What is WordPress Hosting? Do I Have It? Or Need It?
Along the journey of understanding WordPress, most people start with a similar situation. They talk to a more tech-savvy person they know, that young lady tells them they need a “WordPress website.” Then they’re Googling desperately, trying to find out how they get “a WordPress.” The idea of “WordPress hosting” is nowhere on your radar and doesn’t quite make sense at that point. If that’s precisely you, welcome. If that approximates your experience, please share your exact story with us in the comments. 🙂
In this article we’ll cover lots of important things: What is WordPress exactly, and how does that interface with web hosting? What are managed WordPress hosting, shared web hosting, and is it all secure and unlimited? That showdown that may be brewing in your brain: web hosting vs WordPress hosting. We’ll answer all of those common WordPress hosting questions and more. I hope you’ll come away from this article with a clearer sense of what you’ll need to get your first WordPress site online.
What is “WordPress Hosting?”
The first confusion is that mostly we understand “applications” to be monolithic thing. On our computers, phones, etc, we download a single app and it does things for us. In some ways WordPress is just like this. But in other ways you’ll have to learn a few more wrinkles to really be ready for your first WordPress site.
WordPress runs atop what’s often called a “LAMP stack.” In some ways, you can think of this like the supporting software ecosystem. And just as iPhone apps run neither on Macs nor Windows PCs, so too does WordPress not run on either your desktop computer or your phone. We have a great article breaking down that LAMP acronym more, but for most people you can just understand that you’ll need a specific hosting ecosystem called “LAMP” and be on with your life.
Web Hosting vs WordPress Hosting
One may be come in thinking in terms of WordPress hosting vs regular hosting. The next big thing to understand here is the difference between them: it kind of doesn’t exist. In short, both “web hosting” sold generically, and “WordPress hosting” sold specifically mean the same thing. The vast vast majority of the hosting ecosystem runs on different LAMP stacks, and all of them run WordPress flawlessly. In general, if someone offers that you can run “web applications” on their hosting, you can trust that WordPress works there. This is one of the reasons for WordPress’s enduring popularity.
There are, as we’ll get into in a bit, big differences on issues like site speed, support quality, and more that matter when you’re buying hosting. But the ability to run WordPress shouldn’t really be a differentiating feature to you. More than 90% of hosts can do that, and finding one that explicitly advertises that they do doesn’t really mean that they’re better for it than another.
Is Web Hosting Unlimited for WordPress sites?
Ah, the siren song of “unlimited.” If someone can market better by saying “unlimited” they will. Unless or until they start to get bad press for the “unlimited” claim being found untrue. So lots of web hosts will advertise that they’ll “scale infinitely.” But the problem is that the nominal intent to serve all traffic and the ability to continue to keep your site online when you appear in a Super Bowl ad are two different things.
The hosts we trust most actually charge you for true visits to your site each month, or offer you a useful guideline about how much traffic they think their plans can accommodate. The issue isn’t that everyone is lying, but that they need to allocate enough server resources (computing power) to keep your site up during spikes, and the history of people doing that with random WordPress hosting is poor.
Is WordPress Web Hosting Secure?
In general, all WordPress-supporting hosting will be completely secure for you. What that means is not that WordPress can’t or won’t get “hacked” (that happens more often than I’d like), but that your hosting company will not be the reason for it. There have been times further back in the past where “shared hosting” accounts on some hosts were traversed, where Susan’s web site getting compromised also took down Bill’s, even though they were both paying this host for independent accounts. But that hasn’t happened in some time, and the industry has formed good best practices to make it very rare.
WordPress Hosting is a subset of “Web Hosting”
Just to reiterate the point from above, WordPress runs on nearly all “shared hosting.” “WordPress hosting” is a generic term that means “hosting that can run WordPress.” So all “web hosting” from companies like Bluehost, Hostgator, or SiteGround (our favorite, here’s a review explaining why) will run WordPress sites just fine. Those accounts will differ from “WordPress Managed Hosting” or a similar bundle of terms, in that that type of hosting is WordPress specific, often a little easier for a newbie to administer, and also often more expensive.
Some “WordPress Hosting” has WordPress-Specific Features
“Managed WordPress Hosting” seems to be the industry standard term for “this is WordPress-specific hosting.” So WP Engine is the biggest name in that space, and Pagely kind of created it. But there are lots of competitors, including the aforementioned Bluehost (which also offers shared hosting accounts). These types of accounts will often have cool WordPress-specific features, like:
- The ability to easily manage the cache (a way to improve the performance of the WordPress site)
- The ability to quickly create and deploy from and to a staging site (useful for safely changing your site)
- A lack of unnecessary complexity which is often implied by a “shared hosting cPanel.” (If you know and like cPanel–I do–this isn’t a feature. If you have no idea what it means, this is great.)
Do I Need Web Hosting for WordPress? YES; Here’s Why
Do you need web hosting for the sake of having a WordPress site online? Yes, absolutely. Unless you want the entire internet to have access to your desktop computer (you don’t), you’ll have to buy some hosting ability on a server from someone who exposes their computers (servers) to the public internet. That’s what a hosting company does. Remember, all hosting will offer you a computer with a “LAMP stack” that lets WordPress run, in a way that Windows or macOS don’t quite support.
Types of WordPress Hosting
There are generically three type of WordPress hosting: shared, “managed WordPress,” and what I’ll call nerdy ones (dedicated and VPSes). If you’re new at this, we can nearly rule out the nerdy ones (I’ll touch on them briefly before we close, but that’s all). So what’s left is shared hosting for WordPress, and managed WordPress hosting. Both might be a good choice for you. Here’s how I think about the different types of WordPress hosting…
Shared WordPress Hosting: Using Shared Web Hosting for WordPress
Shared hosting from SiteGround (again, our favorite company for this type of hosting) will do all the WordPress things. And in their GrowBig and GoGeek plans (more details on SiteGround plans here), they offer most of the WordPress features that “managed WordPress hosts” do.
The thing about “shared web hosting” like SiteGround, is that you’ll be able to find some more interesting features: usage logs, file-level access to your server, email accounts, and more in addition to the ability to host WordPress sites.
The downside of shared hosting is that the cPanel application that often exposed powers like email to you can be a little clunky, slow, and confusing, even for experienced people like me. For new people it can feel pretty overwhelming.
Example shared WordPress hosting providers include:
- SiteGround (Where we host. They’re our favorite, it’s genuinely good shared hosting for WordPress)
What is Managed WordPress Hosting?
In contrast to shared WordPress hosting, managed hosting for WordPress will often charge you a bit more to remove some of the non-WordPress complexity of more traditional web hosting accounts. This could be pitched as a good or a bad thing, depending who is discussing hosting in a conversation of web professionals. WP Engine is our most-recommended hosting in this category, though Flywheel also gets a lot of love from our friends and colleagues.
All these (and others) are generally going to charge you a bit more than shared hosts, but offer you better support. (There are exceptions in both directions there, but it generally holds.) Both in terms of how quickly and expertly they answer WordPress-related issues you have, and in term of making sure that they really do a great job on your WordPress sites.
You’ll often pay a premium for that power. Our favorite SiteGround hosting plan costs $35/mo after the introductory discount, but lets you host essentially all the WordPress sites you can imagine on it, even very very popular ones. For the same price, WP Engine gives you a hard limits on a single WordPress site. So it’s a significant difference.
Example managed WordPress hosting providers include:
- WP Engine (They’ve hosted us in the past; we continue to hear great things from friends in WordPress meetups)
Should I Care About “Premium” WordPress Hosting?
While researching this article I found a few different references to “premium WordPress hosting.” I’m a fairly expert technical person, and best I can tell this means the same thing as the more standard form of “managed WordPress hosting.” The first ad I saw when I did a Duck Duck Go search was literally for WP Engine, which I just explained in some detail. A Google search has similar results. So “premium” WordPress hosting is basically just marketing fluff as far as I’m concerned.
VPS, Cloud, and other Fancy Web Hosting Options
This last category is probably not right for you unless you’re doing preliminary research for some experienced technical helper you know. There’s a lot of power (and a lot of savings) in buying a VPS from a company like Linode or Digital Ocean and just running your site there. If you already know that “VPS” stands for “virtual private server,” this can be a great option for you. If you didn’t know that you probably want to pick a shared host like SiteGround or a managed WordPress host like WP Engine. “VPS,” “Cloud,” and “Dedicated” servers will all mostly require a high-level of technical expertise, and not offer as many humans who already understand to support you. So you’ll want to know what you’re doing to buy this stuff.
Your Next Step: Which WordPress Hosting Tier is Best For You?
So, with this knowledge under your belt, I hope you feel ready to say which type of WordPress hosting is right for you. As we’ve made clear, the “WordPress hosting vs web hosting” distinction does exist, but both of them can host a WordPress site. And as I’ve mentioned, we’re pretty opinionated at WPShout about what good WordPress hosting is. Here’s a full run-down of which companies we think are good, and which (in our vast experience) will likely disappoint you over time:
Good luck, and we’d love to hear your lingering questions in the comments. Happy shopping!