If you’re using a content management system (CMS) to manage your website, there’s a very good chance you’re using WordPress. According to W3Techs, 63.6% of all websites using content management are using WordPress. W3Techs provides another key statistic: 38.5% of all websites on the planet run WordPress.
So, WordPress is big. And if you’re going to run WordPress on your site, you’re going to need a server to run it on. That’s what we’re looking at here. We chose a baker’s dozen of the best WordPress providers out there.
Let’s be clear: Nearly every hosting provider offers WordPress as an option. All it takes is a relatively modern tech stack and a quick install, so there’s very little barrier of entry for a hosting provider to provide WordPress support.
But just because so many hosting providers offer WordPress support, that doesn’t mean they’re the best at offering WordPress support. There is, however, a class of hosting providers that specializes in WordPress, and those are the providers we’re covering in this article.
Understanding the WordPress ecosystem
As usual, when I create lists like this, I start with resources I’m familiar with and I’m proud to recommend. Then I broaden the list by asking folks I respect to make their recommendations. I also take into account those services that are considered leaders. For all these services, I look into what makes them tick, what makes them unique, strengths and weaknesses, and how they compare in style and offering content.
In this case, I’ve been a years-long customer of a few of these services, running more than 10 WordPress sites across them. In addition to reaching out to WordPress colleagues and asking the opinions of some of the users of my WordPress plugins, I also reached out to the WordPress professionals who are members of Post Status, a resource and community for WordPress professionals. Many members were kind enough to share some insights with me.
WordPress hosting can appeal to many categories of users. Joshua Strebel, CEO and co-founder of Pagely (the first of the providers on our list), provides this chart to help understand WordPress market segmentation. In our list below, we use a modified version of this segmentation, but Joshua’s chart gives us a good overview of the whole business.
This next bit is going to get confusing, so take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Now you’re ready. There’s WordPress… and then there’s WordPress. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- WordPress (software): This is an open-source content management system written mainly in PHP. You can install WordPress on your own server, or contract with a hosting provider to run it for you.
- WordPress Foundation: This is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that protects the GPL licensing of WordPress, the WordPress trademark, and provides educational resources for the WordPress open source community.
- WordPress.org: This is the central repository of WordPress information, the location where you can download the WordPress open source software, and an online distribution source for the thousands of themes and plugins that work with WordPress.
- Automattic: This is the commercial company founded by one of WordPress’ original developers, Matt Mullenweg. Automattic also owns the popular blogging platform Tumblr.
- WordPress.com: Owned by Automattic, this is one of the largest hosting providers for WordPress websites. It offers free, somewhat limited WordPress hosting as well as more advanced plans.
- WordPress VIP: This is the top-tier enterprise-level hosting service provided by Automattic for large organizations.
When talking about WordPress, it’s generally possible to infer which one by the context of the conversation. But if in doubt, ask the vendor.
And with that, let’s dive into our list, starting with the enterprise providers first.
Enterprise-level WordPress hosting
If you’re a top-tier web presence running on top of WordPress, you’re going to need a provider who can handle the unique requirements of tremendous traffic, demanding technical support, highly-flexible scalability, and rapid responsiveness. Two of the three providers below, Pagely and WordPress VIP, fit this category perfectly.
Pantheon is a bit of a different beast. It, too, boasts high-end customers, but it provides hosting management for in-house use. For example, if you want to build a website at UC Berkeley, the Berkeley Web Platform allows students and faculty to self-host on top of the Pantheon framework. Disclosure: I’m an advisor to UC Berkeley.
I’m kicking off this list with Pagely. It justifies its top-of-list position with its blue-chip customers including Disney, Time, Inc., Comcast, and VISA. I’m also listing them at the top because it hosts my three main sites and I’ve used it for the past five years or so. I originally chose Pagely when I was having all kinds of compatibility issues getting my online shopping cart working at other hosts and finally asked the cart vendor who did their hosting. When they mentioned Pagely, that’s where I landed.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Since I started with them, the company has eliminated some of the lower-tier plans. It is now rather expensive. If you have mission-critical hosting you need, that expense won’t matter. But if you’re expecting to spend just a few bucks a month, think again.
Now the good news: Pagely is awesome. My sites are funky, running a wide range of WordPress plugins, some of which are very obscure, and even some I’ve written myself. Every time I’ve had a support issue, Pagely has jumped in and gone above and beyond. I’ve never had to ask to have my support ticket escalated to someone with a clue because all the techs I’ve ever encountered have senior-level knowledge.
I also like that Pagely hosts on top of the AWS infrastructure, so I never worry about maintenance and server reliability issues. To be blunt: If I had one hosting provider to recommend and you can handle their pricing, I’d unreservedly recommend Pagely. And no, it’s not paying me to say that. I pay them every month.
The folks at Automattic, the company that operates WordPress.com, have a top-tier solution aimed at enterprise customers. WordPress VIP is that service.
VIP provides infrastructure, operations, and security at scale, freeing content producers up to produce content. Think of it as concierge service with a ton of horsepower. WordPress VIP provides hosting services for Quartz, CNN, Variety, CapitalOne, TED, Spotify, Dow Jones, USA Today, and even WordPress-based properties operated by Microsoft and Facebook.
Pricing is… well, if you need to ask, you probably can’t afford it.
Pantheon has taken the DevOps concept of integrated development and deployment and applied it to website management. Essentially, the idea is that the web developers incorporate operations into their development strategies, and operations teams incorporate the needs of web development into their strategies. To do this, the hosting provider implements staging sites, version control, and integrated backup into its packages. It also partners with many large schools and institutions to roll out websites to internal customers with managed operations.
Key to the company’s offerings is both continual deployment as well as the ability to field different versions to different constituencies. For example, clients might want to see a change before it’s pushed live, but not in raw development form. Pantheon offers automation tools to make this possible. Many users we’ve talked to like the push/pull process that provides some workflow structure on moving from development to deployment, along with the necessary database movement required for that process.
The company provides support for WordPress and the Drupal CMS.
Hosting for medium-sized sites
In Joshua’s diagram above, he describes mid-market as hosting not only for medium-sized customers but also for agencies and developers. Large web agencies that need a platform for all their customers will often be comfortable choosing from the following vendors.
Moving from enterprise-level solutions, we start to encounter managed hosting providers for small and medium-sized businesses. Key among these WordPress hosting providers is WP Engine.
WP Engine offers two features that stand out. The first is scalability. You can start with a relatively inexpensive plan and upgrade and upgrade and upgrade. If you need a high-performance enterprise-grade plan after a major growth spurt, WP Engine will not top out. It’s no WordPress VIP, but it will get you there.
Second is what the company calls “transferable installs.” While it is possible to move a WordPress installation from almost any hosting provider to almost any other hosting provider, it can be a time-consuming pain fraught with the potential of error. There are migration tools to make the process more reliable.
That said, WP Engine builds transferable installs into its DNA. The idea is that a web development agency can build a full site for a client, and then transfer that full site to the client’s account, without any breakage or fuss. We like this because it allows each party to focus on their strengths without having to jump over hoops to get to the next step.
In 2019, WP Engine acquired the Flywheel hosting service, another well-respected managed hosting provider. Most notably, readers of this column will be familiar with the Local on-machine hosting environment for developers, which I cited as one of my favorite coding tools.
Liquid Web provides managed hosting, whether you’re running WordPress or not. That said, it does have some deep expertise in WordPress, having recently acquired renowned WordPress theme and plugin developer iThemes.
What we like about Liquid Web is it successfully melded the idea of managed hosting (where the provider manages infrastructure) with dedicated IaaS services (allowing you to tinker with your server settings). The company offers phone and ticket-based support and boasts an under 60-second response timeframe.
While Liquid Web is not the company you’d go to if you’re running a massive website, it does provide a comfortable seat between the prosumer and midmarket, allowing you to start with an offering that can stay with you for quite some time. The company also has a special focus on WooCommerce hosting, so if you’re planning on running a shopping cart on Woo, Liquid Web will be a good fit.
Kinsta was one of the services recommended by the WordPress gurus I spoke with. We particularly like that Kinsta is built on the Linux Containers project and is entirely operated on the Google Cloud. That completely eliminates any questions about hardware infrastructure management. Each WordPress gets its own isolated container and there is no shared hosting.
While other providers offer WooCommerce solutions, Kinsta specifically calls out optimizations for WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads, the two WordPress shopping carts most users are familiar with. Overall, we like the modern cloud-centric approach Kinsta offers.
Convesio is a service I wasn’t familiar with, but it came highly recommended by Robert Jacobi, a well-known strategist and solution ambassador in the WordPress community. He says, “The best WordPress hosting companies provide performance (speed and scalability) and ease of use. You want to focus on your site not the infrastructure.”
That’s the premise offered by Convesio, which bills itself as “first self-healing, autoscaling, platform-as-a-service for creating and managing WordPress websites.”
We’re particularly interested in the autoscaling claim, because many of us have experienced the bittersweet feeling of having traffic skyrocket suddenly, only to watch your server crash and burn under the sudden load. While many services offer scalability, it often requires intervention to implement the scaling — and doing so while the surge is happening is like swapping out the hull of a boat while it’s at sea in a hurricane.
We’ll be watching Convesio and as we learn more, we’ll share our observations with you.
Hosting for serious small companies and individuals
If you want to build your own WordPress site, and you’re a smaller organization or individual, these providers will do well for you. These are a step above the basic hosting providers we discuss in our “Best web hosting services in 2020 for small business: Wix, Squarespace, WordPress, and more” guide, but don’t generally provide the support or optimization of managed WordPress hosting providers.
Namecheap is a 20-year-old domain registrar who has added managed WordPress hosting as a service. I used Namecheap a few years back for an SSL certificate, which was a smooth experience. For this list, I had the opportunity to chat with Matt Russell, chief cloud officer for Namecheap. I’ll let him explain why you might want to consider their services.
Namecheap took a different approach to the incumbents in market in building a managed WordPress product, EasyWP, on its own cloud and with an experience-first approach. We used our experience of domains and hosting to engineer an experience that lets users build and manage a WordPress website in seconds instead of minutes, that abstracts the typical hosting difficulties/headaches (overcrowded servers, downtime, security, inability to handle traffic surges) and in a way, makes the hosting invisible.
We launched out of Beta in 2019. We already serve 80,000 subscribers on EasyWP alone, putting us in the top 5 Managed WordPress hosts
Our next major focus is elevating the WordPress experience by making it easier to get started, choosing your theme, plugin and options given just how disparate the WordPress ecosystem is. We expect that by making this part easier too, it allows webmasters to keep focus on building and growing their site… and not waste countless hours trying to understand if a plugin is good/bad/well supported.
So, there you go. Give it a shot.
If reading Namecheap’s service description reminds of anything, it’s probably GoDaddy. What can we say about GoDaddy? It’s everywhere and offers almost every service and upsell you could possibly want. As I mentioned upfront, we don’t like providers that jump your price when you renew, and GoDaddy does that. However, their pricing jump is about 30%, not double or more (which is the practice of a far-too-large percentage of hosting providers). And we really couldn’t do a list of WordPress hosting providers without including GoDaddy.
The thing about GoDaddy and WordPress is not the company’s hosting offerings. It’s GoDaddy’s considerable investment into high-quality WordPress properties. Here are some of the properties GoDaddy has acquired:
- ManageWP: A central dashboard for managing a bunch of sites. I was a ManageWP customer before GoDaddy and I rely on it every day.
- Sucuri: Sucuri is a WordPress site security firm. When my site was hacked some years back, I turned to Sucuri to fix the problem. Again, I used their services (and still do) since before GoDaddy acquired them.
- WP Curve: A service for getting started quickly with new WordPress sites
- ThemeBeans, CoBlocks, Block Gallery: Editor objects and theme enhancements for WordPress.
- SkyVerge: a WooCommerce developer (WooCommerce is owned by Automattic, runs on WordPress, and is a market leader in online shopping carts).
On one hand, GoDaddy is GoDaddy. But, on the other, it’s a soup-to-nuts provider that’s taking WordPress very seriously. That wins them consideration in this list.
As a recap, recall that WordPress.com and WordPress.org are different beasts. WordPress.com is a hosting service run by Automattic, the company behind WordPress. And don’t get me wrong. WordPress.com is hugely popular, offering millions of sites and even free blogs, with a range of tiers of service.
But here’s where things get weird. If you’re an active WordPress site operator using the open-source WordPress, when you log into your site on WordPress.com, it’ll be like you’re on a different planet. Yes, WordPress is in there or under there someplace (you have to dig down until you find the Manage menu), but it’s just not the same. Even though WordPress.com is running real-live WordPress, the interface is so different, you might as well be using another provider.
I can recommend WordPress.com because its infrastructure is rock-solid and Automattic sure does know what it’s doing. But if you have open-source WordPress muscle memory, you’re going to feel like you’ve just moved from the US to the UK and you’re suddenly driving on the wrong side of the street.
Bare virtual metal providers
If you prefer bare metal and know your way around a sudo command line, you might be more comfortable with these IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) providers. We’re listing them in our WordPress hosting guide because both Digital Ocean and AWS Lightsail have simple point-and-click builds that will give you a running WordPress VM, which you can then sudo into your VM and do pretty much anything Linux will let you do — including pulling out your hair.
The easiest way to describe Digital Ocean is as AWS for the rest of us. Digital Ocean is an infrastructure-as-a-service provider that allows you to spin up virtual machines in the cloud. What I like about Digital Ocean is that it’s about as far removed from managed hosting as you can get, but it’s also not some hand-held cPanel based hosting service.
If you know your way around a server, Digital Ocean lets you build what you want, how you want it. You can create a VM that runs for years (I have one that’s been running for three years) or ones that run for 20 minutes. As a developer, it’s incredibly helpful to create a test machine, run whatever tests needed in isolation from all other configurations, and then blow away that test machine, all in 20 minutes. I’ve built virtual server farms with Digital Ocean that incorporated 20 to 30 WordPress machines all crunching portions of a distributed AI plugin I needed to test, let them run for under an hour, and paid a buck or so for the privilege.
While you can do all that with AWS, I’ve found Digital Ocean to be much easier to understand with a lot fewer hoops to jump through in order to get a solution fielded and running.
As the subhead says, AWS Lightsail is the Amazon Web Services answer to Digital Ocean, in that it hides a lot of the normal AWS complexity in a few simple configuration screens. Pricing for Lightsail and Digital Ocean, at least at the lower tiers, is very similar.
I’ve jumped between AWS Lightsail and Digital Ocean for various projects. Lightsail uses pre-built Bitnami WordPress stacks, or you can start with a raw Linux machine and roll your own. My advice is to check out both services. But if you’re already entrenched in AWS, Lightsail is an obvious add-on for some quick website deployments without the fuss normally associated with complex cloud deployments.
How to choose
If you’re looking at the WordPress hosting providers included in this guide, you’ve already made one decision: To go with providers experienced in hosting WordPress. But next, you need to decide how many sites you want to operate, what kind of traffic you’re going to have, what level of support you need, how comfortable you are with your own site administration, and, of course, your budget.
If you’re running a top-tier internet property, then you’re likely looking at transferring hosts. You’ll want to go straight to the enterprise-level offerings we identified and pretty much end your search there. If you need wild customization and you’re willing to do the command-line gymnastics, then start at the end of the list with bare metal VMs and build up from there.
It’s the mid-range where the choices are harder. Here you need to look at service limits and pricing, along with the kinds of support and services you need. The more complex your site, the more you might want hosting with stronger support.
If a service offers a free trial period, use that to test out porting your site, getting support, the dashboard interface, and overall performance. All of these providers have quality offerings, so you’re really going to need to find what fits your needs and your workflow the best.
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