hosting Recommendations
We have partnerships with two great WordPress hosting companies who offer superb hosting and are committed to our mutual customers: Site5 and Siteground. We recommend both of these great companies because they offer excellent customer service and affordable prices. We know our products work great on their platforms and, in the event of an issue, they are committed to helping our mutual customers.