Imagine for a minute that you live in a world where the only homes you can inhabit are apartment buildings. You have a choice as to what kind of apartment building you want to live in, but you must live in an apartment building. Each building is broken up into floors, and each floor has 20 apartments. However, the number of residents on each floor can change.
This is kind of a boring world, I know. However, each apartment building is really a server and this is a giant metaphor for website hosting. We’ve talked about different kinds of WordPress hosting before, but it’s sometimes difficult to understand the differences between shared hosting, VPS servers, or dedicated / enterprise hosting, and which type of hosting is right for your business.
Most people think that the the differences between each type of hosting are solely related to pageload speed and the number of visitors you have. However, there are several other factors to be aware, and you’ll need a rough understanding of how hosting works.
Apartment buildings that offer really cheap living space are abundant, and they’ll gladly take more tenants. You can pay a pretty nominal fee to live in one of these building each month, but these buildings will put as many tenants on each floor as they can since living space is cheap — you may be sharing your floor with 300 other tenants. With 20 apartments, this means you don’t have much room to yourself.
Now let’s think about the downsides of this: lots of people living in this space means that you may experience problems with trash or noise, as more people on this floor naturally leads to the problems associated with groups of people. You could have really good neighbors, but you might also have one or two that leave trash everywhere and ruin the floor for the rest of you.
What if someone on your floor is famous (even just for 5 minutes of fame)? You’ll also have to account for traffic. If there are paparazzi or visitors on your floor trying to get a glimpse of this famous person, it may affect parking, how easy it is to get to the floor, or how much room is left for your friends to visit (if they can visit at all).
You might even have really bad neighbors — neighbors running a meth lab or other sorts of awful, dangerous stuff. This definitely runs the risk of blowing up part of your floor, which is certainly going to affect your apartment in some way.
This is your typical shared hosting. Not only do you not have a lot of server resources (living space) dedicated to yourself, but you’re sharing this space with no control over who lives with you. This is the part of shared hosting that most business owners don’t understand very well, since you can’t see your neighbors or what they’re up to.
Bad neighbors, like our meth lab apartment, could affect your living experience. In the hosting world, these may be sites that send spam emails. This can affect the deliverability of your own emails, and can result in them getting spammed because they’re all coming from the same server. (We do have advice on using transactional email services to help with this.)
Neighbors could also leave trash everywhere; these neighbors may be infected with malware and this can also compromise your own site. By sharing a server, hacked sites can give malicious code entry into your own site.
The number of visitors your neighbors on the server receive will also affect you, and can make it difficult for your visitors to get to your site if they’re swamping the server resources.
Are most apartment floors full of bad neighbors? Not at all, and sharing hosting doesn’t mean that you’ll be sharing a server with a spam site. This just means that the possibility of these bad neighbors exists and you have no control over the situation.
Now here’s the thing: we’ve all probably lived in a place like this at some point — I know this sort of sounds like my college apartment building if I’m being honest. This kind of hosting is your typically cheap hosting, and it can be fine for when you’re starting out. However, your eCommerce business probably doesn’t want to live in a server like this for the rest of its life. As soon as it can afford to move out, it’s probably a good idea to do so.
Some apartment buildings will still ask you to share your floor, but they’ll keep fewer tenants per floor — maybe 20 to 50 instead of 300. While there may still be issues with your neighbors or the space you share, these issues become less severe. You have a lower chance of being on the same floor as a meth lab or famous person, and the floor has more space to deal with famous people or trash.
Of course, these buildings are slightly more expensive than the buildings that will try to accept as many tenants as they can. You’ll be paying a premium to have a lot more space on your floor and fewer neighbors.
This set up is like SiteGround’s GoGeek hosting plan or Pagely’s business plan: While the hosting is still shared, the server resources are more strictly managed to make sure there’s enough room and resources for everyone there. In fact, SiteGround’s GoGeek sites have one-sixth the amount of sites that the other shared servers have.
You could still get stuck with really bad neighbors or suddenly-famous neighbors, but the chances of this happening are much lower, and more resources are available to deal with these issues.
If you can afford to upgrade your living space, you could rent out a floor on the building. This is analogous to VPS WordPress hosting. You’ll have a “virtual” server — a dedicated portion of the server — without having the entire thing at your disposal.
While you’ll have neighbors on other floors, they won’t really affect life on your floor. This means that you don’t have to worry about neighbors leaving trash on your floor, you have a far lower chance of neighbors blowing the your floor or the entire building up, and you can have all the visitors you can handle.
In other words: other sites can’t infect yours with malware, and spammers won’t affect your site since your server isn’t being shared by anyone else.
When you’ve moved up to VPS hosting, you avoid a lot of the problems that can occur with shared hosting, as you don’t have neighbors to influence your living environment.
Now what if you become famous yourself, or you just have a lot of resources to work with? You could rent the entire building. That way, you’re not influenced by anyone else within the building in terms of traffic, sending mail, parking, or the visitors you can have at any given time.
Very few sites need completely dedicated hosting, and this becomes extremely expensive. You’ll typically see this referred to as “dedicated” or “enterprise hosting”. This would entail renting the entire server for your website(s) alone.
Does everyone need VPS hosting? No. You may not be able to afford it, and your website may not have enough traffic to justify the additional resources, and that’s okay. However, you should now how different types of hosting work so that you can determine what’s best for your site. This is why I typically recommend starting with a SiteGround GoGeek plan for most sites, as you’ll start out with shared hosting that’s more careful about managing its resources.
As you scale, I typically recommend moving up to a VPS, which is where Pagely is excellent. I migrated all sites to Pagely early this year, and have not been disappointed in performance, security, or reliability.
Want some hard numbers on performance for these hosts? Review Signal just published their 2015 hosting benchmarks, which include super-detailed performance metrics for each host.
Both SiteGround and Pagely performed well. SiteGround’s shared hosting was an honorable mention for top tier service:
SiteGround’s Shared hosting definitely helps keep the lower priced options with excellent performance a reality for many.
While Pagely was rated as a top-tier hosting provider:
Is the extra money worth it? Only if you value perfection…The original managed WordPress company [Pagely] continues to put on dominant performance results.
It’s no surprise that website speed affects conversions, so great performance with the right environment and features is a must.
For example, Global Dots has case studies on how speed impacted conversions for Walmart:
- For every 1 second of improvement they experienced up to a 2% increase in conversions
- For every 100 ms of improvement, they grew incremental revenue by up to 1%
Amazon experienced similar results:
Amazon increased revenue by 1% for every 100ms of improvement (same as Walmart).
On a final note, while the type of hosting is important, there are a couple other factors you should consider when choosing your site’s living space.
First, the building maintenance is important. This is where using a managed host comes in. They’ll take care of the routine maintenance and upgrades in the building. In terms of hosting, this means that they’ll ensure WordPress and plugins are up to date, and that your site has backups if needed. Here are some thoughts on what managed hosting covers from Pagely.
We only recommend managed hosts to make sure that you don’t need experience maintaining and updating servers, and to ensure that your site’s living space is looked after.
Second, the building security is crucial. You wouldn’t want just anyone to be able to walk into your building and vandalize it or break into apartments. In terms of hosting, the security measures the hosting company takes to protect your site become extremely important when you’re running a business and storing customer information. This is also a reason I recommend Pagely and SiteGround.
For example, I had a client hosted on WP Engine whose site was infected with malware via a common hack using an outdated version of Gravity Forms. The updater for the plugin was broken so they didn’t know to upgrade it, but no security measures were taken to protect the site from this attack vector (which is one reason I no longer recommend them). Even after the site was cleaned and “hardened”, the same attack occurred again within an hour before I could get to it to upgrade.
The client’s site was infected and our team was able to replicate the attack ourselves within 30 minutes on the same server. However, attempting this attack on a testing site hosted at Pagely didn’t work at all because their security measures blocked it, even with the compromised plugin version. If this had been an eCommerce site, the issue would have been extremely serious, as customer accounts would have to be reset, and payment details could have been compromised.
- We have several articles on hosting that can give you some more details about hosting and some companies
- Review Signal is the absolute best resource for performance testing of major WordPress hosting companies.
- HostingReviews.io aggregates customer reviews on Twitter of several hosting companies to rate them.