Trying to figure out which WordPress hosting to buy is a major headache, even for people with quite a bit of technical knowledge.

This article will walk you through the plans offered by the WordPress hosts who scored highest for customer satisfaction in a major poll published last week – you can view a summary of the results in our “WordPress Hosting: The Facts 2018” article.

As we walk through each of the top hosts’ plans, we will highlight the important implications of what you get and what you don’t get, providing clarity in areas where the hosts tend to obfuscate.

To Start, What You Absolutely Need to Know about WordPress Hosting:

1. You Probably Don’t Need as Much as You Think

If you are starting a new site, you almost certainly do not need as many hosting resources as you think. There is no harm in starting small and ramping up later, with most hosts it will take only a few minutes.

Traffic tends to grow slowly over time. If you get a sudden rush and your existing plan starts to struggle, it almost certainly won’t just stop working, it will simply serve pages more slowly and that is your signal to upgrade.

If you are planning a specific campaign or promotion to increase traffic to your site, you can consider a just-in-time hosting plan upgrade for that but, again, you will still probably not need as many resources as you think.

The one exception is e-commerce – in that case, you probably need more resources than you think and slowing down will cost you sales. See our e-commerce hosting recommendation at the end of this article.

2. The Important Factors are RAM and CPU

Many hosts dazzle you with ridiculously generous allocations of bandwidth and storage. The real constraints are RAM (memory) and CPU (processing power). If you don’t have enough RAM, your installations of WordPress will struggle, if you don’t have enough CPU you won’t be able to serve pages fast enough to ever come close to using more than a tiny fraction of your supposed bandwidth allowance.

3. 1GB of SSD storage is better than 1000GB of HDD storage

The old-style magnetic Hard Disk Drives (HDD) are incredibly cheap. You can now buy an 8TB HDD (that’s 8000GB!) for around $180 or a 4TB HDD for $80. That works out to a cost of less than one cent per GB per year during the 3-year warranty period and, actually, hosts leave HDDs running until they actually start to malfunction, which is usually at five or six years old.

That means hosts can offer you eye-watering amounts of HDD storage because, even if you could actually use it, it would only cost them a few dollars per year. The real financial magic, however, is that the vast majority of customers never even come close to using 1GB of their storage.

Hosts can slap up to 15 of these 8TB HDDs into a cheap server, giving them total storage of 120TB, but even with just one 8TB HDD, they can cram thousands of accounts onto that server, each supposedly with 1TB of storage, safe in the knowledge that they are not going to run out of storage.

The problem with Hard Disk Drives is that they are far, far slower than the modern Solid State Drives (SSD). Slow is fine for basic storage, or running a huge Plex server, but just awful for WordPress.

WordPress constantly makes calls to its database, which resides on your storage, and it cannot display a page until it gets all the data it needs, so, the speed of your storage is massively more important than its size. For WordPress hosting, SSD storage blows away HDD storage.

The problem with SSD storage is cost. You can currently get a 500GB SSD for between $110 and $130, or a 2TB SSD for $450, which is over $4 per GB, more than one hundred times more expensive than HDD. A far bigger problem for the hosts, however, is that, because the biggest possible SSD drive is so much smaller than the biggest possible HDD, it means they cannot cram as many users onto each server.

So, when a host does not mention what type of storage they use, it means you have somehow wandered into the hosting ghetto, you need to get the hell out of there.

4. Shared Hosting is cheap but bad value for money

What most people mean when they refer to shared hosting is where the host crams as many people as possible onto a server and, apart from file permissions, there is no real separation between your account and the thousands of other accounts on that server.

Pretty much all hosting used to be shared hosting. Most of the hosting companies you have heard of today started as one guy working from his bedroom, hiring a server in a data center for a few hundred bucks a month, and using software such as CPanel to create a user account for each customer, but no real security or separation of resources between accounts.

Although they may claim to offer you huge amounts of bandwidth and storage space, they cleverly avoid giving you a guaranteed amount of CPU reserved exclusively for you. With so many other users on the same server, many of whom may be engaged in processor intensive tasks such as running chatrooms or spamming, it is unlikely that you will ever have enough processing power to handle real traffic or to use up more than a percent or two of your supposed bandwidth allowance.

5. cPanel is a bad sign

If a host is still using cPanel, it means the business was probably started with cPanel in someone’s bedroom ten or twenty years ago and never developed the technical skills to break away from it. That does not mean that they might not have built a good service around that limitation, but cPanel is only acceptable in cheaper hosting, it is decidedly not acceptable in premium hosting or anything that could be described as “managed WordPress hosting”.

6. If a site is important to you, pay for better hosting

Once you have paying clients, or sites of your own that are important, you should seriously consider moving to managed WordPress hosting. Yes, it is a lot more expensive, but it removes the uncertainty and uneven performance of shared hosting.

More importantly, it means you will have fewer moments of absolute panic – this form of hosting is fundamentally more reliable than shared hosting and, if things do go wrong, you will have quick access to support staff who deal with WordPress issues all the time.

Life has enough stress. Saving money by continuing to use cheap shared hosting is a bad move, like continuing to live on ramen when you no longer need to survive on a student budget. If you can hand off responsibility for your most important sites to experts, that frees up you up to focus on growing your actual business.

7. You can make your cheap hosting more “premium” by using outside services

When weighing up the advantages of more expensive hosting, it can be a good idea to break up what they offer into its constituent parts and consider whether it might not make sense for certain parts to be provided by an outside service. For instance, no matter how much you pay, when facing real problems, most WordPress hosting support will suggest you just restore the last backup.

In that case, why not get your backups handled by a service focused exclusively upon that and is, presumably, highly motivated to get it right? There are plenty of backup services, BlogVault has a particularly good reputation.

Likewise, if you are particularly worried about security, you could use a third-party service that has a solid reputation for that, such as Malcare.

At the very least, have the general cost of these things in your head when you are evaluating what the more expensive hosts are actually providing.

8. Different Hosts are Best for Different Situations

To close, as promised, here is a run-down of the different situations in which each of the top 4 hosts in our WordPress Hosting: The Facts 2018 article would be best.

A. When You Need Space to Learn

The one time when shared hosting makes any sense at all is when you are starting out with WordPress and want the freedom to create lots of different sites – for your family, for your friends and for every dumb idea dancing about in your head – without having to worry about additional costs.

In that situation, get a Siteground plan that allows unlimited sites. Yes, they do still use cPanel, but they have a good reputation and represent the shared hosting you will find for WordPress.

One thing you have to watch out for with SiteGround is that their pricing is geared to push you towards a longer commitment: paying in advance for one year is far cheaper than paying by the month, two years is far cheaper than one year, and three years is cheaper again.

My advice would be to resist this form of marketing. Consider how long you will, realistically, remain at this experimental level. If you intend for WordPress to remain a hobby, cool, go for the 3-year deal, but if you hope to start producing more serious sites for yourself or clients within, say, six months, you should not commit to anything more than a year with SiteGround.

SiteGround is your playground. The unlimited sites feature will enable you to learn a lot, but you do not want to be messing around with the vagaries of shared hosting once you have paying clients. You also definitely do not want to get stuck using cPanel for more than a few months – I stopped using it almost two decades and it still occassionally appears in my nightmares.

B. When You Need High Quality at a Reasonable Price

Once your sites start making money, or you start getting paying clients who expect professional levels of performance and are willing to pay for it, you need to grow out of shared hosting. We reckon WP Engine provides very good value. In the WordPress hosting customer satisfaction survey, it consistently came second in every category, just a whisker behind the consistent leader, Kinsta.

Managed WordPress hosting means that it is more expensive but each site will receive a larger amount of resources, the servers are optimized for WordPress alone, and the support staff will have at least some level of WordPress expertise. The customer satisfaction survey addressed every aspect of what these companies provide, not just raw performance. I would guess that the difference in performance between WP Engine and Kinsta would be imperceptible in the vast majority of cases.

Kinsta and WP Engine cost around the same but we have a special deal for WP Mayor readers that gives you 20% off. If you use that in combination with their usual “12 months for the price of 10 months offer”, you end up with a year for the cost of 8 months, making WP Engine significantly cheaper than Kinsta.

C. When Money Is No Object

If you find yourself with a client who wants the best possible performance, with the ultimate in reliability and proactive management, and is willing to pay for it, choose Kinsta. Simple.

D. When You Need to Sell Lots of Stuff

Of all the many weird and wonderful things that you can do with WordPress, e-commerce is particularly resource-intensive. As we describe in our article Why WooCommerce Requires Specialist Hosting, regular WordPress hosting is geared towards proving the far simpler resource needed by content websites, and any database optimizations will be designed to help regular WordPress sites rather than WooCommerce stores.

If your online store starts attracting a lot of customers, you might find yourself in the horrible situation of losing sales because your hosting cannot scale to that level, but your host’s support will never admit that, as they all market themselves as being suitable for WooCommerce.

If real money is at stake, we recommend using Liquid Web Managed WooCommerce Hosting because their coders are widely recognized as doing the most innovative work on optimizing WooCommerce, and the resources provided are specifically matched to the needs of busy online stores.

Conclusion

Everyone’s hosting needs are different, and they change as your career progresses. Knowing the right time to move to a better host is an important part of making sure you are playing in the right league.

We would love to hear your opinions about hosting, please share the good, the bad and the ugly of your WordPress hosting experiences in the comments below.

About Donnacha

Donnacha is a freelance writer for hire who combines a deep understanding of technology and business with the rare ability to convey complicated ideas in a clear, engaging manner. He believes that the natural SEO of good writing is the most effective way for companies to build their visibility and credibility online. He has been an active member of the WordPress community since 2005 and is a regular contributor to WP Mayor.