So, why should you pay for hosting when there are “hosted solutions” available, that are often free?
It’s true… you can launch a web site or blog using a free platform. There are heaps of them. You’ve got the likes of: WordPress.com, Blogger (or Blogspot), Tumblr, Medium… and a host of others… even niche-specific hosted web site options. Some of them even have in-built traffic and free promotional tools.
So, why bother seeking out a hosted platform that costs money? My wife asked me this same question when we went out for dessert-night with the kids the other night. “Why would I want to pay for hosting when I could get it for free? “Heck, even GoDaddy gives you free hosting when you buy a domain name from them,” she said.
Granted, that wasn’t standard conversation for us. I did solicit her responses by saying to her that I want to write an article discussing WordPress hosting, and I wanted to know what questions she would have on the topic. But, she wanted to take it a step before. Her questions came before even choosing WordPress as a CMS. She felt that… regardless of the tool used, a fair question would be: what’s the point in paying?
Put simply, you have much more control when paying, and to some, that is important.
With more control, comes more responsibility though… or does it?
WordPress, arguably, is the simplest solution for a ready-made web site. Essentially, when you host it yourself, you have more control. But, with more control, comes more responsibility (in general).
Before we talk about what you are often responsible for when hosting WordPress yourself, let’s discuss the “control” end of things. What does that mean exactly? This is a tough question to answer as a matter of fact. There are the “canned” answers that suggest that you only “own” your content when you host yourself. But, even if that is true, there has to be more value than that. After all, the question regarding “ownership” of content rarely comes into play, although, it is true, the hosted-solutions can pull the plug on your site (or theirs) at any moment. But how often does that actually happen? I have free blogs that have been sitting happily for years pulling in a few bucks here and there. And I have backups just in case, and worse case… I can hit The Wayback Machine for a cached version. Of the 462 billion some odd web pages saved in their archive, mine are bound to be in there.
So, the idea of “content ownership” seems moot to me. You still own your content (in most cases), just don’t expect them to warn you if they choose to delete it for whatever reason.
People often want to move from hosted to self-hosted, it’s a common Google search query
So.. what then… is the value in “self-hosting” as it is often called? Why pay, when you don’t have to? Truthfully, I have never tried to customize a WordPress.com blog, but I do know by pouring through loads and loads and loads of Google search queries, that people are always seeking “to move from hosted WordPress to self-hosted WordPress” and I have also helped many clients do just that. My clients often had complaints about being restricted on what they wanted to do. But to be fair to WordPress.com and the others, from management and other standpoints, it makes sense to have a controlled environment that’s flexible enough for most scenarios.
But, is it flexible enough for you?
I would normally suggest that the DIY’er self-host. It feels like we have tons more freedom when self-hosting. I have even had non-DIY’ers feel constrained from “hosted” solutions. They would frustratingly say things like: “Even though I can make a free site, I have to pay just to ______!”.
Other things they want, they are just simply not allowed to do.
Let’s assume you see the value in self hosting and using WordPress, now what?
At any rate… when you decide to use WordPress as your CMS, and you decide to self-host… for whatever reason… what do you need to know?
Well… truthfully, any PHP server for $5-$10 per month (sometimes less) can… in general… host a WordPress site. Now… just because a server can host a WordPress site, does that mean you can now sit down and just focus on content? Perhaps… at first.
There is more to it than just finding a server to “serve” your content. In my experience, concerning yourself with speed and security is an absolute MUST. After you start getting the first waves of traffic, you will likely agree. And, thankfully, there are free plugins to help with those aspects, but, in a lot of cases, that is a part-time job in and of itself to first understand, and then maintain, the speed and security factors regarding your web site.
Spend more to get more
For some, there is a need to take the time focusing on those aspects because of money constraints. For others… who have the budget, and want to just focus on content, can choose more feature-rich options for hosting. There are solutions available, that handle the majority of what is needed for speed and security, which allow you to focus on the King of your content-business, which is… of course, your articles (news, reviews, blog posts, or otherwise). Not to mention the other tasks of promotion, tracking and measuring, networking, and all else. You will see.
Many so-called WordPress hosts, beyond being able to host programs based on the PHP language, for which WordPress is, will also auto-install WordPress for you. That takes the need for creating a database, and database user out of the equation. Those same hosts, when below the $10 per month rate, are probably putting other people’s WordPress sites on the same server. And that’s OK, and expected. You get what you pay for, but those other sites can affect the performance of yours.
There are other WordPress hosting options that will limit the number of sites that serve from the same server as yours and they may bump your monthly cost up a bit as a result. Most will guarantee a certain amount of “up” time, usually 99.9%.
Mostly-hands-off WordPress hosting solutions are available
Where things become interesting and valuable is when your WordPress host has support staff on hand, usually 24-7-364 (or 365), that are well versed in WordPress. That *can* be invaluable!
Some hosts… especially the ones referred to as managed hosts, beyond having auto-WP-installs, and educated-WP-staff, will also take the burden of speed and security from you.
In terms of speed, they will often provide a one-click CDN solution allowing your content to be served to your visitors from servers close to their geographic location, speeding things up considerably. In addition, these hosts will employ “caching”, serving static (i.e. must faster versions) of your site to your visitors knowing full well that things like “user comments” or “WooCommerce shopping carts” dare not be cached.
In addition, they may offer a staging/testing environment and one-click SSL, among other features.
For security, they may enforce strong passwords, create usernames other than “admin” during the one-click install, and offer a “no-hack-no-malware” guarantee. By default, they may offer options such as “IP Address lockout from what appear to be denial of service attacks” which, in general, would require plugins to achieve.
Better yet, some hosts will even have higher tier solutions for those companies that expect mentions on Oprah Winfrey for example, and can handle the traffic without skipping a beat. This often involves having multiple servers dedicated to just one web site. One server handles the input/output for the database, and perhaps another has fast disk access for storage, and so on.
What features should you be looking for?
I feel, that for the most part, the term “unlimited” is overused and often really not that valuable. Disk space is cheap, and items are often in the cloud, so that is probably the main area where “unlimited” can be valuable. Offering “unlimited” web sites in your package doesn’t seem valuable to me though. Because that means other people have “unlimited” web sites they can install too, on the same server.
Unlimited bandwidth is important, but that doesn’t mean that the server can handle unlimited traffic. Lots of traffic, happening all at the same time, can take down a server, regardless if they offer “unlimited” bandwidth or not. That’s why many hosts that offer multiple packages, aside from limiting the number of sites, you will often see a limit on the number of “visitors” that are allowed. A visitor is often counted as one person per 24 hour period. If that same person comes everyday for a month, that takes 30 visitors from your total. “Unused” visitors don’t usually carryover to the next month, so don’t expect that. Be sure to check the definition of visitors with your host, and how they handle things when you go beyond the limit. Is it a simple-automated-pro-rated upgrade, back down a level when the spike is over? Find out.
With the importance of applying SSL to your domain these days, find out if: your host will install the SSL certificate for you, and for how much? Are you forced to buy through them, or can you get a cheap one from NameCheap? Some hosts will install 3rd party SSL certificates for free. Find out.
Find out the level of caching that the host employs for you. A lot of times, if they offer a custom caching solution, it’s clear that they understand the nuances of WordPress. But keep in mind, that they usually enforce the use of their caching, which could affect the functionality of some themes and plugins, but that’s how they can guarantee speedy web sites on their servers. But it’s fine, we could use some AJAX tricks to call PHP functions to keep some aspects of our pages dynamic anyway, if need be. Personally, I’m happy to pass on the caching-trickiness to a host.
Also, what’s their take on security? How much do they handle for you? Do they offer any guarantees? I hope so.
And if they restrict the use of some plugins, consider that a good thing! They know that those plugins pose security or performance risks, so you probably don’t want them on your site anyways. They often have custom plugins to achieve the same tasks available to you, or offer alternatives from the WordPress plugin repository.
Read their blog and knowledge base (if available) to see what else you could glean about the service that didn’t stand out in the feature pages and package options that you previously looked at.
Now, for the most part, unless you know the person, I wouldn’t trust WordPress hosting reviews 🙂 Web hosts pay commissions to affiliates for a sale. So make sure that you are taking advice from a person (or team) who really knows this stuff (not just giving you a recommendation purely for the commission).
Another thing, it’s really just the features that they offer, that are written in black and white on their site… assuming of course that the dollar-value seems worth it comparatively, that matter the most. That, and the level of support. And, even if you read bad reviews about the support team, please don’t make such a quick judgement. Sometimes, the nerds that are calling support, know more about low-level stuff than the support person, so the nerd’s expectations were set too high, so he complained publicly. Or, perhaps the support person in question, in this one instance: had it out for the company and planned to quit, had a tough day, or is new. Plus, the support person may be just super good at what she needs to be super good at, and isn’t educated in other areas. Either way… these days, the blogs, forums and knowledge bases, provided by the best hosts, have most of the answers we need anyway. For the rest, submit a support ticket and someone will figure it out if it’s in scope. And don’t be afraid to rate your support experience even if it’s bad, because good companies will take constructive criticism and improve their offerings.
Besides all that, I would certainly look for a host that has WordPress experts on staff, regardless of your WordPress knowledge and skill level.
What should you pay to host your WordPress site?
With all that said, an I’m not sure how valuable the information is to you, but… what your cost will be for a WordPress host, depends a lot on your level of DIY. Do more, pay less (in general). If you are a publisher by heart, pay the extra and let the experts handle speed and security, and do your thing…. PUBLISH. Speed and security factor in a lot in terms of SEO and overall user experience… and SEO factors into traffic, which factors into ROI after all.
Our WordPress hosting guide has a list of reliable and affordable hosting solutions (it is a good read in my opinion).
Mind you, I am speaking from the stand point of a one-man team who thrives on attaining the lowest budget possible. However, I mostly want to just produce content and have multiple WordPress sites, so I pay for a host that offers managed hosting for multiple WordPress installs. What you decide to do though, really all depends on your needs. Pay anywhere between $4 and $3000 per month. Remember, the good hosts all offer services tied into the fee, which eliminates the need for staff in some cases!