Choosing a Suitable Hosting Company for Your WordPress Website
Updated February, 2016
If no one can see your website because of hosting problems, the most remarkable content ever written won’t help you create an online business. That’s why choosing a quality host is an important decision when putting up your website.
This article leads you through that process, with some recommendations for hosts at the end.
What To Look for in Your Search
There are a few things that your host really needs to have if you don’t want having a site to become a nightmare right from the beginning.
Minimum Server Requirements for WordPress
Before we get into any special features, let’s make sure that your potential host at least qualifies to run WordPress on their server. The basic requirements are small, but important.
These are the items to look for:
- Apache or Nginx
- PHP version 5.6 or greater
- MySQL version 5.65 or greater
- Uptime guarantee of at least 99.9%
If you’re unsure whether the host can run WordPress, send them an email asking if they do (or search their support section first). Most hosts are aware of WordPress, and support it, so it’s unlikely that this will be a hurdle for you.
While PHP 5.6 is the minimum, any host still running on that version is not staying current. Look for PHP 5.6 or higher.
This is not a necessity, but if you’re a WordPress novice it can be very convenient. Many hosts offer a “1-click install” of WordPress. This is a very easy (and automated) way to get WordPress onto your server. Look for a host that offers this feature.
It helps to bypass a lot of the technical headaches that can happen when using WordPress, and allows even a first-time user to get a working WordPress site up and running, usually within 10-20 minutes.
If you do use the 1-click install method, enter a unique administrator username (do not use “admin” as your username).
Easy Access to the File Structure
There may be times when you’ll want to access the file structure on your server (through cPanel or FTP). Make sure your host offers it as an option.
Although you typically don’t need to access these files during day-to-day use (you’ll do most of your work directly in the WordPress admin interface), there are times when you might need to access your files in order to fix a glitch, or delete a file that’s causing problems with your WP installation.
This is a fairly basic feature that every good web host offers. If a host doesn’t have an easy-to-access file structure, look elsewhere.
Although FTP (file transfer protocol) is a standard interface for accessing files on a server, having a browser-based non-FTP interface is useful.
This makes it a lot easier for you to access your files quickly, without having to install or launch any FTP software on your computer, although file transfer is generally slower than when using FTP.
For an added level of security when transferring files, look for a host that also offers SSH. With SSH enabled on your account, you’ll be able to use SFTP, a more secure version of FTP.
Know the Difference Between “Unlimited” and “Infinite”
Many hosts boast about offering “unlimited traffic” on their web servers.
“Wow!” you must be thinking. “I can’t believe they’re going to give me infinite bandwidth on my website for only $8 a month!”
Well, think again. The term “unlimited” in the hosting world means a very different thing than “infinite.” Take a look at what one popular host says about unlimited traffic:
“Depending on the type of plan you have, certain things on your account are indeed unlimited. For example, shared accounts give unlimited disk space and bandwidth. When companies say unlimited, what they mean is that they do not meter or limit you on that item. But just because you can have an unlimited amount of something does not mean it is physically possible to consume an infinite amount. Unlimited does not mean infinite.
“For example, when you go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, you can eat an unlimited amount of food. However, it is impossible for you to eat an infinite amount of food because of the size of your stomach, the number of hours the restaurant is open, how much food is physically available, and the fact that you cannot share your food or take it home with you. Certain rules for the buffet are put in place so one person does not come in and take all the food from all the other paying customers.
“Similarly, it is not possible to use an infinite amount of the server since there are other limits in place, like how much CPU you can use at one time, how many processes you can have open at one time, how many emails you can send out in an hour, etc. Certain rules are in place to make sure one person does not use the entire server on a shared account, preventing other customers from using the server.”
Most hosts do not offer infinite traffic for their low, monthly rate. If you have 10,000+ people a day coming to your website, expect your hosting fees to cost much more (in the hundreds of dollars per month).
Keep this in mind while choosing your host. They will charge you more once you start getting significant traffic. Of course, if your income increases along with your traffic, you may not mind paying for that increase in hosting fees.
Web hosting can be complicated, with all sorts of errors and problems that can pop up out of nowhere. That’s why above-and-beyond customer support is a key aspect to choosing your hosting company.
Check out the claims they make, as well as reviews of each company’s support. If a company offers 24/7 support, check online to see if people receive prompt replies, and whether their issues are resolved.
Great support is essential for your website. You’re building a business, but sub-par hosting support can hinder your growth. Make sure the company is at least claiming to offer superior support so you can hold them to that if it ever becomes a problem down the road (hopefully it won’t!).
It’s common for hosting companies to offer ticket, chat, email, and phone support. Choose one that you prefer, and make sure the company you choose offers it.
You can get an idea of how good the phone or chat support is before signing up for the service. Open a chat window, or call the support number, during the sales process. Most companies put their best foot forward to entice you to buy, so if the wait times are unacceptable to you during at this stage, you can be pretty confident they’ll be longer when you have an issue and need technical support.
Great Customer Service
Over and above a great technical support experience, best-in-class web hosts provide other customer services to help webmasters manage domains and websites — for example, tutorials (articles, videos) on a variety of topics ranging from specific hosting services to understanding how search engines work.
What does the company guarantee about the availability of your website? Will their servers go down constantly throughout the year, causing a headache for you and your visitors? Or will they be up 99+% of the time?
Look for a guarantee that is higher than 99% (99.3 and 99.9 are common numbers). While these numbers sound high, a 99.5% uptime means that your site could be down almost 44 hours per year. If those 44 hours happen in large chunks, you could have some serious traffic losses and credibility issues with your visitors.
Check reviews online to see if they follow up with their claims. Don’t be afraid to ignore a few bad reviews, but if most of the reviews seem to say the same negative thing, find another host. Note that two of our recommended hosts guarantee 100% uptime, with refunds available to you if they don’t meet that promise.
Performance and Speed
When your site is on a shared server (along with a number of other websites), you’re dependent on the host carefully monitoring performance and speed of the servers to ensure a positive experience for your visitors.
The hardware — server memory, disk size and processor speed — for your web server has an impact. However, the ability to cache (i.e., place popular web content in server memory so that it’s readily accessible) is a core function. A reliable host will have robust caching and will support WordPress caching.
It’s no secret that WordPress sites are targets for hackers. Because WordPress is an open source system, it’s fairly easy for hackers to exploit vulnerabilities because they have access to the code base.
As an example, brute force attacks are common occurrences. These attacks attempt to gain access to the WordPress admin area with the login username “admin” and sophisticated tools to test thousands of commonly used passwords. A good managed host will implement “are you human?” challenges to repeated and unsuccessful attempts to gain access to the WordPress admin area, then lock out the hacker’s IP address.
Web hosts can also implement custom firewalls and other measures to prevent hackers from flooding web servers with requests and generating a “denial of service” to bona-fide visitors and site owners. Denial of service attacks impact all websites, not just WordPress sites.
The cost of hosting is a factor in terms of evaluating suitable hosts. You should judge hosts on all the other features first before you look at price.
You have a budget for hosting fees, so you want to maximize your return on investment (you want the most features for the lowest price). However, the more expensive shared hosting plans are not always a guarantee of better quality hosting. You may find managed hosting a better deal when you factor in your time.
Finding a Host
Unless you’re an IT expert, there are two main types of hosting to consider: shared hosting and managed hosting.
Shared hosting is the most common, and generally the less expensive option. As its name implies, when you sign up for a shared hosting account, your site shares server space with many other sites — often numbering in the thousands.
If one of them gets an unexpected traffic spike, it will affect your site’s speed, and vice versa. If one of them is careless and installs a script that allows malware to sneak in, that can affect your site’s security as well.
Shared hosting is where most solopreneur businesses start. Once your site starts generating a decent income, though, you may want to consider moving to managed hosting.
Managed hosting has a lot of benefits, when you can afford the additional price tag.
First, WordPress managed hosting specializes in WordPress. These hosts optimize their servers for WordPress, and keep up with the latest and greatest in caching, speed and security for WordPress. Where a shared host will include sites built on lots of different platforms, a managed host allows only one: WordPress.
Generally, each server will host fewer sites on a server with a managed hosting company than with shared hosting, and the server is already optimized to run WordPress faster.
You’ll find better security at the server level, automatic backups, and higher quality technical assistance when you need help.
Sometimes choosing managed hosting involves some tradeoffs. For example, a good managed host will restrict the plugins you can install to only include those they’ve vetted and approved. This is not a bug, this is definitely a feature! By not allowing questionable plugins, the host is ensuring better security for all of its clients. While you may be disappointed to not be able to use a particular plugin you’re familiar with, they can usually recommend one to accomplish the same task. Some may examine the plugin and agree to install it for you.
We’ve simplified the search a bit with the following companies, all of which meet or exceed the minimum requirements. You’ll need to evaluate each of these suggestions based on your own needs. These companies provide hosting services for all kinds of websites, not just for WordPress.
Each of our recommended hosts also offers an affiliate program, for those of you who can benefit from monetization in that space.
|Host||Server Locations||Customer Service||Uptime Guarantee||Purchase Guarantee||Other Notes|
|Siteground||Amsterdam, London, Singapore, Chicago||No-hold Phone and online chat, 10-minute ticket response.||99.999%||30 days||Superior onboarding experience|
|LiquidWeb||Michigan, Arizona||59-second phone and chat; 30-minute tickets||100%||30 days||“Heroic Support”|
|Dreamhost||California, Oregon, Virginia||email, chat||100%||97 days||Company pays for carbon offsets|
|Green Geeks||Chicago, Phoenix, Amsterdam, Toronto||email, chat, phone||99.9%||30 days||Eco friendly|
|A2||Michigan, Amsterdam, Singapore||phone, tickets, Skype||99.9%||Anytime|
|InMotion||Los Angeles, CA; Herndon, VA||phone, chat, Skype, forums||99.9%||90 days|
For our managed hosting recommendations, see this article. (This links to a premium article available only to members of our SBI! Community. Learn more about SBI! for WP here, and all the benefits of membership.)
If you already have some success in your online business, but are finding that you’re unhappy with your server, or are constantly having technical issues with your website, it’s probably time to consider one of the managed solutions.
Regardless of whatever features a host has, always think of the end result for the visitor. Lots of fancy technology and fast loading times are a great start, but they certainly won’t make a website for you.
You need to be the engine for your site, using your words to craft something that’s unique and offers value to anyone interested in your niche.