Hosting websites can be a pretty harrowing experience, especially when it’s for clients. Pretty much every site I’m involved with is built on WordPress, which means a constantly updating core, themes, and a handful of plugins from various third-party developers. WordPress is wonderful in many ways, but the anxiety about script compatibilities, security threats, and even simple accidental clicks on the backend can leave you with less hair on your head and shorter nails on your fingers.
In the past few years, an industry has emerged to help ease some of the tension involved in hosting WordPress sites, and it addresses most of these major concerns very well. It’s called Managed WordPress Hosting, and it has matured to a point where I believe it should be the standard for most situations in which folks need to host WordPress websites.
Why..? I’m glad you asked 🙂
1. Off-server Daily Backups with 1-Click Restore
This has been a game-changer for me. I no longer break into a cold sweat before every plugin or theme update. I’m always 100% confident that I have a backup of my sites that can be restored within seconds. Yea, you can absolutely have backups without using Managed WordPress Hosting (and I hope you do), but they’re usually pretty clunky to create – and even clunkier to restore in a pinch.
Most cPanel hosting providers require you to submit a ticket (and even pay a fee in some cases) in order to restore a backup. They also usually keep user-generated backups in the root folder on the same server (not so great if your server has been compromised by hacking). If you restore a server backup, you’re probably restoring all the websites you host on that server to the state they were in when you took the backup. It’s all pretty inconvenient.
Other folks might use backup plugins in their WordPress installs. These are pretty handy, but I’ve had mixed results with them. Sometimes they behave the way I expected, sometimes not. And if you’re locked out of your WordPress backend, and don’t know your way around FTP and phpMyAdmin, you might be hooped. Not very confidence inspiring.
On my WP Engine Account (where I host all of mine and my clients’ sites), I know I can count on a few things:
- Individual daily backups of every install
- Backups stored off-site on Amazon S3
- 1-click ad-hawk backups I can perform in seconds (depending on site size)
- 1-click restores that are live in seconds, undoing any oopsies I may have incurred during updates or “trying something new”
Speaking of trying new things, many Managed WordPress Hosts also offer staging environments. They are super handy.
2. Staging Environments
Not every Managed WordPress provider offers this, but many do, and the others seem to be working towards it. If you get into Managed WordPress Hosting without this feature, though, you’re missing out. A staging environment allows you to make an exact duplicate of your existing site on a completely separate domain. You can then make whatever changes you want to the staging site and see everything in live action before pushing the whole shebang back to you production site. This allows you to get as adventurous as you want with plugins, themes, and anything else – and even show your clients, peers, etc. before committing to changes.
Isn’t this fun? Know what else is fun? Fast websites are fun.
3. Speed & Infrastructure
The M.O. of most of these Managed WordPress Hosting providers is that their infrastructure is built exclusively for WordPress, and all it’s eccentricities. What that roughly translates to in real life is often way better page load speeds for your users. All things being equal, the same website on a basic shared hosting plan will be significantly outpaced by a decent Managed WordPress Host, thanks to custom-built architecture and advanced, non-annoying, caching systems (I’m looking at you, caching plugins).
Another huge advantage to a server configured specifically for WordPress is that you won’t run into those weird compatibility issues with WordPress functions, themes, or plugins that you might encounter on whatever random stack of software your average host is using.
You can definitely achieve the same, or even better results, on the dollar with a super slick VPS or dedicated server setup… if you really know what you’re doing, and have the time to do it. But a good Managed WordPress host can get you pretty outstanding performance and reliability on a reasonable budget, without having to wear yet another daunting hat. And if you’re not a server-architect extraordinaire, there’s another area of hosting that might be the most daunting of all. Security.
Security is obviously important, but it’s still one of the most overlooked aspects of having websites on the internet. Especially in the era where virtually anyone with a little ambition can figure out how to build their own website – and where the vast majority of folks are using the same open-source softwares to build those websites on.
The whole backup and restore situation mentioned above goes a very long way to helping you keep things secure on your WordPress site because it removes one of the major barriers to performing those updates in the first place. While keeping your software up to date is the single most important thing you can do to stay safe out there, there are numerous other aspects to server security that I really don’t even understand well enough to explain here. The folks at your Managed WordPress Hosting company do understand these things though, and they make security a pillar of their offerings. Some of them even guarantee your site’s security – and if it ever gets hacked, they’ll fix it for free. That is some serious peace of mind right there.
Nothing in this life is perfect, and there are some minimal sacrifices you may need to make in order to use a Managed WordPress Host for your website(s)
Site-for-site, a Managed WordPress Host will cost most than your average shared hosting provider. Most of them also require you to pay per installation. It’s very much a case of “you get what you pay for” though, as the shared hosting plan you pay $10/month for is generally a steaming pile of garbage in terms of features, resources, security, support, etc. As you get into the better traditional hosting setups, you get into much closer pricing territory. Basically, if you’re not a server wizard, I think you’ll get your money’s worth from a reputable Managed WordPress Hosting provider.
Some Managed WordPress Providers have a list of plugins they don’t allow on their ecosystem, either because they pose a security risk, or they run away with your server’s resources and put a strain on the whole platform. I’ve never personally encountered a disallowed plugin I actually wanted to use though, and for the most part I’m happy that plugins are being audited by someone who knows more than me.
Recommended Managed WordPress Hosts
- WP Engine – I think these guys are the bomb-diggety. They are the de-facto leader in the space, and I use them for every site I build for myself or for clients. They have the best list of features for the best price. Their support kicks ass, and I couldn’t imagine my WordPress life without them. WP Engine is also that host that guarantees your site’s security, and if anything ever goes wrong they’ll get it all cleaned up for free.
- Flywheel – These guys offer a smaller list of features, but their price reflects it. They have a beautiful interface and some cool features of their own. Check them out if you’re on a tighter budget.
- Pagely – Industrial strength Managed WordPress Hosting. Quite a bit more expensive, but it’s who the big enterprise guys use.
Note to server geeks: None of this is to say that if you’re some badass server architect with your own setup on Linode, doing all this stuff and more already (and faster, and cheaper), that you shouldn’t keep on your merry way. This is for the majority of us who just want to run businesses or build client websites without all the technical bother – and worry a lot less 🙂
Good luck and happy hosting!