With nearly 30% of all websites using the WordPress platform to power their business, personal, and professional websites, there should be no surprise that hosting providers are rushing to present themselves as an attractive place to house and run your website.
Hosts frequently tout WordPress-specific hosting plans—but they’re not all created equal. Although some hosts go the extra mile to optimize their hardware and security systems for the unique challenges of the popular content management system, many providers simply slap the WordPress logo on their regular shared hosting plan and call it a day.
Technically, anything can be a WordPress hosting plan; the CMS runs anywhere. Finding the companies that genuinely seem to care about efficiently running the open-source CMS, however, can make all the difference in your website’s performance, security, and availability.
Our standardized WordPress hosting review process will sort through the crowded WordPress marketplace to identify the strongest candidates. First, however, here are a list of the characteristics that will help you pick which hosts are on the right track—and which are just looking to capitalize on a hot trend.
- Separate Services for Shared and WordPress Hosting Plans
The first step in distinguishing between legitimate and imposter WordPress hosting plans is taking stock of the company’s shared hosting plan. How does it differ from the WordPress offering? You’d be surprised at some of the mainstream hosts that try to grab a few extra dollars from you each month for services that exactly mirror the entry-level hosting packages.
Check the storage, bandwidth, and memory specs of both plans, along with any claimed perks to the WordPress package. WordPress hosting reviews from experts can help you gauge a company’s reputation for high-level service and support, and they frequently sound the sirens on deceptive marketing practices.
For instance, it’s easy to tout customer support with specific WordPress expertise—but unless there are justifiable ways to measure the support team’s experience contributing to the WordPress Core or presenting at WordCamps, the so-called expert support likely won’t be worth the added cost. The same goes for automatic backups, pre-installed WordPress, malware scanning, and solid-state drives. Sure, they’re helpful, do you really need to pay extra for the minimal added features common in many shared hosting plans?
- Prices That Show They’re Serious—But Don’t Break the Bank
Just as when eating at restaurants, savvy WordPress users often have to pay a bit more to support their discerning tastes. How much more, however, is up to you. A simple personal website or portfolio might not need the latest and greatest features, while a blog or small business relies on critical aspects such as optimized page loads and protecting visitors’ data.
Cheap WordPress plans exist for all levels of users, no matter which camp your online presence falls into. Most hosting packages will include one-click installation scripts and automatic updates, along with frequent backups and virus scans. Add in an SSD-powered infrastructure, and base-level WordPress hosting will likely cost around $5 per month.
Those willing to pay a premium for plans that make a noticeable difference, however, can find improved WordPress hosting experiences backed by virtual private servers, caching plugins, a staging area, and a web application firewall. These types of plans run closer to $12 to $20 per month but offer greater reliability and scalability.
- Staging Environments, Themes, and Tools to Help You Perfect Your Design
Now that the boring business stuff is taken care of, it’s time to dive into what makes WordPress hosting so enjoyable: all the fun toys that give site owners an edge with WordPress web design. By investing a little more money in hosting services tailored to WordPress, customers frequently unlock many tools that help them create stronger websites—both in terms of performance and security, but design and usability, as well.
Strong self-hosted WordPress themes can save site owners a lot of time and headaches when setting up an online presence. Although we typically recommend purchasing and installing a premium WordPress theme, some hosts include or install several free themes. A select few have even created custom drag-and-drop website builders that help you achieve exactly the template you’ve dreamed about.
With some of the best WordPress hosting packages, site owners can even experiment with themes and customizations in a staging environment. Test your work on an independent copy of your site, and choose which improvements to deploy into production. In addition to design changes, staging environments are also extremely useful for making sure updates to the WordPress Core or plugins won’t have any adverse effects on your website.
- High-Speed Hosting Hard Drives Deliver Your Data to Visitors
One of the biggest advantages gained by choosing a strong WordPress hosting service is the performance boost. In its natural state, WordPress is not a terribly fast CMS. By optimizing a few key elements, however, you’ll greatly increase your chances of success.
Page load times are critically important to the profit and prosperity of online ventures. Whether you’re blogging or selling a particular product, the ability to quickly deliver relevant information to your site visitors can mean the difference between gaining a repeat customer or losing someone forever. For companies like Amazon, a one-second slower website would cost $1.6 billion in sales. One in 4 people will abandon a site if it takes longer than four seconds to load.
A quick and sure-fire way to speed up your site is to choose a host that equips its infrastructure with solid-state drives. The modern storage devices can read and write data up to 20 times faster than traditional hard-disk drives. SSD hosting can be slightly more expensive, but the performance and reliability is typically well worth the upgrade. In the absence of SSDs, some hosts will choose to deploy WordPress hosting customers’ sites on a virtual private server or cloud network. VPS environments dedicate more computing resources to each customer, meaning pages and databases will load much more quickly.
- Caching Plugins and CDNs Optimize Your Site’s Performance
Once your hosting hardware is set up to run at full speed, speed freaks can deploy a few more strategies to further optimize their website’s performance. Our favorite WordPress hosting plans include multiple caching plugins and access to a content delivery network, but others will offer these services as premium add-ons. Either way, both measures will have a dramatic affect on page speed.
Caching entails temporarily storing web pages and files for easy access. Repeat visitors can access cached versions of pages directly, instead of waiting for the web server to respond to each request. The best hosts offer a multi-pronged approach to caching, often through a handful of pre-installed plugins. A strong caching system will cover a website’s static content and database queries.
For websites that attract a large or diverse audience, a content delivery network distributes information based on visitors’ geographic locations. Some hosting providers have built or partnered with others to provide their own globally distributed network of servers, while others will offer up a third-party CDN, likely from Cloudflare or MaxCDN. Your content will be cached and stored on servers around the world, and the network will direct visitors’ requests to the closest server. CDNs spread the work around, meaning your server will not be overwhelmed.
- Pre-Configured SSL Certificates and Security Measures
The WordPress platform commonly gets knocked for security concerns, but savvy users understand the role they play in protecting their website or visitors’ data. Your WordPress site will be vastly more secure simply by keeping up with updates to the WordPress Core and plugins. Luckily, automatic updates are a common feature included with most WordPress hosting plans.
The other useful tools you’ll probably see include automatic backups and free SSL certificates. The latter is especially important, as SSL certificates encrypt the communications between the server and a visitor’s web browser. In addition to protecting your site and your visitors, SSL certificates are increasingly contributing to higher rankings in Google search results.
Hosts that go above and beyond in safeguarding customers’ WordPress installations will include regular scans and repairs for malware and viruses, along with protection from distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. We’re particularly fond of the hosting plans that include web application firewalls, which filter, monitor, and block traffic to your WordPress site.
- Automatic Updates Add Security and Save You Time
Yes, WordPress now makes it extremely easy to update the core platform, along with plugins, themes, and localization files. Strong managed WordPress hosting plans, however, offer an added level of quality control by making sure none of the updates affect the functionality or appearance of your website.
This is especially useful for complex and dynamic online ventures, the administrators of which would likely rather focus on business development and products as opposed to the nitty-gritty details of website maintenance.
However involved the support team is, automatic WordPress updates are a must-have feature when shopping for a hosting plan. The simple service is exceedingly easy to implement and carries a ton of long-term benefits, as well.
- Managed Services Take Responsibility For Your Success
Finally, with all your hardware and software configurations in place, it’s time to turn to the people who will help you on your way to WordPress domination. Managed hosting goes beyond simple customer support by taking a more hands-on role in your experience. This can be extremely useful for site owners who aren’t as adept with WordPress or web technologies, as hosting experts will help configure the various features and products that keep your site running smoothly.
Unfortunately, managed web hosting can mean any number of things to different hosting providers. Without a standard definition, be sure to compare each company’s promises and make sure your specific needs will be met. At the very least, your host should handle the updates to server operating systems, along with monitoring, updates, and maintenance.
More valuable managed hosting plans introduce backups, site transfers, load balancing, and disaster recovery services, along with enhanced security measures such as vulnerability scans, intrusion detection, and DDoS mitigation.
The cream of the crop, however, takes users’ specific WordPress challenges to heart. Sometimes that means a company will dedicate a few hours of a technician’s time to optimizing your account and answering questions, or perhaps the host has developed programs for managing workflows or compressing images.
- Helpful Support Teams and Training Materials Ease Your Fears
Managed services take care of routine maintenance—but what happens when something out of the ordinary happens? If your website goes down, your hosting partner should be right there to help you find and put out the fire.
Just about every host on the market claims to offer 24/7 support; but not many truly deliver. Long waits and hold times are common with many bargain WordPress hosts, but we appreciate the hosts that are there when we need them. Keep an eye out for guaranteed response times and pay attention to the available communication methods. The absence of live chat or phone support doesn’t necessarily mean a host won’t be responsive, but we’d be leery of services that only offer support via email tickets.
The WordPress expertise of a hosting provider’s support staff can be tough to gauge early on, but you might be able to get a better idea by searching through the company’s knowledgebase, blog, or online support center. Does it have a section devoted to WordPress? Can you learn about specific WordPress challenges and improvements, or is the content vague and generalized?
- Friendliness to Other Open-Source Tech and Events
WordPress is the platform of choice for 60% of websites that use a content management system. The free and open-source software has built a passionate user community of millions since its initial release date in 2003. The flagship of the open-source development movement, WordPress is just one of many worthwhile technologies hosting companies can choose to support.
Because WordPress empowers so many to do so much, we deeply appreciate the hosting providers that look to contribute back to the communities that provide the tools behind so many successful hosting partnerships. Whether the support entails sponsoring WordCamps, encouraging employees to contribute code, or donating financial and leadership resources to the likes of OpenStack, Apache, and Linux, a hosting company’s involvement in open-source communities signals what type of business they’re looking to conduct. Wouldn’t you much rather support an organization that wants to make web hosting better for all?
Laura Bernheim shows first-time site owners and experienced developers how to explore new technologies and find better ways to work with established platforms. Originally trained as a journalist, Laura has contributed to HostingAdvice, Sports Illustrated, and several of the world’s top hosting providers.