Does the hosting plan you choose for your WordPress website really matter that much? Here I'll show you why you should ignore most of the WordPress "experts" and show you what actually matters and what doesn't.
I’m being tormented! Tormented I tell you!
Mainly on Facebook. And not in a good way.
I spend quite a bit of time in Facebook groups trying to help people there with WordPress, Thrive themes, hosting and any other technical problems they might have.
And I’m being tormented by some of the so-called experts in these groups.
Whenever someone asks for help with a slow website, some expert - without even looking at the site - chimes in with "change your hosting". Like it's the magic pill.
Every single time!
Here are some typical exchanges:
Q: My website’s slow.
A: WordPress should be fast. Change your host
Q: I can’t upload a PDF.
A: Your PHP upload limit is too low. It’s your host’s fault. Change your host
Q: I get a 500 internal server error.
A: That’s a server error so it’s your host. Change your host.
Q: I can’t align my desires with my actions so my life is out of balance.
A: Change your host …
I’ve worked on hundreds of websites.
I’ve worked with most of the big hosting providers out there.
And I can tell you one thing ...
These experts are wrong!
And your website problems? They’re probably your fault, not theirs!
That probably sounds like I’m being deliberately controversial so let me show you what I mean ...
The experts are wrong
Here’s a typical Facebook exchange:
I don’t even know what the opinions above are based on! But they certainly are not based on facts.
I know the first commenter is wrong because using a dedicated hosting plan will almost certainly give better performance than a shared plan. I know the guy is wrong because I've managed one of the biggest cloud infrastructures here in Switzerland; I can tell you that process switching does not work the way he describes it.
And most importantly I know they're wrong because here is a post from that same website owner a few weeks later when we actually got round to working on her site.
We've managed to get good speeds from many websites on cheap shared hosting and we've done this more than once. We have many clients on GoDaddy hosting and while sometimes it can be tricky, these clients can tell you WordPress website speed can always be improved.
By the way, the reaction of one of the well-known experts in the group above when we improved the website loading time to less than three seconds? “Well, good for you but that doesn’t happen me or my clients.”
Enough said about "experts" and their poor clients.
Just to be sure we're on the same page, let's get a clear definition of what we're talking about.
What is Hosting?
A web hosting service is a type of Internet hosting service that allows you to make your website accessible via the World Wide Web.
Hosting providers (also known as web hosts) are the companies providing that service. They give you space on a server you rent and they provide Internet connectivity.
The server you rent from your host is the foundation of your website. It is where your site lives and where it runs. Clearly it’s an important part of your business so of course it needs to be able to handle your web site.
But just how important is it, really? Do you really need the best specifications or will the budget option be enough?
Who's complaining about hosting
There are probably two groups of people complaining about hosting providers.
- Technical people complaining about a lack of the budget options
- Non-technical people who don’t really understand a lot about it
Technical people (the minority) are the loudest complainers. These people use hosting in their daily job. They complain about the low server specifications that come with cheap plans. They complain about the lack of control the host gives you on those cheap plans.
These people actually have no right to complain about these plans. You get what you pay for and they should know that.
Imagine a competent, professional carpenter buying a new drill. Do you think he or she is likely to buy a budget model for $20 and then complain that it didn’t have enough power to drill a 2-inch hole into solid concrete?
Most likely not.
A competent carpenter would know enough to understand that they shouldn’t be buying the budget model for that job in the first place. They would have no right to complain if the drill didn’t suit the job.
You don’t really need to know what the “experts” think of the budget hosting plans. Most of them have no idea about the infrastructure behind your WordPress website and most of them have no formal training in programming or IT.
So here’s what we’ll do with these complaining techies for now; we’ll ignore them.
On to the non-technical folk (the vast majority). If you're reading this you're probably in this group.
You non-technical people have more of a right to complain than anyone.
You bought your hosting plan on good faith. But you probably didn't really understand all the options. And you probably didn't have the advice of someone who did.
You’re most likely complaining that your WordPress website is slow or you just don’t know how to do something you think you need to do.
What you ACTUALLY need to know is if your hosting plan is good enough for your WordPress website right now.
That's ALL you need to know.
Here's my opinion
To cut to the chase - a basic plan is usually enough for you if you’re just starting out. As you get more visitors you can get a more sophisticated plan. Don’t forget that your technical knowledge will probably increase along the way as well. As a result you'll be better informed when you need to make decisions later.
Stop complaining about your WordPress hosting plan
Back to my controversial statement - it’s not your host’s fault.
I find the “change your host” knee-jerk type of reaction is not only very unhelpful but irresponsible. Sure, getting a better hosting plan might change some things. But changing your hosting plan will never help you find out why your site is performing poorly and how to fix it.
Here's the fact: most WordPress hosting plans are more than capable of handling most WordPress websites. As I mentioned, we’ve managed to get websites on basic shared hosting at GoDaddy to load in less than three seconds.
So, you might not like to hear it, but if your website is slow, it's probably your fault - inadvertently - and there are probably many things you can do to improve it.
Here's why it's your fault
The real reason your website is slow is that it hasn't been optimised properly.
Of course it might be faster on a better hosting plan. But it's much better for you to fix the underlying problems before jumping to that conclusion. When your site runs well on cheap hosting then you know your doing it right. Everything is ship shape and it's going to perform well for Google and for your visitors.
Many WordPress business owners expect their sites to perform well without them doing anything. Many "experts" expect the same. That's a fatal way of looking at it. The truth is that it takes some work to get your WordPress website running as fast as possible.
You can't just pick any theme, tack on any plugins you want, stick up any old image you want and expect it all to work seamlessly together.
You can follow guides to get your site performing better but deep down you probably know what you should be doing.
Anyone, in any business, should be focusing on their strengths and have someone else to do the stuff they can’t do!
You do it with your car, you do it with your health, why not with your business?
If your Honda starts running badly you most likely bring it to a mechanic to check it out. You don’t start complaining that Honda make bad cars and that they swindled you out of your hard earned money.
Well, it’s time for online business owners to start doing the same. If it's beyond your expertise, get someone to do it for you. It will be money well invested in your business.
Here's what doesn't matter in a hosting plan
Different levels of "cheap"
Ok, it matters a bit but probably not as much as you think until you get a lot of traffic. I have never seen an average, low traffic WordPress website that we can't optimise on any cheap plan! (For those of you reading a challenge into that, go ahead: if we can’t get your standard WordPress website running fast on cheap hosting then there’s no charge! Just give us a shout.)
Extras they provide
Many hosts will offer you extra services like an SEO package, protected registration, business services etc. Forget about these. Usually these extra services aren't going to matter to you and won't live up to the marketing hype.
I’ve written the truth about host backups here so ignore this one. In short - your host is not responsible for backing up your WordPress website. If they offer them fine; if they don’t, never mind.
I've seen this debated for years and I’ve yet to see a reliable explanation of the effect of location on site performance. It makes sense that if your target market is in the US then you should host in the US. But it’s not as important as you might think.
Here’s what matters in a hosting plan
Here are some of the things that really matter for your site and your visitors. Each of these should be included in your hosting plan:
Fast loading times
Pick a host that can offer decent speed on a standard WordPress installation. Otherwise you risk frustrating your visitors. Site speed is one of the most important considerations these days, both for Google and for your visitors.
If your site is unavailable for any length of time your visitors will give up the effort of going there.
Pick a host that cares about security. You'll know they do if they mention things like SSL and firewalls.
Good Customer Service
I have to confess to not caring about this one in times past. But I've since realised the difference a good level of support makes. In times of need - and you will have them - you need to know someone's there to help.
Very important nowadays! Most caring hosts will provide an SSL certificate free of charge. If they don’t, I would stay away unless you have bought your own SSL elsewhere. (This is my only major problem with GoDaddy - they don't allow free SSL certs). Any competent tech person can install one for you.
- High customer satisfaction ratings
- Easy WordPress installation
- Enough bandwidth and disk space to handle your expected users
- Upgradeability for when you outgrow your initial plan
How to pick a hosting plan
Just as if you were buying a car, do some background checking ...
- Make a list of things you need before you start looking. Ask online in Facebook groups or elsewhere for help if you don't know what you need. (You can also ask me.)
- Decide what compromises you are willing to make and ask the hosting company about the options that matter listed above before you commit.
- Look for reviews of hosting companies e.g. run a search like this to find ones with decent customer ratings.
Here are your responsibilities
Once your hosting plan covers the list of important options above, your responsibilities are as follows:
Take care of your own Backups
As I said here.
I think I repeat this in every blog post. Updating your software is the single most important thing you can do to protect your website against hackers. Just do it now.
Optimise your site
I don’t care how you do this but caching and Image/CSS/JS compression plugins are a great start. Also using a CDN is a great idea.
DO NOT rely on your host for this. Some are better than others but at a minimum install a plugin like Sucuri or iThemes Security and preferably install a Web Application Firewall like Sucuri’s.
Site content, lead generation, marketing, sales
This is the business side of things. Of course this is entirely up to you ...
If you’re just getting started with WordPress, I recommend going with cheap shared hosting. Of course it should include the features mentioned above.
Once your site starts to get a good amount of traffic you can consider upgrading to a more expensive option.
And if you want the simplest, most hands-off approach to looking after your WordPress site, paying for experts to manage it for you and keep it optimised is a very smart idea.
My favourite hosts ?
Siteground, a happy middle ground between complete managed hosting and full control. The best hosting for the price that I've come across.
Kinsta, impressive, premium WordPress hosting for serious sites. Their customer support is brilliant, like having a personal butler at your beck and call, day and night. Pricey.
When reseaching for this article, this is the most sensible thing I found about WordPress hosting online:
"If you choose your web hosting by searching for the cheapest (possibly as low as $0.99 per month), you can’t seriously expect much. You may not know much about the technicalities, but you could reasonably expect that you will be less happy than if you paid $7.99 per month." From https://www.noobpreneur.com/2018/03/20/37900/
So, now you know more than you'll ever need to know about WordPress website hosting!