As a service-based business, understanding website hosting strategy isn’t something you are going to use every day, but a sound website hosting strategy is critical to ensure your organization’s WordPress website performs efficiently and effectively over the long haul. There are some things you need to consider as you evaluate your organization’s web hosting strategy, but first let’s gain some altitude for a 30,000′ overview.
What website hosting options are available for small businesses and independent professionals?
Web hosting falls into these broad categories:
On-site, self-hosted: Your organization owns and manages the server hardware and software at your company’s physical location. This type of hosting is usually for legacy infrastructure, enterprise level organizations, or individuals with deep expertise.
Third-party hosting: The server hardware and software is owned and maintained by someone other than your company. This is the most common form of website hosting and there are many flavors: shared, virtual private, dedicated, and managed hosting. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
All-In-One hosting: This is technically a variant of the third party option where the everything is offered in a single package: hosting, WordPress set up and updates, server management, and maintenance. One example of this would be WordPress.com. Many web designers and agencies also offer this type of “white glove” hosting service as long as you work with them for website design and development.
What are the types of third-party website hosting?
Different web hosting companies use different terminology to describe hosting packages, but third-party website hosting can be divided into the categories:
Shared Website Hosting
Your site hosted on a server with hundreds for other customers and thousands of websites. It’s always the cheapest web hosting package and for that reason, many individuals and small business websites use shared hosting. There is no server management involved, just your organization managing your website.
The downside to shared hosting is that word “shared”—you are sharing server space and resources with customers and websites you “don’t know”. That means you are likely to run into problems with “noisy neighbors” whose website security vulnerabilities or traffic or both can slow down your website performance and bring the server down altogether.
A popular variant of shared hosting is WordPress specific hosting. The “specific” part means that the server configuration (hardware and software) is optimized for WordPress websites in terms of speed and stability. WordPress specific hosting is an important distinction from regular shared hosting because WordPress does have some resource requirements that need optimization on the server side. Remember, even WordPress specific hosting is still shared hosting and vulnerable to the same issues as regular shared hosting.
Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting
More expensive than shared, Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting solves some of the shared hosting overcrowding and security issues by limiting the number of customers on a server and offering them their own exclusive space. It’s still shared hosting, technically, but by virtual partitioning of the server each customer has greater control over aspects of the server set up and maintenance usually in the form of cPanel access. With a VPS server, you’re not alone on the server, but you are separate and you can control your own section’s security, resource allocation, maintenance, etc. on the server in addition to managing WordPress itself.
Dedicated Server Hosting
With dedicated server hosting, you are renting a web server (the physical hardware) and running it however you like with no other customers or websites to bother you. The hosting company will take care of the server’s physical needs (power, rack space, site security, hardware maintenance), but you can install the software and architecture you want and maintain it. This is the most expensive hosting option but it also offers complete security, performance, customization, and capacity.
Managed hosting can be applied to VPS and dedicated hosting packages. Managed hosting is where the hosting provider offers professional server setup, optimization, ongoing site maintenance, security fixes, and customer support.
Evaluating Website Hosting for Small Businesses and Independent Professionals
Don’t self-host your website
Self-hosted, whether on or off site, is not a cost effective, sustainable strategy for small businesses and independent professionals. The technical expertise and resources needed to manage the physical server, software, and environment do not justify the cost. The exceptions to this would be government related work where security is paramount or specialized legacy information systems with no cost effective alternatives to self-hosting.
Dedicated hosting for specialized applications
The same can be said for third-party dedicated hosting. An individual or small business just won’t have the need for a dedicated hosting server. Unless you have an exploding ecommerce business, web only business with special content requirements (i.e. video service or stock image or are becoming a nationally known product or service, you’ll likely never need dedicated web hosting.
Tips for Evaluating Website Hosting Needs
First, evaluate the skills of the people in your organization. Do you have an someone with hosting server experience and a WordPress background whom you can also dedicate a couple of hours a week to hosting management? How current is their experience? If you answer yes to current WordPress and server experience, and you are willing to dedicate an hour or two a week to hosting and maintenance tasks, then all third party hosting options are available to you.
If you don’t have in-house personnel with server and WordPress experience, then you should consider managed hosting. With most managed hosting, the hosting company will provide the technical support and manage the server for you. You can get managed hosting for dedicated servers and virtual private servers (VPS), which brings us to evaluating website requirements.
Second estimate your website traffic and technical needs. High website traffic and more complex database operations generally require more robust hosting. So, if your organization has a low visitor traffic and a fairly simple website (i.e. no ecommerce functionality), then shared hosting will work just fine for your needs. If your website already has high visitor traffic, then you may need to start with a managed VPS. ECommerce website? VPS at a minimum starting out, and in the future a managed dedicated may be needed as your traffic and product database size grows.
Shared hosting? Make sure it is a WordPress specific plan. Many hosting providers are offering WordPress specific hosting plans. These are basically shared hosting with servers tuned for better performance for WordPress websites. Whether or not there are any actual server hardware, software, or performance differences between a hosting provider’s generic shared plan and their WordPress plan I’ve not seen data, but by choosing a WordPress specific shared plan you can at least hold the hosting provider accountable for better WordPress performance. They will charge slightly more for the WordPress shared plans, but it’s valuable to get the promise of performance.
VPS hosting offers the best bang for the buck for performance, flexibility, and control — if you have the in-house expertise to manage it. Even if you use a VPS managed by the hosting company, you’ll still need someone within your organization who has the time and technical skill to interface with the hosting company. The majority of small businesses and independent professionals will not need VPS hosting, though, and shared WordPress will work just fine.
Which is the best website hosting company for small business?
Make your decision based on the company’s reputation among developers and designers, not price or marketing promises. I used MediaTemple hosting for years for my client sites. They used to be a top web hosting company, then they got to big, sold the company to GoDaddy and everything went to pot. No matter what, don’t host your WordPress website with GoDaddy. They have an awful reputation among developers. There are some good companies out there for WordPress hosting, two of which I can recommend: WP Engine and InMotion Hosting.
WP Engine is still the gold standard for WordPress hosting. They built their reputation on offering WordPress hosting and continue to do so to this day. Reliability, performance, technology, and customer support are all excellent. You can’t go wrong with WP Engine. The downside is that they are costly — about three times as much per month for a shared plan. So if you want the best WordPress hosting available (shared or VPS), WP Engine is your best choice. If you want something more affordable without giving up performance, technology, reliability, or support, then you have another option.
I recommend InMotion Hosting to all my clients for price, reliability, performance, flexibility, and support. Several years ago, a client with high volume ecommerce traffic recommended them, I’ve been using them for client and personal website hosting for almost 5 years and have been generally very happy. You don’t have to wait more than 10 minutes (usually less) to speak with tech support on the phone, and they go above and beyond to help you resolve hosting and some WordPress hosting related issues as well. Their reliability is on par with the industry, and one really nice feature is that they offer cPanel access on their shared WordPress plan — not something many hosting companies offer on their shared plans. They also have automated server backups and staging as part of their package, though I prefer plugins for these functions (Updraft Plus and WP Staging Pro). Here are my InMotion Hosting plan recommendations:
- Free Domain
- Free SSL Certificate
- 2 Websites
- 6x Performance and Speed
- Suitable for 50K Monthly Visitors
- 100GB SSD Storage
- Unlimited Email Accounts
- Security Suite
- Marketing Tools
- Website Builder
- Free Advertising Credits
- Customer Management Tools
- Email on Any Device
- WordPress Web Builder Included
- Staging Included
- 4GB RAM
- 75GB SSD Storage
- 4TB Bandwidth
- 3 Dedicated IP’s
- Free SSLs
- cPanel & WHM Included