One of the most daunting tasks new WordPress users face is choosing the right hosting solution for their websites.
There are thousands upon thousands of hosting companies around the world. Hosting companies offer many different packages and it isn't clear which one company and which package to select.
Over the last few years a new solution has been made available to WordPress users called Managed WordPress hosting. These managed solutions promise a more hands-on service.
In this article I would like to give you a basic understanding of website hosting and explain the differences between regular hosting plans and managed WordPress hosting plans.
Those of you who are seeking a new hosting company for your WordPress website will find this useful. 🙂
A Little Hosting Terminology
To understand the differences between shared hosting and managed WordPress hosting solutions, you need a basic understanding of hosting terminology.
All website files are hosted on dedicated servers which are stored in secure buildings called data centres. You can think of dedicated servers as desktop computers without monitors attached to them.
Just like desktop computers, dedicated servers are powered by a CPU and contain RAM (Random Access Memory) modules and hard drives.
The CPU is responsible for performing calculations and other processes. Current data and applications are stored in RAM and hard drives are responsible for storing files.
There are many factors to consider, but generally speaking the more traffic a website receives, the more strain will be put on the server's CPU. Likewise, more RAM will be required to handle the data and more storage will be required to store important website files.
When you pay for a dedicated server, you get full access to the server and have complete control over everything.
Hosting companies also setup what is known as virtual private servers (VPS). In this situation the server is partitioned into several partitions. Each partition has an operating system installed and is allocated a percentage of CPU time, RAM, and storage. For example, a VPS plan may allocate you two CPU cores, 2GB of RAM, and 40GB of storage.
When you purchase a shared hosting plan, you rarely get a guarantee of what resources will be allocated to you. Your website could be hosted alongside hundreds or perhaps even thousands of other websites. That is why shared hosting plans are more suited to websites with low traffic.
Some shared hosting customers will use more resources than others; therefore the hosting company needs to manage customers needs effectively. In practice, if a customer's websites start using up too many resources, they will be asked to upgrade to a more expensive hosting plan. For example, if you installed a resource hungry WordPress plugin such as a related posts widget, you would probably hog the CPU and be asked to upgrade.
Managed WordPress companies still tend to configure their plans in a shared hosting environment or dedicated hosting environment; however their servers are configured specifically for the WordPress platform.
The web hosting control panel is where you manage your websites and change your hosting configuration.
Hosting companies usually offer shared hosting customers a skinned version of cPanel. Plesk and Direct Admin are occasionally offered. When a hosting company gives customers the choice of which web hosting control panel to use, cPanel may cost $5 more per month.
From the control panel you can manage your database, manage files, configure emails, check statistics, manage security, install new applications, and more.
From a hosting configuration point of view, managed WordPress hosting companies offer customers less control over how things are set up.
Rather than use a web hosting control panel such as cPanel, managed WordPress hosting companies such as Kinsta offer a custom control panel. This control panel has a simplified user interface with less options available.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your position.
If you have been hosting websites for years using a control panel such as cPanel, you may not like the fact that many options are no longer available to you and you will need to open a support ticket to perform certain actions. Others will welcome the user-friendly interface that managed WordPress hosting companies use.
Managed WordPress hosting companies restrict what customers can do so that they can offer a more efficient and secure service. Some people may find this frustrating.
WP Engine, for example, have a large list of WordPress plugins that are not allowed to be used by their customers.
If you opt for a managed WordPress hosting company, you may have to change what WordPress plugins you use on your website. There are alternative solutions for most WordPress plugins so this should not be a deal breaker; but it is important to realise that you may need to modify what themes and plugins you use on your website.
Plugins are disallowed if they drain resources too much, if they clash with the infrastructure of the hosting company, or if they present a security concern. Managed WordPress hosting companies can manage resources and security more efficiently if all customers adhere to these rules.
They also give customers many fantastic features that shared hosting companies do not.
Here is just a small list of some of the additional functionality that managed WordPress hosting services offer.
- Built-In Page Caching – Native page caching can greatly improve the speed of your websites.
- Content Delivery Network – An integrated content delivery network helps deliver website content from data centres all around the world. This greatly reduces ping times and drastically speeds up page loading times.
- Daily External Website Backups – Shared hosting companies normally offer internal backups. This presents a great risk as if the main data centre goes down, you could lose your original files and the backups. Backing up to an external location can therefore help prevent data loss.
- Website Staging – Staging lets you make changes to your website in a safe production area and then activate it on your live website when ready. This can prevent major issues on your website from occurring such as design mistakes, plugin errors, and theme errors.
- Transferable Installs – Website agencies will love the concept of transferable installs. It allows you to upload a a design you have created for a client. You can then transfer the website to the client when it is ready and generate a commission if they become a customer.
- Blueprints – Flywheel offer a cool feature called blueprints that lets you create a WordPress website with theme and custom plugin configurations. You can then use this as a template for future WordPress installations.
- Enhanced Security – Managed WordPress hosting companies are known for taking security very seriously. They monitor WordPress themes and plugins actively for security issues and take preventive measures where appropriate.
- One Central Dashboard – A centralised control panel allows you to manage all of your WordPress websites from one location. You can easily jump from website to website quickly and see statistics of all of your WordPress installations.
As you can see, there are many useful features being offered by managed WordPress hosting companies. The question you need to ask is how important this additional functionality is to you.
Shared hosting customers can select one of the many free and premium page caching plugins that are available to WordPress users. They can also pay for external backups and deliver their website using a content delivery network.
Therefore, if you do not need features such as website staging or transferable WordPress installations, you may prefer to stick with the features available through a shared hosting account.
WordPress Expertise and Quality of Support
Managed WordPress hosting companies work with WordPress every single day of the week. Their staff are knowledgeable about the platform and they know how to handle common WordPress problems. They also have a lot of experience working with popular WordPress themes and plugins.
The real question is how knowledgeable shared hosting companies are about WordPress.
If you had to go back ten years, most hosting companies would advise you that they will help resolve common hosting issues but that it was not their responsibility to handle problems associated with your website such as software issues. It is not surprising that they took this stance as their customers were using hundreds of different website platforms.
Today the situation is a little different. WordPress is by far the most used content management system in the world which means that most of their shared hosting customers use WordPress. As a result of this, shared hosting companies have become very familiar with WordPress and how it operates.
The competitive nature of website hosting has meant that shared hosting companies have had to step up their game and offer better support to WordPress users.
Due to this, the line between what shared hosting companies will support you with and what you will not can be a little blurred. Some shared hosting companies now offer amazing WordPress support with speedy ticket response times.
In my experience, most shared hosting companies will help you with common WordPress problems. I have personally had help from knowledgeable WordPress staff when I have used shared hosting and VPS hosting plans and was never turned away.
It is important to note, however, that neither shared hosting companies nor managed WordPress hosting companies can be expected to help you with every single WordPress problem you face. A hosting company is not a replacement for a dedicated WordPress support company such as WPmatic or WP Site Care.
My advice is to contact any hosting company you are considering using and ask them what their support team will help you with and what you need to handle by yourself.
Another thing to note is how support is offered. Be sure to look at how each hosting company supports their customers.
- Do they offer a ticket support system?
- Do they provide telephone support?
- Do they have an active support forum?
- Do they have an frequently asked questions page and tutorials area?
- What is the response time of support tickets and problems raised in the discussion forum?
- What hours are telephone support and ticket support manned?
Small hosting companies tend to maintain support themselves during office hours and offer ticket support through a third-party support company based in Asia outside of office hours. This allows them to provide support twenty-fours a day.
Since most managed WordPress companies tend to have less staff than established shared hosting companies, they normally adopt this structure of partnering with a third-party support company. Companies will not disclose the fact that support is being provided by a third-party service, though in my experience this setup is rarely an issue as the quality of service provided by support companies is good.
Larger shared hosting companies such as SiteGround keep all support in-house and can provide telephone and ticket support with ten minute response times twenty-four hours a day. In theory, this should allow for a better customer experience.
There are many factors to consider when comparing the quality of support provided by sharing hosting companies against managed WordPress hosting companies.
In practice, it is not a question of comparing one type of hosting service to another. It all comes down to the hosting company in question.
The Cost of Website Hosting
The optimised hosting experience that managed WordPress hosting companies offer comes at a price. Their service can cost around four times to twenty times as much as alternative shared hosting solutions.
Take a look at the pricing of Kinsta, for example, who are one of the more expensive managed WordPress services.
Their cheapest plan costs $100 per month. It allows one website to be hosted with 5GB of storage and 50GB of bandwidth.
There are cheaper managed WordPress hosting services available.
- WP Engine's base plan costs $29 per month and grants 10GB of storage and 25,000 monthly visitors.
- FlyWheel offer a $15 per month plan for small website owners with 5GB of storage that is good for 5,000 monthly visitors. Their $30 per month plan increases storage to 10GB and traffic to 25,000 monthly visitors.
- Pagely sell a 20GB plan that is good for five websites for $99 per month. WP Engine offer an almost identical plan at the same cost.
When you compare these prices to shared hosting equivalents, you can see that there is a premium you need to pay for managed WordPress hosting services.
SiteGround's basic WordPress shared hosting plan costs only $3.95 per month and it allocates you 10GB of storage. Their packages blur the line between shared hosting and managed WordPress hosting as they offer many features that are normally associated with managed WordPress hosting services. Their WordPress plans offer website staging, WordPress auto-updating, WP-CLI command line management, and enhanced security.
In the examples above, the price of a basic shared hosting plan costs $3.95 per month and around $29 per month for the managed WordPress hosting package with the same storage. The difference in pricing with shared hosting and managed WordPress hosting grows higher as your website requirements grow.
For example, SiteGround's 30GB plan that is suitable for 100,000 monthly visitors costs $14.95 per month. In comparison, WP Engine and Pagely charge $99 per month for 20GB of storage.
It is important to note that in the above examples I am comparing factors such as storage and traffic. Managed WordPress hosting services provide additional functionality such as integrated content delivery networks, external backups, and additional security functionality, that most shared hosting companies do not offer. Therefore, you are receiving something for the additional premium you pay.
When you are choosing between hosting your website with a shared hosting company or a managed WordPress hosting company, you need to ask yourself two questions.
You first need to ask whether you need the additional functionality that a managed WordPress hosting company provides. Then you need to ask whether you want to pay a premium for that functionality.
I believe that managed WordPress hosting services are better suited to businesses who are short on time and just want someone to handle the security and optimisation aspect of managing a website.
I believe smaller websites and those who prefer to manage things themselves should opt for a shared hosting plan, a VPS hosting plan, or a dedicated hosting plan. You will pay less in yearly hosting fees and I have no doubt that most website owners will be happy with the service that is provided.
I hope you have enjoyed this hosting comparison. Please share with us what hosting company you use in the comment area below and explain why you opted for them.