How To Choose The Perfect WordPress Web Host

I’ve been using WordPress in one flavor or another for more than ten years. In fact every foray I’ve taken outside of WordPress to some of the excellent website builders out there such as Squarespace has left me wanting. Inevitably I find some customization that is not possible, some feature not planned, and I end up looking longingly on the vast WordPress Plugin Library.

For that reason and many others this post isn’t about comparing WordPress to the plethora of website builders out there, but it’s also not a discussion on whether WordPress is better for your particular scenario. If you have decided that WordPress is the web hosting software for you, then read on.

A Long And Winding Road

My journey through WordPress hosts has taken me far and wide. From the deserts of shared hosting platforms such as Dreamhost to the wide eyed optimism of self-hosting on Amazon EC2 with Bitnami. On past the premium promises of WP Engine, and the hopeful exclusivity of boutique WordPress hosts like WP Hosting Spot and Little Bizzy.

Each time I have found an approach lacking as my sites grew in complexity and the traffic requirements along with it.

Shared hosting quickly fell over with any meaningful traffic, and I can’t recommend it for any uses, not even the most budget minded of WordPress bloggers.

When I tried to self-host I discovered pretty quickly that I am no expert in configuring or securing Apache, and have no particular desire to upgrade and maintain a LAMP stack either. As folks have laid out before, there are excellent reasons to go with Managed WordPress Hosting.

I’ve written many an article about my experiences with WP Engine before, and boutique hosting was too much at the whims and proclivity of the owner for me to truly build a business on.

The Search For The Perfect WordPress Host

With a long and checkered road through WordPress hosts it was with some trepidation that I decided to move my sites over to Kinsta. As those who have done a migration for sites of any complexity know, the migration process in itself is a worthy project. In the best case there’s a small amount of downtime, but more likely you’re looking at days or weeks of bringing things back to where they were before you began. Migrating WordPress with posts, pages and comments is fairly straightforward. Migrating anything more complex such as e-commerce or membership sites is much less so.

How to Choose A WordPress Host

While everyone will have unique tradeoffs they need to make when choosing a WordPress host, I strongly believe that a few requirements should be inviolable. Strong Security, Blazingly Fast Performance, Knowledgeable Customer Support and a Hassle Free experience. Without these you’ll spend more time managing your WordPress host than your business.

Evaluate WordPress Web Host Security

Security is challenging to evaluate, since most us are not security engineers. To evaluate the security of a web host look for a few things:

  • Automatic updates of WordPress core and plugins
  • Support for two factor authentication
  • Marketing and help content about security – if they won’t talk about security you can bet they’re not doing much
  • Integrated backup and restore features
  • Run latest versions of their tech stack (PHP, nginx, …) – a good way to exclude hosts is if they don’t have PHP 7.3 support (as of this writing)
  • IP and Geoblocking support
  • Integrated encryption and site SSL certificate creation and update
  • Environment isolation from any other websites they run – in particular shared hosting fails on the isolation test

Evaluate WordPress Web Host Performance

Performance is somewhat easier to evaluate, at least when you’ve moved your website over to the new hosting. There are an abundance of performance measurement tools that can be used, such as SpeedCurve, Pingdom and gtMetrix. You can even get a rough approximation of site performance using the built in developer tools in Chrome.

To evaluate the performance of a WordPress web host look for a few things:

  • Fast hosting provider home page load. If their home page is slow and bloated it’s a clear sign that performance is not a pressing concern for them
  • Support for the latest versions of PHP. Older versions of PHP are slower.
  • Support for http/2 (and soon when it’s released http/3). The latest version of http/2 has many performance enhancements.
  • Marketing material touting performance. As with security, if they’re not willing to talk about it, it’s unlikely they’re proud of what they offer
  • Geo-distributed data centers. Many times the barrier to fast performance is the number of network hops required for your customers to get to your website. Choose a host that offers many data center location options.
  • Integrated support for a content delivery network. Whether it’s popular providers like Cloudflare, or a more niche content delivery network, the best WordPress web hosts make this easy.
  • Built in performance features such as caching. A web host will know the best way to cache for their infrastructure, if you’re forced to rely on 3rd party plugins to do caching this is a sign that you may not be getting the best performance.
  • Integrated support for performance toolsets. Whether its support for performance features like Cloudflare Railgun, or measurement tools like New Relic – a performance hosted WordPress host makes the best performance tools available to you.
  • Independent Performance Benchmarks such as those from ReviewSignal. Always take these with a grain of salt, since there are likely incentives and discussions you privy to that take place before the results are announced.
  • Use of established high performance cloud providers such as Google, Amazon or Digital Ocean. If a provider is running their own data center this is a sign to do lots of due diligence. Often you’ll find that the speed and bandwidth of network connections to and between racks in the data center aren’t of high quality for home grown data centers.

Evaluate WordPress Web Host Customer Support

Customer support is something that is often promised and seldom delivered. To evaluate the customer support of a WordPress web host look for:

  • 24 / 7 support availability. Your website is expected to be up all the time, you should have the same expectation of your web host customer support.
  • Real time support channels such as chat or phone are available for the tier of service you’re considering. Conversations are difficult over email at the best of times, and made doubly hard when trying to debug technical issues. I’ve personally found it easier and more efficient (since I can multi-task) to sort out issues over chat, but if you prefer phone support make sure your host has it.
  • Easy access to WordPress experts. Many hosting providers make it difficult to contact someone who is a WordPress expert, or who has the power to directly change the site configuration. Make sure you’re not stuck with someone telling you to uninstall plugins and try again – the WordPress equivalent of Check that its plugged in.
  • The presence of support contact options. If you’re required to read documentation before you can contact support this means they are more interested in having you not contact support than solving your problem.

Evaluate WordPress Web Host Hassle Factor

Hosting hassle comes in many forms. A few things to look for in reducing your hassle:

  • Migration support by a human is especially important if you have a site of any complexity. Most web hosts use automated tools to migrate and you’re on your own if something goes wrong. If you have a site of any complexity or value, or if you host multiple sites, site migration by a human is a must.
  • Managed WordPress hosting is a must. The last thing you want to do is spend time configuring and updating nginx.
  • Monitoring and notification so that you are proactively aware when your site goes down.
  • Reliability is table stakes. These days many web hosts boast four or five nines reliability. Four nines reliability is 52 minutes of downtime a year, which is perfectly acceptable for most sites. A good clue for reliability is whether they use an established cloud services provider for their hosting.

How Does Kinsta Stack Up

I have been a very happy customer of Kinsta for over a year. As picky as I am about my website hosts I am surprised that they’ve been able to keep me so happy for so long. It is even more of a testament to the quality of their technology, their team and their leadership. I unequivocally recommend Kinsta for all your WordPress hosting needs.

This article has grown long in stature already, so rather than going point by point I’ll give a few highlights.

Kinsta Security

One I am hoping never to test is the security of Kinsta’s service. Kinsta does have a fairly in depth guide on security, and they offer Geo and IP blocking, free SSL certs and automatically update WordPress core.

Kinsta Performance

No other host even comes close to the level of performance Kinsta provides. When I moved my sites over to Kinsta, the visually complete load time of one site dropped from greater than 10 seconds to less than 2 seconds.

Kinsta WordPress Web Host Performance

They offer the latest PHP (7.3 as of this writing) and use Google infrastructure which has availability close to your customers so that the site loads within seconds. Technology Poet is, as you would imagine, hosted on Kinsta.

They also offer one of the most comprehensive guides to WordPress performance I’ve ever read. The wealth of knowledge they share took me two years of hard knocks to acquire, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to ask and learn from Brian Jackson’s expertise. Kinsta has also rated highly in independent reviews of performance.

Customer Support

With Kinsta you have WordPress experts available for support who go above and beyond to help you. It’s rare that I have a support experience where the support person has more in-depth knowledge than I do, yet I experience this nearly every time I contact Kinsta support. They’re available within minutes, and my issue is usually resolved in 10–15 minutes.

When I encountered some tricky issues with PHP Workers (which I’ll share a bit more about below), their head of support and CFO were able to customize a plan for my needs. Talk about going above and beyond for your customer!

Hassle Free

From white-gloved migration to comprehensive set of tools such as staging websites, New Relic integration, Backup and Restore a purpose-built Admin panel. The whole experience of running a WordPress site is elevated to the next level with Kinsta. Even little things like out the box sftp support are available, as is the ability to delegate site access to an engineer when needed. The best part is the engineer has the same access to Kinsta’s top notch support that you do, so if an issue needs Kinsta’s help to resolve they will handle it directly with your engineer.

What’s Not to Like

While I will have effusively sung the praises of Kinsta – for good reason – there are still a few things that leave them just shy of perfection.

Limits on PHP Workers. Kinsta limits the number of PHP workers that are available. This is basically the amount of work that can be done on your server in parallel. For most sites you’ll never notice this issue, but a busy membership site or busy e-commerce site could see large delays while waiting on an available PHP worker. Kinsta does allow more PHP workers on their larger plans, and offers monitoring so you can tell if this becomes an issue.

More difficult for those new to the web. Some WordPress hosts provide a turnkey solution that allows someone to quickly get up a running with a high quality theme and basic functionality. Kinsta is fantastic for folks who have a better understanding of WordPress, but can be a little more challenging if you’re looking for a drag and drop website builder solution.

In Summary

There’s a lot that goes in to choose a WordPress web host that is right for you. If you have modest needs and just want a basic website, a website builder may be a better path for you. If you’re experienced with WordPress, Kinsta has my highest recommendation.

Like to know more? Feel free to ask me in the comments below, I’m happy to help where I can.

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