Okay before we start, let’s talk about why hosting matters. I want you to think about your own browsing behavior. If you go to a site, and the home page takes a long time to load, images don’t show up within a couple seconds, or you find yourself waiting a while to browse products, what do you do? I know I leave — especially if I’m viewing the site on my phone and want to go check out everything else on Twitter.
Think I’m unique? Check out this article from KISSmetrics and you’ll see that just about everyone is impatient when it comes to browsing. There are some other things you can do to ensure that load time is minimized, such as investing in good DNS hosting and checking out the W3 Total Cache plugin, but quality hosting should definitely be at the top of your list to invest in for your eCommerce site.
If you’re using a site to sell your products, bad hosting throws an unwanted and detrimental barrier between customers and potential purchases. We’re no longer in the age of dial-up internet (and I cringe when I write that and hear that connection sound in my head) where we all expect to wait a while for a page to load. The longer customers wait to shop on your site, the lower your conversions will sink. Not only will these potential customers abandon your site, but they could cost you future sales when they tell friends that they had a negative experience on your site. The article linked above also gives us this valuable tidbit:
79% of web shoppers who have trouble with web site performance say they won’t return to the site to buy again and around 44% of them would tell a friend if they had a poor experience shopping online.
Agree with me about the importance of increasing speed yet? If not, check this out. If you do, great. We can move on and talk about how good WordPress hosting services are something you should invest in to maximize conversions and the money you can make from your site.
Why Use a WordPress-specific Hosting Service?
There are a lot of options for hosting a website (the host server stores all the data for your site to render in someone’s browser). Not only can you go with a hosting service, but you could also host your own site. So why recommend a company that is tailored to WordPress for hosting? For the reasons above — speed and performance. Amazon found that their revenue increased 1% with every 100 millisecond decrease in page load time. WordPress-specific hosting can deliver the best performance times because it usually handles caching optimized for a WordPress install and uses a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to speed up page loads even more. Generic services will usually yield generic results. By optimizing hosting for WordPress, you get the best performance possible.
In addition, many WordPress hosting services offer managed solutions, which typically supports WordPress (and plugins) better by doing automatic backups and (typically) core upgrades; some will even do security audits for malware. Since performance matters so much for conversions, cheaping-out on site setup doesn’t make much sense to me. If you open an on-the-ground store that will depend on foot traffic, are you going to just open up shop anywhere you can get cheap rent? Nope, seems like a waste of money. Then why in the world would you waste money on hosting that won’t serve your needs in the best way possible? You’re sacrificing optimal performance and therefore some revenue by trying to save money on hosting; quality hosting will probably pay for itself for any eCommerce store.
Shared vs VPS vs Dedicated Hosting
So now let’s talk about some hosting specifics. Many WordPress hosting services will offer shared, semi-dedicated/VPS, and dedicated hosting. In a shared hosting setup, you’re basically renting server space with other sites, so the server is managed for you. Good services will make sure that servers are not overloaded, but this could be a danger if you’re going with the cheapest hosting possible and will affect your site performance. For small blogs and personal sites, shared hosting will probably be sufficient, and can save you a lot of money. However, that’s probably not what we’re discussing. For an eCommerce site, you’ll probably want a dedicated or semi-dedicated (VPS) server. In a dedicated setup, you’re renting the entire server for your site(s).
If you’re running an eCommerce store, I don’t recommend using shared hosting (at least not for long). First, performance is a very real consideration for conversions, so investment in performance makes sense. With shared hosting, problems with other sites using your server can affect your site. If another site on your server is using a plugin that is taxing the server’s resources, your site is affected. Uptime can be decreased, and support will not be as good as you need (wait until you have an issue that your host will need to solve for your store to work correctly and get back to me if you don’t believe this). While shared hosting is much cheaper, you’re going to trade reliability in order to get a discounted price.
If you go with dedicated hosting, you rent the entire server to host your site(s). This is probably the solution for sites with really really high volume. However, unless you have someone on your tech staff who really likes servers, you’ll want to make sure your service is managed (see below). Just because you have dedicated hosting does not mean that the server is monitored, software is updated, or that you’ll get help with setup or migration. Setting up your own dedicated hosting is really not fun, nor is it easy to maintain. Even if you’re a developer and can do it, this definitely doesn’t mean you’ll want to do (hearing my husband whine about redundancy while doing this was painful enough without actually setting it up myself). While I’m a fan of dedicated hosting to maximize site performance, I’m not a fan of unmanaged dedicated hosting. For the difference in price between managed and unmanaged dedicated servers, it’s worth it to pay a professional to babysit your hosting and you’ll probably get some other benefits, like site backups.
Now what about most of us that have smaller to medium sized stores and aren’t running the next Amazon? You can get semi-dedicated hosting services (Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting). Sharing will still occur on the server, but will be at a minimum, as the physical server can be split up into 4 or 5 “virtual” servers, minimizing the effect of other sites’ issues on your own (for you non-geeks, this is like setting up “offices” or “rooms” within the server for each virtual server; each virtual machine has it’s own workspace, and they don’t really know that the other ones are there). This is the optimal solution for most eCommerce sites, as costs aren’t as high as having a truly dedicated server, but sharing isn’t overloaded and performance is minimally affected. Our recommendations cover some of the services that provide hosting without overloading shared servers.
Managed vs Unmanaged Hosting
Now that we’ve got shared vs dedicated hosting out of the way, let’s discuss managed vs unmanaged WordPress hosting. If you go with dedicated or VPS hosting, you’ll probably have to determine whether or not you’d like your hosting managed.
So what’s unmanaged hosting? Unmanaged hosting doesn’t have someone watching over your site’s servers to make sure that software is updated and that your site is backed up in case anything goes wrong. You’re kind of left on your own and get pretty generic service, such as replacement for faulty parts and reboots. All software management is on you; it’s like having your own remote computer that you have to maintain and update (this is true of VPS hosting as well). If you do need software help, you’ll probably have to pay an hourly rate that will wipe out any savings you have from going with an unmanaged server versus a managed one. For almost everyone with an eCommerce store I’ve met, unmanaged hosting is a very unnecessary burden, nor do most companies have the staff to manage it.
So what’s the difference with managed hosting? Managed hosting babysits servers for you. Software is updated and the servers are maintained so you don’t have to worry about it. Security is usually a focus and sweeps are performed. Typically, additional services will include quality support, automatic site backups, WordPress core updates, and in some cases, may even include plugin updates. When you go with a managed solution, you’re getting a lot of help for the money, and to me it’s absolutely worth it.
While we plan on covering specific hosting solutions in depth at a later date, we’ll give you a starting point for research and suggestions here. WP Engine hosts our site, and we promote them as an affiliate because we’ve had good experiences with them. However, that’s not to say they’re the only good WordPress hosting service to check out, nor will we force you to rely on our experiences alone.
To get you started with research, you can check out this comparison of major managed hosting providers. The “big three” for managed WordPress hosting are WP Engine, Pagely, and Synthesis. Each offers VPS and dedicated hosting solutions, and all three will do daily backups for your site, malware scans, and support automatic WordPress core and plugin upgrades. You’ll also need a second tier plan with each in order to support using an SSL certificate (you can’t use a personal plan). If you’re a developer, you’ll want these plans (or higher) anyway for clients.
*Note: If you go over 100k visitors in a month or are close, I know WP Engine has been flexible in the past and has not hammered people on fees.
Let’s start with WP Engine since we referenced them earlier. You’ll find that many of their customers will give them ringing endorsements (check out Twitter for @wpengine for more) and it’s a good all-around solution. Customer service is fast, support quality is good, and performance has always been great. They guarantee to fix any problems if your site is hacked for free, and they have a pretty awesome “staging area” that you can use to create a copy of your site and test new plugins/themes. They provide a solid overall experience for most WordPress sites, though they include smaller bandwidth than other services at each pricing tier.
Synthesis is Copy Blogger‘s hosting offering, and also does a solid job for a slightly better price (more due to the increased bandwidth than the $2 difference). Synthesis is also optimized for use with Genesis and does include some SEO optimization. Performance and security are great with Synthesis as well, and they also have a lot of happy clients. WordPress SEO plugin author Yoast has a good article on WordPress hosting that recommends Synthesis.
Pagely rounds out the top three managed WordPress hosting solutions. Their basic business plan pricing is a bit lower than WP Engine or Synthesis, but you don’t get as much included in the plan in terms of storage or benefits. They also have solid security and dedicated customer service, but seem to be favored more by developers than clients since they have a pretty unique partner API that makes building on top of their services easier (I have no data to back this up though, so take it with a grain of salt; it’s just an errant observation). The API is also why they’re able to pair with Cart66 to offer the Cart66 Hosted service.
Looking for other managed WordPress hosting solutions aside from these? I can’t say that I’d go in that direction myself, but if you want to check out other solutions to be thorough there are a few other services that offer WordPress-specific hosting. VPS.net offers WordPress cloud hosting that’s pretty solid and more affordable than VPS hosting from other providers, though it doesn’t offer as much. DreamHost offers DreamPress, which is their WordPress hosting offering and is recommended by WordPress.org.
Still not sold on managed, dedicated hosting? WP Site Care has an article on performance for shared hosting companies you can take a look at for performance. I’ve also heard a lot of good things about A Small Orange for shared hosting. Have other suggestions you’ve enjoyed using? Tell us in the comments!
Looking for some more information on WordPress hosting services? Check out these resources:
- Still not sure about the differences between types of hosting services? Check out this article on Web Hosting Basics.
- WP Shout has a really great collection of hosting services recommended and vetted by readers.
- Managed WordPress has some reviews of the top managed WordPress hosting solutions.
- WP Beginner has a good overview of popular hosting services.
- Chris Lema has an overview of why you will probably want to avoid shared hosting.
- Practical eCommerce has an overview of managed hosting solutions.
- Looking for more info on shared vs dedicated hosting? Check out this article.
- Looking for more information on managed vs unmanaged hosting? Check this article and this article out.
- Looking to switch hosting services? WP Mayor has some advice on the easiest way to switch hosts.
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