Complete Guide to Hosting a WordPress Blog or Website

When considering how to go about getting a WordPress site hosted on a faster server connected to the internet backbone, there are a number of key considerations.

First is whether it is necessary to even go with a managed WordPress package at all as it’s possible a standard shared hosting package will be sufficient. After all, the shared hosting package with most web hosts is by far the cheapest option and can get a website up and running quickly, can’t it? This is a simple question to answer. Whilst it is theoretically possible to host a website on any shared hosting plan, it will not be the best solution to say the least. WordPress performs best with a certain type of set up and usually under-performs in non-optimised environments.

With a WordPress plan, you’ll receive a better performance, customisation that is tailored specifically to WordPress, and tweaks that will usually improve both security and speed up caching performance for faster page loading times too.

A few of the questions that come up when considering hosting a WordPress blog or website:

  • Consider the daily and monthly traffic averages for an existing site. Has it been experiencing monthly growth patterns over the past six months?
  • Will the web hosting need to be scalable for busier days with product launches or shorter-term promotions?
  • Do you need a great deal of support from the company in the early stages of a switch of web hosts?
  • Should the hosting have developers on hand to help out with customised WordPress code that isn’t executing on the server correctly?
  • How much do you wish to spend per month or per year?
  • Should the hosting come with a content delivery network (CDN) built-in?
  • Should the hosting company offer a choice of server hosting in different parts of the world?
  • Does their corporate owner matter if they’ve been buying up smaller web hosts left and right? Should they be independent? Do you care about that?
  • Do they run green via green policies or buy carbon credits to offset emissions and technology use?

These are just a few of the questions that can arise and set the mind racing when it comes to picking a good WordPress plan.

There are perhaps hundreds of decent hosting providers out there and maybe thousands if you consider the really small operators. The idea behind this post is to give you a good idea what to think about with the selection of both a web host and a web hosting plan for effective WordPress hosting. Whilst hosting can just seem like a server and a fast connection to the internet backbone, there are many more details required in order to get an optimal result.

A better hosting selection will deliver faster page loading times, an ability to handle larger volumes of traffic with a given hosting set up, and security benefits specific to WP.

Here are the main things to consider when it comes to the selection of an effective WordPress hosting provider:

What Features Are Best to Look for from a WordPress Host?

  1. Speed & Performance

When it comes to the underlying hardware that runs the web hosting operations, there really is no substitute for getting the best. This means fast Intel Xeon processors, not the slower versions or even Intel Pentium processor options for hosting providers trying to cut corners with their core server response times.

The amount of RAM available per user or per server if renting a dedicated server will make a substantial difference to performance. RAM can handle a performance spike or create a bottleneck depending on how much memory is available for the shared hosting environment per user, on a VPS or dedicated server environment.

Hard disk performance matters greatly when a busy site is using a single dedicated server. As anyone knows with disk usage, when transferring large files around, it affects performance of the computer as well rather than only the hard drive. This overworking of the hard drive can be a problem for future performance. It increases failure rates which typically run 2-4 years of useful life for most hard drive manufacturers like Western Digital, Seagate, Samsung, and others.

A web host that offers solid state drives (SSDs) instead of hard disk drives is clearly investing for the future with some of the fastest disk options available. With no moving parts and read / write times which can be 10 times the speed of regular platter-based drives, information can be loaded faster to create new web pages and deliver them to each site visitor more quickly. The drag on performance from slower disk drives can be virtually eliminated altogether.

In most cases, the use of SSDs is far more important than the total amount of disk space allocation allowance to an individual account which few users get anywhere close to exceeding.

It is possible to verify the CPU load, RAM allocation and usage, and disk drive type and disk space used on your existing hosting plan to see how close to the limits you are running. This may indicate when it is perhaps time for an upgrade or a change of hosting providers. The hosting dashboard or cPanel can easily provide this kind of information for you on dedicated or VPS plans, but for shared hosting plans you may need to look deeper or contact the support to provide some answers there (we break down the differences between these types of hosting later in this post).

Solid state drives and the fastest line of Intel Xeon processors don’t come cheap. Seeking out the lowest price for hosting will not deliver the highest performance. Cheap and high quality have never been good bedfellows and that’s no different here. Better hosting doesn’t necessarily have to cost appreciably more than cheaper hosting will. However, the performance boost to site hosting capacity and page loading times mean fewer visitors will leave due to slow performance and Google won’t reduce the site ranking because the site is taking too long to load. Something to think about.

  1. Support

Hosting support is something that you always need when you least expect it. You don’t give it a second thought before that time. That’s a mistake that you won’t want to make.

Cheap hosting companies will not invest sufficiently in their staff. Both the technical staff who take care of their hosting architecture and the support staff who deal with phone calls, email and social media contacts; if either of these department are understaffed then you’ll feel it when you go to contact them.

The replies will come far too slow to be useful in a hosting emergency, the answers will be incomplete or incorrect, and require a second (or third) message back in order to fill in the blanks that were not answered the first time.

It may be difficult to appreciate how the technical side is connected to the hosting support side, but in reality problems are often relayed down to the technical team for feedback and testing before the support personnel can reply back to you. An inexperienced, ill-equipped technical team will begin to show with more mistakes with hosting than is normal and incorrect answers coming back from support that you may know for a fact are not correct.

In some cases, a support team will include some actual web developers and programmers within the team. This will help with anyone who is a developer and is having a code execution error. Perhaps a web page that was running without errors on a previous server now has errors that are stopping the script in its tracks? You’re flummoxed and haven’t a clue why…

Well at times like these, you really want someone on the other end of support who can look into the customisation made to a WordPress PHP page and see what the problem is. It could be something simple, but they’ll know their own architecture far better than you will.

Local-based support is useful for web hosts too. You don’t really want the hosting to have been outsourced abroad to another continent where they’re dealing with a different time-zone, a different culture, and a different way of doing things. Far too much will be lost in translation which will directly impact the quality of the support response that comes back to you.

The better web hosts will offer email support or at least a support ticket system where you can lodge the issue clearly in writing. There may also be support forums, telephone contact and live chats over the web. Some hosts may provide fewer options to contact them and push visitors towards their Knowledge Base information tool to reduce the number of basic queries hitting the support team. That’s okay too just as long as that’s not used as a crutch to get around a lack of investment in the support department. Also consider what times they can be contacted as you may be travelling in different time-zones later and you’ll still need to get their support on tap when it’s needed.

Ideally, the support staff will be well versed in WordPress-specific hosting technologies including site migration from other hosts or other content management systems (CMS), WordPress caching options, security considerations, plus all important backups and restorations of data. You don’t want generalists who are “not too familiar with WordPress but let me see if I can help”. That just won’t be enough. You need support staff with years of experience dealing with WordPress.

  1. UpTime

With server uptime, most web hosts will boast of having a 99.5% or better uptime. Here it is useful to understand if it is their dedicated servers, WordPress-specific hosting or general shared hosting that enjoyed fewer failures in the hosting environment? If they can break down the figures, that’s a useful one to ask the sales staff before signing up.

Also, there is a big difference between one long down-time that took all sites on their network down for 12 hours and messed up their uptime statistics versus intermittent problems over the past couple of years that hit them for 5 minutes downtime here, 10 minutes downtime there.

In both cases above you should want to know what happened, why it happened, what was done to fix the issue so it is unlikely to happen again, and whether there have been any new occurrences since the last major outage?

  1. What Else Do You Expect Of Your Web Host?

Here are a few other considerations that are nice to see:

  • Built-in caching support – Help pages load faster than they would otherwise do in a WordPress hosting environment. Caching can include both the server-side and the client-side. If built-in, ensure existing caching plugins don’t clash with the ones that the web host uses.
  • Backups stored off-site – Don’t only rely on web host backups, but they are certainly good to see as long as they are stored off-site to protect against fire damage in the data centre.
  • Built-in CDN – Do they have a content delivery network built-in that reduces loading times by pushing static content out to global servers so parts of the site can load faster?
  • Security features – Is security a big thing to the web host and what have they done to make WordPress more secure?
  • Location – How far is the data centre away from the majority of the current site visitors? You don’t want the server in London if most visitors are California.
  • Git versioning – For developers, it is useful to have this feature to manage version numbers of software development properly.

What Are The Different Types Of Hosting Available and Which Is Most Suitable To Host Your Site?

There are 4 main types of web hosting that can be selected ranging from the most basic to the most advanced. Anyone looking to host a new WordPress site and an existing one with a 1m monthly unique visitor traffic volume will find it useful to understand the key differences.

The 4 main types of hosting are:

  • Shared Hosting
  • VPS Hosting
  • Dedicated Hosting
  • Managed WordPress Hosting

A lot of times with hosting, price is what you pay and value is what you get. This is not always the case (like most things in life) but it is often true. For example, free WordPress hosts exist and survive by generating revenue by displaying random adverts on hosted sites. They fail to invest heavily into the technical infrastructure due to lack of financial resources which leads to problems later.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is where many individuals and businesses start their web hosting journey. It is the cheapest option.

A server is set aside for shared hosting. There are often 100+ domains and websites hosted on a single server. Each has their own allocated shared server space, a small slice of the total resources (including RAM), limited disk space, and so on.

It is not possible to configure the hosting that much, if at all. Not all shared hosting servers are supplied with a powerful enough processor or sufficient RAM to provide strong performance. After all, the host wants you to upgrade to a more expensive plan that offers better performance so why would they deliver something superior with a shared hosting plan?

There is also the reality that the host has a financial incentive to overload the shared server with more hosting accounts than it can really handle. The customer has no control over this. One poorly written script that is holding up the resources of the server can bring down all the hosted sites until the culprit can be identified and resolved. This makes uptime concerns more of an issue in a shared hosting environment. It is cheap for a good reason.

Whilst a shared hosting plan will be acceptable for new sites starting out that don’t wish to spend much on hosting, improved page loading times can be achieved with better options. As sites grow in traffic, they will eventually out-grow their shared hosting account roots. Visitors will start to complain about the site being too slow to load or pages timing out during peak traffic periods. It will be time to move up.

VPS Hosting

Virtual private server (VPS) hosting is essentially only one step down from a dedicated server where you have an entire server to yourself.

A VPS server is partitioned and managed for a smaller group of hosting accounts that require better performance. There will often be a choice of VPS servers with different plans. The differences will be important. There will be choices of processors, installed memory, disk space, HDD or SSD storage, cPanel (Control Panel) included, the number of unique IP addresses available (a unique address for your server location), and other specifications.

It is often possible to scale up your requirements with a VPS server over time. More RAM can be allocated to your VPS account from the total RAM installed on the server. A greater amount of disk space or access to a SSD to speed up disk access may be available also. Switching from a slower to a faster server with a top-of-the-line Xeon processor may need a VPS server transfer though.

You are unlikely to experience problems with hosting due to a complete lack of resources with a VPS server. You are still vulnerable to choosing a VPS account with too fewer resources, but that can be upgraded as the need arises. With a shared hosting account you do not have this flexibility.

VPS servers are useful for existing sites with a good level of traffic that could enjoy an improved performance and some degree of future proofing. Successful, growing blogs will find a lot of benefit to moving to a VPS plan.

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated hosting is where you can gain access to a single server just for your own use. This can host one or more WordPress-based sites (and other sites using a different CMS if you like).

There will be a choice of dedicated servers with different specifications. Just like with VPS servers, the choices will include a selection of processors, installed RAM, disk space, HDD vs SDD, number of unique IP addresses, cPanel access or none provided, etc.

Dedicated servers are only required for extremely busy websites. There are usually other options such as clustered hosting or cloud hosting which can be a good interim solution before moving up to a dedicated server. The cost is pretty high for dedicated solutions when factoring in the bandwidth costs which are usually charged separately.

Managed WordPress Hosting

One of the best options could be managed WordPress hosting. This is a team of people who are savvy WordPress users who have been providing WP hosting for years already.

WordPress itself is a specialised CMS which takes knowledgeable people who have experience of working with it in a coding and hosting environment to be able to quickly help when there is a problem. A generalist will find that a challenge and take longer to provide a solution which can ultimately create more downtime for you.

There is a choice to be made between a strong web host that also offers a Managed WordPress Hosting solution in their hosting plan range and one that is dedicated purely to WP hosting and nothing else. Simply put, the first solution will be cheaper than going with the dedicated WP provider but like with most things, you get what you pay for a lot of the time.

HostGator

A good example of a Managed WordPress Hosting plan comes from HostGator. Their range of WordPress hosting plans offers free site migration assistance, access to the MOJO theme marketplace, caching and CDNs, improved security, and more. For the price jump above shared hosting, it is not a bad deal.

WPEngine

WPEngine is a dedicated WordPress hosting company that includes a level of WordPress customisation which is simply excellent. Single-click site restoration, CDNs, malware scans, daily fast backups, SSL enabled for all websites, firewalls, a staging area to test new WordPress plugins and themes before going live with them, and a support team who know WordPress in their bones.

They have several individual plans and a handy plan finder tool which based on your selection can help indicate the best plan for you. They host more than 30,000 websites across 120+ countries already.

Concluding Thoughts

Hosting for a WordPress blog needs to be well considered before taking the plunge. There are many questions to ask to ensure the right hosting partner and the right plan will be selected.

Price is not always the determining factor (two web hosts priced the same can offer very different value), but at the cheaper end of the price range a lot is lost in hardware, performance and reliability.

Determine what you need and seek out the best value for money for that level of service and performance.

No Comments

Leave a reply