Let’s start with some great news: there has never been a better ecosystem for WordPress hosting. Years ago, when we started Evermore (Website Concierge’s old brand), there were a handful of hosting options that were optimized for WordPress. Your choices for a small business or nonprofit were, basically:
- Countless budget, shared hosting companies for “everyone”
- Countless moderately expensive virtual private servers for experienced engineers
- Small number of hosting companies offering “WordPress-optimized” packages
In nearly all of these scenarios, hosting was still very technical. You were often presented with a “web hosting control panel” like cPanel or WHM, and left with mountains of technical documentation that tell you how to make everything happen. Even the hosts offering WordPress-optimized services were essentially just pre-selecting a PHP and MySQL version, and leaving everything else the same.
Plus, it was difficult to get helpful support when you had a question or issue, leaving many to feel the dread of having a website go down with no clue where to begin to fix it.
All this meant hosting was mostly in the hands of experienced developers, tinkerers, or agencies.
This isn’t the case at all anymore, thanks to two key shifts: the explosion of cheap, scalable cloud servers (like Amazon Web Services), along the market saturation of WordPress.
By utilizing the speed and scale cloud servers and combining that with WordPress expertise, the concept of fully managed WordPress offerings took off. It filled a vacuum in the market for less technical business owners who wanted the ease and power of WordPress without having to learn about Apache or inodes or logs.
Thankfully, that means you have a number of great options to consider for your site.
Types of Hosting: Managed WordPress, Unmanaged Cloud Hosting, Static Hosting, and Everything Between
Like any evolving technology, web hosting options come with mountains of nuance and detail—most of which doesn’t matter one bit for the average person.
Since our focus in this series is on two contexts—folks who don’t have time to tinker, and those who want to build a skill set—I’ll mostly skip the nuance to make your choices clear.
Managed WordPress Hosting
WordPress sites are (usually) powered by what’s called a “stack”, which is a common set of complementary services running (usually) on the same server. These services are:
- Linux (base operating system for the server)
- Apache/nginx (web server, which returns the content requested by the URL)
- MySQL (database)
- PHP (site code and logic)
This is worth mentioning because it’s one aspect of how managed WordPress vendors make your life way easier. They manage the versions and security of these elements of the stack so that you’re always running the best version for your site.
Most of these hosts will also optimize each of these elements specifically for WordPress. Often, that means hosts will manage your caching configuration, which is really valuable if it’s done well: your site will be fast for visitors and powerful for the administrators without much tinkering.
Unless you’re intentionally leaning about web server technology, let someone else manage this for you.
Some Managed WordPress companies go well beyond server optimization, offering WordPress experts in support, premium plugin licenses, automatic core and plugin updates, and more. This tends to vary by vendor, but it’s worth considering what else hosts offer in case it saves you time and money on maintenance or security—more on that in the next articles.
For an example of a company doing Managed WordPress well, check out Liquid Web.
Unmanaged and Semi-Managed Cloud Hosting for WordPress
Longstanding vendors like Digital Ocean, Linode, and Amazon Web Services changed the way websites and applications are hosted by bringing cost way down and providing secure, performant ways to scale resources.
Here’s the bottom line: unless you’re willing to be on the hook 24/7 for your web servers, this isn’t the right route for most organizations. It can be a fun and cost-effective choice for less important projects, or for trying to things out—but the struggle with unmanaged cloud servers is that there’s no one there to help when something goes wrong. Even if the host’s support team is helpful, they still may not have the expertise necessary to help you in your specific case. It’s a stressful situation if you’re not confident in debugging server-level issues.
If you do go this route, I recommend a tool to help you deploy and manage WordPress-tailored servers. SpinupWP is a great example of this, allowing you to easily manage multiple servers across multiple vendors. It also provides some pre-configured caching and other developer-friendly tools.
Static Hosting for WordPress
An emerging option for WordPress hosting has a couple of monikers: static hosting or Jamstack. Obviously, “jamstack” is a cool name for anything, so it’s at least worth checking out. 😂
Normally, a WordPress website is able to run processes on the server, so it can do things like send notification emails. Most WordPress plugins are written in a way that assumes this is true.
A static website doesn’t run these processes the same way, so you can’t necessarily expect your entire site to work well.
However, certain sites can be a great fit: simple, brochure-style websites without forms or other advanced interactivity. For these sites, you can reap the benefit of really fast hosting and often very low cost. Netlify, for example, will host many sites completely free.
If you want to learn more about WordPress and static hosting, learn more from Miriam Schwab over on the Yoast blog.
Deciding on a Host
Before you make a decision about a host, you’ll need to take the entire scope of website care into account. You’ll need a plan for securing, maintaining, and monitoring your website so that you can look for overlapping features and services, combining the right amount of specialized vendors and DIY elbow grease.
We’ll get into each of these areas next.
- How to Manage Your Own WordPress Website
- How to Host Your WordPress Website (or How to Choose a Managed WordPress Host)
- How to Maintain, Secure, and Monitor Your WordPress Website
- How to Update and Get Support for Your WordPress Website