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Monday, April 12, 2021

Sloth Searches for a Good Host…ing Provider: Choosing WordPress Hosting

Before he can install WordPress, Zip needs a place to host his website. Let's take a look at different types of web hosting and several of the popular choices for web hosting providers to help him make a decision.

Home » WordPress and Blogging » Sloth Makes a Blog » Blog Basics » Sloth Searches for a Good Host…ing Provider: Choosing WordPress Hosting
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Now that Zip has chosen a domain name, he needs some advice on how to choose WordPress hosting. What are the best WordPress hosting providers, what are the different types of web hosting, and how should he decide?

We’re going to start by continuing Zip’s story about choosing a domain name, as he was having decsion paralysis last time we saw him.

But you can skip this part to read about:

And for those who really just want simple “in-a-nutshell” type answers, you can jump to a FAQ section at the end.

Zip finally chooses a domain name:

But wait!

The last time we saw him, Zip was indecisive and couldn’t choose between two domain names. Should he pick Slothery.com or Slothverse.com? How to decide?

He goes to ask his friends. Should you ask your friends for advice in this area? It depends on your friends.

angry looking gopher grumpy gopher

First, Zip 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.

weird strange zen zebu meditating
possum reading a book

Finally, he decides to ask Practical Possum for advice.

He looks up, simply, and says, “Slothery,” and goes back to reading his book.

Thank you!

So Zip chooses a name. Slothverse, it is!

Why did he ask in the first place?

Sometimes we already, subconsciously, know what we’ll decide.

How to Choose WordPress Hosting: Types of Web Hosting

Now that Zip’s finally made a decision, let’s talk about the various 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 the cheapest hosting 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. But Zip’s not at that point. Remember, you can always move later or increase your resources (depending on your hosting provider) if you outgrow your hosting plan.

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 encounter as you look for web hosting:

Shared Hosting

A bunch of sloths and monkeys hanging from a tree representing what shared hosting is like. Finding good web hosting

Shared web hosting 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.”

Signs from a Goldengai, Tokyo, bar saying Not Suspicious.
This is a bar in Goldengai in Tokyo that is identifying itself clearly as NOT Suspicious. Which makes me…suspicious. This is entirely random and unrelated to WordPress hosting, but talking about potentiall suspicious virtual neighbors made me think of it.

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

Managed wordpress hosting header image finding good web hosting
Who will be managing my managed hosting?

As he searches for web hosting, Zip might come across something called “managed hosting” or “managed WordPress hosting.” What is managed about it? Who is this manager?

The term “managed WordPress hosting” was a bit confusing to me at first. It seemed that, sometimes, plans calling themselves managed WordPress hosting offered the same things that some standard hosting accounts provided.

Managed WordPress hosting generally offers a whole range of services dedicated to optimizing WordPress and making your life easier.

Unless you’re explicitly signing up for something else like cloud hosting, managed WordPress 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.

Cloud Hosting

cloud hostingheader image with guitar playing sloths finding good web hsoting
This is what cloud hosting is like. Ummm..not really.

Cloud hosting is a step up from shared or managed hosting. The difference between cloud hosting and a standard server is that, instead of being on one server, resources are distributed among a bunch of servers in different locations. This means that there’s less risk of downtime. 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 sloth-related events, or he wants to develop an eCommerce store to sell tasty leaves or sloth merch he should consider upgrading to cloud hosting.

VPS Hosting

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.

Dedicated Server

sloth hanging in a hammock with text saying ahh dedicated server

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.

How to Choose WordPress Hosting Providers

We’ve determined that Zip is not rich. Is he likely to accumulate wealth from his blogging endeavors? Perhaps…but probably not. Fortunately, he has me to help. Or maybe not fortunately, as I’ve never amassed wealth from blogging.

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.

Suspicious Snake

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? Does the hosting provider meter your bandwidth? That’s not necessarily a “bad thing.” On shared hosting, it helps to keep 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. I would get billed at the new higher level each and every month until I canceled.

So, what web hosting provider should Zip use? He has plenty of choices, and many of them good.

So, how to choose WordPress hosting?

Some Web Hosting Providers We’ve Used…and What We’d Recommend.

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, I built the website on my end and then transferred it to the client’s server. 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 hosting recommendation in a nutshell:

Myself (and Zip) are now both at Cloudways and I haven’t looked back. I’ve also had good experiences with Siteground and WP Engine and have heard good things about Flywheel, though I’ve never used 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:

1
Cloudways

I recently updated this post with Cloudways as, since we started writing this series, have moved there from Siteground. And so far, I haven’t been happier with any other hosting company. Overall, my speed has been a bit better, customer service is excellent and prompt, and the cost has been lower than for an account with comparable services at Siteground — though I still think Siteground is among the top choices for hosting.

As far as cost being better — that depends on which server you choose.

Cloudways is a bit different — you choose from one of several different servers. Digital Ocean and Vultur are among the least expensive and Amazon AWS will run you much more. And then, within each server you can customize your resources.

Cloudways doesn’t use CPanel. But, as when I used WP Engine, I don’t miss it. Their interface offers all of the tools you need and customer service has always solved any issue ASAP.

2
WP Engine

WP Engine is an example of a managed WordPress hosting provider. Everything there supports WordPress websites. The only reason that I moved away from WPEngine was that my primary website was getting resource-intensive and their top-tier plan was out-of-my-reach expensive.

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 traditional hosting plans. There are some things they have found to 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 found I didn’t miss cPanel at all.

What they do have is:

  • Friendly 24/7 customer support over chat that was always available.
  • “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 than some other providers. 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, as I mentioned previously, it was too costly for me to afford.

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.

WP Engine Choosing a Good Hosting Provider

3
Siteground

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.

If you’ve gone beyond the geek, Siteground also has managed WordPress hosting, managed WooCommerce hosting, 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.

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 on the support tickets page 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. I thought I had only been doing that! However, I realize remote customer support is tough during COVID-19, and that notice did not stay on my account for long.

One thing I’ll mention is that Siteground’s “one-click” staging is not as intuitive as WPEngine’s or Cloudways’. It took significantly more clicks than one and was the reason for many of the support requests that I mentioned previously.

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.

4
Bluehost

Bluehost is one of the top WordPress hosting providers. They’re also promoted often — I suspect it’s because they have a good affiliate program

I had issues with Bluehost years and years ago and haven’t gone back, so I cannot vouch for their current services. WordPress endorses them, so that must count for something!

I recall Bluehost as having a straightforward interface that was accessible for beginners. However, I was frustrated, at the time, that I had to set a reminder to myself to renew the SSL certificate every few months as it didn’t auto-renew. I also woke up one morning to find one website was redirecting toward another one of my websites. Which wasn’t a problem of my making.

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. 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, and chat support was available. I utilized support 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. I couldn’t find cloud hosting in 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.

Like WP Engine, Flywheel has managed WordPress hosting – entirely devoted to WordPress.

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.

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.

8
A2 Hosting

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.

Zip already registered his domain at Namecheap. What’s at Slothverse.com right now looks like this:

a coming soon page for a domain with text about sloth pictures and bible sermons

OMG! What is this?

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!

9
How to Choose WordPress 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:

What is web hosting?

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?

What is shared web hosting?

In shared web hosting, one server is “home” to multiple accounts — thus, numerous websites.

What is managed WordPress hosting?

Managed WordPress hosting is a web hosting service with features geared towards optimizing WordPress performance and minimizing user effort.

What is cloud web hosting?

In cloud hosting, resources for a website are divided among different servers in different locations, thus improving performance and reducing downtime.

What is virtual (VPS) web hosting?

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.

What is a dedicated 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.

What should I look for in a web hosting provider?

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.

What web hosting providers do you recommend?

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 Cloudways, WPEngine, and Siteground — Cloudways in particular.

How do I sign up for web hosting?

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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Cheryl
Cherylhttps://www.caffeinejournal.com
Cheryl is a former Occupational Therapist and WordPress enthusiast who became a writer in some parallel universe and occasionally, but infrequently, publishes things in this one. She writes two blogs (or is it three) which she won't quit because she knows that blogs, in her case, are like a hydra and if she cuts one off two more will take its place. When she's not doing that, she enjoys hiking, cycling, kayaking (formerly fast, now ebike), messing around with Adobe illustrator, making assorted things, meditating (though she wouldn't call that "like," and reading. She normally doesn't speak about herself in the third person, but she sometimes uses "we" in the royal sense while writing this blog. She lives in Poulsbo, WA with her spouse, her youngest adult daughter, a very old mutt, and a Siamese cat.
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