Now that our sloth has chosen a domain name, he needs some advice on finding good web hosting for his WordPress website.
This post goes on a bit of a tangent. If you want to read Zip’s story of indecisiveness, read on. But you can skip ahead to actually read about types of web hosting, things to consider when choosing a hosting provider, which web hosting providers we might recommend for Zip, and getting started with signing up for web hosting. And for those of you who really just want to hit the main points of this post, you can jump to a FAQ section at the end.
But wait! Last time we saw him, he was indecisive and couldn’t choose between two domain names: Slothery.com or Slothverse.com. How to decide.
He goes to ask his friends. Should you do this? It depends on who your friends are.
First, he goes to his friend Grumpy Gopher and says, “Oh, gopher, I’m making a blog. Should I call it Slothery or Slothverse?”
To which Gopher replies, “Harrumph! Neither. You shouldn’t make a blog at all.”
Which would be enough to stop most sloths and convince them to resume napping. But our sloth will not be dissuaded!
Disclaimer: Grumpy gopher is ABSOLUTELY NOT LIKE ANYBODY I ACTUALLY KNOW!
So he goes off to Zen Zebu and asks, “Hey Zeb, what should I call my blog? Slothery or Slothverse?”
Zeb answers, “Your website is both blog and not-blog and exists, as all things do, in beautiful emptiness.” And then puts his teapot on his head and leaves the room.
Zip decides Zeb is either crazy or too enlightened for him to ever understand and decides to go on to ask someone else.
Finally, he decides to ask Practical Possum for advice.
He looks up, simply, and says, “Slothery,” and goes back to reading his book.
So Zip chooses a name. Slothverse, it is!
Types of Web Hosting
Zip is a sloth. He has no money, and what he does have for blogging I will be
lending giving him. So he’s going to start with the cheapest web hosting he can find. Is this the best? Definitely not! If you know you’re going to be creating a super high traffic, profitable website, go ahead and sign up for an expensive dedicated account. Remember, you can always move.
But this is not where most of us start, and if you’re like Zip and slothfully slouching toward the blogosphere, tiptoeing ahead, dipping your claws in (to mix both clichés and metaphors), you shouldn’t spend all of your money on web hosting. You can upgrade later.
Still, you need to know what you’re getting and what you might want to look to in the future. So here are some things you might see as you look for web hosting:
This is the least expensive type of hosting because it’s precisely that — shared. You are sharing a server with a bunch of neighbors, and you don’t know how many or what kinds of suspicious activities they’re doing in that adjacent “apartment.”
There is a thing they refer to as “noisy neighbor syndrome” — when someone on a shared server is hogging resources that downgrades the experience for everyone else. Usually (and I say this as someone who has been that noisy neighbor), it is not because they are assholes (although they could be.) They very well may not know they are doing this unless their web hosting provider has a chat with them (good) or suddenly suspends their account without notice (bad).
The reason I mention this is because this is the sort of thing that can happen on a shared server. The good thing about shared hosting is that it is cheap. And, often, you can have more than one site on your web hosting account.
But there are downsides:
- You’re more likely to get hacked.
- Your website will likely be slower.
- You are probably going to have more downtime.
- Customer support most likely won’t be as responsive (depends on the hosting provider.)
Managed WordPress Hosting
Zip might come across, in his search for a web hosting provider, something called “managed hosting” or “managed WordPress hosting.” What is managed about it? Who is this manager?
Managed WordPress hosting was just a bit of a confusing term to me at first. It seemed that, sometimes, plans calling themselves managed WordPress hosting offered the same things that some standard hosting accounts provided.
Generally, managed WordPress hosting is set up to offer a whole range of services dedicated to optimizing WordPress and making your life easier.
Managed WordPress hosting, unless you’re explicitly signing up for something else like cloud hosting, is still shared hosting. You’re still living in a virtual server apartment with potentially noisy neighbors, …but that managed service may serve to mitigate that noise a bit.
And it will cost you more than your basic shared hosting plan.
So what are some things that managed WordPress hosting plans offer?
- One-click WordPress installations (non-managed plans likely offer this as well, though.)
- Server caching and other things to improve the speed of your WordPress website.
- Regular, automatic, daily backups.
- One-click staging sites. We’ll get to what this is in a future post.
- People in the support department who are actually familiar with WordPress.
- Other developer tools and goodies.
You also might find that your managed WordPress hosting provider puts some restrictions on you that you might not have elsewhere. This is to make the experience on the shared server better for everyone — think of it as your shared hosting apartment’s HOA agreement.
One good example of managed WordPress hosting (more and more companies are providing it, though) is WP Engine. We’ll talk a bit more about them later.
A step up from shared or managed shared hosting is Cloud Hosting. The difference here is that, instead of being on one server, resources are distributed among a bunch of servers in different locations — so there’s less risk of downtime, for instance — if something goes wrong on one server, there are more to take over.
So you will, generally, get better speed and performance from cloud hosting than you will from shared. However, speed is dependent on a bunch of other factors as well. But server performance plays a significant role.
Your cloud hosting account will likely have all — or better than — the featured associated with your managed WordPress hosting account and 24/7 customer support knowledgable in WordPress.
For now, Zip will just be starting a simple blog. But if he wants to say…for some reason… start a big events calendar of slothy events, or he wants to develop an eCommerce store to sell tasty leaves or sloth merch he should consider upgrading to cloud hosting. Overall, I’ve been mostly happy with Siteground’s cloud hosting plan.
VPS means “Virtual Private Server.” Virtual is defined as meaning, “kind of…but not really.”
VPS is not a private server. As with shared hosting, your website is on the same server with a bunch of others. But each of you has separate resource allocations, and you’re not competing with your virtual neighbors for virtual resources.
And, finally, we have the dedicated server. This is what you’d expect. Your own private island, metaphorically speaking. You have the place all to yourself. Ahhh…
But, of course, like that private island getaway you don’t have, this is an expensive option. However, if you’re at the point of considering a dedicated server, you likely have a high-traffic, high resource website that needs this type of exclusivity.
Finding Good Web Hosting: What to Look For
So, we’ve determined that our sloth is not rich. Is he likely to accumulate wealth from his blogging endeavors? Perhaps…but probably not. Fortunately, he has me to help.
So for finding good web hosting, what should he look for?
One place he’ll look is to online reviews. But he should look at these reviews with a skeptical eye. Most hosting providers, even the good ones, will have someone dissatisfied with them enough to post scathing articles online. Look at the good reviews as well as the bad.
The flip side of this is that some hosting providers have a lucrative affiliate program. Sometimes I see a blog post about starting a new blog that only details ONE particular hosting provider, and goes on to give a page-by-page blow on precisely step-by-step how to do the straightforward operation of signing up on their platform. When this happens, Suspicious Snake starts to hiss in my ear.
Here’s my advice about some things to consider when choosing a web hosting provider:
- Reputation: are they well-known, have they been in business for a long time, how are reviews? Look for both the good and the bad.
- Offers support, 24/7 in your language. Offers chat support…but also has a phone number where support can be contacted.
- Support has a reputation for being knowledgable in WordPress.
- Has a guarantee of uptime.
- Does the plan you are considering fit within your budget?
- What are the limits of the hosting plan? Is your bandwidth metered? If storage and bandwidth are limited, it’s not necessarily bad — it might be keeping the server running smoothly. Still, you must know what those limits are and what will happen if you exceed those limits inadvertently.
- Can you host multiple sites?
- Do they offer a free SSL (security) certificate?
- Can you host your own email, or will you need to purchase a separate email service?
- Do they offer a backup service? Regular daily backups?
- Do they offer one-click staging? (A staging site is a copy of your live site that you can work on without risk to your live website and then “push” any changes you make to the live site if you want to.)
- Do they offer a refund within the first 30 days if you are dissatisfied with their service?
And, another bit of advice: make sure you understand your web hosting provider’s policies thoroughly.
I once misunderstood autoscaling at my web hosting provider. This is something where if you have a sudden traffic spike that pushes you to the edge of your resources, your resource allocation automatically scales up to a specified level, so it does not impact the availability of your website.
I turned it on, thinking it would reset at the lower level every month. That I would get billed the extra charges only if I went over for that month, only to find out that NO, that was not the case! Once it scaled up, it did not scale back down, and I would get billed at the new higher level each and every month until I canceled.
So, what web hosting provider should Zip use? I already know which one he will use because he’ll actually be on a subaccount of my own hosting account. But let’s pretend that’s not the case.
Some Hosting Providers We’ve Used…and What We’d Recommend for Zip the Sloth
There are tons of web hosting providers out there from tiny to huge. I haven’t used most of them. However, I have had some experience with a few, either having hosted there myself or having worked on that platform for a client. In most of those cases, the website was built on my end and then transferred. But I do have some opinions based on what I experienced during my limited use of those platforms. One or two of the hosting providers here I’ve only experienced through positive word of mouth. I’ll be clear here about my background with each.
If you want my recommendation in a nutshell, I loved hosting with WPEngine and have had good experiences at Siteground. And, yes, I say that as an affiliate, but also because I’ve been predominantly satisfied with both. I’ve heard good things about Flywheel and A2 Hosting, but I’ve never hosted there nor had any experience with them.
You won’t find a grid with plan comparisons here. Is it because I am, like Zip, a sloth? A little, yes, but also because, personally, I have never made any hosting decision based on a comparison grid.
So let’s continue our look at finding good web hosting by looking at these hosting providers:
WP Engine is an example of a managed WordPress hosting provider. Everything there is geared toward WordPress websites. The only reason that I moved away from WPEngine was that my primary website was, at the time, resource-intensive, and I thought that moving to a comparable plan elsewhere would reduce my costs.
It’s a bit ironic that I now miss some of the simplicity that I found stifling at first.
WP Engine is a bit different than some more “traditional” hosting plans. There are some things they have found reduce server performance that they will not let you use on your website (you want to be a good neighbor, don’t you?) You can’t have your email hosted here, so you’ll need to get your email under your domain name elsewhere. And their panel seems to have WAY fewer options than the “cPanel” of a traditional hosting account.
But I was surprised to not miss it. What they do have is:
- Friendly 24/7 customer support over chat that was always available, solved my issues, and is located in Texas.
- “One-click” staging that actually is at least CLOSE to involving one click.
- Reliable, regular, daily backups and an interface that made it easy to back up before you do any updates (One caveat: they make you install their plugins on the back and this actually issues a reminder to back up before you can proceed with any updates. I think I kind of felt like my daughter who gets upset if I remind her to clean her room just before she’s about to do it.)
- Built-in server caching and content delivery network (more about that in a later post as well.)
- A whole menu of Gravity WordPress themes. I also did not use these as I started using Divi around the same time that I started using WPEngine and got hooked.
- On a personal note, when I was the noisy neighbor I mentioned earlier, I found that I had an account manager who called me personally to discuss my issues.
Any downsides? WP Engine costs more. In addition, while they have three options for their basic hosting options, they’re all shared hosting. They don’t offer cloud hosting at the time I’m writing this. They do offer a dedicated server option and do not list the price on their website last I checked. However, I asked about it and can tell you it was very costly.
And crap can happen even with a good hosting provider. One afternoon I found that ALL of my plugins (we’ll get to what those are in another post if you don’t know) disappeared. Support couldn’t tell me why. I didn’t delete them. Fortunately, due to regular backups (remember ABU — Always Back Up?) I was able to restore my website without any loss.
Hmmm, Zip says..Siteground? I prefer trees myself.
But Siteground is a well-known hosting provider who’s been around for a long time. Overall, I’ve been pleased with their services and support.
Recently, they’ve changed their user interface a bit, and it’s looking more like a managed hosting environment, but on my account, I still have cPanel access.
Siteground offers multiple types of hosting accounts from the low-priced Start Up plan for bloggers just starting out with other levels (GrowBig and GoGeek) available as you move up and, I guess, go geek. Which will happen if you get addicted to WordPress (again, are you sure you want to blog, sloth?)
If you’ve gone beyond the geek, they also have managed WordPress hosting, managed WooCommerce hosting (that’s e-commerce and also WordPress based), cloud hosting, up to enterprise options available.
Depending on your plan, they offer many of the same options as WPEngine — server caching, regular backups, and one-click staging. Not the Texas, but I’m not really attached to where my customer support people are as long as they can help.
And they were very helpful. There wasn’t too long of a wait for chat customer support but, though I’m a quiet individual in daily life, I’m a very “squeaky wheel” when it comes to asking customer support questions. One day I found a little notice on my account in the support tickets area telling me, in effect, that I had exceeded a reasonable number of support requests in the last three months and that I could only submit requests that pertained to hosting. That’s what I thought I had been doing. However, I realize remote customer support is tough during COVID-19, and that notice did not last long.
One thing I’ll mention is that Siteground’s “one-click” staging is not as intuitive as WPEngine’s. It was the reason for more than one of the support requests I mentioned here. It took significantly more clicks than one. Unlike WPEngine’s, if I wanted to create a new staging environment, I had to destroy the old, then create a new one and then change my DNS settings to be able to access said staging environment. With WPEngine, it was, like, look – staging!
And do be careful that you know what you’re doing if you upgrade anything. Turn on autoscale, and it will keep charging you that overage every month until you manually cancel it. Upgrade your storage space, and you won’t be able to downgrade it again without moving your site to a different hosting plan.
But Siteground offers a combination of support and value that I like and, overall, a friendly user interface and is a hosting provider I’d recommend.
Bluehost is (I’m taking a guess and not actually looking at the stats here just to be sure) the #1 hosting provider. They must be. They’re the web hosting provider that it seems every “here’s how to make a blog” post want you to go to.
They have a good affiliate program.
But, it’s relatively straightforward to use for beginners.
When I made my first WordPress site a very long time ago, I hosted with Bluehost and my experience led me never to go back.
I recall having difficulty with uptime as well as difficulties with contacting customer support. The free SSL certificate would not auto-renew and was told I would have to do it myself every three months. I had to set a reminder to myself to do it. Otherwise, I’d wake up one day and find an “insecure” warning on my site. One day one of my sites randomly (I did nothing) redirected to my other website — a potentially embarrassing scenario if anyone had actually been looking at site #1.
But, to be fair, I haven’t been back for many years, so my issues may be non-issues now. Additionally, there must be a reason why it’s a web hosting provider officially recommended by WordPress.
They offer basic and very affordable plans as well as VPS and even dedicated servers, but there is no cloud hosting option available. And, I see that they now offer WP Pro, which consists of three levels of managed WordPress hosting.
In the past, I had domains registered with GoDaddy and, at the time, found their backend less intuitive to navigate than some other domain name registrars.
But I never used their web hosting.
However, I have had some limited experience with their hosting from working on a website for a client, and I was pleased to find I had no issues with navigating and finding what I was looking for.
On the basic hosting plan he had, he did not have daily backups and would have had to pay extra as an add-on. Additionally, I found that he was paying extra for an SSL certificate. Many hosts include a free basic Let’s Encrypt certificate.
As with most hosting plans, you have cPanel access, chat support was available, and I utilized it once when I was working on my client’s website. They responded quickly and were helpful and responsive to the basic questions I needed to ask.
GoDaddy has plans ranging from the extremely basic (their homepage, which currently cites a hosting plan for $1.00/month) to managed WordPress hosting plans, up to VPS and private servers. Cloud hosting was absent from the offerings.
I’ve also had limited experience with HostGator via helping a client, just a bit, with an existing website issue.
I had to contact customer service initially to ask about some of the limitations of her plan, which appeared to have no cPanel access. However, their chat support was immediate and helpful.
Hostgator has multiple plans, as do most providers, ranging from the very basic and inexpensive up to VPS and dedicated servers. Cloud hosting appeared to be absent from their offerings, however.
Another disclaimer: I’ve never hosted at Flywheel. I list them here as I’ve heard them mentioned more than once as a web hosting provider that people liked.
And, similarly, there are some plugins they don’t recommend using on their platform. And, similarly, from what I can tell, it appears that Flywheel has a back end more similar to WP Engine vs. traditional cPanel.
As Flywheel is managed WordPress hosting, you won’t find any $2.95/month plans here. At the time of this writing, their “tiny” plan is $13.00/month. But, they have plans appropriate for multiple sites with massive traffic and offer cloud hosting plans for websites with enormous traffic. What is the difference between massive and enormous? In the words of Dr. Seuss, “I do not know, go ask your Dad.” My grammar checker offered me suggestions instead of “ginormous,” “massively massive,” and “extremely high.” I can use these adjectives on none of my websites.
If I ever decide to move my websites, Flywheel is a provider I will very seriously consider.
A2 Hosting is another provider I list here as I’ve heard them mentioned as a reliable hosting provider. Again, I have not actually hosted a site with them.
They offer both basic hosting accounts with cPanel and managed WordPress accounts that feature the Plesk control panel.
Zip Signs Up for Web Hosting
If you’re reading this, I will assume that you are familiar with using a computer and that you’ve done some online shopping. I won’t post a step-by-step walk-through of Zip signing up for a web hosting account. It involves finding the plan you want, putting it in your cart, and completing payment. We’ll go on to what to do after that in the next couple of posts.
If you are purchasing a domain at your provider along with your hosting plan, once everything is set up (which usually is pretty quick, but may take a little time) you will probably see a coming soon page there.
However, Zip already registered his domain at Namecheap. What’s at Slothverse.com right now looks like this:
OMG! Zip likes Namecheap, but does he want to potentially give them extra $$ via clickable links to sloth pictures and facts? And just what do church sermons have to do with sloths, anyway?..oh, yeah…the deadly sin thing.
So what we’re going to do in the next post, after we’ve signed up for our hosting, is to tell our domain where to go. That is, we’re going to configure our domain name servers. Zip can do this either before or after he installs WordPress, but I’m going to have him do it before. It’s a personal choice, but I like to do that so I can see my WordPress site instead of that splash page as soon as I install it. Instant gratification!
Finding Good Web Hosting: Frequently Asked Questions
For those of you who just want to get to the point (and, honestly, for search engine optimization, here’s a handy-dandy FAQ block with the significant points from this post:
Web hosting is a service that allows you to publish content to the Internet. You pay for space on a server where you can upload files that are then served to be viewable to the public (or to a private audience, if that’s what you want?
In shared web hosting, one server is “home” to multiple accounts — thus, numerous websites.
Managed WordPress hosting is a web hosting service with features geared towards optimizing WordPress performance and minimizing user effort.
In cloud hosting, resources for a website are divided among different servers in different locations, thus improving performance and reducing downtime.
VPS hosting is like shared hosting in that multiple web hosting accounts exist on the same server. However, in VPS hosting, each account has its own resource allocation and does not need to share resources with other hosting accounts on that server.
Having a dedicated server means that the server is 100% dedicated to your hosting account (unless you decide to sell sub-hosting accounts.) You do not need to share resources with other users.
Excellent reputation and reviews, longevity, a guarantee of uptime, cost (i.e., does it fit within your budget), CPU and disc space resources available, 24/7 support with knowledgeable staff, other “perks”: email service, automated backups, one-click staging environments.
There are many good hosting providers out there, so I cannot even begin to touch the tip of the web hosting iceberg. However, web hosting providers that we’ve used and been satisfied with overall are WPEngine and Siteground.
Find a web hosting provider with the resources you need and a good reputation, sign up for an account, and complete checkout. If you’re used to online shopping, the step of creating your WordPress website — signing up for an account — is usually pretty straightforward.
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