Choosing a hosting provider is a challenge. Their websites are jargon-laced and their claims overblown. A Google search returns pages of complaints by unhappy users of any given provider. You need to try them out to evaluate them properly. The next best thing is hearing from someone with the same needs as yours who made the jump.
Here is my recommendation when it comes to hosting a WordPress-powered photography site: managed WordPress hosting from WPEngine *.
In no way is what follows an exhaustive review of hosting providers. Nor can I argue that WPEngine are the best. All I can say is that I have extensive experience with the cheaper GoDaddy and with WPEngine and I recommend the latter.
I have been a heavy user of GoDaddy despite the sexist ads and the ex-CEO’s disturbing behavior. Most of my clients until recently and four of my own websites have been hosted by them. GoDaddy has 4 main advantages: they are cheap, they are too big to go away soon, their servers perform well and you can call their support on the phone.
Then a couple of years ago managed WordPress hosting came about. WPEngine may or may not have invented the concept; in any case they quickly became the leading player in the field. Another provider is Flywheel who operate a very similar deal and appear to have a good reputation. And I just stumbled upon Kinsta who only provide dedicated VPS plans and better.
Last year WordPress sites around the world came under particularly heavy malware and DoS attacks. The threat level has pretty much stayed in the red since (read this article for a classification of the different types of threats). This got me thinking not only about adding further levels of protection to my clients’ sites but also about how to best deal with an infected site. And the only good answer to an infection is having updated full backups of the site and the ability to restore it quickly. Enter managed WordPress hosting.
Best to leave the website security to the experts, right? WPEngine will have their own measures in place at the server level. They have a huge interest in keeping their servers clean and I trust them to be on top of it.
That said, the fact is the WordPress core is relatively secure and most of the risk comes from the system’s extensibility (plugins and themes) and the owner’s human frailty (weak passwords, in short). So no site can be guaranteed 100% secure. And easy-to-restore backups are the only way to sleep soundly as a website owner.
Daily Automated Backups
WPEngine will automatically make full backups of your entire site – not just of the database – every day as well as continually scan for malware. Restoration of an earlier version is one click away.
There are other ways of doing this such a both free and paid plugins but you can easily run into server-plugin compatibility issues and corrupted backup files are of little use. Leaving it in the hands of your hosting provider is as safe as it gets.
GoDaddy’s support picks up the phone quickly and efficiently however you do get the impression that they are a massive company and that you amount to a very small share of their income (which is of course very true), that they are not WordPress specialists and, occasionally, that they simply don’t know the answer to your specific problem.
With WPEngine being a smaller player you automatically matter more to them – at least they do a very good job of making you feel that way. Quality customer service is clearly a priority for them. In addition they know their WordPress stuff inside out. I have yet to present them with a challenge that the first support responder hasn’t been able to solve.
Their servers are faster, period. Whether it is because of better WordPress optimization or because the server your site is using is shared by fewer sites or both, the fact is when you switch to WPE your site will be snappier.
Speed is a bonus for your visitors of course. Nothing says performance like a fast website. It will also improve your Google ranking as speed is now a ranking factor.
Managed WordPress hosting costs more, around $30 per month. Keep an eye out for WPE discount codes. They often appear on weekends and can be very attractive, like a full year of hosting for $40.
Being specialized they don’t provide email accounts and it will be up to you to find an email provider.
You can only host WordPress sites. So non-WP software that requires a non-WP database – like SlideshowPro – will be out of luck.
It’s Worth It
As hustling freelancers it is easy to focus on minimizing costs no matter what. Hell, who can blame you when your stock images get licensed for less than a dollar? But step back a little and you have to recognize that our websites are our shop windows and that our businesses simply can’t afford to see them go offline. 99% of our pre-sale marketing channels through our websites. Loose your website and you can forget about attracting new clients.
Beyond that I like to think of this better hosting as insurance. If something goes wrong I will be able to fix it easily with the backups. In the meanwhile I am happy to keep paying the higher fee for nothing.