Want to use WordPress for your new small business website? You’ll need a web host where your site can “live.” There are more hosts out there than you can shake a stick at, so how do you choose the best WordPress hosting for your site?
Well, that’s what I’m going to cover in this article. I’ll highlight the most important things to look for and make some recommendations for my favorite hosts that meet the criteria.
For eager readers, you can skip straight to my hosting picks.
Web Hosting 101
Before we dive in, I want to back up and explain a few things.
What does it mean to host a website?
I like to use a real estate analogy to explain hosting. Let’s say you own a home. You have to have land where your house sits. (Or let’s say you’re a digital nomad and you own an RV or camper van — you have to have a place to park overnight!). The home is your website and the place where it sits is your host.
Technically (and simply) speaking, a web host is at least a single computer (server) connected to the internet where your site (files and a database) physically reside.
To keep with the analogy, it’s possible to own the land, but the majority of us just rent it. Similarly, most of us don’t want to bother with all the infrastructure, server maintenance, connectivity, security, etc. to self-host. We pay “rent” to a web host instead.
What is “self-hosted” WordPress?
You might hear the term “self-hosted” WordPress and wonder what that is.
First, some quick history. WordPress is open-source software, created in 2003. It began as simple blogging software but has evolved into a full-fledged content management system (CMS). WordPress is incredibly popular and powers almost 43% of the web as of the time of this writing.
There are two ways you can use WordPress:
WordPress software is freely available for download at WordPress.org. To make use of this software, you need a web host. Does that mean you have to host it yourself? Well, not personally, but it does mean that you need a web host. That’s what this article is about.
WordPress.com is a Software as a Service (SaaS). They offer free and paid accounts (the free one is fairly limited) and part of the offering is that they host WordPress for you.
When you hear the term “self-hosted WordPress,” it’s referring to WordPress.org, the software you download, install, and run on the web host of your choosing.
Types of WordPress hosting
Now that we’re on the same page about self-hosting WordPress, I’d like to differentiate between two broad categories of hosting:
- Generic, shared web hosts
- Managed WordPress hosts
Shared web hosts are web hosting services that can host all sorts of applications — Drupal, Magento, Joomla, WordPress, and more. These are generalists.
A Managed WordPress host is a hosting service optimized specifically for WordPress and typically bundle in some WordPress-centric tools and services. These are specialists.
Both types of hosts can accommodate a WordPress site. I’ll refrain from inserting my opinion quite yet; I just wanted to highlight the differentiation. More on this later.
What’s the job of a (good) web host?
I mentioned earlier that there are a bajillion web hosts out there. When it comes to hosting a site, regardless of whether you choose a shared host or a managed host, there are a few things that are hallmarks of a quality host:
- At least 99.9% uptime (the more nines after the decimal, the better)
- Security-conscious (the host can speak to their platform security and offer free SSL)
- Easy access to support (and good support at that)
- Plenty of support documentation
- A site that’s user-friendly and meets industry standards for responsive, accessible user interface (if a site’s hideous and hard to use, you’ll know)
- Speedy (a slow website is the kiss of death)
Just poking around a host’s website will give you a feel for their quality and professionalism, even if you don’t delve into the details of their technology. In short:
- A bad host will frustrate the hell out of you at every turn
- A decent host gets the job done, but not much more
- A good host makes it straightforward for you to use their service
- A great host offers superior service and is actually pleasant to work with
Factors to consider when choosing a WordPress host for your site
Different hosts have different offerings and come at a variety of price points. In addition to hosting, some common factors that drive which plan you choose are:
- Number of WordPress installs or websites included
- Server space (how much space do your files and database take up, in terms of gigabytes)
- Traffic (how many visitors your site gets)
- Type of support (i.e. email, chat, or phone)
Additional “bonus” features might include:
- Free email (please don’t use this)
- Free SSL (absolutely use this)
- Free migration tools
- Free CDN
- Developer tools (i.e. staging sites, Git integration, etc)
On the surface, many hosting plans look similar, so how do you narrow it down?
Do your research
- Read customer reviews on the host’s website (and take these with a grain of salt)
- Read customer reviews on various websites
- Ask other small business owners, friends in tech, or anyone else you know who might have an opinion
Don’t make cost your most important consideration
If your website is business-critical (by that I mean that it’s directly tied to your revenue or ability to generate leads), then it’s worth paying for quality, reliable hosting.
Hosting costs should be “right-sized” based on your business and the role your website plays.
For instance, if your site is a basic marketing site that is a nice addition to your business but doesn’t ultimately make or break you, then budget hosting makes sense.
Conversely, if Cyber Monday drives 50% of your annual revenue, you need more than a web host — you need a web hosting partner that’s working with you to keep your site speedy and online through all the traffic spikes.
So, cost is important, but it’s not the only thing to consider. And that brings me to my last point…
Do consider your web host as an important vendor relationship
Depending on the nature of your business, you have relationships with different vendors. Food vendors, transportation vendors, shipping vendors, manufacturers, contractors, etc.
The frequency of your interaction with these vendors varies based on the role they play in your business.
Think of your web host as another vendor relationship you have. Web hosts have varying levels of expertise (should you want to strategize or consult), availability (is email okay or do you need to have someone standing by the phone 24/7 to help), and quality of infrastructure (are small-scale options okay or do you need some sturdy support).
My WordPress hosting recommendations
Based on the info I’ve shared so far in this article, you should have a better idea of the type of web host you need.
From here on out, I’ll give my hosting recommendations based on my experience as both a hosting customer and as a web developer coordinating hosting for many clients over the years.
Note that I do have affiliate relationships with each of the hosts I’m about to recommend. If you want more info on that, here’s my affiliate disclosure.
|Host||Type||Perfect for||Plan ($yr)||Basic Specs|
|Siteground||Shared host||Small sites||GrowBig ($80)||1 Website|
|Flywheel||Managed WP||Medium sites||Tiny ($150)||1 Website|
|WP Engine||Managed WP||Large sites, Ecommerce||Startup ($270)||1 Website|
|Kinsta||Managed WP||Large sites, Ecommerce||Starter ($350)||1 Website|
For budget hosting, Siteground remains at the top of my list. You’ll have to pre-pay for a year in order to get the bargain pricing, but note that when you renew it’ll be at full price (which is still very affordable).
Siteground is more of a “one-stop-shop” service provider. You can register a domain with them (if you don’t already have one) as you’re setting up your site, though I recommend registering your domain and email separately from your web host (use Namecheap for that if you want a good alternative to GoDaddy).
They’ve invested in improving the user experience over the years. You can see from the screenshot below that their dashboard is pretty straightforward to navigate. That said, if you’re not used to knocking around behind the scenes of a hosting account, it might take you a little bit to get acclimated.
Note that there is a less-expensive StartUp plan with Siteground, but it does not include Site Staging and On-Demand backups (though it is free to restore from backups on all plans). Staging sites are a really good idea for when you want to make updates or try out changes without fear of breaking your live site.
Siteground also offers the ability to add “collaborators” to your account, making it easy for both web professionals and site owners to access the account.
In terms of the WordPress community, Siteground gives back to the WordPress project through regular event sponsorship and contributions via Five for the Future initiative.
Flywheel has been a go-to WordPress host for me since they started a decade ago. Here’s what I love about them:
- Friendly, helpful support
- A very clean, well thought out user experience
- Geared toward non-technical users
- All the benefits of a quality host with a “stripped down” experience that makes it more approachable to use
If you’re reading this and you happen to provide web services for clients, Flywheel is designed specifically with you in mind. There are lots of free tools for agencies and there’s a companion product called Growth Suite that is hands-down the most delightful client management tool you’ll ever use.
Staging sites, one-click restore from backup, and site collaborators are all standard features, starting with the lowest-tier plan.
Disclaimer: This site runs on WP Engine. 🙂
WP Engine is a robust hosting provider with literal award-winning support. In addition to managed WordPress hosting, they’ve invested heavily in their managed eCommerce offering (featuring WooCommerce).
From security to speed, to support, WP Engine has built a solid platform. As someone managing multiple sites and multiple accounts, I appreciate the ease of navigating around their dashboard.
If Flywheel is geared toward web agencies, WP Engine is geared toward developers and includes a suite of site development tools. As a small business owner, you might not appreciate all the dev tools, but if you hire one to help you, they’ll love you for choosing WP Engine.
WP Engine plans also come with access to all StudioPress themes, which I highly recommend using. The themes are based on the Genesis Framework and are performant, accessible, and SEO-friendly. These themes are a quick way to get a small business site up and running in a hurry!
As with Siteground, I really like that WP Engine contributes 5% of its resources toward the WordPress project. That’s an important indicator (to me) of a company’s alignment with the WordPress project and commitment to being an excellent WordPress host.
Staging sites, one-click restore from backup, and site collaborators are standard features on all plans.
Kinsta is another power-house host that’s a great choice for business-critical websites (eCommerce websites included). While they’re the most expensive of the hosts I’m recommending in this article, they’re still very affordable in the scheme of things.
Like WP Engine, the Kinsta platform boasts security, speed, and performance. If you’re migrating an existing site, Kinsta sweetens the pot with a hands-off migration service (site migrations to WP Engine are pretty painless, but Kinsta making it a “done-for-you” service on all plans is a nice touch).
Kinsta also boasts a 99.99% uptime (vs WP Engine’s 99.95%). If you want to do the math, that means your Kinsta site will be unavailable for < 1 hour per year (vs WP Engine’s ~4).
Aside from Flywheel, Kinsta has my favorite onboarding experience (new account set up) that even less-tech savvy users can appreciate. That said, there are plenty of “technical options” and tools available.
While Kinsta doesn’t officially participate in WordPress’ Five for the Future initiative (as far as I can tell), they are regular sponsors at WordPress events and contribute to WordPress core development. They are also an absolute powerhouse of knowledge and regularly post high-quality content on their blog.
Staging sites, one-click restore from backup (to either staging or live environments), and site collaborators are standard features on all plans.
There are a ton of web hosts out there — I’m hoping this article provides some helpful context when it comes to selecting the best hosting partner for your small business site.
Early on in this article, I listed some indicators for quality web hosts. Those absolutely stand, but as I’ve finished writing, I find that I also place a value on how much the host is contributing back to their communities and to the WordPress project. All four of my hosting recommendations in this article absolutely meet that requirement!
Have questions? Drop a comment below!