WordPress Hosting for Developers: How to Choose the Right Host
There are plenty of choices in modern society with a dizzying array of options, all of which lead to the same outcome. Choose one of 30 different toothpaste brands. Whichever you pick, you’ll get clean teeth and fresh breath. It’s not like half of them will promote tooth decay. None are designed to make your breath worse.
When you’re choosing a WordPress host, though, the opposite is true. There are limited hosting options available to a WordPress developer, but they lead to wildly different results. The right host can boost your site’s performance, increase uptime, reduce development time, and provide vital support. The wrong host, on the other hand...well, imagine a toothpaste flavored with corn syrup and cane sugar.
Before you choose your new host, take some time to brush up (pun intended) on these WordPress hosting considerations. And don’t forget to floss.
1. The Five Types of WordPress Hosting
WordPress hosting varies in cost, performance, and maintenance. When considering the different types, remember to not only think about the current needs of your site, but how those needs will change over time. Do you have traffic spikes throughout the year? Is your website traffic growing? Keeping the long-term needs of your site in mind is important because the type of hosting you choose can make dealing with traffic spikes or growth over time either very difficult and costly or easy and cost-effective.
WordPress hosting infrastructure - Virtual Machines vs. Containers
While the majority of WordPress hosting providers use servers or virtual machines, container-based infrastructure is gaining in popularity. Containers have a number of benefits, including:
- Very fast provisioning
- Simple, high availability
- Smooth scaling
- Machine-precision consistency
- Better performance
Shared Hosting: The most common type of low-end hosting. Your site is hosted on the same server as tens or hundreds of other sites. The main benefit is that shared hosting is low cost. But the real price you pay is on the security and performance side. Hosting many sites on one server means that if someone is able to breach one site they can easily get into any of the other sites. Sites on shared hosting can also experience performance problems and even down time when “noisy neighbors” hog resources.
Virtual Private Server: VPS hosting is similar to shared hosting in that your site is hosted on a single server alongside other sites, but your site is contained in a virtual server on that server, and you’re responsible for your virtual server. VPS usually translates to slightly better performance, but it is also significantly more expensive than shared hosting. And if sites on the same physical server are using too many resources, your site’s performance can be affected, even though you are on a different virtual server. Hosting with a VPS also requires some technical knowledge and management.
Dedicated Hosting: With dedicated hosting, your site is hosted on its own server or cluster of servers. This is one of the most expensive types of hosting, as you have your own hardware dedicated to your site. You also need someone to manage those servers, which adds to the cost. This type of hosting gives you the most control over the performance characteristics of your site, but it also adds overhead. You should also make sure that your infrastructure can support you over the long term, as steady growth or spikes in traffic can require risky migrations or cause downtime if not managed correctly. Suffice to say, this option often requires the most technical knowledge.
Managed Hosting: If you don’t want anything to do with managing hosting infrastructure for your site then managed hosting can be an appealing option. Managed WordPress hosting providers run infrastructure for you, keep the site secure, and optimize performance. Managed hosting tends to be expensive, and also often limits your ability to control your website. Many managed WordPress hosts limit your control over your site, including disallowing certain plugins and even dictating your site’s code.
Elastic Hosting: Horizontally scalable WordPress hosting is rare, but horizontally scalable infrastructure has huge benefits in terms of performance and reliability, which is why it’s used by companies like Google, Salesforce, and Facebook. With elastic hosting, your site can scale to match whatever your resource needs are without migrations or downtime. Automated load balancers shift resources across a distributed platform, and if your site’s traffic grows, your site doesn’t need to be migrated to a new architecture.
2. Evaluating WordPress Host Performance
When choosing a WordPress host, one of the most important considerations is performance. Of course, every hosting provider will say their service is the fastest, the most scalable, and the most reliable. So how do you evaluate different providers and determine which is right for your needs?
WordPress Hosting Performance Attributes
When it comes to the performance of your site, there are a several attributes to pay attention to. Every hosting provider claims to have the fastest WordPress hosting. But what does that mean? There are different attributes that contribute to great site performance. Smart buyers pay attention to all of them. And whenever possible, refer to 3rd party performance benchmarks like Review Signal’s WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks.
Page load speed: An important factor for a few reasons. Search engines consider page load times as a factor in determining page rank, and even small increases in speed have been shown to decrease bounce rates and increase visitor engagement.
WordPress Hosting - response time in seconds
- GoDaddy .43
- WP ENGINE .42
(Shorter is better).
Caching: The right caching technologies can play a big part in optimizing the speed of your site. A highly performant edge cache like Varnish can improve performance by serving requests from browsers from memory rather than from disk. With a reverse-proxy edge like Varnish, when many visitors try to access your website, requests first hit the cache and are served from there if possible. Not only is serving a page from memory faster than serving it from disk - when the page is served from the cache, the request doesn’t need to touch PHP or the database, significantly reducing overhead.
Uptime: This is also important for obvious reasons. Downtime can have a major impact on your business. For every minute your site is down, you could be losing potential customers, leads, or awareness.
An application object cache can also benefit WordPress sites. The database is the final bottleneck for scale, and the source of most major performance failings. When generating a dynamic request, WordPress needs to leverage data objects that typically require database queries and application processing to generate. A good application object cache allows these to be re-used, and can improve both average performance and your ability to scale.
WordPress-optimized hosting is usually advised, as it is designed for the best WordPress performance. Not all hosting infrastructure is the same. Different elements of the infrastructure stack can significantly affect site performance. When it comes to WordPress infrastructure, everything from the hardware, to the PHP runtime, to the database, to the OS, can be optimized to deliver better performance for WordPress sites.
Scaling is another important performance feature to think about when choosing WordPress hosting. Every hosting provider touts the ease at which you can scale your site as your traffic grows. When thinking about scaling, you’ll want to know whether your provider will scale your site. Migrating your site to new architecture can be slow and dangerous, and may result in downtime. Different types of hosting can have an impact of many things, including the ease and risk associated with scaling, which is why it’s important to understand the differences between the different types of WordPress hosting.
3. Choosing a Security-Minded WordPress Host
Securing your WordPress site is an important endeavor, and the best WordPress hosts should help you by providing robust security features and tools. Some features to consider are:
SSL: SSL is a standard security technology for websites, and is enough of a best practice that Google factors whether your site has SSL into its search algorithm. When evaluating WordPress hosts, investigate if they support SSL.
WordPress core & plugin updates: Keeping WordPress and your plugins updated is a crucial practice for keeping your site safe. It’s important to note how updating works on different hosting providers and how easy it is to apply updates and patches.
Network intrusion & DOS protection: Robust denial-of-service and network intrusion protection is a key part of keeping your site secure. The average website sees thousands of attempted breaches a day, and good DOS and network intrusion protection is your site’s first line of defense against the constant barrage of attacks.
User management: Making sure the right people have the right access to your site can be difficult to manage long-term. How are you making sure old contractors or colleagues get removed from your hosting provider’s account when they are no longer working on the project? Who has access to the site, and are there levels of access? Your WordPress hosting provider should allow you to easily control your user permissions and access.
Single sign-on & Two-factor authentication: SSO and 2FA are widely used technologies to help defend against unauthorized access, but many current WordPress hosts do not support them.
Backups: Backups are crucial to protecting your site in the event a breach occurs or if you have issues in production. But not all backup support is created the same. Backups can be manual or automated. They can be stored different lengths of time. They can be stored in the same datacenter as your site or in a different one. Make sure to investigate and evaluate whether a host’s backups meet your needs.
4. Evaluating a WordPress Hosting Platform’s Tools & Workflow
On top of providing infrastructure to run your site on, some WordPress hosts provide a variety of tools to help with the development and maintenance of your website. The quality of these tools can vary wildly, and can significantly affect your development or DevOps team’s efficiency and technical burden.
Having development environments where development can take place in a “safe” place that won’t threaten the live site is a best practice that every development team should follow. It’s a great place for stakeholders to look at new work before it goes live. But not all development or staging environments are the same. Some WordPress hosting providers give users a staging environment whose hardware and specs are completely different than the live environment, so when you’re testing your site, you can’t be sure that it will actually function and perform the same when live.
5. Finding a WordPress Host with World-Class Support
Of course, support is hugely important. Is someone available to answer questions and diagnose problems when you need? And are the people giving you support WordPress and website performance experts?
One thing to think about is that different types of hosting infrastructure can be more or less difficult to support. If you have your own dedicated cluster or server, your support experience may be affected, as a randomly assigned support professional may not know the intricacies of how your server is configured and may have to learn that on the fly, which can add to the time to resolve your issue.