1. Choosing a Domain Name Registrar
  2. Selecting a DNS Hosting Service
  3. How to Select a Payment Processor
  4. All About WordPress Hosting
  5. Email Marketing and WordPress
  6. Launching an eCommerce site

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.

Sell using WordPress | Bad Web / WordPress Hosting
Do you really want customers to look like this when they visit you?
Photo Credit: Greg Westfall, CC BY 2.0

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.

Our Recommendations

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. Note that my recommended hosts focus on eCommerce-specific features, like backups and staging sites.

SiteGroundDreamHostWP EngineKinstaLiquid Web
Price Point$5 – $25 per mo$15 – $25 per mo$30 – $100 per mo$30+ per mo$249+ per mo
Recommended PlanGoGeekDreamPressBusinessProManaged WooCommerce
WooCommerce-optimized cachingsort of*
Staging site
SSL Certificateincludedincludedincluded **includedincluded
Offers Migrations?freefreefree1 freecontact for info
Automated Backups
Best forDevelopers, MerchantsMerchantsDevelopers, MerchantsDevelopers, MerchantsDevelopers, Merchants

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*WP Engine provides some default caching configuration for WooCommerce, but it is incomplete. If you opt to use them, you will need to request additional caching exclusions, such as excluding WooCommerce API endpoints, query parameters, and session cookies. Without these, WPE can be problematic with extensions.

**We also sometimes see issues with SSL certificates / redirection on WP Engine. For best performance, be sure to ask them to force the entire site over SSL — this gives you an SEO boost anyway, so it’s recommended 🙂

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. Have other suggestions you’ve enjoyed using? Tell us in the comments!

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Looking for some more information on WordPress hosting services? Check out these resources:

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Cover Photo Credit: Sascha (CC BY-ND 2.0 license)

Posted by Beka Rice

Beka Rice manages the direction of Sell with WP content and writes or edits most of our articles to share her interests in eCommerce. Or she just writes as an excuse to spend more time jamming out to anything from The Clash to Lady Gaga. Who knows.