You got a business idea, but how do you tell the world? Can you use a cheap WordPress hosting company to take it online? Or do you need to invest into an expensive host?
There are many myths about cheap WordPress hosting companies. Let me try and debunk them for you.
When I started blogging in 2012, I relied on a cheap WordPress hosting provider. It just felt like it was the best fit for my situation.
Now, some six years later, I have changed my hosting providers several times. I hosted my sites on cheap WordPress hosting and on really expensive hosting providers.
In this article, I want to break down the major differences for you. My goal is to help you decide what hosting company to go with - or to recommend to your clients.
Since there is no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing a good hosting provider, I want to share my experiences with cheap WordPress hosting and with expensive WordPress hosting.
At the end of this article, I'll also share my favorite hosting companies with you. I have used all of those myself.
What to expect if you use a cheap WordPress hosting company
First, let's talk about what you can expect when you host your site on a cheap provider.
There are a couple of caveats to be aware of. Some of them might impact you / your clients more than others - I'll try to break them down for you.
1. Your site will be on shared hosting
The job of your hosting provider is, to turn the files and the database that WordPress consists of, into your website. It handles the technical side of "making your website available online".
Hosting providers can do that by using "servers". You can think of those as computers that run certain software. That software is what reads the files of WordPress and translates them into what you can see on your website.
The crucial difference between cheap WordPress hosting and expensive WordPress hosting is in the setup of the servers.
On cheap hosts, a server can contain hundreds of WordPress websites. Those sites "share the server" - hence the term "shared hosting".
As Techopedia explains:
Shared hosting is one of the most common and popular forms of Web hosting service. It is generally provided by Web hosting service providers, which usually have multiple Web servers on-site. Upon signup with the provider, each website’s logical partition/space is created on the Web server, which houses data for that website only. Other websites are also present on the same Web server, simultaneously sharing the storage, computing power, network and other resources. Because it is a shared service, shared hosting is a cheaper alternate to dedicated hosting.
Shared hosting is recommended for websites that are smaller in size, don’t have a large amount of Web traffic, have considerably lower security concerns and require cost-effective solutions for website hosting.
Why is that bad?
Think about an analogy from real life: sharing a car.
If your family has a car and multiple persons drive it, you'll likely have to do a few adjustments every time to get into the car. You'll adjust the driver's seat and the mirrors, check how much fuel is left in the tank, and maybe you even have to clean the car because someone else left it dirty.
It's the same with shared hosting. What other websites do can have a negative impact on your website.
Let's say one of the other hundred websites on your shared server has a faulty plugin installed and gets hacked.
Hackers can then use the hacked website to e.g. send spam emails - and take up as much of the server resources as they can.
The effect on your site would be, that your website would load reasonably slower than before. Like, really slow. And it wouldn't even be your fault.
2. Cheap WordPress hosting often lacks quality support
One thing you definitely should not compromise on is the quality of support you can get from a web hosting company.
My personal preference is a live-chat functionality that's available 24/7. Chat allows me to explain clearly what the issue is, and most importantly, to have a copy of the chat sent to my email address for future reference.
You might prefer phone support, which is totally fine. Just make sure, that the hosting provider you're choosing offers your preferred type of support.
Now, why did I write that cheap hosting companies often lack quality support?
To me, it's a numbers game.
Support bots aren't good enough to replace human support staff yet. So hosting providers, cheap and expensive alike, have to invest in personnel to handle their support.
And with that realization, expensive WordPress hosts have a bigger margin to afford more staff than cheap WordPress hosting companies do.
From my experience, the support on more expensive hosting companies like WP Engine (or at my preferred host Cloudways) has always been outstanding, while cheaper hosting companies I worked with sometimes only offered email support from 8am - 5pm.
In one particular situation in 2013, I was on a vacation with my girlfriend. We booked a vacation home in Belgium and being self-employed, I obviously had to take my MacBook with me.
On the third day of our 6-day trip, all hell broke loose and the hosting provider I worked with shut down all my websites. They found a hack in one of my websites and had to take it down to protect other websites on the same shared server.
I could only get them on the phone between 9am and 6pm, which lead to devastating waiting time in the morning. Needless to say that those limits to their availability wrecked our entire vacation day...
Since then, I decided to invest in quality web hosting.
3. Expect a solid uptime
"Uptime" describes the time your website is available online. It's usually given in percent and should be around 99.99%.
What that number means, that your site could be offline for 0.876h per year and your web hosting company would still fulfill there contract reasonably well.
That's roughly 52 minutes, which, over the course of a year, is an acceptable amount of downtime.
All bigger hosting providers these days have their server configurations dialed in well.
Other than the risk of shared hosting and having a slow website through that, I didn't have any experiences of reasonable downtime with any host. Not with expensive hosting and not with cheap WordPress hosting.
4. Cheap hosting providers allow you to get started on a tight budget
Let's talk money for a second.
There's a huge difference between the cheapest and the most expensive WordPress hosting.
The cheapest WordPress hosting I ever used set me back less than $5 per month, including the costs for a domain.
In contrast, the most expensive hosting I ever had was $99 per month.
Currently, I pay around $72 per month to host all my websites. My agency manages around 50 websites and pays $120 per month for that, just to have the tech side covered.
Obviously, it isn't always a good decision to invest $99 per month into hosting.
Going with a cheap WordPress hosting company makes sense if:
- You want to test a business idea and don't want to or cannot invest in quality WordPress hosting
- You don't need a website that loads within 2 seconds
- You don't expect to see more than 5,000-7,000 monthly visitors on your website
- You have no clear strategy for bringing visitors to your website (which usually results in not having many)
- You don't need your host to take daily backups (e.g. because you don't have automated updates enabled or use a backup plugin)
If one or more of these points resonate with you, it's totally ok to go with cheap WordPress hosting in the beginning.
Even with the cheapest hosting, you can build a website that loads reasonably fast and has a reliable uptime.
While you should be aware of the limitations cheap WordPress hosting comes with, it's ok for the start.
You can always upgrade to a better hosting experience in the future.
Reasons to avoid cheap WordPress hosting
Now that we talked about four things you should expect when using a cheaper hosting company, I think you have a good baseline for making a decision.
If neither of those things strikes you as a No-Go, using a cheap WordPress hosting provider might be a viable option for you or your clients.
However, in my experience I came across a couple of reasons to invest in quality web hosting, which I want to break down for you now:
1. If you value loading speed, you need WordPress-optimized web hosting
Before I ran the WP Summit in 2015, I hosted that website on the cheapest hosting plan on Bluehost.
During the planning and preparation phase, that cheap hosting plan was good enough. I got the website up on a small budget and had enough time to validate the idea of running a WP-related summit.
But I knew that I would need a blazingly fast website when the pre-launch and promotion started.
Why? The reason is simple:
Would you have taken me seriously if you came to the WP Summit website, seeing people talk about optimizing WordPress for generating business online, and experiencing a slow WP Summit website?
Of course, you would not have taken me seriously and would have likely left the website.
For that reason, I was happy that Cloudways has reached out to me and offered to sponsor the event.
Their fantastic support team moved the website over from Cloudways to their servers and even helped me improve the configuration of the website.
With that, the loading speed immediately went down from 5s to 2s. That's an improvement beyond leaps and bounds in the online world.
Since then, I'm hosting all my websites with Cloudways and never looked back.
2. Cheap WordPress hosting providers often cannot handle traffic spikes
Imagine the following situation:
You've been writing blog posts for a couple of months now, and just this morning one of your posts got featured in an article on a popular website like entrepreneur.com, in a popular Reddit thread, or wherever.
Suddenly, your website starts seeing 1,000 visitors per day rather than per week or month.
It's the starting bloggers dream to grow to that much traffic, isn't it?
Just think about how many leads you could generate for your business with that much targeted traffic. How many new WP projects you could get. You'd likely have to grow your team 😉
Now, the problem with being on a cheap WordPress hosting service is, that those servers cannot handle traffic spikes.
If you suddenly get more visitors on your site at the same time, usually your site becomes slow to load. Keep in mind that there aren't many things to website visitors that are as frustrating as slow websites.
What expensive hosts like WP Engine do, is to scale their server resources automatically.
WP Engine notices that your website gets more traffic, and immediately gives it the server resources it needs to stay loading fast.
I know, I haven't mentioned WP Engine in this article before. But that's only because they're so good that they've got everything I mentioned to this point covered.
They've got a great article written on how they're different to other WordPress hosting providers. I highly recommend you check it out!
3. You need a server for development that isn't slow and allows for your own configurations
If you're a WP developer or an agency, you likely had the same question I had:
Where do I host my sites that I'm working on?
To me, a development server needs to fulfill the following criteria:
- It cannot break the bank.
- I need to be able to configure things like CPU cores, RAM or PHP settings
- Ideally, I have SFTP and SSH access
- I can set up code versioning tools
- The server offers automated backups for additional data-loss prevention
- I can host multiple WordPress sites on the server while maintaining fast loading speeds
With those criteria, I only found one hosting company that matched them all.
That is Cloudways.
My agency and I run seven servers on Cloudways, using their Digital Ocean servers.
We have dedicated servers for client websites (yes, we offer managed hosting), for our own websites, for development, and for staging.
With these separated servers, we are super flexible and can provide outstanding service to our maintenance and hosting clients. Get in touch if you want to learn more!
A decision help to pick WordPress hosting providers
To give you a baseline for deciding on any WordPress hosting company, let me briefly summarize the most important aspects that separate a good WordPress hosting company from the not-so-good ones:
- Chat with their pre-sales team and have them explain how they protect your WordPress site against hackers. If they can't do that in plain English, I'd be careful about trusting them to host my websites.
- A cheap WordPress hosting company will likely offer shared hosting only. Have the support explain how they prevent that a website can slow down an entire server.
- Make sure their support team is available 24/7 in your preferred format.
- Check if they offer website-migration services to move your website to their server.
- Make sure you can install as many WordPress sites as you need. Hosting packages limited to one install only can become bottlenecks if your plans change.
- Cloudways offers a chatbot that integrates with Slack and sends messages when things go wrong on the server. Not a must-have, but it's certainly beneficial!
- Make sure the server is physically close to your target market. If you have your audience in the US, choose a server in the US.
My recommended hosts
I hope this post helped shed some light on the decision process and showed that cheap WordPress hosting providers don't need to be bad.
For the cheapest hosts, I recommend you get started with Bluehost. They are cheap and reliable, and good enough for a start.
If you can afford better hosting, I highly suggest you try Cloudways.
They manage over 40 websites for my agency and are the best host I've worked with so far.